Give us Barabbas!
by Carl Mease
This is the cloaked cry of vocal American religion. Aptly, commonly called American Civil Religion, the adherents are drowning out the crowd and their actions are shouting, “give us Barabbas” (Luke 23:18).
So who was Barabbas, and how do modern day followers identify with him, and demand him over Jesus of Nazareth (see Luke 23)? The Jewish historian Josephus in Jewish Antiquities lists the Jewish sects of the time of Jesus’ crucifixion as, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Zealots as the 4th sect. According to Josephus, the Zealots were started by Judas the Galilean following the census when Quirinious was governor, at the time of Jesus’ birth. This Judas is referenced in Acts 5:37 as a false Messiah, but the patriotic movement to violently overthrow the pagan Romans was still alive and well during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Before becoming a disciple of the Lord, Simon the Zealot was very likely a part of this patriotic movement with the likes of Barabbas.
What the Pharisees, Sadducees, & Essenes had in common, was the hope of Messiah and that He would come if
The Zealots may have at least appreciated the Sadducee efforts at political positioning to obtain power and favor from
In this setting it was not difficult to get a crowd chanting for Barabbas’s release, for although the Lord Jesus, the true bar-abbas (son of the Father), healed & fed them, men like Barabbas had a political agenda with action. In their eyes Jesus offered them health and food, but left them in slavery under pagan rulers. The people wanted ‘liberty’ now – not some promise of blessing to come, while in the meantime told to serve and even love the hated Romans.
The correlation becomes obvious to those who read of Jesus’s life and teaching in comparison to the civil religion of today’s
It was the mix of conservative religious values and fleshly desires for liberty that easily incited the crowd that day, to chant “away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”. In essence, they were saying – we want the truths and promises of God’s Word, but we want liberty our way. They were saying, we want liberty at the price of disobeying God’s command to love our enemies – bless those who curse us – pray for those who persecute us. We will condone and do evil to triumph over evil. We will not overcome evil with good, but execute vengeance: which only God’s prerogative (
Sadly, this is the chant of religious
The Zealot movement grew after the favored Barabbas was released, but was brutally crushed in AD 70; along with the