Barabbas shared the dark, musty cell with two other criminals. This was the end for all three – this was death row. They were to be brought out of the city that evening – to the place of the skull – and crucified. Barabbas felt his stomach lurch at the thought. His arms and legs were both chained to the wall so that Barabbas would not be able to end his life prematurely. Barabbas looked at the other two criminals. Their heads were hanging down, and they looked miserable and broken. Barabbas didn’t feel sorry for them though – they were thieves who stole from the Romans and from the Jews for their own gain.
Barabbas thought back to his own crimes. He had been the leader of a pack of rebels. They had only one goal and that was to get rid of the Romans. They did anything to achieve that goal – even if that meant stealing from their own countrymen, or murdering them. Barabbas had done some horrible things, he knew, but it was all for the cause. Many had accused Barabbas of only looking out for himself and his band of men. A lot of Jews were scared of Barabbas because he took what he wanted. The Jewish leadership didn’t like Barabbas either and Barabbas despised them in return. Barabbas spit on the floor as he thought about those power hungry Pharisees. In his mind, the Pharisees were no different than the Romans.
His crimes had finally caught up with him. He had caused too much trouble and the Romans, with the help of the Jewish leadership, moved in to crush him and his band of men. One night, his location had been betrayed. He wasn’t surprised – the Jews didn’t like it when he hid out in one their villages. The Romans moved in with overwhelming force. There was a desperate fight and many of his men fought to the death. Barabbas was taken, and dragged to Jerusalem in chains. There was a quick trial, and an even quicker sentencing by Pontius Pilate. Crucifixion.
Barabbas’s thoughts were disturbed by a commotion outside the prison walls. Barabbas could hear that a lot of people were gathering by Pilate’s portico. Were they here to watch the procession to Golgotha and the crucifixion? Was everyone turning on him? Didn’t they realize that he was trying to help them?
“What is happening?” one of the thieves said.
Barabbas strained to hear what was going on. Then he heard his name being chanted.
Why were they chanting his name? What did they want?
The chanting died down but soon began again. This time the crowd was shouting something different.
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Barabbas began to sweat as his stomach heaved at the sounds of the blood thirsty crowd and the thought of going to Golgotha.
At the far end of the hallway, a heavy gate groaned open, and marching was heard coming towards the cell.
“They’re coming for us!” cried the one prisoner. He frantically pulled at his chains.
The footsteps of the Roman soldiers came closer. There was no doubt that they were coming for Barabbas and the other two prisoners.
“Open that door!” exclaimed one of the soldiers. A key sounded in the lock, and the door was pulled open. Light from a torch flooded into the room revealing the three desperate criminals.
“Stand up, Barabbas. The gods have smiled upon you!” One of the soldiers said gruffly.
“Take off his chains!” commanded the captain of the guard.
One of the guards moved quickly to loosen Barabbas’s chains. The chains fell to the floor.
Barabbas couldn’t understand what was happening.
“Where are you taking me?” Barabbas said as they led him out of the cell.
“You are free Barabbas.” said the captain.
“But I heard the crowds chanting ‘Crucify him!’ Why would I be free?”
“Someone has taken your place – they didn’t want you to be crucified – they wanted that man Jesus.”
Barabbas and the soldiers made their way out of the prison to Pilate’s portico overlooking the crowd. The sunlight blinded Barabbas who had spent a couple of weeks in a black cell. When his eyes adjusted, he saw a man to his right. He was badly beaten, and large thorns had been twisted on his head. In front of him was Pontius Pilate who appeared to be washing his hands in front of the crowd. The guards released Barabbas and lifted Jesus to his feet.
Barabbas stared at Jesus. What had this man done? Barabbas had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had done, but did not understand why Jesus did not speak out against the Romans.
Then Jesus looked at Barabbas. Barabbas felt as if Jesus was looking into his very soul – such piercing eyes. Barabbas’s cellmates were brought out and each had a large wooden beam put on their backs. Jesus was unable to carry the large beam, so a man was pulled out of the crowd. The prisoners and the crowd left the portico and headed for the city gates.
Barabbas still did not understand what was happening but felt compelled to follow.
Finally the crowd and the prisoners made their way to Golgotha. Barabbas looked away as the nails were driven through the palms of the three men. Barabbas seethed inside as he watched a Roman soldier put a sign on top of Jesus’ cross that read “King of the Jews”.
“What had this man done to deserve this?” Barabbas thought. As the crosses were raised into place, another thought entered Barabbas’s mind. “I should be up there hanging on that cross – not him. I am the murderer and thief, and I’ve broken every commandment and law.
Barabbas moved closer to the cross just in time to hear Jesus say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Forgive them?” Barabbas was ruled by hate and couldn’t comprehend how this innocent man could show love to his enemies.
The hours passed, and the crowd became silent. The mocking had all but stopped as the crowd strained to hear what Jesus would say.
One of the thieves turned his head to Jesus. “Jesus,” he said in a halting voice “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Barabbas looked at Jesus and heard him say “today you will be with me in paradise.”
More time passed, and the sky became as black as ink. The quiet and stillness of the crowd was broken by a loud cry from Jesus. Then the earth began to shake, and thunder and lightning erupted. Some of the people in the crowd fell down to their knees and cried to Jesus.
Barabbas saw the Captain of the guard who had released him approaching. He turned to Barabbas. “This man,” he said pointing to Jesus “was innocent. Truly, he was the son of God.”
Barabbas left Golgotha deeply moved by all that had happened. “I am alive,” he thought, “Because he took my place. He cleared my debt. He took my spot on that horrible cross. This morning, I was chained to a wall in a dark cell sentenced to die on the cross. Now, thanks to Jesus, I am free.”
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
- Charles Wesley