Rebel to Citizen, Stranger to Child

“But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.”

  • Luke 23:18-19

The historical backdrop to these verses is important. Firstly, the time period was the week-long celebration of the Passover, which was the most significant Jewish Holiday. The Passover is when the Jews celebrated God’s deliverance of them from slavery by the Egyptians (Exodus 12). Consequently, many Jews traveled to Jerusalem for this required, yearly celebration. Secondly, the Romans had full governmental control over Jerusalem, surrounding regions, and consequently, the Jewish people. Thus, each year during this celebration, Romans guards and officials would flock to Jerusalem for security purposes. But in order to win and keep favor with the Jewish people during this celebratory time, the Romans issued a prisoner-release custom (Mt 27:15).

In addition, Old Testament Jewish law permitted the death penalty for any Jewish person who was found guilty of committing blasphemy. But about 40 years prior to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the Romans took complete jurisdiction of the death penalty. Simply stated, that meant that the Jews had zero power to execute one of their own – so if they wanted to do so, the Jewish leaders needed to convince Roman officials that a Jewish person was a threat to the Roman establishment; this was due to the fact that the Romans did not consider blasphemy a worthy reason for execution.

Jesus came talking about the kingdom of heaven (Mt 4:17), offered forgiveness of sins (Mt 9:1-8), and stated that he and the Father were one (Jn 10:30). The Jewish religious leaders hated Jesus for this and that he threatened their (distorted) religious order that they sought to preserve. They wanted to get rid of him but legally couldn’t. So, they decided to accuse him of wanting to overthrow Caesar, which permitted him to be on trial by the very ones who held the power of the death penalty – the Romans.

So, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own for 30 pieces of silver, arrested, put on trial by the Jewish religious leaders, and then brought before Pilate, who was the governor of Rome. Pilate found him innocent of this accusation. But to be certain, he had Herod, who was the official Roman ruler of Jesus’ hometown, confirm this. Herod too confirmed Jesus’ innocence (Lk 23). Pilate wanted to punish Jesus and then release him, but the crowd demanded differently. So, Pilate, using the prisoner-release custom, decided to put Jesus up against a notorious, insurrectionist guilty of murder named Barabbas. And yet, the crowd demanded that Barabbas be released…and Jesus be crucified. Jesus, who was wrongly accused, didn’t protest this death sentence but willingly accepted. And the criminal Barabbas went free.

Interestingly, the name Barabbas means son of (bar) the father (abba). Jesus who was and is the son of the Father, willingly exchanged his life for a rebel in the kingdom, one who was estranged from the Father. Why? Because he loved him (Jn 3:16) and because it was the plan since eternity past to redeem mankind and reconcile them back to God (Gen 3:15). This promise was clarified in Isaiah that the coming Savior would be pierced for mankind’s sins and would be crushed for their iniquities and that the punishment that he would endure would bring them peace with God (Isa 53:5).

And in these few moments of Jesus’ life exchanged for Barabbas’, we see a great truth. You (and me) are Barabbas. We are rebels in the kingdom. We are estranged from the Father who is the King. We are guilty and deserve to die (Rom 3:23). We have zero goodness (Rom 3:11-17). And yet, Jesus, the son of the Father, the only one who is truly innocent and righteous, stepped in and took our place because of his unfailing and irrevocable love for us (Eph 2:4) and obedience to God the Father (Mt 26:39, 42). 2 Corinthians 5:21 highlights this great exchange, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In other words, Jesus exchanged his life so that you who are a rebel in the kingdom can be made a citizen of the kingdom (Phil 3:20) and substituted his life so that you who are a stranger to the King can be called a child of the King (1 Jn 3:1). This exchange is the astonishing beauty and mystery of the gospel, and the reason why today is remembered as Good Friday.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I am separated from you due to my sin. No amount of my good deeds will make me right. I need Jesus to save me from my sins. Thank you for his substitutionary death so that I may be forgiven and made a child of yours. Amen.


  1. Do you believe that you are no different than Barabbas? Why or why not?
  2. How does knowing that Jesus willingly traded his life for yours bring you pause, gratitude, joy, and peace?
  3. Take time to reflect on your position before God as a forgiven child of the King.
  4. What tangible ways can you live out your life in Christ such that you reflect your citizenship of Heaven?

Hymn to Sing: “How Deep the Father’s Love”

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

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