Release To Us Barabbas!

The first century Jews would gather at Jerusalem three times each year: the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), and the Feast of Weeks (Jewish Pentecost).

{23:14} Three times in each year, you shall celebrate feasts to me.

{23:17} Three times a year, all your males shall appear before the Lord your God.

Many women would travel for the feasts also. But the law only required men to go to Jerusalem, since women would often be unable to travel because of pregnancy or children. And if any male was too old or too young, he was not obligated. So the crowd that gathered at Jerusalem for the feasts was comprised in large part of able-bodied men.

In ancient times, Israel went to war on many occasions. And most of the soldiers were not professional full-time troops, but volunteers or draftees (as we might call them). Every able-bodied male, who was not recently married, was expected to go to war. So the crowd that gathered at Jerusalem included most of those men who would become soldiers if Israel ever decided to revolt against the Romans (and they eventually did revolt in the first century A.D.)

Now at the time of the Passover, a vast number of Jews would gather at Jerusalem. There was no room for them in the few places of lodging in and around the city, so they would pitch tents around Jerusalem. The city itself is walled and built upon Mount Zion. So the encampments of those visiting for the feast would surround the Mount on the level ground below. It was as if a vast army was encamped around Jerusalem.

During the time of Pontius Pilate, there were perhaps a few thousand Roman soldiers stationed at Jerusalem. The number of able-bodied Jewish men who gathered for the feasts numbered well over one million. At one point in his account of Jewish-Roman history, Flavius Josephus estimated the number of Jews who came to Jerusalem for the Passover at “not fewer in number than three millions.” [Wars of the Jews, 2:280].

For these reasons, the huge crowds that assembled in Jerusalem for Jewish feasts had power to influence the Roman rulers — as both the crowds and the rulers knew well. For example, Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus (cf. Mt 27:17-19; Lk 23:13-16; Jn 19:6-12), but the crowds demanded His Crucifixion. Pilate feared a riot; this is part of the reason that he sent Jesus to be crucified (Mt 27:24-26; Mk 15:11-15; Lk 23:23-25).

All this explains why the crowd could demand the release of Barabbas, a known criminal, despite the strictness of Roman law. By sheer force of numbers, by the tyranny of the majority, they could demand that the guilty be set free, and the innocent be put to death: “Crucify him!”

{27:15} Now on the solemn day, the procurator was accustomed to release to the people one prisoner, whomever they wished.
{27:16} And at that time, he had a notorious prisoner, who was called Barabbas.
{27:17} Therefore, having been gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Who is it that you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?”
{27:18} For he knew that it was out of envy they had handed him over.
{27:19} But as he was sitting in the place for the tribunal, his wife sent to him, saying: “It is nothing to you, and he is just. For I have experienced many things today through a vision for his sake.”
{27:20} But the leaders of the priests and the elders persuaded the people, so that they would ask for Barabbas, and so that Jesus would perish.
{27:21} Then, in response, the procurator said to them, “Which of the two do you want to be released to you?” But they said to him, “Barabbas.”
{27:22} Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do about Jesus, who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified.”
{27:23} The procurator said to them, “But what evil has he done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let him be crucified.”
{27:24} Then Pilate, seeing that he was able to accomplish nothing, but that a greater tumult was occurring, taking water, washed his hands in the sight of the people, saying: “I am innocent of the blood of this just man. See to it yourselves.”
{27:25} And the entire people responded by saying, “May his blood be upon us and upon our children.”
{27:26} Then he released Barabbas to them. But Jesus, having been scourged, he handed over to them, so that he would be crucified.

Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner”, indicating that the people knew him to be guilty of his crimes. The Gospel of Mark is more specific:

{15:6} Now on the feast day, he was accustomed to release to them one of the prisoners, whomever they requested.
{15:7} But there was one called Barabbas, who had committed murder in the sedition, who was confined with those of the sedition.

Barabbas was known to have committed murder during a rebellion. Luke speaks similarly of this prisoner:

{23:17} Now he was required to release one person for them on the feast day.
{23:18} But the entire crowd exclaimed together, saying: “Take this one, and release to us Barabbas!”
{23:19} Now he had been cast into prison because of a certain sedition that occurred in the city and for murder.

But John characterizes him as a robber, which was probably his profession (so to speak) prior to the sedition.

{18:39} But you have a custom, that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Therefore, do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”
{18:40} Then they all cried out repeatedly, saying: “Not this one, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.

In those days, robbers used force, including deadly force (murder). They would sometimes leave their victims beaten and so severely injured that they would die, as Jesus mentions in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

{10:30} Then Jesus, taking this up, said: “A certain man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he happened upon robbers, who now also plundered him. And inflicting him with wounds, they went away, leaving him behind, half-alive.

The crowd shouted for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. They preferred to free the guilty and condemn the innocent, because their own lives were sinful and they were unrepentant. And yet this crowd was comprised mainly of Jews, present at Jerusalem to worship God.

So it is also today.

In nations, the majority of whose citizens are Christian or Catholic, grave sins are treated as rights and freedoms, while holy and devout behavior is condemned as if it were a crime. Today, the tyranny of the majority in Western nations is pressing the government to “release” the Barabbas of grave sins, making such acts legal. The crowd of today demands that the culture treat grave sins as if such acts were good and praiseworthy. And whosoever disagrees is subject to metaphorical crucifixion. The innocent are condemned as if they were guilty, and the guilty are praised and assisted in their grave sins.

The politicians today are like Pontius Pilate. They are afraid of the crowd, and so they give in to the demands of the culture. They let themselves be oppressed and enslaved by tyranny of the majority, regardless of justice and morals. We live in a nation with a democratic government, but a totalitarian culture. And the tyranny of the culture has gained much control over the government.

John Adams: “To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve all history and universal experience; it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us the heart is deceitful in all things and desperately wicked.” [A Defense Of The Constitutions Of Government Of The United States Of America (1787-1788).]

What became of Jerusalem, not too many years after the release of Barabbas and the condemnation of Jesus, the Innocent One? The city went to war against the Romans and was destroyed, along with its Temple.

{13:51} And Daniel said to them, “Separate these at a distance from one another, and I will judge between them.”
{13:52} And so, when they were divided, one from the other, he called one of them, and he said to him, “You deep-rooted ancient evil, now your sins have come out, which you have committed before,
{13:53} judging unjust judgments, oppressing the innocent, and setting free the guilty, though the Lord declares, ‘The innocent and the just you must not put to death.’

{5:20} Woe to you who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness; who exchange bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

And what will become of the United States and the other Western nations, which have rejected the good morals of the Christian religion, while still calling themselves Christian? Will God stand idly by and let one grave sin be heaped upon another, without recompense?

{5:24} Because of this, as the tongue of fire devours stubble, and as the heat of a flame burns it completely, so will their root become like glowing embers, and so will their offshoot ascend like dust. For they have cast aside the law of the Lord of hosts, and they have blasphemed the eloquence of the Holy One of Israel.
{5:25} For this reason, the fury of the Lord has been enraged against his people, and he has extended his hand over them, and he has struck them. And the mountains were disturbed. And their carcasses became like dung in the midst of the streets. After all this, his fury was not turned away; instead, his hand was still extended.
{5:26} And he will lift up a sign to nations far away, and he will whistle to them from the ends of the earth. And behold, they will rush forward speedily.
{5:27} There is no one weak or struggling among them. They will not become drowsy, and they will not sleep. Neither will the belt around their waist be loosened, nor the laces of their boots be broken.
{5:28} Their arrows are sharp, and all their bows are taut. The hoofs of their horses are like flint, and their wheels are like the force of a tempest.
{5:29} Their roaring is like the lion; they will roar like young lions. They will both roar and seize their prey. And they will wrap themselves around it, and there will be no one who can rescue it.
{5:30} And in that day, they will make a noise over it, like the sound of the sea. We will gaze out toward the land, and behold, the darkness of the tribulation, and even the light has been darkened by its gloom.

The tribulation will overtake the world, especially the unrepentant Christian nations, until (after many years and immense suffering) the world repents of all its sins.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to Release To Us Barabbas!

  1. Matt says:

    Great post, Ron! Can you share this on Twitter and then I’ll retweet.

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