15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. 16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.
Matt 27:15-18 NKJV
Most translations make mention of this in this footnotes: that in some manuscripts, Barabbas is actually called Jesus Barabbas. The NET Bible adds this in the commentary on this textual criticism:
Although the external evidence for the inclusion of “Jesus” before “Barabbas” (in vv. 16 and 17) is rather sparse, being restricted virtually to the Caesarean text (Θ ƒ 700* pc sy), the omission of the Lord’s name in apposition to “Barabbas” is such a strongly motivated reading that it can hardly be original. There is no good explanation for a scribe unintentionally adding ᾿Ιησοῦν (Iēsoun) before Βαραββᾶν (Barabban), especially since Barabbas is mentioned first in each verse (thus dittography is ruled out). Further, the addition of τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν (ton legomenon Christon, “who is called Christ”) to ᾿Ιησοῦν in v. 17 makes better sense if Barabbas is also called “Jesus” (otherwise, a mere “Jesus” would have been a sufficient appellation to distinguish the two).
It does seem to me that Barabbas was actually named Jesus Barabbas, which begs an interesting question: Who do you want in your life, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ?
What do we know about Barabbas?
Matthew said that he was a notorious prisoner (Matt 27:16). Google defines notorious as “famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed.” So Barabbas was famous and well known.
John records this about Barabbas:
40 Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
John 18:40 NKJV
The NET Bible translates robber as revolutionary, with this comment.
Or “robber.” It is possible that Barabbas was merely a robber or highwayman, but more likely, given the use of the term ληστής (lēstēs) in Josephus and other early sources, that he was a guerrilla warrior or revolutionary leader. See both R. E. Brown (John [AB], 2:857) and K. H. Rengstorf (TDNT 4:258) for more information. The word λῃστής was used a number of times by Josephus (J. W. 2.13.2-3 [2.253-254]) to describe the revolutionaries or guerrilla fighters who, from mixed motives of nationalism and greed, kept the rural districts of Judea in constant turmoil.
So Barabbas was a notorious revolutionary. He was a guerilla fighter or revolutionary leader. Google defines revolutionary as “a person who works for or engages in political revolution.” So Barabbas was famous and well known for engaging in political revolution. One could even say that he had a reputation for being extremely political, that he was a nationalist.
Mark says this:
And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion.
Mark 15:7 NKJV
Luke confirms this:
18 And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.
Luke 23:18-19 NKJV
Many were unhappy with being under Roman rule, but Barabbas was willing to take matters into his own hands and join the rebellion, even so far as to commit murder in the rebellion. So Barabbas was a famous and well known political revolutionary who backed his cause up with violence. A political leader.
The NET adds this comment on v19: ” Ironically, what Jesus was alleged to have done, started an insurrection, this man really did.” The Pharisees brought Jesus before Pilate with the charge of insurrection. Barabbas had actually done it.
John records that the people tried to make Jesus king.
Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.
John 6:15 NKJV
The Archaeological Study Bible notes this on John 6:15:
The people wanted to force Jesus to define his mission and work politically – to become a king who would rival the Herodians or the Romans. Jesus wanted no part of such a kingship.
While Barabbas defined his mission and work politically, Jesus wanted no part of it. His mission and work is to save souls, to get people right with God.
How often do we try to define the mission and work of Jesus politically? We want to make him our political mascot. But when we do, we are actually choosing Jesus Barabbas rather than Jesus Christ.
This isn’t to say that we can’t get involved in politics. But what is your priority? What is your focus? Look at your social media posts. Are you posting more about politics or religion? Are you more concerned about politics than religion? Do you feel that religion is private but your politics should be shouted from the rooftops? If you feel more strongly about politics than religion, could it be that politics is your religion?
Do you see your political rivals as idiots, or fools, or whatever your favorite name for them is? I recommend that you take a moment and read Matt 5:21-26. Jesus Christ equates hateful name calling with murder. If you have favorite derogatory names for your political rivals (like “deplorable” or “libtard”), could it be that your Jesus is Barabbas rather than Jesus Christ? If you feel that you are better or superior to your political rivals, could it be that your Jesus is Barabbas rather than Jesus Christ? If you are willing to compromise Christian standards and ideals for political standards or ideals, could it be that your Jesus is Barabbas rather than Jesus Christ?
“Take heed that no one deceives you.5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
Matt 24:4b-5 NKJV
Jesus Barabbas is about politics and accomplishing things politically. Jesus Christ is about doing the works of the Father. There are some who are so enraptured by their politics, that they are willing to sacrifice their relationships with friends, family, and loved ones for politics. There are some who are so enraptured by politics that everything and every conversation is about politics to them.
Please note, this isn’t to say that we can’t have ideas about politics. This isn’t to say that we should abstain from politics. But salvation is found in no other name than the name of Jesus Christ. There is no salvation in politics or government.