Why Did The Crowd Choose Jesus Instead of Barabbas?

JesusAndBarabbasby Patricia L. Dickson2/28/16
Matthew 27:19-23: 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:

Matthew 27:24-26

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:

John 8:1

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.

PatriciaDicksonPatricia Dickson blogs at Patricia’s Corner.
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15 Responses to Why Did The Crowd Choose Jesus Instead of Barabbas?

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    A dismayingly good interpretation, but I do have a couple of caveats. For one thing, we don’t know if Barabbas murdered his fellow Jews — or Roman occupiers. If the latter, the crowd’s decision becomes a lot more understandable. We must also remember that the crowd didn’t have every Jew in the land, and that their cries weren’t necessarily unanimous. Perhaps Jesus’s beneficiaries weren’t there — or were shouted down.

    • Rosalys says:

      “Perhaps Jesus’s beneficiaries weren’t there — or were shouted down.”

      Or too afraid. After Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and arrested in the garden at Gethsemane, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” (Matt. 26:56) They only regained their courage after the resurrection.

  2. Anniel says:

    Patricia, I found your comments well-thought out and I read them to Bear since there is so much we need to understand right now. People seem to hold to the known lies around them and avoid the truth as though it is a plague.

    I wanted to tell you a story about a couple I have known for many years. When they retired and their kids were gone they decided to become bit-actors with a Christian movie group. It was a lot of fun and they had no trouble playing their parts, but one night she called and told me that they had parts in the crowd scene about the trial and crucifixion of Christ. They were called upon to shout, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and no one could do it. She said the whole bunch of bit players just stood there crying at one point. The director had to whip them up to make it sound real for the film.

    Thank you for an important idea.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Sort of as 1st Timothy StubbornThings was suggesting, it sounds as if Pilate or someone hired a rent-a-mob. The first instance of Occupy Wall Street perhaps?

    But what an excellent essay, Patricia. When I read something like this, I’m glad I started this site whose purpose is told in Matthew 3:12. The signal-to-noise ratio out there is so low (meaning there is about as much, if not more, noise than rational signal) we need to raise it and provide a light to others.

    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 . . . They felt more comfortable with Barabbas freely walking amongst them because he could not expose their darkness . . . People would rather associate with someone who will engage in the same sins as them . . . 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.

    Yowza. So true. This is why anyone overcoming any kind of addiction has to change friends. The friends who stay in addiction will try to pull the clean person back to normalize their own behavior.

    This is the essence of “democracy” as opposed to a republic based upon stout principles. Democracy inherently wanders toward the homogenously bad. It’s a good question why the water of our behavior naturally reaches the level of corruption, but it does. Without constant bailing, we drown in our democratic way of life, whether talking personally or as a nation.

    We need standards. And that means sometimes for people’s own good you have to enforce those standards. Kumbaya and “tolerance” bail no water. We’re drowning in this sort of “nice.”

    Every day we should be mindful to try to live up to a higher standard. But not for the sake of holier-than-thou, to lord our superiority over our neighbor, or even to get one-upsmanship in the marketplace. It’s why you polish brass occasionally…to make it shine. Tarnish is ever-present and normal. Without some mild movement foreword there is regression.

    • Rosalys says:

      ” …it sounds as if Pilate or someone hired a rent-a-mob.”

      Not too far off the mark, Brad. Actually, it was “the chief priests and elders” who “persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” (Matt. 27:20)

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    To explain the crowds hatred for Jesus requires stating the truth. Jesus was a sinless man walking amongst sinful men.

    This is not only the case with Jesus. The mere existence of good people is a rebuke to evil-doers. They hate a mirror being held up to them in which they can see their misshapen selves. Think “The Picture of Dorian Grey.”

    Misery loves company and evil men hate the fact that there are others out there better than they. “Debase them all” is their mentality.

    I have known desperately miserable people hate and envy someone young, happy and innocent.

    I have seen people attack and undermine others for no apparent reason than they can.

    And not only is gratitude the shortest lived emotion, it can turn into hate as the person receiving help can resent the fact that he was dependent on another. Pride can be a very deadly sin.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is related to Watson’s observation (which I’ve mentioned here before) that mediocrity knows nothing better, whereas brilliance recognizes greater brilliance. He was thinking of mental ability (as befits the amanuensis of Sherlock Holmes), but it can also apply to moral codes as well. It’s interesting to note that The Picture of Dorian Grey was written by the amoral Oscar Wilde (who was a friend of Conan Doyle).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That Watson was a clever guy.

      • SkepticalCynic SkepticalCynic says:


        Tim, please realize that some of us barely got out of high school. Yes, I can look it up but lazy readers seldom do. I do know that enuresis is bed wetting…..how is that for being close? Not so good, huh?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          An amanuensis is someone who writes up a companion’s life to some degree or another. The classic example is Boswell to Sam Johnson, and Holmes in fact used that comparison on occasion (“I am lost without my Boswell”).

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That is an interesting word. I don’t remember running across it before. Sort of reminds me of the word, amniocentesis, which I have run across frequently.

  5. Rosalys says:

    Excellent article, Pat!

    As for the son of those alcoholic colleagues of yours, he probably doesn’t drink because he has experienced, (or is experiencing,) the havoc booze wrecks upon individuals, as well as families. He is very fortunate to have wisely learned from his parents’ mistakes. It usually goes the other way, with the children of alcoholics becoming alcoholics themselves. My Dad was an alcoholic and for that reason alone, I decided I didn’t need to acquire a taste for the stuff. Thankfully, Dad stopped drinking when I was a senior in high school. It was the best gift he ever gave his family.

    Many people are able to drink in moderation, and I’m not one who believes drinking alcohol is a sin (getting drunk is!) But neither do I think it is a necessity.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My parents encouraged us to consume alcohol in small quantities — particularly when we were in Greece, where there were no concerns about legality. My father let me taste beer when I was young, and I enjoyed it. Later they served small amounts of liqueurs at some family dinners, and I didn’t enjoy those. Somewhere along the line I simply decided not to consume alcohol.

      Although my mother had a problem with alcohol, this came later (or maybe I just didn’t notice it), after she had remarried. (Her second husband encouraged the drinking –and then beat her up in response. Once, when I happened to see this late at night, he came after me and when he couldn’t outfight me (no doubt because he was too drunk to fight effectively, because I certainly was no skilled fighter) he attacked with an electric broom. (There’s a reason I don’t use his name, either.) In time my mother wised up and divorced him (and she had never given him any legal rights over me, for which I’m very grateful).

      • Rosalys says:

        Dad used to (on rare occasion) give us kids a shot of beer when we were little and I liked it then. I stopped liking the stuff around the age of ten.

  6. Pst4usa says:

    Excellent Post Patricia. Mark Twain put it this way; “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Although, this was God’s plan. Did he need it to happen at that moment? Did the crowd need to choose Jesus over the murdered? I do not think we can answer those questions, but no matter the reason that it happen at that moment or that the crowd choose Jesus, we are the beneficiaries of the event. Jesus knew the what and he knew the when, so God could have hardened the hearts of the crowd just as he was known to do, for His own purposes.
    I enjoy the discussion, but I will not worry one bit as to the answer. I do not think we are to know.

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