Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gardener Of Eden (John 20:15)

Who did Mary Magdalene think Jesus was when she first saw him after His resurrection? The gardener (John 20:15)

Though she does not play a prominent role through most of the gospel narrative, Mary Magdalene takes center stage after the crucifixion. She is the person who discovers the empty tomb (John 20:1). After relaying the (potentially) good news to the disciples (John 20:2), Mary remains outside the tomb weeping (John 20:11). Presumably, she interprets the absence of Jesus’ body as an insult added to injury.

After conversing with two angels who were in the tomb, Mary encounters the risen Jesus himself (John 20:12-18). She does not recognize him initially, presuming him to be the gardener of the garden tomb (John 20:15).

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” (John 20:15 NASB)
Recognition comes not through sight (Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 1:18) as it is only after Jesus says her name that Mary recognizes him (John 20:16). As Jesus had professed earlier in the gospel, sheep know their shepherd’s voice when they hear it (John 10:4).

Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) reads the incident with an apologetic bent:

This is perhaps the earliest literary evidence of a Jewish response to the Christian story of the resurrection. While early Christians explained the tradition of an empty tomb by claiming that God had raised Jesus from the dead, early Christian documents report a Jewish response that the body has been stolen from the tomb by a gardener. (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 528)
When she encounters Jesus, Mary is inconsolable and likely still in shock. Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) comments, “Her conclusion that perhaps this man moved Jesus’ body since he happened to be the gardener indicates that she has not heard the man standing before her (Craig A. Evans [b. 1952], Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: John, Hebrews-Revelation (Bible Knowledge Series), 156).”

Mary, like many in mourning, is on a mission, staying busy by doing the distracting work of taking care of the deceased’s affairs. She assumes the highly unusual role of chief mourner and claims her right to Jesus’ body. Jack W. Stallings (b. 1944) speculates, “Mary apparently supposes that there has been some objection to Jesus’ having been buried in this particular tomb and assures (the gardener) that she will assume the responsibility of finding another place to bury the body (Stallings, The Randall House Bible Commentary: The Gospel of John, 279).”

D.A. Carson (b. 1946) analyzes:

Perhaps, she told herself, he had seen something – indeed, perhaps he had been involved in the moving of the body himself. If Mary thought him to be the gardener, she may have wondered if he had been under orders from the owner to remove the body of this executed criminal from the new tomb where it had been hurriedly placed. That she should offer to make the arrangements to fetch the body and given it a proper burial suggests she was a woman of some wealth and standing (as Luke 8:2-3 attests). (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 641)
Mary’s interpretation is mundane - she mistakes Jesus for the gardener (kepouros). This is the only time this word appears in the New Testament. Counselor and gardener Catherine McCann defines:
The gardener could mean the owner of the garden or an overseer or caretaker—therefore someone who would have known who disturbed the tomb. Brown remarks that the word kepouros (“gardener”) is the only biblical reference using this term, yet it was not an uncommon word in secular papyri. (McCann, New Paths Toward the Sacred: Awakening the Awe Experience in Everyday Living, 152)
Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) rationalizes, “Presumably he looks less angelic than the other two individuals, so that she mistakes him for a gardener (recall John 19:41) (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary, 263).”

Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) notes that gardener was the best guess available to Mary.

Apart from grave robbers or other mourners—neither of whom would have been likely visitors at this early morning hour—gardeners attending to the grounds where a tomb was located (cf. John 19:41) would have been the only people around. Mary’s guess indicates that at first blush the resurrected Jesus is indistinguishable from an ordinary person. (Clinton E. Arnold [b.1958], Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts, 188)
Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) justifies Mary’s blunder:
The confusion of Jesus with a gardener is logical, given that they are standing in a garden. The misidentification points to the degree to which Jesus’s appearance is unexpected. That Jesus has left his burial clothes in the tomb might provoke fanciful speculation that Jesus has borrowed the gardener’s clothes. Rembrandt depicts this possibility in his painting The Resurrected Lord Appears to Mary Magdalene (1651) [pictured]. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 269)
Some have seen Mary’s misconception as indicative of inadequate faith. Mark A. Matson (b.1951) critiques:
It is curious that, having seen and heard the angels in the tomb, she would still ask Jesus, thinking him to be a gardener, where the body has been moved. This question underscores her lack of comprehension and belief. (Matson, John (Interpretation Bible Studies),119)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) adds:
Her lack of spiritual perceptivity at this point could hardly be made clearer. On the other hand, it seems characteristic of first appearance stories that Jesus is not immediately recognized (cf. the Emmaus story in Luke 24). G.R. Beasley-Murray [1916-2000] has conjectured that the glorified Jesus made himself sensibly recognizable only to his disciples but that in his transfigured condition he would not have been distinguishable from other supernatural beings such as an angel. The problem with this suggestion is that Mary confuses Jesus with a gardener, but she certainly does not confuse him with the angels in the tomb. (Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 331)
As Witherington notes, not recognizing the post resurrected Jesus is not an uncommon phenomena (Luke 24:13-16). More than any deficiency in faith, Mary’s reaction accentuates the unexpectedness of the resurrection. She could not perceive Jesus because she had rejected the possibility of seeing him.

Are you looking for Jesus? Would you recognize him if you saw him? Have you ever not recognized a loved one because they were in an unexpected place? Why does Mary fail to recognize Jesus? Is her misidentification an evidence of a lack of faith? Is Mary completely wrong?

In a way, Mary is correct - she is encountering the gardener. In John 15:1-17, Jesus paints a famous picture of a vine meticulously trimmed by a gardener so that it might produce optimum fruit. Though the word for gardener (georgos) is different, the analogy begins with Jesus stating that the Father is the gardener of the vine (John 15:1).

The imagery may even bring the Biblical story full circle by alluding back to creation. Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) explains:

Some interpreters believe that John is consciously sweeping up numerous biblical motifs that connect with the theme of “garden.” If so, it is no accident that in John 20:15, here in this garden, Mary misunderstands the identity of Jesus and thinks he is the gardener. Nicolas Wyatt [b.1941], after showing the historical evidence in Judaism that placed the Garden of Eden in the Holy Land, goes on to show how motifs from the Eden story reappear in numerous literatures of the period. If this imagery is at work (and here many would caution us), in this story we are viewing a woman in “Paradise” meeting the ruler of the Garden himself, Jesus. (Burge, John (The NIV Application Commentary), 548)
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus plants the seed that will lead humanity to the new Eden.

Sandra M. Schneiders (b. 1936) adds:

The...scene, redolent of allusions to both the garden of the first creation (cf. Genesis 2:8-15 and Genesis 3:8-10) and the Song of Songs (especially Song of Solomon 3:1-4), brings the lover, Mary Magdalene, to the garden of the tomb searching for her Beloved and refusing comfort or enlightenment from anyone, even angels, who cannot tell her where he is...He is indeed the divine gardener inaugurating the New Creation, the Good Shepherd calling his own name, and the Spouse of the New Covenant rewarding the search of the anguished lover. (John R. Donahue [b. 1933], Life in Abundance: Studies of John’s Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998],183)
Ravi Zacharias (b. 1946) concludes, “Yes, there is a Gardener...And, yes, the Gardener is the God revealed fully in Jesus Christ (Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, Extreme Edition).”

Given the same data as Mary, what conclusion would you have drawn? If Jesus were to cross your path, how would you recognize him?

“The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” - George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pierced for Our Transgressions (John 19:34)

What did the soldiers do to the side of Jesus on the cross? Pierced it with a spear.

The gospel of John (and only the fourth gospel) records that governor Pontius Pilate ordered the legs of those being crucified, including Jesus, to be broken (John 19:31-37). This was one of the few blows involved in crucifixion that was not commanded in derision.

Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) explain:

Breaking the legs of a runaway slave or a fugitive was punishment; for a crucified person it was a favor, since it enabled the person to suffocate rather quickly. Here we are told that the soldiers found Jesus dead already, and therefore did not break his legs. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 272)
While the other two condemned men needed their legs broken to speed their demise, Jesus’ limbs were left in tact as he was found already dead (John 19:33). Instead, a soldier jabbed Jesus’ side with spear (John 19:34).
But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. (John 19:34 NASB)
Colin G. Kruse (b. 1938) relays:
Instead of breaking his legs, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. Presumably, the spear thrust was to ensure that Jesus was dead, but the spear penetrated quite a away, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (Kruse, The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) , 371)
John sees the incident as corresponding to Old Testament passages in both Psalms (Psalm 34:20) and Zechariah (Zechariah 12:10). For the evangelist, this connection is further evidence for belief (John 19:35-37).

Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) summarizes:

The piercing and the Witnesses (John 19:31-37) underline how Jesus’ postmortem treatment, particularly his pierced side (form which come flowing blood and water, attested by very trustworthy witnesses), remarkably fulfills both the words of ancient Scriptures and the very promises of Jesus himself (e.g., Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20; Zechariah 12:10; and John 4:10, 6:53, 55; 7:37-39). (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 1095)
Johannes Beutler (b. 1933) critiques, “In spite of considerable differences in wording, the looking upon the pierced side of Jesus is considered to be foretold by scripture, in this case Zechariah 12:10. (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946] and C. Clifton Black [b. 1955], Exploring the Gospel of John: in honor of D. Moody Smith [b.1931], 149).”

Leon Morris (1914-2006) adds that there is an allusion to Passover:

This appears to be a reference to the requirement that the bones of the Passover victim should not be broken (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). It would seem that John means us to think that Jesus’ death was the real Passover sacrifice (cf. the similar view of Paul, I Corinthians 5:7). (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 686)
Perhaps more important than any prophetic fulfillment is the fact that the post-mortem spear thrust establishes that Jesus died. To have resurrection, one must demonstrate proof of death. Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) elucidates:
The unusual speed of his death is almost certainly related to the severe flogging he had previously received (John 19:1). So, instead of breaking his legs, one of the soldiers thrusts a spear into his side (John 19:34). In a world without modern medical techniques for determining the exact moment of death, this may have been the easiest way to ensure Jesus had no spark of life left in him as the authorities prepared to take his body off the cross...Commentators and physicians alike have debated the medical significance of the outflow of water and blood. What first-century readers would have recognized was John’s emphasis on the complete and genuine death of Jesus. (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary, 255)
F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) adds:
This was sufficient answer to those forms of docetism current when he wrote which held that the Christ did not really die. The persistence of this view is reflected in the statement in the Qur’ān that ‘they did not kill him, neither did they crucify him; it only seemed to be so’. (Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, Notes, 376)
The blow generates a peculiar reaction - the excretion of both blood and water (John 19:34). Apologists point to this detail as the definitive biblical verse which demonstrates that Jesus did indeed die.

Rick Cornish (b. 1950) writes:

The release of “blood and water” as described by eyewitnesses (John 19:34) is exactly what medical science expects when a person dies under these conditions. Severe shock accelerated the heart rate leading to heart failure, depositing fluid in the membrane around the heart and lungs. So he was probably dead when the soldier speared Him in the side, piercing His rib cage, lung, and heart. If He was still alive, the spear thrust would have killed Him. (Cornish, 5 Minute Apologist: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time, 151)
D.A. Carson (b. 1946) explicates:
The verb enyxen (‘pierced’) could in itself suggest nothing more than a ‘stab’ to see if Jesus was alive, but the rest of the verse shows that there was significant penetration: the wound brought a sudden flow of blood and water. Medical experts disagree on what was pierced. The two most common theories are these: (a) The spear pierced Jesus’ heart , and the blood from the heart mingled with the fluid from the periocardial sac to produce the ‘flow of blood and water’. (b) By contrast, it has been argued that fluid from the pericardial sac could not so readily escape from the body by such a wound; it would fill up the chest cavity, filling the space around the lung and then oozing into the lung itself through the wound the spear made. In tests performed on cadavers, it has been shown that where a chest has been severely injured but without penetration, hemorrhagic fluid, up to two litres of it, gathers between the pleura lining the rib cage and the lining of the lung. This separates, the clearer serum at the top, the deep red layer at the bottom. If the chest cavity were then pierced at the bottom, both layers would flow out...However the medical experts work this out, there can be little doubt that the Evangelist is emphasizing Jesus’ death, his death as a man, his death beyond any shadow of doubt. (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 623)
Jesus’ humanity is on full display as there is nothing less divine than death. Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) writes:
One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, a thrust doubtless aimed at Jesus’ heart to be sure of his death (Quintilian 35-100], Declamationes maiores 6.9, “and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34b). The reference to the discharge of blood and water would be heard by Mediterranean readers as a testimony to the real humanity of the crucified one. Several parallels confirm the point. First, the Iliad 5.340-41 says that from a goddess, wounded with a lance, “blood-water” alone issued forth instead of blood and water, because gods who neither eat bread nor drink wine have no blood. Second, Plutarch [45-120], Moralia 180e, has Alexander the Great [356-323 BCE] tell those who regarded him as a god, “This is blood, as you can seem and not blood-water, such as flows in the holy gods.” Third IV Maccabees 9:20 tells how, at the martyrdom of the eldest of the seven brothers, not only blood but also blood-water flowed from his body onto the instrument of torture. His was a truly human death. Moreover, it is significant that Irenaeus [130-202] (Against Heresies 3.22.2) interprets the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side, along with his hunger and thirst and physical fatigue, as a sign of his humanity. (Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles, 254)
How important is it to you that Jesus was fully human? Why do you think the evangelist went to such great lengths to demonstrate that Jesus actually died? Do the connections between the piercing of Jesus and the Old Testament bolster your faith? Is there any symbolic significance to the event?

Numerous theories have been extended regarding the symbolic significance of the combination of blood and water that oozes from Jesus (John 19:34).

Urban C. Von Wahlde (b. 1941) connects the water to the “living water” that Jesus offers earlier in the gospel (John 7:37-39):

For the author of John 19:34, the fact that the blood of Jesus issued forth in addition to water is very important. Could it be that John 19 is a complement and a development of the thought of John 7:37-39? If the Fourth Gospel is more interested in theology than in narrative niceties, then we have an explanation. (Tom Thatcher [b. 1967], What We Have Heard From the Beginning: The Past, Present and Future of Johannine Studies, 348)
Robert Kysar (b. 1934) responds:
The search for the symbolic meaning of the two liquids has not been...easy. The primary question is whether or not the two are symbolic of the sacraments, and that seems clearly not to be the case. Water functions elsewhere in this gospel to symbolize the Spirit (e.g., John 7:39) and the revelation of God (e.g. Revelation 4:10ff.), While that might be the sense of water here, this verse is not intended as a fulfillment of John 7:39)...The blood might stand for the benefits of Jesus’ death flowing out from the cross, chief among them the gift of the Spirit. I John 5:6-8 seems to be an interpretation of this passage, but that does not mean that the sense of the verse in the epistle is necessarily the sense the evangelist had in mind. All in all two observations are called for: (1) The primary point to be established by this verse is the reality of Jesus’ death...(2) John may also have wanted to hint at the outpouring of the benefits of the crucifixion for the believer. (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 291-292)
Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) goes back further in time and sees a link to the Passover:
One of the soldiers with his lance pierced the side, and to his surprise, and surely to that of the first audience, out came a flow of blood and water (John 19:34). This issue of fluid invites investigation of its surplus of symbolic meaning and ironic significance. The soldier, who seems to imitate the humiliation of a defeated combative enemy is showered with life-giving elements. Mary Coloe points out that this is temple imagery. Jesus dies at the same time as the blood from the Passover lamb flows from the temple. The water signifies that Jesus is the eschatalogical temple from which the water of the spirit of life flows. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 254)
Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) also sees an association with Passover:
Just as with the many other events on this day, John no doubt sees symbolism that goes beyond the surface meaning of piercing. Most evangelicals are reluctant to see sacramental symbolism here (such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the images of water and blood) although this has been a common view from the earliest centuries. More promising is the view that sees Passover symbolism at work. John may be making the point that the crucified Jesus qualifies as a Passover victim. He notes, for instance, that Jesus’ legs are not broken, likely because it was illegal for any Passover sacrifice to have broken bones. The lamb must be a perfect sacrifice. In case we miss this subtle point, John even alludes to the Passover requirement in Exodus 12:46 at the end of the paragraph, “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36; see also Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). (Burge, John (The NIV Application Commentary), 506)
Scot McKnight (b. 1953) supplements:
It is difficult to know...what to make of the “water and blood” of the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:34; cf. I John5:6-9), but it is safe to think that the language functions as either an antic-docetic notation or a symbol for purification. Along similar lines, it is clear that John finds it important that Jesus dies at the same time as do the Pesah victims at the temple (John 18:29, 39, 19:14), but it is not altogether clear what kind of atonement theology he finds in such a connection. If Jesus is the Passover victim, ingested at some personal level for his followers, it would mean he is the center of the celebration and that in which they participate in order to memorialize the redemption. It would also mean he would be the protector from the wrath of the slaying angel of YHWH. (McKnight, Jesus And His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, And Atonement Theory, 369)
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) posits that as his blood and water spill, Jesus’ very nature is on display:
Perhaps “blood and water”...points to Jesus’ two natures, human and divine. The parallel I John 5:6-8 refers to spirit, water, and blood; Jesus gave up his spirit when he died (John 19:30), leaving behind blood and water. (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 552)
N.T. Wright (b. 1948) concludes:
Of course, at this moment of all moments, none of this is simply told for the sake of historical detail, vital though that is (the Word really did become flesh, not a phantom!). John has left us in no doubt that all these details, too, though from one point of view ‘accidental’ (nobody could have guessed what the soldiers might do next), were all to be seen as heaven-sent signs of what it all meant. We only have to think back through the gospel, to all the occasions where water and blood are mentioned, to realize that again and again they point to Jesus as the source of life, cleansing and purification. All these themes come together at this moment. (Wright, John for Everyone: Chapters 11-21, 135)
Is there symbolic significance to the blood and water which emanates from Jesus? What does the crucifixion mean to you?

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” - Isaiah 53:5 NASB

Monday, April 2, 2012

Choosing The Wrong Jesus (Mark 15:15)

Who was released in order for Jesus to be crucified? Barabbas.

All four gospels record that a policy existed by which a prisoner was released at Passover (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; Luke 23:7; John 18:39). At Jesus’ hearing before governor Pontius Pilate, this Passover amnesty gives the spectators a presumably unbalanced choice of whose life to spare - Jesus or a prisoner named Barabbas (Matthew 27:17; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Matthew records that the alternative was posed by Pilate (Matthew 27:17), Mark attributes it to the priests (Mark 15:11) and John to the mob (John 18:40). Pilate assumes that the crowd will prefer the popular (albeit controversial) young preacher, Jesus, to the bloodthirsty killer. Instead, the crowd chooses the insurrectionist and Jesus is sent to be crucified (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-19; John 18:39-40).

Though Barabbas does not speak in the Bible, all four gospels name him (Matthew 27:16, 17, 20, 21, 26; Mark 15:7, 11, 15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). While the descriptions of him vary, the gospels agree that Barabbas deserves to be on trial. Matthew calls him a “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16 NASB). Mark states that he had “committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7 NASB). John notes that Barabbas was a “robber” (John 18:40). In one of his first sermons, Peter calls him a murderer (Acts 3:14). Barabbas is obviously a known commodity, but exactly who he is cannot be determined as the brief New Testament references do not provide the specifics of his crimes and he is not mentioned outside of the Bible.

John Shelby Spong (b. 1931) acknowledges:

Mystery surrounds Barabbas, who is never mentioned either before this moment or after. He is defined in Mark as one who “committed murder during the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). His evils seems to increase as the later gospels pick up his story. He is “notorious” in Matthew (Matthew 27:16), a bandit in John (John 18:40, NRSV). (Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 168)
The Greek provides little help in identifying his crimes. Allen Black (b. 1951) explains:
Barabbas...was one of several men imprisoned for committing murder in a riot. The nouns which the NIV translates “insurrectionists” and “uprising” [Mark 15:7] are cognate nouns (στασιαστής, stasiastes and στάσις, stasis) which could refer to a range of activities from general rioting to a major insurrection. (Black, Mark (The College Press NIV Commentary), 268)
William L. Lane (1931-1999) adds:
The leader of this revolt seems to have been a popular hero, and may have been a leading Zealot, but little is known of him or his deeds...The fact that Barabbas is introduced prior to the reference to the petitioners in Mark 15:8 suggests that the latter were supporters of the insurgent who came to the forum specifically to ask for his release. (Lane, The Gospel according to Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 554)
It has been assumed that Barabbas was a prominent figure in a movement resisting the Roman empire. It has even been posited that he belonged to the Sicarii (literally “dagger men”), a group of radical Jewish patriots who pledged to murder Roman rulers and their collaborators whenever possible. Barabbas’ supporters would have perceived him to be a freedom fighter.

Robert H. Gundy (b. 1932) suspects that knowing the specifics of Barabbas’ crimes would only distract from the narrative:

The placement of ἐν τη στάσει, “in the insurrection,” and φόνον, “murder,” before the verb calls attention to the criminality of Barabbas and his fellow prisoners. Against this foil Jesus’ innocence stands out in bold relief: Barabbas deserves to be bound and crucified; Jesus does not. Mark avoids obscuring this apologetic contrast with details concerning the insurrection. (Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, 926)
As the text leaves his sins to the imagination, Barabbas becomes an abstract but more relatable figure - he is the one who deserves the punishment that Jesus receives.

The name Barabbas is also generic, meaning, “son of a father.” John R. Donahue (b. 1933) dissects:

The proper name here consists of two Aramaic elements: bar meaning “son” and ’abba’ meaning “father.” The derivation from Bar-Rabban (“son of the master”) is less likely. There were rabbis known as “Bar-Abba,” and the practice of using bar plus the father’s name is witnessed in the cases of Simon bar Jona (for Peter; see Matthew 16:17) and Simeon Bar Kokhba (or Kosiba) around 132-135 C.E. Some manuscripts supply Barabbas with the first name “Jesus” in Matthew 27:16. Since one would expect him to have a first name and since it is unlikely that early Christians would have created the name “Jesus” for him there may well be a historical basis for this tradition. In either case the choice presented to the crowd—between Jesus of Nazareth (the real “Son of the Father”) and (Jesus) Barabbas—is rich in irony and in theological significance. (Donahue, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina), 432)
Gerrit Vos (1894-1968) declares, “Everyone in the world is in this Barabbas. The man born of a human father.”

As noted, Barabbas’ given name may have been Jesus. The New English Bible even translates his name as such, “Jesus Bar-Abbas” (Matthew 27:16, NEB).

Joel Marcus (b. 1951) analyzes:

Some texts of Matthew 27:16-17, mostly of a Caesarean type... read “Jesus Barabbas” rather than “Barabbas,” and Origen [184-253]acknowledges that some of the manuscripts known to him attest this reading (Commentary on Matthew 121 [on Matthew 27:16-18]). Many scholars think that “Jesus Barabbas” was the original reading in Matthew and that the forename was later suppressed by reverential scribes who felt, as Origen did, that no sinner should bear the name of Jesus...This theory is made more plausible by the observation that the forename has been erased from several manuscripts (see F. Crawford Burkitt [1864-1935], Evangelion da-Mepharreshe 2.277)...Some exegetes...even suggest that “Jesus Barabbas” may have been the original reading in Mark, since “the one called Barabbas” is awkward, and elsewhere ho legomenos is usually preceded by a personal name and followed by a descriptive title or nickname (Matthew 1:16, 4:18, 10:2, 27:17, 22; John 11:16, 20:24, 21:2; Colossians 4:11). There are instances, however, in which ho legomenos is not preceded by the personal name (Matthew 26:3, 14; Luke 22:47; John 4:25, 9:11, 19:17), and awkward expressions are common in Mark. (Marcus, Mark 8-16 (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), 1028)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) adds:
At Mark 15:7 we are introduced to Barabbas, whose name according to a textual variant at Matthew 27:16 was Jesus Barabbas. This, in turn, has led to the suggestion that Pilate misheard the crowd when they were shouting for the release of Jesus Barabbas, thinking they were asking for Jesus of Nazareth. But there is no clear evidence for such a conclusion here, and most of the earliest and best manuscripts do not have the name Jesus appended to Barabbas.(Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 391)
When Barabbas hears his name called, he likely thinks it is to be executed. Much to Barabbas’ surprise and Pilate’s chagrin, the crowd chooses to spare Barabbas instead of Jesus. While the gospels vary on who is most responsible for suggesting Barabbas as an alternative, they are unified in recounting the crowd’s unified decision to release the insurrectionist (Matthew 27:21; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). The people not only choose Barabbas, but reject Jesus, demanding his death (Matthew 27:22,23; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21; John 19:15). The latter decision is more difficult to understand.

Mary Healy (b. 1964) questions:

Why would the crowd demand such a horrible fate for their fellow Jew? Mark does not explain, and leaves it as a question for the reader to contemplate. Perhaps the nationalists in the crowd regard Jesus a threat to the release of their man, Barabbas. Perhaps they regard the kingdom of God that he preached (Mark 1:14-15) as a futile pie-in-the-sky religious quest when what was really needed was violent, military action to liberate Israel. It is also possible that most people in the crowd did not know who Jesus was and were simply willing to go along with the chief priests’ agitation. In either case, they demonstrate chilling indifference to the torments to which they expose him. (Healy, The Gospel of Mark, (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 309)
There is a tragic irony in their shocking selection. Jesus is targeted because of his popularity and growing influence yet the crowds who are responsible for his influence are also behind his execution.

Pilate did not account for an extreme form of peer pressure, mob psychology. The crowd is incited by it religious leaders (Matthew 27:20; Mark 15:11). Lamar Williamson, Jr. (b. 1926) examines:

The explicit that “the chief priests stirred up the crowd.” The mob is essentially mindless and subject to manipulation. For whatever motives, twice they reject Jesus as king (Mark 15:9, 12), and twice, by acclamation they call for his death: “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13-14). (Williamson, Mark (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 271)
The crowd is stirred into a frenzy, willing to believe the worst about the best regardless of the facts. Passion overrides judgment. Psychology has demonstrated that it takes only a handful of people positioned in strategic places to start a riot.

Leslie J. Francis (b. 1947) determines:

Here is a narrative about crowd psychology. Consider how little responsibility each individual in the crowd took for the release of Barabbas, how little responsibility each individual in the crowd took for the crucifixion of Jesus, how the moral autonomy of the individual is eroded by the power of the crowd. (Francis, Personality Type and Scripture: Exploring Mark’s Gospel, 145)
Barabbas became the popular choice and as is often the case, the popular choice was wrong.

When have you made a decision simply to follow the crowd? Why do the spectators choose Barabbas? When have you seen a popular choice proven wrong? Have you ever seen religious officials lead their followers astray? Is Barabbas’ inclusion in each gospel evidence of substitutionary atonement? Compare and contrast Jesus and Barabbas.

The two figures are intended to be contrasted. Not only are Jesus’ and Barabbas’ names similar, but they find themselves in very similar positions. Both wish to save their people, Barabbas from Rome; Jesus from sin and death.

Theodore W. Jennings (b. 1942) recognizes:

Jesus and Barabbas belong together in some odd way...It really doesn’t matter how far we seek to distinguish the strategy of Jesus from that of Barabbas. Jesus himself does not condemn Barabbas, even if he does seem to embody a different way of confronting the imperial authorities. Instead, he dies in his place. If Jesus’ death may be literally said to be a ransom for another, that other is first of all none other than Barabbas, the terrorist, the assassin. (Jennings, Transforming Atonement: A Political Theology of the Cross, 32)
M. Eugene Boring (b. 1935) adds:
Many Gentile Christians could be expected to see “Barabbas” as an ironic counterpart to Jesus, the true Son of the Father. The parallel and contrast may go further: Barabbas has already been convicted of insurrection and sentenced to death, but will escape; Jesus is falsely accused of insurrection and will die in Barabbas’ place, although he is innocent and has not been convicted or sentenced. During the whole period from the Roman takeover of Palestine (63 BCE) to the actual revolt in 66 CE, the only people crucified in Palestine were those convicted of being revolutionaries and their followers. It is important for Mark and his readers to distinguish Jesus from revolutionaries such as Barabbas. The point will again be made at the cross, where those crucified as actual revolutionaries will dissociate themselves from Jesus (Mark 15:32). (Boring, Mark: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 420-21)
Barabbas serves as a stark reminder of the grim reality of the situation - he should have been the one to die. Gary W. Charles (b. 1954) concludes: chiefly a Markan foil to advance the story by emphasizing the dramatic injustice being done to Jesus. The tragic irony is advanced when the same crowd that had shouted “Hosanna” at the entrance to Jerusalem (Mark 11:9) is now manipulated by the chief priests to shout “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:14). Ironically, Jesus, the one who can save lives (Hosanna means “Save now” in Hebrew) is rejected in favor of one who has taken life. (Brian K. Blount [b. 1955] and Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, 235)
The crowd’s choice is also indicative of a greater ideology. Barabbas represents the world’s way of doing things while Jesus presents a radical alternative. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) exclaims:
The crowd preferred Jesus Bar-Abbas to Jesus Bar-Joseph, the real son of the Father!...Why? Because Barabbas was a grotesque form of the Messiah Israel wanted! He was a leading Zealot, a political activist who had taken to the bandit trail. He was a man of action who would even murder to reach his own ends (cf. Acts 3:14; Matthew 27:16; Luke 23:19; John 18:40). In the twisted thinking of some, he was a patriot. His vitality and elan appealed to the mob. Jesus, however, had disappointed them with his inaction. The people chose lawlessness instead of righteousness, violence instead of love, war instead of peace. The world is still the same. (Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, Volume Two (Preaching the Word), 193)
David E. Garland (b. 1947) laments:
The choice of Barabbas represents the human preference for the one who represents our narrow personal hopes—in this particular case, a perverted nationalism. He appeals to our basic instinct to protect our interests, with violence if necessary. In contemporary culture, we have been indoctrinated to prefer the violent answer over the peaceful one...Our heroes become the Barbbases of the world, who take matters into their own hands and dispatch the enemy with brute force or clever trickery. If the vote came today, then, Barabbas would likely win again, hands down. (Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary), 583)
The contrast between Jesus and Barabbas is illustrated in the work of British artist George Tinworth (1843-1913). In 1882, Tinworth produced a terra cotta relief called “The Release of Barabbas” (pictured). There is perfect symmetry between the scene’s three principal figures - Barabbas, Pilate and Jesus. Pilate occupies the painting’s center, situated between a bound solemn Jesus and Barabbas whose hands are free. Inscribed beneath Barabbas are the words, “The World’s Choice” while the marker beneath Jesus reads, “The Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Tinworth was correct. The world tends to choose poorly, continually favoring Barabbas over Jesus.

N.T. Wright (b. 1948) resolves:

The story of Barabbas invites us to see Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of a stark personal exchange. Barabbas deserves to die; Jesus dies instead, and he goes free. Barabbas was the archetypical Jewish rebel: quite probably what we today would call a fanatical right-wing zealot, determined to stop at nothing to bring in a version of God’s kingdom which consisted of defeating Roman power by Roman means – in other words, repaying pagan violence with holy violence. No doubt many Christians in Mark’s community, and others who would read his book, had at one stage at least flirted with such revolutionary movements. Reading the story of the guilty man freed and the innocent man crucified, it would not be hard for them to identify with Barabbas, and to view the rest of the story with the awestruck gaze of people who think, ‘There but for God’s grace go I.’ (Wright, Mark for Everyone, 209)
Who will you choose, Jesus or Barabbas? What do you think became of Barababas, a man who was lived because Jesus died? How has this same phenomenon affected you?

“Pilate told the people that they could spare the life of either a murderer named Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth, and they chose Barabbas. Given the same choice, Jesus, of course, would have chosen to spare Barabbas too.” - Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, p. 15