‘Son of the Father’ signifies those ransomed in Christ
The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, by which we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.
The convicted murderer sits somberly in his dark and dirty cell, surrounded by Roman guards. Trembling, he can only imagine how much he will suffer by crucifixion, the popular form of execution during this period in history. He has seen the full force of Roman justice as he walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, colluding with other rebels willing to fight against the Roman occupation. The Jews hated being in subjection to the Roman Empire, but most kept their heads down while few were willing to fight back, such as Barabbas. This time, the Romans had actually caught their man and sentenced him to be executed on the crucifix.
The Romans were notorious for how they lined their highways with crucifices — their method of deterring would-be enemies of the State from further resisting their control over the region and its people. This slow and extremely painful death was specifically fashioned to torture criminals for as long as three days. Rebels who were made an example in this manner usually asphyxiated, unable to even lift their chests to breathe. The agony of crucifixion was so intense that it produced the word “excruciating,” which derives from the Latin word for “torment” or “crucify,” which itself is derived from the word “crux,” or cross.
Knowing what is coming in the next few days, how can this criminal sleep?
The name provided for him is Barabbas, which means “the son of the father.” We know him as the man who was pardoned by Pilate on the day of Passover in A.D. 33, allowing him to evade his earned appointment with the stake.
As Pontius Pilate, the praefectus or governor of Judea, finishes interrogating Jesus, he can find no reason to convict him. As he sits in the judge’s seat, Pilate’s wife sends a message alerting him to a disturbing dream she has had about this innocent man. Moreover, Pilate has deduced that the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders, are envious of Jesus’ popularity and deem him a threat to their positions of authority. To placate the demanding cabal — and save himself from a political entanglement should the Sanhedrin decide to appeal to Caesar — Pilate is willing to shed the blood of Jesus as a scapegoat and release Barabbas from custody.
(Mark 15:6-15) “Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’ And Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”
All four gospels recount Barabbas’ role in Jesus’ trial (cf. Matthew 27:15-26; Luke 23:18-25; John 18:39-40). Matthew 27:16 in the English Standard Version says that Barabbas was a “notorious prisoner;” John 18:40 calls him a “robber” or “bandit,” which according to Robert Eisenman, is “the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries.” Contemporaries combining insurrection and murder in this way were sicarii, members of a militant Jewish movement that sought to subvert the Roman occupiers of their land by force (Eisenman 177-84, et passim).
“Bar Abbas” is the Hellenized form of the Aramaic appellation Bar Abba. Bar means “son of” and abba means “father,” which is a Hebrew term that connotes intimacy and closeness. Thus, Barabbas is patronymic, “the son of the father” or “the son of his dear father.” On Passover in Jerusalem in A.D. 33, there was a guilty but pardoned “son of the father,” Barabbas, and an innocent but condemned “Son of the Father,” Jesus of Nazareth.
As the ruthless Roman guards approached Barabbas’ cell, he was expecting the worst was about to commence. But instead, they unlocked his heavy shackles, plunking them to the stone floor with a clang that reverberated through the halls of the governor’s prison. Slowly, he realized what was happening: They were releasing him. As he was escorted out of the prison, Barabbas passed and locked eyes with a man, bloody and wearing a crown of thorns, obviously having been severely beaten. He eventually learned of this substitution that had given him a new lease on life. No miserable cross awaited this convicted murderer, who had rebelled against someone’s kingdom. Where the day before he didn’t stand a chance against 1st-century Roman justice, it’s certain that he could hardly believe his “luck.”
“Yeshua,” or Jesus, was a rather common name during 1st-century Judea. Extant manuscripts of the Scriptures state that Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas, though the first name later might have been removed by scribes. Whatever his real name was, he was a condemned killer, thief and insurgent — guilty as charged and sentenced the due penalty for his crimes. Perhaps Barabbas’ role in the story is more significant — and by that, I mean having a special meaning — than we see on the surface. Was the name of Barabbas, given to him in Scripture, simply a matter of fortuitous circumstance — or was his name meant to point to a deeper truth that applies to us all? Do we identify with the murderer, Barabbas, waiting on death row? Maybe we should.
The Jewish mob had the choice between two men named Jesus, and chose to turn loose the one who was a convicted criminal. This is consistent with our fallen human nature. Yes, we have a “choice” to accept or reject Jesus Christ; but left to our own sinful nature, we would only choose sin, embracing the wrong savior, expecting him to deliver us from temporal oppression. But we would condemn ourselves to eternal bondage to sin and death instead of liberation from sin and eternal life (John 6:44; Romans 2:4).
We also stand guilty of murder, in cosmic treason against God himself. How? At Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion, Apostle Peter stated that all of us nailed him to the Cross (Acts 2:36). Each of us, by necessitating his blood be spilled to wash us of our sins, are really the ones who killed him. Just as the Jewish throng agitated for Pilate to condemn him, just as the Roman lictor seared his flesh with his scourge, just as the Roman soldiers pounded nails into his hands and feet, and even as the centurion thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, we brought about the death of the Son of Man, the only one who was innocent (John 8:46, Hebrews 4:15, 7:26, I John 3:5). Dripping from our hands is the shed blood of the pure, sacrificial Lamb.
According to Acts 2, we should be found murderers and condemned to capital punishment, appointed to meet with the executioner — unless someone can assume the penalty for our sins, also. A holy God demands blood to atone for transgressions (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22).
We behold Jesus as the Lamb of God, Who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is our Passover sacrifice (I Corinthians 5:7). Jesus took on himself the sins of all his elect from all time, and laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:15), for all those will submit to him as Lord and Savior (I Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 9:12; I John 2:2; etc.). Clothed in his righteousness, we now can stand before the Arbiter free of condemnation, for “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Even the ghastly sin of killing Christ is forever purged from our records. After God regenerates our hearts, we respond with repentance and faith. This faith justifies us, and then God adopts us, bringing us into his family by his Spirit (John 3:5-6, 8; I Peter 1:23). “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source” (Hebrews 2:11). God is raising up sons and daughters in his likeness (II Corinthians 6:18).
(Romans 8:14-17) “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
After his resurrection, Jesus introduced a concept to Mary Magdalene that would have been foreign to her and everyone else during their time: (John 20:17) “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Christ’s own sacrificial death and resurrection reconciles us to the Father, allowing us to enter into the Most Holy Place to call God our Father (Romans 5:10, Hebrews 6:19-20, 10:19-22). It is often said that “all people are God’s children,” but what is more accurate is that “children of God” is a special title that is reserved for those who are grafted into Christ (John 1:12-13, I John 3:1-3, Romans 9:8, Revelation 21:7).
Barabbas signifies each of us as individuals, “the sons of our dear Father” who failed to live up to the standard of the Son of Man, and were granted undeserved pardon. Those of us who are born again bear that title of “sons and daughters.” When Jesus, our Elder Brother, stepped up to be crucified for us — though he should have been the one exonerated, having committed no crime — the Father also released the rest of his children who call upon the name of Jesus and accept his sacrifice in our stead. As Barabbas walked out of his cell as a free man, Jesus took the place of the prisoners out of love, so we could walk.
Because of the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the true Son of his Father, the iron bonds have been broken from us, and we are loosed as free citizens of the Kingdom. His sacrifice and resurrection make it possible for God to impute his righteousness to us, justify us in his sight, adopt us into the family in which Jesus is the firstborn, and entrust us with his Spirit, which guarantees our inheritance of the spoils of his earthly conquest.
When Passover time comes and we eat the bread representing his body broken for us, and drink the wine signifying his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins, let’s remember who we are and who he is. In light of what we’ve learned here, we can offer even more gratitude for Jesus and the freedom he has given to each of us (Luke 4:18).
Did Barabbas reform his ways after Jesus took his place? The Scriptures don’t tell us, but they do say that those whom the Lord has saved for himself will necessarily abstain from transgression (II Timothy 2:19). Because of the Pactum Salutis, or covenant of redemption between the Father and Son which they together ratified undeservedly for our sake, Apostle Paul instructs that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
He brought me love that only he could give,
I brought him cause to cry.
And though he taught me how to live,
I taught him how to die.
And I’m the one to blame,
I caused all the pain.
He gave himself the day he wore my crown.
— Phil Johnson, 1978