Biblical People

Biblical People: Barabbas

Barabbas appears in one scene in each of the Bible’s four biographies of Jesus. We know little about Barabbas except that he’s in prison for insurrection and murder. He’s certainly not one of the good guys.

Because he’s held on murder charges, he may face crucifixion. He’s probably on death row awaiting his execution, perhaps even as soon as Passover ends.

Then Jesus comes along. 

Isn’t this the pivotal moment in a lot of people’s lives?

Jesus has been arrested, and the Jewish leaders want to do away with him. But Pilate tries to bring about Jesus’s release. Pilate’s findings don’t matter to the mob, and his attempts to broker a less deadly solution get nowhere.

Whipped into a frenzy, the people don’t care about the law or about justice. They want blood.

Pilate’s custom each Passover is to release a prisoner, as requested by the people. This gives him an opportunity to earn some goodwill from the Jews who hate him and the Roman rule he represents.

Knowing that the Jewish leaders are railroading Jesus, Pilate offers to release him this year. The mob will have none of it. Instead they shout their request, “Barabbas!”

They don’t want Jesus—who came to heal and save—freed. Instead they want a murderer released back into society. This makes no sense, but mobs never do.

Unable to dissuade them and wanting to avoid a riot, Pilate releases Barabbas and hands Jesus over for crucifixion. Barabbas, who deserves death, is set free, and Jesus, who is without fault, dies instead.

We don’t hear anything more about Barabbas after this, so we’re left to wonder how he reacts to the second chance Jesus gives him by dying in his place.

Are we truly thankful that Jesus died for us? What do we do to let him know?

[Discover more about Barabbas in Matthew 27:15–26, Mark 15:6–15, Luke 23:18–19, and John 18:39–40.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and numerous books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at