Condensed from my Mission Course (2008).
Barabbas was a robber and described in the gospels as a notorious prisoner. He most likely was guilty of crimes against the Roman government.
Pilate had Jesus in front of him and was perplexed about what to do with him. Convicted of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate suddenly had an idea. There was a custom – considered Roman in the gospel of Matthew and Jewish in the gospel of John – whereby a prisoner was released as part of the festivities of the occasion (it was Passover). Pilate seized upon this custom, convinced that the people would choose Jesus, in whom Pilate could find no fault, to be released if put side by side with such a criminal as Barabbas.
But he figured wrong.
The people chose Barabbas to go free!
Confounded by the unexpected response, Pilate asked what he should then do with Jesus if he set Barabbas free. Whipped into satanic fury, the chanting crowd demanded that Jesus be crucified.
And now can you extract the meaning of this Hebrew name Barabbas? Start with bar – “son of” and abba – which means “father.” Son of the Father! What!?! Barabbas symbolizes you and me, for not only are we children of the Father, but Barabbas was set free when Jesus took his place!
O wondous thought!
We have been set free because Jesus took our place! Suddenly the meaning of the name transcends the evil life that was lived by the man who bore the name. And so it is for us, for we all have sinned and can identify with the name Barabbas. Barabbas was worthy of death and unworthy of life. But he was set free by the death of an innocent Man.