Unjust Treatment of the Son of God — Barabbas or Jesus? Mark 15:6-15

This is truly an amazing historical account.  How in the world did Barabbas become more popular and more desirable in the eyes of the Jewish people than Jesus of Nazareth?  When given the choice, how could they possibly request of Pilate that he release back into their community Barabbas, a noted rebel and thief and murderer and insurrectionist instead of Jesus, the Son of Man who had traveled through their cities doing good, teaching the wise counsel of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, showing love and compassion to all?

Perhaps there is no clearer picture anywhere else in Scripture of what is involved in the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus than in this picture of sinless Jesus taking the place of wicked Barabbas who deserved to die on that cross between the two thieves.  One has to wonder whether Barabbas came to the point of saving repentance and faith as he considered the injustice heaped upon Jesus that was rightly deserved to be poured out against himself.  Here was one who chose not to defend Himself from trumped up charges that could have been easily refuted; here was one who opened not his mouth but allowed himself to be led as a sheep to the slaughter; here was one who could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set him free … but chose to die there for you and for me.

Perhaps there is no clearer picture anywhere else in Scripture of what is involved in calling good evil and evil good; in choosing so unwisely; in demonstrating such utter depravity as to pick the release of Barabbas over the release of the sinless Lamb of God.  This was depravity magnified.  This was foolishness multiplied.
Perhaps there is no clearer picture anywhere else in Scripture of the tragic consequences of pursuing a path of expediency and compromise as exemplified by Pilate rather than that of conviction and conscience.  Here was a powerful political leader who clearly understood the right course of action and yet cowered before the pressure of the Jewish religious leaders and the rabid crowd who were crying out for the crucifixion of an innocent man.

Perhaps there is no clearer example anywhere else in Scripture of the sovereignty of God who took the actions of wicked men and through His predetermined plan and foreknowledge, brought the ultimate good out of the ultimate evil.



A.  (:6-8) Recognition of the Tradition – Opportunity to Release One Prisoner

  1. (:6)  Historical Review

Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested.

Quite an accommodation on the part of the Roman authorities; helped to keep the crowd orderly and avoid any uprisings and conflicts; a way to appease the Jews to some extent; they would probably ask for one that was imprisoned more on political grounds than a dangerous criminal that would be a threat to society

What is the motivation for the Jews to want a criminal to be released back into society?

  1. (:7)  Horrific Rebel

And the man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists  who had committed murder in the insurrection.

What did it mean for Barabbas to be a man without hope; a man condemned to die for his opposition to Roman rule;

Do we understand how we used to be in a state of hopelessness; enemies of God; deserving of His wrath; without hope of any future apart from the eternal fires of hell

What does it mean today to choose Barabbas over Jesus Christ?

World when presented with choices – rejects Jesus whom they hate —  “We will not have this man to rule over us” – they do not want the freedom to pursue righteousness; they hate the light because their deeds are evil; they want the freedom to live as they please

Ironic choice Pilate offered the people – as seen in the names:

Jesus Barabbas son of the father or Jesus of Nazareth, true son of the Heavenly Father

  1. (:8)  Habitual Request

And the multitude went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them.

B.  (:9-14) Response of the Multitude – Crucify Jesus

  1. (:9-11)  Preference of Pilate – that the Jews would ask for the release of Jesus

a.  (:9-10)  Offer to Release Jesus

                                    1)  (:9)  Understood Jesus was no Threat

                                    “And Pilate answered them, saying,

                                    ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’

                                    2)  (:10)  Understood His enemies Were Motivated by Envy

                                    For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy.

Hendriksen: Envy  is the displeasure aroused by seeing someone else having what you do not want him to have.  So, for example, the leaders envied Jesus because of his fame and following, his ability to perform miracles, etc.

b.  (:11)  Opposition by Religious Leaders

                        “But the chief priests stirred up the multitude to ask him  to release Barabbas for them instead.

This is the key factor in frustrating Pilate’s desire to release Jesus – the chief priests stirred up the crowd into a frenzy of hatred against Jesus;

How were they able to accomplish this?

Talk about a rigged voting process; they controlled the narrative; they blinded the minds of people against the truth about Jesus and spread malicious false charges; they used their power and prestige to create blind followers who lost all sense of discernment

How can people be so deceived and manipulated?

This sin was brought up by Peter in his preaching by the Holy Spirit just 50 days later – speaking to the same group that had cried

Crucify Him”;

We have no king but Caesar;”

Let His blood be on us and on our children

Acts 2:22-23; 37-38

            Acts 3:13-16

            Acts 4:10-12

  1. (:12-13)  Plea by Pilate

a.  (:12)  Confusion by Pilate

                                    “And answering again, Pilate was saying to them,

                                    ‘Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?’

b.  (:13)  Frenzied Response

                                    “And they shouted back, ‘Crucify Him!’

  1. (:14)  Protestation by Pilate – Jesus not deserving of execution

a.  Hesitation by Pilate

                                    “But Pilate was saying to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’

Not recorded here is the warning sent by Pilate’s wife – Matt. 27:19

Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”

Don’t meddle in the affairs of this righteous man

b.  Frenzied Response

                                    But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify Him!’

C.  (:15a) Release of Barabbas Instead of Jesus of Nazareth

  1. Motivation of Pilate

And wishing to satisfy the multitude,

  1. Mob Mentality

Pilate released Barabbas for them,

  • Wringing his hands – caught between a rock and a hard place; yet can’t bring himself to do the right thing
  • Washing his hands – yet cannot remove the blood of culpability
  • Waving his hands – take Jesus away and crucify Him

Pilate ended up committing suicide – in charge of a military operation against the Samaritans -committed such excessive atrocities that he was tried before the Roman govt and convicted; will stand before Jesus in judgment in the last days


  1. Violation of his own conscience.

  2. He had testified, “I find no fault in Him.”

  3. Violation of his own desire.

  4. He really did not want to do it, yet he did.

  5. Why would a man violate his own conscience and desire to commit such a heinous crime?

  6. “Pilate willing to content the people.”

  7. The crowd is not always right.

  8. The crowd is many times stupidly wrong.

  9. Your crowd may be wrong and to follow its influence may damn your soul.

  10. Seeking to be accepted by the crowd led him to be rejected by God.

J. C. Ryle: We have in this striking fact a vivid emblem of the manner in which God pardons and justifies the ungodly. He does it, because Christ has suffered in their stead, the just for the unjust. They deserve punishment, but a mighty Substitute has suffered for them. They deserve eternal death, but a glorious Surety has died for them. We are all by nature in the position of Barabbas. We are guilty, wicked, and worthy of condemnation. But “when we were without hope,” Christ the innocent died for the ungodly. And now God for Christ’s sake can be just, and yet “the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus.”

D.  (:15b) Relinquishment of Jesus

  1. Further Beatings

                        and after having Jesus scourged,

Parunak: Pilate has already had him scourged. The scourge had bits of lead, glass, and bone embedded in its thongs, so that it tore the flesh from the back of the victim. The Lord is bleeding profusely, his flesh in shreds, his clothing sticking to the clotting blood.

  1. Final Sentencing

he delivered Him to be crucified.


Ryle: To reject Christ and choose Barabbas was indeed an astounding act!  It seems as if blindness, madness, and folly could go no further.  But let us take heed, that we do not unwittingly follow their example.  Let us beware that we are not found at last to have chosen Barabbas and rejected Christ.  The service of sin and the service of God are continually before us.  The friendship of the world and the friendship of Christ are continually pressed upon our notice.  Are we making the right choice?  Are we cleaving to the right Friend?  These are solemn questions.  Happy is he who can give them a satisfactory answer.