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Bible Gem 1254 - Jesus and Barabbas in Stark Contrast (Luke 23:13-25)

August 21, 2019


As I told you in the previous Gemz, the natural process ought to have been that Pilate would release Jesus, whom he considered to be innocent. We have been given indications that the crowd were favourable toward this healer / prophet and His support of the common man against the religious leaders. His stories, parables and actions have constantly pitted Him against the Sanhedrin and for the common people. It seems Pilate suspected that, when he tried to allow many of the crowd access to the court room. What is fascinating is that Luke uses verse 17 as the introductory comment for the action that follows.  


17  [Now it was necessary for him to release one prisoner to them during the Passover celebration.]  It is not at all a parenthetical statement, an editor's comment or a note on the side. This makes sense of the attempt by Pilate to release Jesus. There is much debate among the textual experts as to why verse 17 is where it is. As I told you in the last Gemz, Luke 17 seems to be out of place. It would be more logical for this verse to be attached to the following bracketed section. That would make more sense. Verse 17 of Luke 23 is problematic. Many of the most reliable manuscripts do not include it and some of the Western text family place it after verse 19, I.e with the other bracketed portion as I suggested in Gem 1253. This is indication of a debate over the ages as to where this verse belongs. Many feel it was not in Luke's original manuscript and was merely inserted by a later scribe who copied it from the parallel reading in Mark 15:6 as a way of "helping" Luke's introduction. The question we have to ask ourselves is did Luke write verse 17 in the original document in order to explain the reason why Pilate wanted to release Jesus? Or did the reaction from the crowd happen first and then the parenthetic statement related to Barabbas was made in verse 19. But it would strengthen the statement if indeed verse 17 were added to it. The very reason for Barabbas and Jesus to be contrasted is the fact that traditionally someone was pardoned at Passover time. Given what has gone before this, Jesus is the obvious candidate. I strong suspect that is what Luke is drawing our attention to. 


I don't find any difficulty with the reading as it is, because it places strong emphasis on the reason Luke has linked these two elements and why the crowd's reaction comes after the first statement about the tradition of releasing a prisoner. Luke appears to have been making it clear to us that Pilate found Jesus innocent and wanted to release Him. As it was Pilate's tradition to release a prisoner at Passover, the logical one was Jesus. When Pilate made the suggestion it was not the members of the Sanhedrin who up until now have cried for Jesus blood and no leniency, who cried, "Kill Him." It was the crowd who theoretically were favourably disposed toward Jesus who rose AS ONE, en masse to call for Jesus' death. This was "out of character". What happened here? 


Note how Matthew's unique elements make it all clear to us what happened. 


17  As the crowds gathered before Pilate's house that morning, he asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to youBarabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" 
18  (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 
19  Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: "Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night." 
20  Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 
21  So the governor asked again, "Which of these two do you want me to release to you?" The crowd shouted back, "Barabbas!" 
22  Pilate responded, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" They shouted back, "Crucify Him!" 
23  "Why?" Pilate demanded. "What crime has He committed?" But the mob roared even louder, "Crucify Him!" 
24  Pilate saw that he wasn't getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. The responsibility is yours!" 
25  And all the people yelled back, "We will take responsibility for His death—we and our children!" 
26  So Pilate released Barabbas to them. 


Pilate was very knowledgable as to what was going on. He sensed the degree to which the Sanhedrin were personally involved in manipulating this case. I have drawn your attention already to presence of the members of the Sanhedrin at every step along the way. They won't let it go. From Matthew we gain the understanding of some of the other background information as to what was going on here. We are told specifically that the leading Priests and elders have be stirring up the crowd against Jesus. They were spreading the word through the crowd to call for the death penalty. They have already been found to be employing false witnesses in an attempt to pervert justice. Isn't this hugely ironic given the nature of the original charges Luke lists for us. 

  1. He is perverting our nation

  2. He is forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar

  3. He is saying that He is Christ, a rival king to Caesar.  

The only way they were going to get a verdict of death from the Roman court was to prove that Jesus was a subversive. One who was actively working against the Roman regime, who was spreading insurrection and subversion. One who was seeking to undermine Roman authority. Pilate and Herod have already concluded that was not the case. Matthew adds for us the personal element that comes through Pilate's wife who was warned in a dream, NOT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO with this INNOCENT man. Everything around Pilate shouts Jesus' innocence. Pilate was clearly ready to pronounce His innocence and let Him go with a light whipping. If not for the subversive work of the Sanhedrin. Now who ought to be arrested and tried for subversion and perverting the Jewish nation? Well it is clear that the Sanhedrin are guilty of all they were accusing Jesus of doing. But then look at the contrast we have between Jesus and Barabbas. I mean come on this a no-brainer. The accusations are: perverting the nation, refusing tribute to Caesar and acting in a way to rival the Roman leadership. Now who is it who was doing that? It is clear to us, to Pilate and to Herod that it wasn't Jesus. 



There is just no comparison between the two on the basis of the charges. Barabbas is all those things that Jesus was accused of being. The Sanhedrin knew that. It was very clear to them who Barabbas was. It was their job to single out all who were a threat to Roman rule among them because any disturbance to the PAX ROMA was their responsibility. Yet they encouraged the crowd to demand the release of the very man who is all those things they were accusing Jesus of doing. There is huge irony here.  

Further more don't miss the little touch of the connection of Luke's 19:10 comment here in the context of Barabbas. The Son of Man came to save lost, guilty sinners. And He starts even before His crucifixion on the task of saving the guilty with Barabbas. Luke keeps adding meaning almost with every sentence. 


Take note of Luke's unique ending. 


20  Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 
21  But they kept shouting, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" 
22  For the third time he demanded, "Why? What crime has He committed? I have found no reason to sentence Him to death. So I will have Him flogged, and then I will release Him." 
23  But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed
24  So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. 
25  As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he turned Jesus over to them to do as they wished. 


Three times Pilate argued for Jesus' innocence and three times the Priests and the crowd, egged on by the Sanhedrin call for His death. Hence Luke states it again by way of emphasis - "So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he turned Jesus over to them to do as they wished."


Then Matthew adds Pilate's last act as result of the input that his wife had given him about this man Jesus. 

Pilate saw that he wasn't getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood. The responsibility is yours!" 
And all the people yelled back, "We will take responsibility for His death—we and our children!"


How damning! Did they really know what they were doing? I suspect not. It reminds you of something else said earlier doesn't it? Not by the crowd but by the Jewish religious leaders. Notice again what was said by Caiaphas at the first trial before Annas.  ""they led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people." John 18:13-14 Talk about out of the mouths of babes and unsuspecting High Priests. How telling that remark is in the context of what was about to happen and what had already happened in Jesus substitution for Barabbas. 


This section certainly needs some more pondering before we go on. Time for me to stop at this point. Christmas time is the perfect time for meditating on all of this. Don't just search the Scriptures daily thinking they testify of Him, but come to Him who stands behind the Word – come to the Living Word, the Bread of Heaven, the Manna in human form, who was born in Bethlehem – the House of Bread. Ask Him to take you more deeply into this word picture.



Sometimes God doesn’t want us to be rescued by others. He wants us to walk out of our mess with Him. Joyce Meyer


God is your Creator, not your concierge; your Savior, not your slave. He is God, not a genie. You exist for him, not vice-versa. Rick Warren


Try shifting your glance away from the one who has hurt you and setting your eyes on the One who has saved you. Max Lucado


The one who saved your soul longs to remake your heart. His plan is nothing short of a total transformation. Max Lucado


If you haven't any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. Bob Hope


It's EASY to love people like yourself. But for God to teach you REAL love, He must bring unlovely people into your life. Rick Warren




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