But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
Then cried they all again, saying, Not this Man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.
Pilate, seeking for some way to pacify the Jews, reminds them of their custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover–sort of like an outgoing President in America commutes the sentences of some who are imprisoned. Historically, there is very little to support this idea, so I’m not going to belabor it. Suffice it to say that it happened.
In fact, Pilate even suggested that he release Jesus, because he had found nothing of which Jesus was guilty. One might think, at this point, that the crowd, some of whom had very likely seen and perhaps benefitted from some of Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, would have relented. Barabbas, after all, was guilty of theft, insurrection, and murder ((John 18:40), Mark 15:7). Who would want such a man released back into circulation? Some have postulated that he had become something of a folk hero, like Robin Hood, and was popular with the common people. He had committed murder as an insurrectionist, which was a crime to Rome, but an act of bravery and heroism to some of the Jews.
However, Matthew 27:20 and Mark 15:11 tell us that the priests and Pharisees had spent some time urging the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas, who was being held for execution. They had stirred the people to such fury that they were no longer thinking; they were reacting. That’s always dangerous. The crowd becomes more and more agitated, stirring each other to heights of fury, anger and hatred that have no basis in reality.
I would not want to be left to the tender mercies of such a crowd.
“Not Jesus!” they yelled. “Not Jesus! Release Barabbas!”