Taking the Place of Barabbas

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.

19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

23 Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”

25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. — Matthew 27:15-26.


Despite a strong warning from his wife to have nothing to do with the unjust trial of Jesus, Pilate sees a way out of this predicament by offering to set Jesus free as the one prisoner released each year at the feast as was his custom. He knows that envy, not justice, has motivated the hunters of Jesus. The crowds have cried for Christ’s blood, having been manipulated by the religious leaders. Pilate offers to release Jesus as an alternative to Barabbas, a notorious criminal. But, whipped up by their religious leaders, the crowd shout for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to take the punishment that Barabbas would have taken, namely crucifixion. Pilate, seeing that his scheme has backfired, washes his hands publicly to show that he is innocent of the blood of ‘this just Person’. Of course he is not innocent, because he has unjustly agreed to be influential in a judicial matter which should not concern him. The people’s cry is, ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’ which is later to be fulfilled in two entirely different ways. Barabbas is released and Jesus is scourged prior to handing Him over to be crucified.


“the feast” (v.15) — This refers to the Passover, one of the three annual feasts which all Jewish males above the age of twenty were required to attend (cf. Lev. 23).

“the governor was accustomed” — There is no historical corroboration for this except Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.3.

“Barabbas” (vv.16,17) — “Barabbas” [Aramaic bar abba בר אבא] literally “son of the father”. He was truly guilty of the treasonous charge of which Jesus was accused.

“For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy” (v.18) — Pilate tried several ways to release Jesus because of his contempt for the Jewish leaders and their manipulative practices.

“his wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.'” (v.19) — This information is unique to Matthew. They must have talked about Jesus. She used a Messianic title for Him, but how much she knew is uncertain! The irony is that a pagan woman saw what the Jewish leaders did not (cf. Matt. 27:54; John 1:11).

“destroy Jesus” (v.20) — They wanted Jesus to be put to death.

“Why, what evil has he done” (v.3) — Pilate was not convinced of Jesus’ guilt. This text was a way for the early church (also the trials in Acts) to show that Christianity was not a threat to Roman rule.

“they cried out all the more” — This could be rendered “they began shouting” or “they shouted again and again.” This crowd was not the same as the pilgrims involved in the Triumphal Entry. This was possibly the friends of Barabbas who had gathered for the purpose of trying to gain his release! Some have seen this crowd as a set up by the Sanhedrin.

“a tumult was rising” (v.24) — The mob was on the verge of rioting. This was always a possibility during feasts with Jerusalem being so crowded with exuberant pilgrims. Rome always stationed extra troops from Caesarea in the Fortress Antonio during feast days.

“washed his hands before the multitude” — This was a Jewish custom, not a Roman practice (see Deuteronomy 21:6-7; Psalm 26:6; 73:13).

“His blood be on us and on our children” (v.25) — This was a grave oath, especially in light of the OT view of corporate guilt (see Exodus 20:5-6; 2 Samuel 3:29). This was a self-curse! It was fulfilled in A.D. 70.

“scourged” (v.26) — This was a severe punishment! It was often fatal. It always preceded crucifixion, but it seems initially from John 19:1, 12 that this possibly was another attempt by Pilate to gain sympathy for Jesus.

This terrible beating always preceded crucifixion. It was so severe that many died from it. A person was unclothed (stripped) and their hands tied to a stake in the ground. Then a whip of leather thongs with pieces of rock, metal, or bone braided into the end of the nine thongs was lashed across the exposed back. It is recorded that these thongs

1. blinded the victim
2. opened the ribs to the bone
3. knocked out teeth

There was no limit to the number of lashes given by the two soldiers, one on each side.

And so, the innocent Jesus took the place of the criminal Barabbas. Jesus took our place on the Cross, so that we may be released (set free) from our sins (crimes against God).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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