Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Rejoice! for Barabbas goes free!

Posted by BrianJ on June 2, 2009

Listening again to Elder Holland’s recent Conference address, I was struck with a new thought. Perhaps you’ll disagree—and blame my twisted thinking on the dust and debris stirred up while cleaning out my garage as I listened to the talk—but I realized for the first time how fitting it was that Barabbas was freed instead of Jesus. Right up front I’ll point out that this certainly wasn’t the point Elder Holland was making when he said:

Such ecclesiastical and political rejection became more personal when the citizenry in the street turned against Jesus as well. It is one of the ironies of history that sitting with Jesus in prison was a real blasphemer, a murderer and revolutionary known as Barabbas, a name or title in Aramaic meaning “son of the father.” Free to release one prisoner in the spirit of the Passover tradition, Pilate asked the people, “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?” They said, “Barabbas.” So one godless “son of the father” was set free while a truly divine Son of His Heavenly Father moved on to crucifixion.

Always—before now—I read those passages in much the same way as Elder Holland: the release of Barabbas was a cruel, ironic tragedy from all perspectives. As detached observers, we condemn the crowd for choosing a murderer over a healer. Standing alongside Pilate, we worry that the crowd prefers an insurrectionist to one who preached “give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” And from God’s perspective, we lament the rejection of God’s true Son. Yes, this was bad from any perspective—except Barabbas’, of course.

For one moment as Elder Holland spoke, I put myself in Barabbas’ place and realized that every day that is exactly where I stand. Me, accused and guilty of high crimes—backbiting, arrogance, selfishness, unbridled anger, etc. Not quite murder, but sins that nonetheless hurt others and offend God. Yet there is Jesus Christ who stands apposed, submitting to the punishment while I go free.

13 Responses to “Rejoice! for Barabbas goes free!”

  1. BrianJ said

    Now, I’ll be careful here and point out that a metaphor can only go so far; if Barabbas was truly guilty of murder—or “terrorism” as some translations render it—then we have to let the analogy fall short or openly embrace releasing violent criminals into our streets. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’m viewing this “spiritually rather than temporally.”

  2. I’ve never thought about it this way before, but you make a great point.

  3. I used Elder Holland’s talk as my HT message for May and had similar thoughts as you on the subject. The scriptures are filled with cruel ironies. Great post!

  4. Kent (MC) said

    If Barabbas was repentant then the analogy would work very well.

  5. Rameumptom said

    How about the Jewish concept of the two goats. One goat carries the sins and is set free. The other is sacrificed for the sins of the people. In this instance, we have two “sons of the Father” as the goats. Barabbas would truly carry his own sins back to his wilderness area (where as a zealot he would continue fighting the Romans), while Jesus remained as the great sacrifice for all.

  6. BrianJ said

    Keri, Brian: thanks!

    Kent: yeah, the authors don’t give us any information about Barabbas’ attitude. But suppose that someday we observe Jesus letting a non-repentant Barabbas go free; should we rejoice or be angry?

    Rameumptom: interesting thoughts about the goat for Azazel–the “scapegoat.” Leviticus 16 illustrates an important difference between the two goats: the one that is sacrificed was made as a sin-offering, whereas the other carried the people’s iniquities into the wilderness. Sin-offerings, it should be noted, were not made for sins as we think of the term, but rather for unintentional mistakes and ritual uncleanness. (Thus, it is perhaps better to refer to the first goat as a “purification” offering.) The second goat carried the real sins of the people—sins as we think of the word—and was sent away into the wilderness where it would undoubtedly die. The point was not to release the second goat into a life of freedom, but to send it far away. Both goats carried sins, both goats died.

  7. David Dunton said

    The most surprising thing is that “apposed” is really a word! I had to look it up. The post and all the comments were very thought-provoking. I agree with Kent (MC). Barabbas can go his way, but he must sin no more.

  8. Brooks Peacock said

    As I have read through the comments, I come back to a more general relationship in the story. Christ atoned not only for our individual sins/spiritual death but also for mankind’s physical separation/physical death.

    Barabbas, despite his lack of any apparant moral fortitude, is allowed to go free and is released from a physical death, at that particular time anyway. We too are released from the results of physical death through the atoning sacrifice.

  9. BrianJ said

    Brooks: Thanks for making the point about Christ freeing all of us from physical death, regardless of our spiritual state.

  10. Blake said

    BrianJ: Interesting observations. I always thought that the story of Barabbas was about the parallel to the Israelite ceremony of the two goats released on the Day of Atonement set forth in Lev. 16. The sins are laid on one goat that is driven into the wilderness. But there is another goat as well. This goat is “for the Lord” and is sacrificed to the Lord.

    In the time of Christ, it is probable that the goat “for Azazel” was lead out the east gate of the temple (the Nikanor gate) and led off a cliff. It bore the sins of the people to death. However, it appears that the other goat was offered as a sacrifice. Barabbas represents the goat that was released that really was sinful while the other goat is lead to the sacrifice given for God. I know that the usual modern interpretation is that the goat “for Azazel” is the symbol of Christ bearing away the sins of the people, but it seems to me that point of the narrative regarding Barabbas is included to show that the real sacrifice given “for the Lord” is not the one that goes free while still in sin, but the one that is sacrificed “for the Lord”.

  11. BrianJ said

    Blake: glad you found it interesting. Re: the two scape-goats, as I hinted in #6, I’m not sure how well the “atonement goats” typify Christ. To elaborate a bit, I think the clearest Christ figure on that day is the high priest who manages the goats, parts the veil, appears before God, and in the end cleanses the people. If pressed, I’m not sure which of the two goats I would say better typifies Christ’s mission. Can you expound on why you choose the one that carries only “innocent sins” and not the one that carries “real sins”?

  12. Choshek said

    Barabbas was Jesus. It’s Aramaic for “Son of the Father”. Jesus was considered a seditious revolutionary, and murderer of traditional Judeo-Roman social values. There was no custom of releasing a Roman prisoner on Passover; the pilgrim multitudes spontaneously demanded his release.

  13. Wow, yesterday while I was watching the movie of Barabbas on TBN, I looked for the meaning of his name on google and I received from God this same revelation. Because JESUS came to literally free us from our spiritual prison that we inherited from Adam.

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