Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at
As he lay bound in the prison, he must have thought back on his life and wondered how it all ended up like this. Some kids have parents that are cold and distant, and can lay some blame at those feet. But not him. Even his name was a reflection of how much his parents, especially his father, thought of him:
Barabbas. Son of his father. Daddy’s boy.
No, he could not blame any parental neglect for what he had become.
As he shifted in his chains, he must have trembled a bit, knowing things were only going to get worse, far worse, from here. And rightfully so; he had progressed from robber to insurrectionist to murderer. He had committed all of the crimes that put one on Rome’s “most wanted” list every single time. And Rome was intent not just on punishing a man like him, but on making an example out of him.
He was doubtless going to be crucified.
The very word sent a shudder up his spine. Crucifixion was the perfect combination of physical, mental, and emotional torture. He would die, that was for certain, but by the time he had endured the hours or even days of suffering, death would be the most merciful part of all of it.
He must have looked over at his followers, bound along with him, and realized that he bore the additional weight of guilt of having led them to their awful demise as well. As the gospel writer, Mark, would later observe, they made insurrection with him, not the other way around.
Yes, he was going to die, and he richly deserved it.
But very likely unbeknownst to Barabbas, there was a greater drama playing out very near him at the exact same time. A man named Jesus was also on trial for his life, and was also facing crucifixion. Where Barabbas had robbed, Jesus had always and only given. Where Barabbas had made insurrection, Jesus was the king of a kingdom not even of this world, and was utterly above all of the political machinations of the day. Where Barabbas had murdered, Jesus had very literally given life to the dead. They could not be more diametrically different.
And yet the trials of these two different men were about to intersect in the most meaningful of ways. Pilate, the governor, not even realizing the spiritual significance of what he was doing, set up an either/or situation with Jesus and Barabbas.
Matthew 27:17 says, “Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” In doing what he did, either Jesus was going to die and Barabbas would be released, or Barabbas would die and Jesus would be released. One would be put to death as guilty, the other would be released as justified. It would be either/or; both would not die, only one.
What must it have been like for Barabbas when he heard the key clinking in the lock of the cell door, and the heavy footsteps of the soldier approaching him? How must he have gasped in horror as the soldier reached down to unlock his chain? Surely he must have thought that the next words he would hear were “It’s time, murderer, now you must suffer and die for your crimes.”
But instead he heard, “You are free, Barabbas, someone else is dying in your place…”
It was not a change that delivered Barabbas; it was an exchange. The man was a robber, an insurrectionist, and a murderer; no “change” on his part could ever undo so much as a single one of the sins he had committed against God and the crimes he had committed against man. And that is what makes Barabbas and what Jesus did for him such a wonderful picture of salvation.
You see, people instinctively think that in order to be saved they must change, clean up, turn over a new leaf, stop sinning, perform religious ceremonies, pick whatever term you like. But no change on our part can ever undo a single wrong thing we have ever done. That is why God, knowing that a change would never do, set up an exchange instead.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Simply put, Jesus died to pay for all of our sins. He became sin so that we could become righteous. People who acknowledge and repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone have the same thing happen to them spiritually that Barabbas had happen to him physically:
They get to go free.
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at