Who was Barabbas in the Bible?

Barabbas was a notable prisoner, who was condemned to death by the Roman authorities during the time of Jesus’ trial by Pilate. The Jews opted to have him released instead of Jesus, who was condemned to die by crucifixion.

>> Get your free Bible study guide: Does God give second chances?

Barabbas and Jesus

Barabbas had been jailed for sedition and murder. Matthew 27:16 calls him “a notorious prisoner.” Mark 15:7 says Barabbas had been part of a rebellion in the city against the Roman authorities. According to the Roman law, he was condemned to die.

Next, contrast Barabbas with Jesus, who the Jewish leaders were determined to have killed, because they were envious of Him. The leaders brought Jesus before Pilate for trial, and even Pilate found Him to be innocent. Both Pilate and His wife referred to Jesus as a “just man” (Matthew 27:18, 19, 27).

Jesus and PilateHowever, there was a custom every Passover that the Jews could choose one prisoner to be set free. Pilate asked the Jewish leaders, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:17). He hoped they would choose Jesus. But they chose Barabbas!

With that, Pilate respected their choice and released Barabbas, and sent Jesus to be beaten and then crucified. (See Acts 27:26.)

What does the name Barabbas mean?

In Hebrew, the name Barabbas can be split into two words: bar meaning “son of” and abbas meaning “father”. While Barabbas’ name literally means “son of the father”, Jesus Christ was the true and literal “Son of God the Father.”

It is interesting to note that some Bible versions refer to Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas” in Matthew 27:16,17. Essentially, Pilate was asking the Jewish leaders to choose between Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah.

According to Matthew 1:21, the name Jesus means “savior”. Thus, Jesus Barabbas was trying to be the savior of the Jews by taking part in a physical rebellion against the Roman authorities. On the other hand, Jesus Christ, the true savior, is about to die on the cross spiritually freeing all humanity from the bondage to sin

The character of Barabbas

Barabbas was a robber, murderer and rebel. He had sought to save the Jews through insurrection. In character, Barabbas represented the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning. (See John 8:44.)

In heaven Satan caused sedition and a third of the angels joined him. War broke out in heaven but Satan and his angels did not prevail and they were cast out of heaven. (See Rev 12:1-3, 7-9). He promised the heavenly beings a better kingdom free from the law of God, but Satan's way only ended up leading the angels and mankind into the bondage of sin.

In contrast, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He does not use coercion to draw people to himself. Jesus’ love shown by His death on the cross is what draws humans unto Himself. Unlike Barabbas who was guilty, Jesus was declared just and innocent.

What can we learn from Barabbas?

Barabbas represents all of humanity. We are all guilty of sin, and Romans 6:23 states that, “the wages of sin is death.” We cannot save ourselves or find freedom by our own works like Barabbas tried to do. Isaiah 64:4 says that, “Our own righteousness is like filthy rags.” We can only depend on Jesus to take away our sins so that we can be released from the penalty of death and find true freedom.


Barabbas saw his need for salvation and freedom from the Romans, but not from sin. He tried to redeem his people by his own ways and in his own strength, but he failed.

Could we be repeating the same mistake, by trying to save ourselves from sin and its effects by our own power?

Just like the Jews were given an opportunity to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, we too have a choice to make—for or against Jesus. Will we choose to find freedom on our own strength or to rely on the power of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?