The story of Barabbas details a man who was arrested for the crimes of murder (Luke 23:19) and theft (John 18:40). Barabbas was on trial alongside the Lord Jesus, and according to a Jewish custom, one prisoner was to be released at the Passover feast (John 18:39).
The multitude requested for Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus Christ (Mark 15:8). While this was to the initial disagreement of Pilate (Matthew 27:23), Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19), and Herod (Luke 23:15), Pilate consented to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in order to earn favor with the Jews.
The historical narrative of the story can open eyes to some additional spiritual truth found in the text, and confirm what Scripture already states:
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. - John 3:19
Mark 15:7 teaches that Barabbas was chained and in prison with his fellow rebels. Similarly, not only is everyone a part of the chain of guilty sinners by Adam (Romans 5:12), but are also slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). We are shackled to the sinful nature that permeates our entire being unless Christ sets us free, which He did by drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us (John 18:11).
In Mark 15:8 the crowd shouted for and demanded the release of Barabbas. The masses of people today do the same thing- calling what is good evil (John 18:23), and loving sin more than God (2 Thessalonians 2:12). This was demonstrated by their desire to free a murderer and crucify the Christ.
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is shown when Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29), takes the place of Barabbas who deserved to be punished. Jesus, being innocent, took his place and was crushed by the Father for our sins (Isaiah 53:4).
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. - 2 Corinthians 5:21
According to Levitical Law (Leviticus 16), the sacrifice was to consist of a bull that atoned for the priest and his family, and two goats that were presented alive before the Lord. The priest would cast lots to determine which of the two goats would be for the Lord, and which would be the scapegoat. The Lord’s goat would be killed and offered as a sin offering for the people. The scapegoat would be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement upon it. The scapegoat was then released, unpunished, carrying the sins of the people with it. Jesus was the Lord’s sacrifice for sin, while Barabbas was the scapegoat.
The fellow rebels that were chained to Barabbas were probably the same two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. The thieves also represent all sinners who are guilty before God, but are made alive by Christ through faith (Romans 5:1).
Jesus Christ, being the true Son of God, was rejected by the Jews of that day (John 1:11). Then there was Barabbas (whose name translates “son of the father”). While Jesus Christ is the true Son of the Father, Barabbas was also the son of the father, but his father was the devil (John 8:44).
The choice we have before us today is the same as it has always been. Who will we choose, Barabbas or Jesus Christ?