The Heavy Question: Barabbas or Jesus the Christ?

Matthew 27:15-17
  Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
 (16) And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
 (17) 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?

Pilate was offering the people a choice. Not only who was to be released, but more so, which one they wanted to live among them. Though both of the accused men were a type of savior, only one of them could bring true salvation.

Barabbas stood there guilty of murder and insurrection against the Roman Government. As a Jewish zealot, he dreamed of a Jerusalem free of Roman occupation. His goals were not unlike many Jews of his day. His crime was murdering someone he thought stood in the way of this freedom. Barabbas’s aspiration may have been sincere, but he pursued them through carnal means rather than through God’s power.

Jesus also stood there, but unlike Barabbas, He was not arrested for murder or rebellion against the Roman oppressors. He was zealous, but His passion was to preach God’s kingdom and to operate in God’s Spirit. He was unlike any man of that time or of any time before. He was accused of crimes, but they could not prove them with evidence or with truthful witnesses. Jesus was sincere and He completed His work through God’s power rather than through carnal means.

Pilate’s question is one we are asked each and every day… “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Do you want a carnal salvation brought by man’s works, or do you want the true spiritual salvation that comes through Jesus?” This is the heavy question.


During their lifetime, every person will find themselves in one of three spiritual conditions. Each of these conditions is decided by the choices that person makes. These conditions are as follows:

The Natural Man

A sinner becomes a sinner when they commit sin. Being a sinner is a condition known as the “Natural Man” or “Old Man.” The Natural Man has not been Born Again, so their life is not a reflection of one dedicated to living for God. He is his own king and he directs his own life. He does some good for others as long as it feeds his self-serving needs. There is little to no peace in this man and he often wonders about the meaning of life.

1 Corinthians 2:14
 But THE NATURAL MAN receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The Spiritual Man

When the Natural Man chooses to die to their sinful ways and be Born Again in Jesus name, the resulting condition is known as the “Spiritual Man” or the “New Man.” As the Spiritual Man grows in Christ, he matures from doing his Natural Man’s former habits of sin (see Ephesians 4:11-15). This is similar to a child maturing into adulthood; the more they mature, the less immature they are to act. Remember, the Natural Man dies when the Spiritual Man is made a new creature in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This maturity comes through their daily choice to follow God in Spirit and in Truth. This they do by studying God’s Word and by allowing His Spirit to be their guide. The Spiritual Man loves God and His people and seeks ways to serve them both. By faith, the Spiritual Man surrenders his will over to the will of God. This includes him trusting God no matter what may come his way, thus he rejoices in all things. He trusts the power of God, and because he does, he is certain he will never die. The Spiritual Man’s mind is focused on God and His kingdom and the relationship that is available through Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:15-16
 But HE THAT IS SPIRITUAL judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
 (16) For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

The Carnal Man

If a Spiritual Man finds himself returning to sins he did as the Natural Man, this is a spiritual condition called the “Carnal Man.” These are believers who, though Born Again, still expose themselves to the sinful habits of their Old Nature. Their spiritual growth is stunted due to them not pursuing the habits that lead to spiritual maturity. Because of this choice, they miss out on much of what God offers. Look at this example:

“Not that they were in a carnal state, as unregenerate men are; but had carnal conceptions of things, were in carnal frames of soul, and walked in a carnal conversation with each other; though they were not in the flesh, in a state of nature, yet the flesh was in them, and not only lusted against the Spirit, but was very predominant in them, and carried them captive, so that they are denominated from it” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).

The Carnal Man will try to live according to God’s ways, but they find this more of a struggle than a joy. Without a steady diet of prayer and God’s Word, they often have the Natural Man’s tendency to want to rule their own life. This usually leads to more than a little counseling for the various problems accompanying their poor choices. The Carnal Man talks a lot about the less-than-spiritual ways of others, even though their own walk with God is lacking. They also question the meaning of life and often feel depressed or angry. The Carnal Man tries to walk with God under their own power, but this leaves them feeling empty since such action yields them few spiritual breakthroughs or victories.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3
 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as UNTO CARNAL, even as unto babes in Christ.
 (2) I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
 (3) For YE ARE YET CARNAL: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

Consider the example in this story:

A woman had her deceased husband embalmed, She then sat him in a chair in a glass-enclosed case just inside her front door. That way she could look at him as she left or entered her home. Sometime later she went on a vacation to France. While there she met a man, who, after a whirlwind romance, she married. After their trip, she brought him home to her house. As he carried her across the threshold he saw her secret. After picking herself up from the floor, she agreed to help her new husband bury her old one. (Author Unknown)

Like the woman in this story, many Born Again believers (Spiritual Man) act as if their old man (Natural Man) is still alive and well. They go to great lengths to accommodate the memory of that life (Carnal Man). This affects their spiritual condition inside and outside their home. No one (Carnal Man) that maintains a romance with their old man (Natural Man) will have a meaningful relationship (Spiritual Man) with Jesus. Therefore, we must leave our old-dead-self buried in the watery grave of baptism.

Maturing in the things of God is the best defense against becoming the Carnal Man. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for still acting like spiritual babies when they should have grown “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-16
 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
 (12) For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 
(13) Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: (14) That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
 (15) But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
 (16) From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

The body of Christ is called to Christlike perfection.

Matthew 5:48

The word “perfect” biblically means to be of full age, a matured man. When the Bible speaks of this it refers to the growing process that transforms the Old Man’s spiritual immaturity into a spiritually mature New Man. Just as a male baby must grow and mature to become a man; so also a newborn babe in Christ must grow in the image of the one they were fashioned after, which is Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus commanded His disciples to be “perfect.”

Luke 6:40
 The disciple is not above his master: but EVERY ONE THAT IS PERFECT SHALL BE AS HIS MASTER.

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains this statement in the following:

“but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. The Vulgate Latin reads it, “every one shall be perfect if he is as his master”; that is, if his master is a man of general learning, and a complete scholar, if he is like him, he will be so too: the Persic version renders it, ‘every disciple that desires perfection shall be as his master’: whoever is ambitious of being a thorough scholar, and is diligent and industrious, by all ways and means, to obtain such a character, shall be even as good an one as his master, under whom he learns, and better he cannot well expect to be; and this is sufficient; and so the Ethiopic version renders it, ‘is it not enough that every one be as his master?’ agreeably to Mat_10:25
Christ, in this last clause, seems to design his own disciples, who, when perfect in knowledge, which is not to be expected in this state, unless in a comparative sense, will be like himself.”

In his last paragraph, Gill rightly said, “which is not to be expected in this state….” Thus, like a student who wants to become like his or her teacher, a believer must study all that is necessary to accomplish their goal of being like their teacher—Jesus. God knows that no one is already born with the perfection (maturity) to which He calls them. However, when a person is Born Again they receive God’s Spirit. Through this, they receive the power needed to make this transformation a reality. This new status in Christ begins a  process whereby a man or woman can grow from being a babe in Christ into being a man or a woman of God. This process takes sincere effort on their part for it requires them to study their Bible and to pursue a relationship with its author. This is how “true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” for they worship God by serving Him with the right attitudes (right spirit) and with the right information (right truth) (see John 4:23-24).


Again, the focus of this study are two saviors, Jesus and Barabbas. They share similarities while yet standing as different examples of the three spiritual conditions of man.

Jesus—the Spiritual Man

The first of these is Jesus. He is the Spiritual Man. He is Emmanuel—God with us. He is sold out to do nothing but the will of the Father as shown in these verses:

John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

It was the death of the Passover Lamb, and not its spotless life, that changes man!

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Jesus’ gospel is the means through which a man or a woman can be removed from their Old Man and be changed into a Spiritual Man.

Barabbas—the Carnal Man

The second of these is Barabbas. He is the Carnal Man. Most may have guessed Barabbas to be an example of the Natural Man, but he is not. Remember, Barabbas was a Jewish zealot. As such, his actions were done while he lived under the Old Covenant law. As a result, Barabbas saw his actions as “good deeds,” even though he committed them through carnal ways. His life is known by his rebellion against man rather than obedience to God. He was comfortable with his Old Man since its habits helped him reach his goals. The Old Man is the one Barabbas leaned on and trusted with his life—regardless of how disappointing that may have been. So, Barabbas was a Spiritual Man living in a sinful way, which made him a Carnal Man.

Another interesting thing about Barabbas and Jesus is traditionally Barabbas was also known by the name of Jesus. Several sources speak of this, including this entry from the Britannica Encyclopedia:

“In Matthew 27:16, Barabbas was called a “notorious prisoner.” In Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19, and John 18:40, Barabbas was “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection,” a revolutionary against the occupying Roman forces. The name Barabbas appears nowhere else in the New Testament, nor do any of the gospels give any information about his previous or subsequent life. The name may be an Aramaic patronymic meaning “son of the father” (bar abba) or “son of the teacher” (bar rabban), indicating perhaps that his father was a Jewish leader. According to the early biblical scholar Origen and other commentators, the full name of Barabbas may have been Jesus Barabbas, since Jesus was a common first name. Therefore the crowd was presented with a choice between two persons with the same name” (Britannica Encyclopedia).

Though I am not a big fan, it is interesting to note that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible does use “Jesus Barabbas” in its interpretation of Matthew 27:16-17.

Matthew 27:16-17 (NRSV)
 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus* Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus* Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’

Adding the name “Jesus” to the name “Barabbas” makes Barabbas’s name, “Jesus barAbbas.” The meaning of this would read: “Salvation of Earth Father” (Abba) or “Salvation of Rabbi” (Rabban).

Traditionally, Jesus would have been called, “Jesus benYoseph,” which is “Jesus son of Joseph” (see “supposed” father: Luke 3:23). Joseph was probably named after the Patriarch Joseph whose name means: “God has added.” But Pilate didn’t mention Joseph. Instead, he asked about “Jesus (God’s Salvation) which is called Christ” (the anointed of God) (see Matthew 27:17)? Barabbas sharing the same name as our Savior may have been why Pilate felt compelled to add “which is called the Christ” to differentiate the two accused men. Though they shared the name Jesus, only one Jesus lived up to the meaning of the name, “God’s salvation.”


Pilate’s question is one that every man, woman, and child is asked every day… “Whom do you want me to release for you? Do you want a carnal salvation brought by man’s works? Or do you want a salvation that is anointed of God?”

The NATURAL MAN hears the question, but his concern to please himself drowns it out thus keeping him from any spiritual change.

The CARNAL MAN hears the question, but unless he is honest enough to admit his sin and turn toward God’s Will, he will not make a decision any better than the one made by the Natural Man.

The SPIRITUAL MAN hears the question, understands it, and pursues the correct response with all his heart.

Barabbas was like Adam. He was of the earth (earth father). Adam was also tempted to be his own god to choose for himself what he believes is right and what he believes is wrong. Though Adam’s free will allowed him to pursue his path of rebellion, the question still was asked to him: whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? This is the same question asked you right now. Your answer to it is either life or death, order or chaos, victory or defeat, Heaven or Hell.

Today, you must decide which Jesus you want to be released to you: which Jesus do you want to live among your neighbors and friends? Which Jesus do you want in your home, to eat at your table, to sit in your chair, not to just visit, but to permanently live with you and your family? Which Jesus do you want to be released? Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? This is the heavy question being asked you today. What is your answer?

Copyright © 2018 TK Burk. All Rights Reserved.

Note: Any UPPERCASE or bold areas in scriptures are added for emphasis.

2 Replies to “The Heavy Question: Barabbas or Jesus the Christ?”

  1. Very good teaching. I enjoyed it. Eye opening to say the least. Thanks, as always, Bro Burk, and may God Bless!

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