It is easy to look only at the surface of the Gospel and to miss the rich, deeper beauties that are found inside of it. In this passage, the Jews outwitted Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus by offering to the people the choice between releasing a heinous criminal and Jesus. The Pharisees successfully incited the masses to free the murderer by convincing the people that their false charge of blasphemy was far more heinous than murder and rebellion. The religious authorities then finished off any further attempts from Pilate by threatening to charge him of treason should he let Jesus go. Having successfully pinned Pilate against his own Empire, turning the tables on him by forcing him choose between political expediency (quite possibly his own head) and to do what was right in freeing Jesus, Pilate relented and gave in to their demands to have Jesus crucified.
But what many forget in all of this clever maneuvering, is that this fateful day had been divinely planned in eternity past, right down to Barabbas’ release. Jesus was not to go free. He was to be condemned this day by both to Jew and Gentile. Jesus was to die.
Now some look for deeper metaphors in this exchange between the Jews and Pilate, and what they find is us. They find that the deepest metaphor of all is that Jesus took Barabbas’ place. They realize that a murderer was preferred over the Lord Jesus, they realize that the only perfectly righteous man to ever live, was appointed to die unjustly instead of this ungodly man.
Now look at this exchange between these authorities in a wider context. When applied to all humanity, you will suddenly find no one escapes the label of Barabbas. We have all sinned, we have all committed offenses before God that are even more egregious than what Barabbas did in Jerusalem.
And notice one more thing. Jesus died in the place of a traitor and murderer. Barabbas was being held for leading an uprising and for murder, the usual Roman punishment for both was crucifixion. Yet Jesus was appointed to die in his place. In the previous passage we see Judas’ betrayal that lead to his murder. Though Judas refused faith, we see here a picture of God’s willingness to save souls even from the worst of sins, and even Judas’ had he turned to Christ by faith.
Faith comes through accepting what Christ has done for us and through understanding that the sin that dominates our lives is shattered by the God who went willing to the cross in our place – even despite the depth and breadth of our sins.