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EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW - Chapter One of Daniel Kooman's new book SONS OF THE FATHER
The Great Exchange of Barabbas
The following is an exclusive first look of Daniel Kooman’s new book Sons of the Father. It’s Dan’s newest book since his best-selling Breath of Life. You can pre-order the book on Amazon.
At festival time the governor was in the habit of releasing any one prisoner whom the crowd chose. At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Jesus Bar-Abbas; so, when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Who do you want released? Jesus Bar-Abbas or Jesus the so-called 'Christ'?"
The Jews were familiar with grief and persecution. They were under Roman rule, their most brutal oppressor since Pharaoh had enslaved them in Egypt. But this time the occupation was within their own borders, not in exile or as foreigners in another country. In Jerusalem in those days, centurions were as common as pigeons in the temple pools. Freedom had been replaced by occupation. Fear of their invader was more tangible than hope for deliverance.
What was coming that Friday would prove to be the ultimate inversion. The lives of Jesus Bar-Abbas and Jesus Messiah. One life was destined for a cross and destruction. The other had just been declared their deliverer. One was a reviled, filthy and rejected sinner with no formal education. The other a beloved and often quoted Rabbi, a scholar who not only knew the Torah from memory, but He was actually the author of the Book.
Jesus Bar-Abbas was scorned by his own and probably left for dead by his guerrilla army when the Romans finally foiled their latest coup attempt. He was despised by his enemy, a prisoner that young Roman soldiers would have loved to hate. Kicked at. Punched. Maybe broken a tooth. Some of them lost a friend or even a brother when the zealots raised hell in the city. Now Bar-Abbas was locked behind bars of iron waiting for his time to die. Hoping the resistance might die down, the Romans held Bar-Abbas for longer than the other murderers. The day of his crucifixion would require reinforcements to maintain the uprising of civil disobedience led by the next wave of freedom fighters.
Jesus Messiah was a man of authority and power, with an influence that had not been seen since the holiest prophets had walked through Jerusalem. He was beloved by his own and even respected by many of His would-be enemies. He had just descended upon the City of Jerusalem with a hero’s welcome one week earlier, entering the City of David with a procession that hearkened to the ceremonious arrival of the Ark of the Covenant centuries earlier when the women, children and elders of Jerusalem watched King David dance with complete abandon before Yahweh.
While the loving welcome of this King had taken place only days earlier, with hooligans now stirring up the mob, it might as well have been ancient history. The same voices that shouted in harmony, “Blessed be the One who comes in the Name of the Lord,” now shouted with eery dissonance, “Crucify Him!”
Before we get deeper into the story, you might be wondering at the translation, selected on purpose for its mention of Barabbas’ full name. Deep revelation awaits the reader who is able to unpack the text with greater accuracy and depth. The same reason I love studying Hebrew in the Old Testament, as those who have read Breath of Life will remember, is why I love to delve into the transcripts and translations and commentaries on the New Testament verses.
Many early transcripts present the full name of Barabbas as none other than “Jesus Barabbas”, or in the Hebrew translating into English from “Yahshua, Bar-Abbas,” literally naming the criminal in Rome as, “Jesus, son of the Father.” Why do many of the more common translations omit this pertinent fact? Maybe it seemed too confusing for the average reader. Perhaps they were unable to discern the full revelation that stood before them.
Yes, the name of Barabbas, the scoundrel of a criminal at the center of the Passover exchange, was Yahshua Bar-abbas which literally means, Jesus son of the Father.
Barabbas and Jesus Christ have the same name.
So in order to distinguish between Jesus, the criminal and insurrectionist that Pilate had in custody, and Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, recently hauled before him for questioning by the Jewish priests, Pilate referred to our Savior Jesus as, Yahshua Messiah or Jesus, called the Christ.
Take note of these names, because you will not find a more powerful revelation of salvation and the invitation to sonship, than the one so brilliantly depicted here.
A moment referred to as the great exchange, when a sinner becomes a saved believer, was about to take place. But this time it was being done with a dramatic flair to highlight our Father God’s extreme and exceptional love for His chosen.
God the Father, Yahweh, was literally giving us a revelation of His heart for each one of us, whom He affectionately calls, “Sons.” There is no clearer sign of the Father’s love than this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Indeed, Barabbas, the man at the heart of the great exchange, was a sinner when Jesus Messiah was exchanged for him. A life for a life. And all four Gospel writers describe the consequential exchange by mentioning the prisoner by name, which calls for our attention as well.
When Jesus Messiah entered the courtyard, the mob was growing in size with word spreading fast through Jerusalem that the Holy Man was being judged in the governor’s court. Pontius Pilate was unnerved as he looked down on that massive crowd. There was something about this man Yahshua that disturbed him. His wife had been troubled all of that night, waking him before dawn to share about a righteous man and a series of terrifying dreams she suffered because of Him. Now those dreams of the night had become Pilate’s nightmare in the day. A heaviness fell as the supernatural showdown unfolded. This would prove to be the momentous hour of his life. It was the moment he was born for, destined for, and would be remembered for. And he didn’t like where it was headed.
Pilate represents a character archetype because of what happened next. The motif or recurrent symbol that Pilate represents is one of negated responsibility. One of leadership averted. The embodiment of the fear of man. A man who had the authority, but was unwilling to wield it. A man who symbolically washed his hands of Jesus’ blood, enabling lesser men to drain the actual life blood from the Messiah’s body.
Similarly, but without the global fanfare of Pilate, Barabbas represents the archetype of redemption. His story means so much more for us than Pilate’s, when we take a closer look at what transpired next.
It’s hard to believe that Pilate still receives more attention than Barabbas by many of the story’s tellers and readers. My hope is that this explanation will bring the story of Barabbas to the forefront. Pilate is a key figure in the story, and represents the institutions of our day and the ongoing battle for true leadership in positions of authority.
Shift the lens to Barabbas. The poster boy for rebellion. A man who witnessed broken dreams and broken institutions at work, who undoubtedly suffered because of them. Like the other zealots in his wake, he longed to see change come quickly, was willing to overtake the powerful institutions by force. Lives would be lost, but it would all be for a “greater good."
I love the scene in Risen, the brilliant film by Kevin Reynolds (also the director of other favorites like Count of Monte Cristo, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). At the beginning of the film we see a centurion, played by Joseph Fiennes, crushing another Jewish rebellion. One can imagine the followers of Barabbas being among the freedom fighters. There’s a poignant scene, where the centurion approaches the leader of this particular uprising. The zealot is already bloodied and wounded, being held down forcibly by two strong Roman warriors. The well-trained soldiers of Rome have quashed another rebellion almost as quickly as it arose. In a final moment of passion the zealot yells at the centurion with believable abandon, “When Messiah comes, Rome will be nothing!”
Equally poignant, the centurion gives pause for only a moment before (we assume) using his blade to knock off the zealot’s head. “Until then,” he says, wiping the now-silenced freedom fighter’s blood from his blade.
I believe the scene paints a reliable picture of what was going on politically at the time. The assets of Rome were spread thin as the empire grew, and her occupants were desperate for change. Not everyone was willing to remain slaves forever. It would be one thing to pay tribute for the benefits of a relatively stable society. But the overlording and taxing nature of Rome, and her vision to dominate the entire world, was forcing the peoples’ hand. Not to mention the entire regime was hellbent on removing a moral foundation from the Earth.
Jesus Barabbas was a leader from the opposing camp. He did not embody the Biblical son, with his hands drenched in the blood of his enemies. Mind you, he may have been recalling all the stories of Israel’s judges and kings of old. Their hands and robes were stained with blood, too. Barabbas definitely believed in his cause. Why else would he be willing to die for it?
Enter Jesus of Nazareth. He was likely the same age as Jesus Barabbas. While He never raised a finger in violence, His presence stirred the political and spiritual establishment in dramatic ways. Ironically, in his non-violent approach, Jesus called Messiah by His followers, posed a greater threat to the institutions of His day than the violent man, Barabbas.
How could that be? He told the violent to lay down their swords and invited the one receiving the blows to turn the other cheek to their oppressor as well. Yet the Pharisees, king Herod and the Roman establishment all wanted him dead! In a few minutes, they would request that Jesus Barabbas be released in His place, and Jesus Messiah be put to death. The Giver of Life, in exchange for a convicted taker of life.
One question worth asking: did Jesus Barabbas change his name to match this new arrival, Jesus called the Christ, in a willful act of blasphemy? Was Barabbas simply a false teacher and a charlatan trying to paint himself as Messiah instead? Possibly.
But I believe that the given name of Barabbas was in fact Jesus (Yahshua) from birth. The reason is fairly simple. According to several sources, Yahshua (in Hebrew meaning ‘salvation’ and often spelled ‘Yeshua’ from which we derive the common English name Joshua or Jesse) was a common name among Jews in the time Jesus Christ was on earth. An interesting fact for several reasons. First, it shows us the Jewish people were actively seeking a Savior. They were hungry for deliverance and salvation, to the extent that they were identifying their own children with their burning hope for a prophesied anointed one, Messiah and king.
It also calls to remembrance many Scriptures that the Jews studied regularly in their synagogues at that time. Notably, Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets including Daniel all spoke of the restitution of Israel, and when they wrote they often used the word ‘yahshua’ to speak of the salvation that was coming for the people of God. This is why the angel Gabriel declared to Mary and Joseph that their Son was to be called Yahshua. For He would, “Save His people from their sins.” His name meant Salvation. He would embody the prophesied identity of Messiah, by becoming their Savior and Deliverer.
It stands to reason then, that Barrabas’ parents would have named their son Jesus at his birth. Identity being so rooted in names within Hebrew culture, Barabbas may have desired to take salvation for the Jews into his own hands, eventually becoming a zealot to fulfill his namesake ‘salvation.’ Jews placed their identity and calling in their names. So Jesus Barabbas likely believed he was destined to bring freedom to his people. After all, his parents and people shared this generational belief.
Another reason that Matthew’s manuscript referring to his first name as Jesus makes sense, is because Bar-Abbas is actually a surname. As when Jesus refers to Peter as “Simon, Bar-Jonah”, meaning Simon, son of Jonah. So Barabbas obviously had another name that the other Gospel writers did not include.
Lastly, Pilate seems to clearly understand the irony when he addresses the people. His comments to the chief priests are soaked in irony. The Jews have been seeking a Savior for generations, long before the arrival of Pilate. At the special Passover Sabbath taking place when Jesus was crucified, Pilate customarily released a Jewish prisoner. The custom already symbolized the prophetic coming Messiah, and how He was a replacement for them, a sacrificial lamb.
So when presenting the crowd and chief priests with their two options, Pilate obviously found some dark humour in the scenario. Do you want to have the lawbreaker and zealot ‘savior’, Jesus son of Abba? Or do you want this other Jesus, the One who claims to be the actual Son of your Abba in Heaven?
The chief priests were notably offended. Not because Pilate had their names wrong. But because they actually despised Jesus Christ more than the murderer and insurrectionist, Jesus Barabbas. The chief priests wanted a human rebellion, not a heavenly reformation. This also adds creedence to the crowds eventual cries, in one voice, for Jesus Barabbas to be released. Like their spiritual leaders, most of them wanted a human revival. Not a spiritual one.
How many times, like the chief priests and mob inside that courtyard, have we chosen the counterfeit over the real thing? History teaches us well, that claiming or wielding spiritual authority as a humanist tool of manipulation can have dire and overpowering consequences. It can force even the faithful and elect into submission. That is exactly what the ruling leaders did when Jesus Messiah was being tried in the governor’s court. The spiritual gurus within Israel in that day were not immune to worldliness or the desires of the flesh, the love of power and control. And the same temptations exist for human beings today, regardless of race or creed. It’s easy to claim spiritual authority while wielding human authority. And incredibly dangerous.
After choosing Barabbas instead of Jesus, in a final act of irony, the people in Pilate’s courtyard made a potent, self-fulfilling prophetic declaration: “His blood be on us and on our children!”
When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but that instead a riot was breaking out, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “You bear the responsibility.” All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
As the imaginary blood washed off Pilate’s truly blood-stained hands, an eternal truth was entering the timeline of history. While demons and principalities celebrated their assumed victory over Jesus Christ, the final redemption stake was being lined up to pulverize and obliterate Satan and every past, present and future enemy of Almighty God.
The blood would indeed be on the heads of all the people. From generation to generation. What they said could not have been more true. An incredible inversion. Declaring their murderous intent, Father God sat on His throne and laughed. Because the blood of His precious Son was pure enough to invert their spirit of murder and release a floodgate of new creation life!
The redemption plan of the Father, Yahweh, officially entered the timeline of human history when Pilate released Barabbas to them and agreed to their outrageous request, to crucify the Lord of Glory in Barabbas’ place. Only a good Father can take what looks like the most devastating defeat and use it to complete the greatest victory our world has ever known.
About Daniel Kooman
Daniel Kooman is an award-winning film producer (She Has A Name) and author whose work has been featured on platforms such as The Huffington Post, the BBC, Newswire and ABC. His book Breath of Life is now a 3-part TV Series directed by The Kooman Brothers, featuring The Chosen TV Series Creator Dallas Jenkins, Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK), Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture Music, the popular rock band Skillet, and Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe.
Daniel has traveled to more than thirty countries to tell stories that challenge and inspire. Story-telling has become a platform for Daniel and his wife Christy, to invest in children, empowering orphans in Tanzania and restoring hope to young women trafficked in Thailand. Daniel and Christy live on Vancouver Island, Canada, with their two young children.
Matthew 27:15-17 (MNT)