Why Did The Crowd Choose Jesus Instead of Barabbas?
Patricia L. Dickson
19 While he was seated on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous and innocent Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21 The governor said to them, “Which of the two do you wish me to set free for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all replied, “Let Him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what has He done that is evil?” But they continued shouting all the louder, “Let Him be crucified!”
There are four accounts of the life of Christ (the son of God) recorded in the New Testament books: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each gospel tells the same story through four different perspectives. The four gospels follow Jesus’ ministry from its beginning at age thirty, to His death on the cross at age thirty-three. Throughout Christ’s ministry, the gospels recount the many miracles that He performed. Jesus is always described as being full of compassion as He performs such miracles as opening blind eyes, healing leprosy, feeding the multitudes or forgiving a woman caught in the act of adultery. Yet, after performing hundreds of miracles (so many that they could not be recorded John 21:25) it was Jesus whom the crowd chose to condemn to death rather than the murderer Barabbas. In fact, they chose to outright free Barabbas.
Surely there were people in the crowd that had benefited in some way from Jesus’ ministry. Was one of the ten former lepers whom Jesus healed amongst that crowd? What about the lame man that Jesus healed in Matthew 9:6-7, was he in the crowd? Could the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years (Luke 8:43-48) or the Centurion soldier (whom Jesus healed his servant in Luke 7:6-10) have been in that crowd shouting let Him be crucified? How could the crowd be so easily persuaded by the chief priest and elders (who from all accounts had really done nothing for them) to choose to condemn Jesus, who even Governor Pilate said was innocent of any crime, and in turn free a murderer? This is a question that I have often pondered.
Perhaps they feared the chief priest and elders more than they feared Barabbas. Why else would they be willing to free a murderer back into the community? However; that does not answer the question of why when asked by Pilate of what to do with Jesus, the crowd shouted crucify Him. Not only did they wish to have Jesus condemned to death, they were willing to let the responsibility of His innocent blood fall on them and their children:
24 So when Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but rather that a riot was breaking out, he took water and washed his hands [to ceremonially cleanse himself of guilt] in the presence of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this [righteous] Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “Let [the responsibility for] His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he set Barabbas free for them; but after having Jesus severely whipped (scourged), he handed Him over to be crucified.
It appears that the crowd harbored a hatred for Jesus more than anything else. But how could they hate someone who had only done good? My mother used to always say that the way to make an enemy is to help someone. I thought she was crazy until I experienced it myself. To explain the crowds hatred for Jesus requires stating the truth. Jesus was a sinless man walking amongst sinful men. Scriptures teaches us that Jesus is the light of the world:
12 Once more Jesus addressed the crowd. He said, “[a]I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
Light will always expose darkness. Although Jesus may have healed members of the crowd’s physical ailments, their hearts were still dark (by choice). When given the choice of (what they thought) would eliminate the light walking amongst them that exposed their darkness, they chose to have Jesus killed. They felt more comfortable with Barabbas freely walking amongst them because he could not expose their darkness. Although they may not have been murderers, they were guilty of sin. All sin darkens man’s heart. People would rather associate with someone who will engage in the same sins as them. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Birds of a feather, flock together. This saying is true regardless of the type of relationship of the people. One of my colleagues and his wife are big drinkers. So much so that they even try to force their teenage daughter to drink (she complained to me about it). While attending a party at another of our colleague’s home last summer, I met their college aged son who was home for the summer (he noticed that I was the only adult not drinking). He told me that he didn’t drink alcohol (that alone is commendable and unheard of for most college kids) and that his parents kept trying to force him to. I asked his parents why they were insistent that their son drink alcohol when he clearly did not want to. Instead of being proud of their son who probably faced peer pressure all the time at college, their response was that he (their son) was too good and he needed to be like them. He probably makes them feel uncomfortable at home when they are drinking.
The crowd that condemned Jesus to death were looking for a way to rid themselves of the constant bright light shining on their sins. However, they did not recognize that He was the only one that could free them of their sins. It is natural for men to seek ways to heal what physically ails them and yet ignore his or her spiritual ailments. Jesus Christ is able to heal us and cleanse us from all unrighteous. When Jesus comes to live inside of us, we become the light of the world. And there is nothing that can put out our light except sin.