Pilate told the people that they could choose to spare the life of either a murderer named Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth, and they chose Barabbas. Given the same choice, Jesus, of course, would have chosen to spare Barabbas too.

To understand the reason in each case would be to understand much of what the New Testament means by saying that Jesus is the Savior, and much of what it means too by saying that, by and large, people are in bad need of being saved.

-Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures

A further exploration of the theme of Mark 6 might go so far as to say that each of us is also in the place of Barabbas. We are, socially speaking, at the mercy of those around us, and yet we don’t hesitate to pass judgment despite Christ’s warning to avoid doing so. Sinners among us pay a heavy price when their sins are revealed (hence, the prospect of having one’s sins shouted from the rooftops is a panic-inducing prophecy). So we stand to be judged by both God and each other. Christ is the sacrifice in our place.

Like a lot of exegesis, there are limits to the parallel. Pilate is not God. The law is not satisfied by having one person punished for the sins of another. The mechanism by which our guilt is washed away is a mystery, and must (in my opinion) remain so if it is to be efficacious. But the story of Barabbas is fascinating because it shows the social dynamics between society, the sinner, and God. All three choose to save the sinner, but it is righteousness only unto God.

What does Jesus teach us about being a Savior?


  1. Leonard R says:

    The last line, penultimate paragraph – classic.

  2. Fascinating. I’ve never thought of Jesus saving me from the judgment of others. But I think that works. Furthermore, it’s something I can work at–I can’t do much about God’s judgment–that’s got to be for Jesus. But I can participate (in a small and halting way) in saving people from the judgment of others.

  3. This Parralel of of Jesus and Barabbas is very interesting to me.

    the NRSV states that Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas or Jesus “Son of the Father”. and was imprisoned for being a violent revolutionary insurrectionist.

    So if we take the Gospels at face value, here is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the Father and Jesus “Son of the father” and Pilate is asking the people to pick between them. The one had preached violent revolution, which is what the people wanted their Messiah to do, and the other had preached peaceful ministry.

  4. Steve, I’m still turning this over in my mind, after having encountered it yesterday. It makes this passage fresh and personal, and that’s something I really need right now.

    Thank you for sharing this :)

  5. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Here is what Jesus said “the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Numbers 35:17,17,18,31

  6. Glenn, did Jesus also command genocide against Palestinians? C’mon man. Step up your game. Jesus is the new law.

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