I was reading the book of John this morning, and I came across something that hit me like a ton of bricks. You know how Pilate asks the Jews who they want to be pardoned, and they choose Barabbas over Jesus? Well, Barabbas was an insurrectionist — a likely Zealot who had committed crimes against the Roman Empire in an attempt to gain freedom from Roman oppression for the Jewish people. He was a man who was a Jewish nationalist.
What is really, really interesting about this story, however, is the name Barabbas. Bar Abbas, in Hebrew, means “son of the father.” As if that wasn’t strange enough, the original manuscript of Mark had his name as “Jesus Bar Abbas.” The early church father Origen had the name “Jesus” removed from the text in the second century.
So, you have two Jesus’s being held by Pilate. Both are named “Jesus Son of the Father.” One is crucified, one is set free. The one who was set free was the nationalist who fought to protect the national interests of the Jewish people. Does anyone think that perhaps the gospel writers were trying to make a point here?
Barabbas sounds like a noble guy — a person you’d like to have on your side if the country was in trouble. Yet, the gospels clearly show that his approach was not the God approach. The God approach was self-sacrifice. The God approach healed the soldier’s ear after Peter cut it off defending Jesus.
One argument against non-violence that I hear quite often is, “What if an innocent child was being attacked, what would you do then?” While I don’t have a good answer to that question, I can say with confidence that Jesus was most likely the most innocent person ever attacked. Yet when this was happening, He told Peter to put the sword up, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
I’m guessing the gospel writers had a good grasp of the tempting pull of nationalism over the Kingdom of God. After all, it seems right. Yet, we see who the mob persecuting Jesus chose to free — the brave nationalist who would preserve their state and way of life. He must have been a real hero! Jesus the Christ, on the other hand, wasn’t at all interested in preserving national interests or a particular way of life. “Pick up your cross and follow me,” he said.
Christians are being told that “Jesus died for your sins. He went to the cross and was resurrected after three days, and if you believe in him you will be saved.” The thing is, how on earth can anyone believe in Him if they don’t know him? And how can anyone know him if they are following Jesus Bar Abbas?
It’s something to think about.