“And they all cried out at once, saying, ‘Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas’” (Luke 23:18)
In the accounts of the Lord Jesus’ betrayal are truths that speak to the conditions of our day. In the events leading up to His crucifixion, two contrasting figures stand before Pilate.
Alongside Jesus was a man named Barabbas; a prisoner convicted of theft and murder. But Barabbas was no ordinary prisoner. Matthew mentions that he was notorious, possibly a problematic figure in the social and political struggles of that time. Although there is no biblical or historical record of Barabbas outside brief mentions in the four gospels, we read in Mark’s account that he was part of an uprising, most likely as a part of the Zealots or local bandits concerned with insurrection against elites and the Roman occupation.
In the complex social and political climate of that day, Barabbas stood as a substitute to Christ. And despite the social divide between Jewish peasants and aristocrats, the religious rift among sects, and the growing tension with Roman rule, all factions banded together against Christ to favor Barabbas.
Barabbas means “son of a father or master”. Although a son, he represents the offspring of the wrong nature. Since that which is born of the flesh is flesh (Joh. 3:6), his ways, mind and very being were of the natural or Adamic man. In contrast, Jesus Christ manifested the Father as the firstborn Son of God. And just as that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, His ways, mind and power were out of the heavens of God’s Spirit. Thus Jesus, the pattern Son, exemplified the mark of a true son – to be led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14).
Placed before the crowd then were two men, two peoples, two natures, each an agent of change offering liberty from the powers of domination and oppression. One presented freedom by the strength of human flesh, the other by the power of the Spirit.
As know by many, the crowd chose Barabbas perhaps lured by his revolutionary aspirations. Here was a man who offered something seemingly tangible. Here was a freedom fighter who was willing to risk his life for the cause and who presented an attractive proposition – emancipation form the injustice of the elite establishment and the strong hand of Rome.
In contrast, the crowd saw submission to God, love of enemy, and the way of the cross contradictory to the struggle at hand. They saw Jesus Christ as having no stately form or outward splendor that was desirable (Isa. 53:2). They despised and rejected Him, regarding Him insignificant for the cause of their generation.
Today Barabbas finds its main expression in a progressive ideology that asserts man’s ability and responsibility to pursue justice for the greater good of humanity apart from God. The absence of God’s Spirit in much of what is called ‘social justice’ today is an paradigmatic example of this.
Although the man Barabbas typifies the extremes of such ideologies (employing violence in his pursuit of justice), the underlying spirit is no different from most justice proponents of our day. Both are guided by the strength and wisdom of the flesh and fuel more division and strife than unity. Both are inspired by a selective compassion that expresses concern for one and indifference and resentment toward another.
This syndrome of selective compassion is especially one that threads through movements driven by group identity where over-identification leads to more empathy, understanding and leniency being directed toward those who share and support one’s race, ethnicity, gender, ideology, dogmas, political or religious affiliation, etc.
In our day, Barabbas and its ambitions for justice are not only predominant in secular society but they have infiltrated the church. These pragmatic movements have struck a deep cord in many a believer’s heart. I especially sense that many young believers, frustrated by the church’s lack of credibility and powerlessness to assert itself as the moral standard in society, have been lured by the aspirations of Barabbas.
Unfortunately many conflate the organized church system with the Spirit of Christ. Thus the kingdom of God and the effectual working of the Spirit have been reduced to the church system’s inadequacy. And while many still maintain their denominational allegiances, there remains a disconnect with the way their spiritual worldview guides their position on a number of social and political issues. Their voices, along with their faith, have been drowned by the crowds. And they have begun to deem Christ and the gospel of the kingdom insignificant for the practical issues we face in this hour.
That notorious prisoner Barabbas remains caged within souls of men and is as alive and boisterous as in those days of Jesus’ crucifixion. And the choice put forth before the crowd is one we face each day, for every time we are guided by the flesh instead of the mind of Christ, we choose Barabbas. Every time we are swayed by the rudimentary and carnal methods of the world and disregard the ways of Christ, we choose Barabbas. Every time our confidence shifts from the kingdom of God to the systems/movements of this world, we choose Barabbas. Every time our convictions turn from the light of the gospel to the nihilistic philosophies of this age, we choose Barabbas. Every time our hope is anchored in men instead of Christ, be it leaders in the spheres of politics, economics, culture, or religion, we choose Barabbas.
Paul warns us that having begun in the Spirit we should not turn to the flesh (Gal. 3:3). The way of the flesh may seem expedient, practical and pragmatic but its end is vain deceit. Those who trust in the flesh, exert the flesh, or walk after the flesh in an attempt to establish justice and righteousness crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
True justice is the justice of the kingdom. If we truly desire a people who seek justice in our land then we must endeavor to bring forth a divine revelation of Christ who is the righteousness of God. Only in Him can justice, peace and love reign in hearts of people. The tumors of strife, hate, selfishness, anger, prejudice, deceitfulness, pride, malice, resentment and every wickedness of man’s heart can only be removed when men and women find their true identity and reality in Christ.
Photo by Marie Boirin Unsplash