The Wrong Man Got Off
Prepared by Dr. John Marshall
John 18:40a (Holman) They shouted back, “Not this man, . . .
This time, a popular election selected the wrong candidate. Democracy miserably failed on this day. The electorate was unwise.
Many in the crowd were disappointed in Jesus. His lack of resistance and seeming helplessness flamed their frustrated messianic hopes.
Jesus was the Messiah, but not the kind they wanted. The people craved a leader who would shed the blood of others, not His own.
John 18:40b “. . . but Barabbas!”
Barabbas, “son of father,” was a term of endearment like “Daddy’s little boy.” The crowd released a son of father, and condemned the Son of The Father.
Tremellius, a Jewish Christian, always deemed this one of the most regrettable moments in the history of his people. Near death he said, “Not Barabbas, but Jesus.”
John 18:40c Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.
Their choosing Barabbas showed at least four major flaws in the rabble’s thinking. One, the crowd showed no qualms about fomenting rebellion. Freeing Barabbas was no boon to the populace at large. He would probably kill again.
This did not bother the religious leaders. Since Barabbas killed Romans, not them, the religious leaders deemed him no threat.
The word used here for revolutionary is the one used in John 10:1,8 to describe one who is the opposite of the Good Shepherd. The Jews chose a rebel over the Good Shepherd. Rather than choose a Protector, they chose an enemy.
Jesus was crucified between two malefactors (Luke 23:33) guilty of thievery (Mark 15:27). They were possibly comrades of Barabbas, his cohorts in crime.
Jesus died between two robbers, probably in the spot intended for Barabbas. By letting Himself be numbered among malefactors, Jesus became our Benefactor.
Two, by preferring Barabbas over Jesus, the crowd showed no uneasiness about murder. Barabbas was an assassin. He had committed murder in an insurrection (Mark 15:7).
Peter later chided the people of Jerusalem, reminding them they “desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life” (Acts 3:14-15). The people preferred a killer to the life-giver.
Three, the crowd’s choice showed they had no concern for justice. Everyone knew Barabbas was guilty. He was “a notable prisoner” (Matt. 27:16), a chief felon significant due to extreme notoriety.
Barabbas had “dangerous” written all over him. He would have struck terror into the hearts of any who found themselves alone with him.
Children and young women would have avoided him. Homeowners would have locked up their possessions when he came near. Yet suddenly he was deemed a hero.
Jesus, on the other hand, had healed and blessed multitudes. People had flocked from everywhere to have Him touch their bodies and bless their children. Yet suddenly He was deemed a threat.
The selection of Barabbas by the crowd betrayed a fourth serious flaw in their attitude – they admired violence. Barabbas was jailed for taking part in “a certain sedition made in the city” (Luke 23:19).
He had committed treason by taking part in a rebellion. Barabbas was a man who tried to justify murder and thievery by calling them patriotism.
His bitter opposition to the Romans would have automatically made Barabbas popular with many in the crowd. But he was such a radical felon that Pilate probably figured saner heads would prevail and call for the release of Jesus.
Not so! The crowd chose a desperado over the Prince of Peace. They preferred one who had at least made an effort to defy Rome. This unexpected crowd response magnified the travesty of these proceedings.
What a paradox! The religious leaders convinced the people to ask for the release of one who was guilty of the crime with which they had accused Jesus.
Pilate released a man guilty of the crime for which he had declared Christ innocent. “Pilate executed Jesus on the ground that His kingdom was of this world; the Jews procured His execution precisely because it was not” (Plummer).
The crowd chose Barabbas because he represented what they really wanted, a Messiah who would slaughter Romans. Their hearts were addicted to a spirit of violence which later sealed their destruction as a nation. This lust for war led to the fanatic revolts of a later generation, and eventually resulted in a bloodletting against themselves of their own making.
By the time Roman soldiers entered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there had already been massacres within the city due to in-fighting among rival Messiah claimants. Some of the deeds done by the Jews to themselves were so horrible that when Titus heard of them he invoked the gods to witness that the atrocities were not his doing.
The crowd made a fatal error by choosing Barabbas, but God overruled their error, and through it secured our salvation. Jesus died in the place of not only Barabbas, but also as much in the place of us all.
Our collective load of sin crucified Jesus. He paid the sin debt. It is now up to us to receive the redemption He provided.
John 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged.
When the crowd unexpectedly chose to release Barabbas, Pilate sought another way to gain freedom for Jesus without infuriating the leaders and rabble. Pilate decided to flog Jesus, thinking this would satisfy the crowd’s blood-lust (Luke 23:16).
Scourging shortened the length of time a victim could survive on a cross. Since Jesus had been declared innocent, this scourging was illegal. He was whipped as if a criminal. This abuse was totally unlawful.
Scourging was brutal. The Roman whip was a short stick of wood from which proceeded several leather straps. On these straps were tied bits of bone, metal, and rock.
The victim was fastened to a small post. Leaning over a truncated column caused the back to be bent, and forced the skin to be tightly stretched.
Martin Hengel, in his book “Crucifixion,” wrote scourging would “make the blood flow in streams” (p. 32). The back began bleeding profusely at the first strokes and was soon raw pulp.
Josephus told of a man who was “flayed to the bone with scourges.” Eusebius said men’s entrails and organs were often exposed to sight at the whipping post.
It is hard to believe scourging was done to One who spoke the Beatitudes, fed multitudes, and blessed little children. “Maybe our author just dreamed this. Such a thing could not happen. Surely it is impossible.” No, it is true. This scourging actually occurred. It is historic fact.
Don’t turn away from it with disgust. Instead, let it melt our hearts. See in it our redemption, and be everlastingly grateful.