Pp Mark 15:6-14, Luke 23:18-23, John 18:38-40
The releasing of a prisoner at Passover
Jesus, Barabbas and the Church
1. Life and death
c. The Church
2. Giver and taker
c. The Church
3. Submission and rebellion
c. The Church
4. Liberator and binder
c. The Church
Since the close of Mtw 27:14, the first hearing before Pilate, there have been a few incidents that have taken place and which are omitted by Matthew (see my chronology list for the full breakdown of the time between sunrise and the final committing of Jesus to be crucified) but which are recorded by both Luke and John, Mark following the same format as Matthew at this point by jumping to the ‘Barabbas incident’.
At the close of that first hearing, Pilate learns from the Jewish leaders that Jesus is a Galilean and, as such, makes a genuine attempt at not having to decide the prisoner’s fate (Luke 23:5), despatching Him to Herod Antipas who’s in the city of Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations (Luke 23:6-12). It seems that Pilate was genuinely concerned that the only reason Jesus had been committed to him for execution was because of the leaders’ jealousy (Mtw 27:18) and was in no doubt that He was innocent of the charges which were being brought against Him (Luke 23:4).
His despatch of the prisoner to Herod served him twofold. Firstly, it removed the need for him to make a decision in a case which he would rather not have addressed and, secondly, it offended the Jewish religious leaders which seems to have been one of those things which he took some delight in - as we’ll see when I get round to giving the reader a brief background to the known character of Pilate from secular history on a future web page, he was a person who would get away with anything he could and offend as many of those who were opposed to Roman rule in the nation under his jurisdiction and control.
It wasn’t that his plan backfired, but Herod got absolutely nowhere with Jesus (23:6-12) and had Him sent back to Pilate adorned in garments which probably denoted the charges which were being brought against Him by the religious leaders.
When the Governor received Him back, he seems to have at once called together the religious leaders and announced to them that neither he nor Herod had found any guilt in the Man and that He would simply chastise Him and then let Him go (23:13-17).
There’s then an abrupt break also in Luke’s narrative for the insertion of John 18:33-38 in which Pilate withdraws into the Roman residency and questions Jesus privately once more about the charge of Him being the King of the Jews. There may be a hint that Pilate wants the accusations forgotten and that he’s hoping that the religious leaders will go away and forget about it but no such thing happens - Pilate may also have wanted to be absolutely certain that the innocence of the prisoner was not in doubt. Certainly, this hearing was private - though soldiers would have been present and both Jesus and Pilate would have probably spoken through an interpreter unless they were able to meet each other halfway in Greek - Pilate may have felt that he was not going to demean his position by speaking anything else but Latin, but this is pure supposition.
After a short interval, Pilate returns outside with the Prisoner before a crowd which appears to have been gathering throughout the past hour or so. Why they should be standing outside the Roman residency is far from certain but it may be that they’d come specifically to request the release of a prisoner as they were accustomed to do (Mark 15:8 - see my explanation below) and that they thus became entangled in Pilate’s vain attempt at having them choose One who the religious leaders wanted condemned - to undermine the religious leaders’ position by the unanimous consent of their subjects must have been one of those considerations in Pilate’s mind which would have caused him great pleasure had he been able to carry it off for, in effect, it would have destroyed the Jewish leadership’s position of power.
Whatever the precise intentions, the event in which the crowds demanded that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified now takes place (Mtw 27:15-23, Mark 15:6-14, Luke 23:18-23, John 18:38-40).
It seems to be almost superfluous to the event described for us in the present considerations for us to attempt an article in which the nature and character of Barabbas is described because the Gospels are largely silent on the matter and the traditions which have come down to the present day Church are late exaggerations - it seems to me - to fill the gaps where the Gospels remained silent.
As with most of the people who opposed Jesus, Barabbas is supposed to have eventually come to acknowledge the One who’d been condemned to death instead of him and, if the Hollywood version is anything to go by, his form of christianity was a whole lot different to that practised by the early Church!
But there are some indications as to why Barabbas was in prison under the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities though we know neither where the man came from before the events described nor what became of him after Jesus had been condemned to death - it would be hard to imagine that the man would have hung around very long, however, in case he feared that the Roman authorities might change their mind and flight away from the city or, at the very least, to some place that was considered to be a secure hiding place would have been likely.
Mtw 27:16 simply states that the prisoner was ‘notorious’ without any indication of the reason, though linked with the word ‘prisoner’ one would, perhaps, have imagined it would have something to do with his crime. The Greek word employed here (Strongs Greek number 1978) is a neutral word conveying neither something evil nor good and holds a relevant meaning to the context in which it’s used. In Rom 16:7, Paul uses it in connection with prisoners once more though here it seems to be in a positive way for he speaks of those held captive on account of the Gospel of Christ and the meaning would be ‘highly regarded’ or ‘distinguished’ (in the sense of being recognised as following Jesus wholly).
Even though the RSV translates the word describing Barabbas as ‘notorious’ - where ‘infamous’ would run parallel in meaning - it may have been coloured by the descriptions which appear of the prisoner in the other three Gospels and, if Matthew was to be allowed to stand on its own, the word ‘significant’ would, perhaps, be more faithful to the text. Matthew doesn’t appear to have been demeaning Barabbas’ character or to provide information as to why he found himself in prison but to simply observe that Barabbas wasn’t ‘Joe Bloggs’ that no one knew but a Jew who was well-known amongst the Jerusalemites and, possibly, throughout the nation.
It’s only as we turn to the other three accounts that we learn something different. John 18:40 describes the man as ‘a robber’ where the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 3027) may also denote a revolutionary. Josephus appears to use it this way when referring to the Zealot political and military group as Kittels points out - with no reference to Josephus work, I can’t check it out - but the sense in which John uses it here may be more straightforward and it’s probably best that we add this description to the prisoner rather than to accept the word as indicating on its own that Barabbas was a revolutionary. It’s the word used of the two robbers who were crucified alongside Jesus, however, in Mtw 27:38 and the intention at that point in Matthew’s account may be to point the reader towards an understanding of them as failed revolutionaries, the description over Jesus’ head (Mtw 27:37) inferring that the cause for which they’d been fighting was over in the death of their assumed King (assumed by the Romans, that is).
Both Mark and Luke’s account say much the same thing and are the only source we have to determine the type of person Barabbas was in the eyes of the people. Luke 23:19 states that Barabbas was
‘...a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder’
while Mark 15:7 (my italics) echoes the words but adds that Barabbas was one of the many
‘...rebels in prison...who had committed murder in the insurrection...’
This italicised word (Strongs Greek number 4955 - a compound with 4714 which is the word translated ‘insurrection’ in both Mark and Luke) is misleadingly translated in the RSV and the AV is to be preferred here which includes Barabbas
‘...with them that had made insurrection with him...’
Although there’d been a recent uprising (‘recent’ otherwise they would have long since been put to death), there were a group of insurrectionists or revolutionaries (possibly ‘Zealots’) who’d been captured, and Barabbas seems to have been the most notable of the entire band (Mtw 27:16) either because of his act of murder or, perhaps, because he was recognised as being one of the leading men behind their actions.
That’s about all that can be known about Barabbas from the descriptions in the Gospels and, as previously noted, we know neither where he came from before this incident nor where he went to afterwards - it’s doubtful that he was unaware of Jesus before the incident for rumours about Him had been circulating throughout Israel - and even further afield (John 12:20-21).
His name (‘Bar-abbas’ is Aramaic and, if it had been rendered in Hebrew, it would have been the name ‘Ben-abbas’) is interesting for it means ‘son of [the] father’, a title very obviously applicable to Jesus Himself (Mtw 7:21 as just one among many examples) and, if we were to spiritualise the label, we might say that the father of the crowd got the son which belonged to them - that is, the peaceful Son was no product of their own nation but the one who was attempting to overthrow the yoke of the Roman Empire exemplified their attitude and beliefs much better.
More significant, however, is the RSV’s marginal note in Mtw 28:16 and 28:17 which observes that some ancient manuscripts bear the name ‘Jesus Barabbas’ at this point rather than, simply, ‘Barabbas’. It has to be remembered that the name ‘Jesus’ was not a reverential title as it is today in the Church (or a term of exclamation in the world!) but was a regular name to give a child - ‘Jesus’ being the Greek version of the Aramaic ‘Joshua’. Matfran comments on this that
‘Origen, writing before any of our existing Greek manuscripts were written, wrote that “in many copies it is not stated that Barabbas was also called Jesus”...It is very hard to imagine christian scribes adding the name Jesus to Barabbas if this was not already in the text, but very easy to understand their suppressing it (as Origen himself wanted to do), particularly as none of the other Gospels mentions his first name’
There also seems to be no reason for Pilate addressing the crowds by describing Jesus as the One (Mtw 27:17)
‘...who is called Christ’
unless he was contrasting the name with someone who bore a similar one. In this way, there only seems to be a plausible explanation of the descriptor if his question included the previous
‘Jesus who is called Barabbas’
However, that Pilate misunderstood the crowd because they all shouted ‘Jesus’ and he took them to mean Barabbas is quite impossible according to the Gospel manuscripts (even though Matfran considers it a possibility) because the crowd are quoted as declaring that Barabbas was the one they wanted releasing (Mtw 27:21, Luke 23:18, John 18:40) and Pilate refers to Jesus as the ‘King of the Jews’ (Mark 15:9, John 18:39).
There’s only one possible point of misunderstanding in the texts we have and that occurs in Mtw 27:22 if the crowd responded immediately they heard the name ‘Jesus’ - before Pilate had concluded with the description of Him as ‘Christ’. But the decision to release Barabbas had long since been decided upon and no such misunderstanding seems to have been likely.
More important to an understanding of Pilate’s cry, however, would be if he used the same name to ask the crowds in Mtw 27:21 (the italicised word is the only one I’ve added to the RSV’s translation)
‘Which of the two Joshuas [Greek - Jesus] do you want me to release for you?’
and this seems to be the only real significance of the alternate reading and adds to the drama of the situation - it would be wrong, though, to accept the alternate manuscript testimony to go on and conclude that Pilate was confused as to who they wanted releasing and so had the wrong man crucified. There only had to be a sniff of a possibility that he could get away with releasing Jesus and he would have done it, for he knew Him to be innocent (Luke 23:4,14-15, John 18:38).
In my opinion, the original manuscript is more likely to have read ‘Jesus Barabbas’ than simply ‘Barabbas’ and, though it’s impossible to be certain on the issue, it adds some weight to Pilate’s question to the crowds of Mtw 27:21 where, it has to be admitted, there’s no such variation which would render the Greek as I’ve done above.
The releasing of a prisoner at Passover
I’ve described much of the scene in the previous text but there are certain points which need raising here and some observations which didn’t fit into the overall discussion. Before we look at the scene and try to harmonise the Gospel accounts into one unit in the next section, we need to consider whether the releasing of a prisoner is attested in other ancient literature.
The simplest answer is that nothing at all like this, in this context, is known outside the Bible and this, quite naturally, has given fuel to those who would claim that the Bible is inaccurate and erroneous. Of course, silence is never to be accepted as proof or disproof but this is the way many have taken the circumstances surrounding Pilate’s attempts at having Jesus released.
It’s the silence of Josephus, however, that’s normally assessed to be the most significant but whether he would have considered the release by the Romans of one prisoner annually at Passover a significant event and worthy of recording is doubtful - even more so when such a tradition may have been no more than an innovation by Pilate to try and secure some favour with the Jewish population. Remember, as Passover proclaimed the deliverance from bondage of the nation, it was highly significant that one prisoner should be released into freedom at this festival when a release at other times of the year would have meant little.
Josephus is also cited, however, as justification that such a liberation of prisoners took place (Antiquities 20.9.3) but the event is so much dissimilar to the present situation under consideration in the Gospels that it should be ignored totally (except, perhaps, to show that a condemned prisoner could be released by the Roman authorities).
In this example, the Sicarii snatched away the high priest’s son and persuaded the high priest to petition the Procurator Albinus (62-64AD) to release those of their ranks who’d been imprisoned. Buoyed by their success, they continued kidnapping the high priest’s servants until a great many of their number were released from Roman prison. Therefore, although this incident is cited as an example of the way prisoners were released by the Roman authorities, the events surrounding it are completely different - here the release was a forced one whereas, in the Gospels, it was a purely voluntary act on behalf of the Governor.
Another citation comes from the ancient ‘History of Rome’ by Livy (5.13) but, as above, the situation is wholly different. There’d been a sudden change in the weather conditions from winter to summer which brought with it unbearable heat that many (both men and animals) died from a bad epidemic of pestilence. As a result, the authorities attempted to propitiate six specific gods on couches for a period of eight days (the significance of this is beyond me - but I’m just précising what Livy wrote!) while solemnities were conducted within private houses, hospitality was practised ungrudgingly and those at enmity with one another refused to speak harshly. Then Livy writes that also
‘...the manacles even were removed from prisoners during this period and afterwards it seemed an act of impiety that men to whom the gods had brought such relief should be put in chains again’
As can be seen, however, the background to the prisoner’s release is one of appeasement of the gods to bring about some personal blessing - a situation which is far removed from the context of the Gospels.
Marklane is worth reading here, however, for he comments that
‘There is...a parallel in Roman law which indicates that an imperial magistrate could pardon and acquit individual prisoners in response to the shouts of the populace’
going on to describe the contents of Papyrus Florentinus (61, 59ff) where the magistrate is quoted as announcing to the accused that he would
‘...give you to the populace’
who would decide his guilt. Even this, however, cannot be made to parallel the Jewish situation for it’s nowhere stated that it was in the context of an annual redemption of the guilty - but it does show that trial by public opinion did take place and Barabbas already stood condemned under Roman law whereas the guilt of the man accused was as yet undecided.
Much more significant, perhaps, is Pesahim 8:6 in the Mishnah which is proposed by some to prove that such a ceremony took place in Roman times. It’s worth is open to serious doubt simply because the Mishnah isn’t a record of life under the Romans but, at most, of the remembrance of life in Roman times (such as the Temple service prior to 70AD). But the statement may hint at a leftover provision which indicates that such an annual event did take place for, in connection with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, it tells the reader (italics and both square parentheses are mine) that
‘They may slaughter for one [included amongst others eligible to eat] that mourns his near kindred, or for one that clears away a ruin; so, too, for one whom they have promised to bring out of prison, for a sick man or for an aged man that is able to eat an olive’s bulk [of the lamb]’
In other words, the Jews were allowed to sacrifice the lamb of Passover on behalf of these types of people so long as they didn’t sacrifice the lamb solely for them. Included in these people is obviously a group of people who seem to be indicative of Barabbas. But this isn’t all that must be said on this statement.
Danby cites Deut 26:14 as a footnote to the one who ‘mourns his near kindred’ to justify the statement that no Jew was allowed to eat of the holy things
‘...throughout the day in which his father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or wife [had] died; also, by rabbinical authority only, throughout the following night (and the following day also if the burial is delayed until then)’
If we take this at face value, then the lamb was allowed to be slaughtered for an individual even though it was obvious that they wouldn’t be able to eat of the lamb, supported in the text of Pesahim 8:6 by the statement that
‘...they are exempt from keeping the Second Passover...’
which occurred one month after the first for those who had failed to keep the first through uncleanness and the like (Num 9:10-11). That exemption didn’t apply to the one who’d cleared away a ruin and Danby explains the instruction as being involved with rescuing
‘...one who may be found dead so rendering the rescuer unclean...’
Yoma 8:7 describes the exact method to be employed but, even if the there was no contact with the dead man (once he’d been shown to be dead and not just badly injured), ceremonial defilement would still, presumably, have been imparted.
The significance of the statement about the second Passover is this - that the lamb could be sacrificed for an individual even though they would not be able to participate in the eating of it. And, as such, the man who’d been promised to be brought out of prison could have referred to the act of releasing one man at the Passover festival on the day period after the night of the meal (both of these being on the same day).
If this does relate into the release of Barabbas before Pilate (and it’s difficult to imagine that such a release from prison could have been expected to have been a result of a Jewish pronouncement - besides, the Jews didn’t have a penal system as we do today whereby men and women were committed to a punishment which exiled them away from society for a fixed term) then it’s fairly certain that Barabbas had already been promised to the Jews before they arrived and the presence of the Jews at Antonia Fortress was simply because they were coming to collect the prisoner who’d already been announced as being given to them.
This may run counter to what many see as the circumstances surrounding this event but commentators tend to ignore the fact that a crowd is present outside the Roman praetorium and that it’s not thought of as anything unusual by the authorities who would, no doubt, have broken the gathering up for fear of an assault.
If the crowd present had come expecting Barabbas, they would have been people who were happy to be associated with him and, therefore, people who were more likely to have been Jerusalemites than Galileans, unfavourable to the Galilean preacher when urged by their respected religious leaders to choose a man well-known to them.
I only intend giving the reader the briefest of summaries here of the events which all four Gospels describe but, as you are no doubt aware, my resolve is often undermined by my own lack of brevity! The background to this incident is given in the previous two articles and, in the introduction, I’ve already tried to show what events have taken place before this occurs.
I’ve concluded, then, that the crowds came expecting Barabbas to be released and that his liberation had already been promised to them on the day of Passover. Matthew’s phrase that the event took place (Mtw 27:17)
‘...when they had gathered...’
does seem to demand a purpose in their coming together and, although my interpretation of the situation may be somewhat wide of the mark, at least it provides a rational explanation for their presence before the Roman Governor that morning.
As the day on which the Passover was eaten began the evening before at sundown, it would seem logical that the Roman authorities should release their prisoner the first chance they got when a public demonstration of goodwill could be made. This, then, would be at the earliest hour possible when crowds of Jews would have gathered before the Roman praetorium to collect the fulfilment of the Empire’s promise. An annual release of one prisoner at a time when the nation was thinking of the deliverance of their own nation from bondage and into freedom would have been extremely significant.
This would account for the reason why the Gospels record both Pilate (Mtw 27:17, Mark 15:9, John 18:39) and the crowds (Mark 15:8) as requesting the release of the prisoner. Pilate’s question serves as slight ‘fly in the ointment’ as far as the crowd are concerned for they’d come expecting Barabbas to be released only to discover that they now had a choice.
The place where all this took place is normally claimed to be the pavement which lies under the Church of the Sisters of Mercy at the north-west tip of the Temple enclosure. I’ve already noted on the previous web page, however, that it’s unlikely to have been the site as it’s been assessed as having been positioned in the midst of Antonia Fortress and the Jews would have been unwilling to have entered the place for fear of contracting ceremonial defilement (John 18:28).
The Roman gaming marks on this pavement also bear witness to it being more like an exercise yard but definitely a place where soldiers felt secure enough to be able to engage in pastimes that would have distracted their attention.
It appears that there was now a period of time which elapsed before the crowd gave their response because Mtw 27:20 notes that
‘...the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus’
during which time Matthew alone records (Mtw 27:19) that
‘...while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man for I have suffered much over Him today in a dream”’
What exactly she meant by that is difficult to understand but, at the least, we can say that she had some sort of nightmare which she clearly ‘felt’ and which she thought she must do something about. Whether the dream was from God or not is another matter entirely but it certainly seems to have caused her to take the unusual step of petitioning her husband on behalf of the prisoner - something which presupposes that Jesus was already known to the couple before they took their rest the previous evening (as I noted previously, the fact that the arresting party contained Roman troops meant that Pilate would already have known the purpose for which they were being sent and he may have been expecting a Jewish party to ‘knock on his door’ the following morning).
Unlike the interpretation of this dream in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, however, it belonged not to Pilate but to his wife (the writers were probably thinking about the cost of having to have another character present for just one song and baulked at the idea!) and we have no idea of its content even though Pilate is written in the Opera as having known exactly what was about to transpire!
Pilate’s decision to give the crowds a choice was specifically because he thought Jesus to be innocent and that the only reason why He’d been delivered to him for sentencing was out of the jealousy and envy of the chief priests and elders (Mtw 27:18) - if Pilate could undermine the position of the leaders over the people, it would have been an added bonus to his plans for, had they come at a future date and expressed the will of the people, he would have had some justification in refusing to believe them.
But he seriously underestimated the mood of the Jews gathered together and, probably also, the popularity of Jesus amongst them who were more likely to have been made up of Jerusalemites than Galileans if they were expecting Barabbas to be released.
So, Pilate asks them once more who they want releasing (Mtw 27:20, Mark 15:12) to which the crowd respond by shouting for Barabbas (Mtw 27:21, Luke 23:18, John 18:40). Luke’s record of their response makes it sound as if only Jesus was present at this time for the words ‘Away with this man!’ are difficult to understand if the two prisoners stood before them - John’s ‘Not this man...’ implies the same.
Pilate then asks for a verdict from the people as to what he should do with Jesus Christ (Mtw 27:22, Mark 15:12, Luke 23:20) to which he gets the response that He should be crucified (Mtw 27:22, Mark 15:13, Luke 23:21).
The Governor makes one final attempt at having the crowd choose Jesus to undermine the Jewish leaders’ position by trying to make the crowd face up to the innocence of Jesus (Mtw 27:23, Mark 15:6, Luke 23:22) but they appear to ignore the call to assess the case and shout simply that He should be crucified (Mtw 27:23, Mark 15:14, Luke 23:23) - they don’t shout that He deserves crucifixion for this is nowhere recorded as coming from the lips of the crowd in this event, but simply that the implication of their choice was that Jesus had to be crucified.
It would be interesting to conjecture what might have happened had Pilate had the strength of mind to release Barabbas rather than force them into making a choice and then asked them whether ‘as an act of grace’ they wanted him to release Jesus as well. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Jesus didn’t have to die for mankind - I’m only pointing out that Pilate could have handled the situation a little better had he given it more thought. Luke 23:22’s record of Pilate’s words that
‘...I will therefore chastise Him and release Him’
give us an indication of what was about to transpire now before Pilate finally gives in to the crowd’s will and sentences Jesus to be crucified - but this will be included on the next web page and can be seen as a summary in my chronology of early Friday morning upto the time of the crucifixion on a previous web page.
Jesus, Barabbas and the Church
This section is rather extensive as the reader will, no doubt, have taken note of when they first approached the notes. They represent a series of studies and considerations I did on the two characters of Jesus and Barabbas when I first arrived at this passage in my original walk through the Gospel - why or how I managed to get four studies on the character of Barabbas, I have no idea, but they seem to me to still hold together so I decided to use them in this commentary.
They represent more ‘preachy’ types of observations (which lack the ‘behind the scenes’ explanations that I’ve tried to give in the other notes - though there’s been a need in a couple of places to refer to Greek words so that the reader can look my assertions up) and represent four attempts at perfect sermons - for, as everyone knows, only if a sermon has three points can one ever be considered as such (hence, as everyone who’s heard me speak can testify, I don’t preach perfectly).
You may find these notes more rambling that definitive but so is much of what’s spoken from the pulpit - else congregations would have long since come to meetings for the sleep inducing ‘bit in the middle’.
Each of these studies, then, considers Jesus and Barabbas as antitypes of the other because of what’s been written about the latter in the texts of the parallel passages and then goes on to consider how the Church, as representatives of Jesus on earth, have been called to replicate the ministry now that He’s ascended to the Father - in some ways this will be different and, in others, virtually identical.
Too often, however, the Church has exemplified more the character of Barabbas than it has the Person of its Master and Saviour.
As a summary of the notes, the following chart represents the main teachings.
|Bringer of Life
||Bringer of death - Mark 15:7
||Bringers of Life/Dispellers of Death
|Gave away what was His
||Took what belonged to others - John 18:40
||Ministers of what it's been given
|Submitted to the Father's will
||Rebellion - Mark 15:7
||Submission to the will of God
|Liberator of all men
||Attempted liberation brought bondage - Mark 15:6
||Liberators of men
1. Life and death
Many christians say to others that
‘Jesus died for your sins’
but, by their words, they can mislead unbelievers into thinking that what the christian is talking about is a physical death rather than a spiritual one whereby He was separated from the presence of God as a punishment for the sins of mankind.
Being a totally different type of death, it requires a totally different explanation and interpretation.
Bringer of Life
God is the source of all life. Nothing was in existence before Him and everything that lives and breathes owes its existence to the work of God (Gen 1:20-21, 1:24-25, 2:7). God imparted life to create every being on this planet, forming life by and from Himself (Acts 17:28).
He, therefore, is the ultimate source of everything which man sees around himself where Ps 36:9 notes that it’s with YHWH that the ‘fountain of life’ belongs and Jer 2:13 which records God’s direct words to His people that they’ve
‘forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters...’
and have turned to attempt a self-fulfilment in their own strength and from their own resources. This Hebrew word translated in both places as ‘fountain’ (Strongs Hebrew number 4726) is used to convey the meaning of something being the ‘source’ or ‘origin’ of something and, therefore, sees God as the initiator of everything that can benefit mankind.
God, then, brings life. It’s His nature to create it, encourage it and impart it, to promote those things that propagate life. It’s hardly surprising that in His creation of mankind, He created them ‘for life’ in three specific areas.
Firstly, and most importantly, He created mankind to have everlasting spiritual life - that is, to be in His presence continually and so be joined to the Source. This, however, was broken by mankind’s sin when God specifically commanded the man (Gen 2:17 - my italics) that
‘...in the day you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall die’
not possibly referring to physical death for Gen 5:5 notes that
‘...Adam lived...nine hundred and thirty years...’
When Adam went against the known will of God for his life, Adam died spiritually ‘in the day’ that he disobeyed God, being banished from the presence of God (Gen 3:22-24). Separation from the source of all life - God Himself - was what Jesus specifically came to make amends for on the cross and is referred to simply as ‘death’ in numerous places when no direct explanation is given of the type meant.
Secondly, God created mankind to have everlasting physical life which was only an expression of the spiritual life which He’d when united to the presence of God and the source of all life. Through man’s sin, however, physical life in the first Creation is limited by physical death and man has no choice that, eventually, his body will cease to function (Gen 3:17,19,22).
Thirdly, God created mankind to have the ability to produce new life on the earth through sexual reproduction. Gen 1:28 commands mankind specifically that they are to
‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...’
moving even after the Fall to specifically safeguard life through the ten commandments given to the nation of Israel at Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17) but also throughout the Mosaic Law (for example, Deuteronomy chapters 12-26). The God who created life and gave a way for it to be reproduced throughout the earth is also the One who moves to protect it and safeguard its existence.
However we might like to define ‘life’, there’s only one real experience of life from which everything else flows - and that’s a union with God Himself, the ultimate Source, from whom everything which expresses His presence comes. When that union was broken in the Garden, life could never be the same because what mankind had was severed from its source. It was this union, therefore, that Jesus came to restore.
Death is a separation from the life of God both now and, ultimately, in the future (the concept of the place which we call ‘hell’). It’s a result of personal sin that an individual opts not to live in the presence of God (Gen 3:22-24) where Is 59:1-2 addresses the issue which has the prophet telling the nation that
‘...your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear’
Mankind, then, abides in death, separated from God’s life by their sins.
But Jesus came to remove spiritual death in order that mankind might be reunited with God, the source. Sins had to be dealt with if mankind was ever to be one once more with God, and Jesus thus came to take upon Himself the effect that mankind’s sins were having upon them through the work on the cross. Therefore, II Cor 5:21 records Paul as saying that
‘For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’
and, prophetically, Is 53:6,11 states that
‘...the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all...He shall bear their iniquities’
so that Jesus not only experiences the spiritual death mankind lives but the punishment of hell that each one deserves, eternal separation from the presence of God. Therefore Heb 2:9 records that Jesus was subjected to the suffering of death that
‘...by the grace of God He might taste death for every one’
and Is 53:8 in the OT that the Servant of the Lord was to be
‘...cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people’
experiencing the separation from the presence and life of God that’s referred to as ‘death’. When Jesus hung on the cross crying out (Mark 15:33-34 Pp Ps 22:1)
‘My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?’
the sins of the world was being laid upon Him and the Father had to hide away from the Son through His abhorrence of what Jesus had become (II Cor 5:21) - that is, while still retaining His identity as both perfect man and God in the one person, He became everything that stood in the way of a reunion with the Father. This taking of the punishment showed His willingness to take that which mankind deserves - spiritual death which is separation from the source of all life.
When Jesus cried (John 19:30 Pp Ps 22:31)
‘It is finished!’
and breathed His last, the veil which had hung in the Temple separating God’s presence from mankind was torn in two (Mtw 27:51) showing that freedom of access had now been made available because of the work that Jesus had accomplished - not as a prophetic statement of what Jesus’ physical death achieved as He breathed His last but as demonstrable evidence that a way back to the source of all life had been made.
Now that spiritual death has been experienced by Jesus, every person can enter into true life but only on the basis of what He’s done, Heb 10:19-20 (see also John 14:6) announcing to the reader that
‘...we have confidence to enter the sanctuary [the place where God dwells] by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh’
While it’s quite true that Jesus did bring physical life to those who were dead (Luke 7:11-17, Mark 5:35-43, John 11:43-44) - indeed, Jesus was probably the worst undertaker the world has ever seen for He disrupted every funeral He ever attended including His own - but the mission of the Father was to achieve bringing God’s presence and life back to mankind.
A relationship with God, a union with Himself, is what Jesus came to impart to mankind, to restore the eternal union that had been broken in the Garden of Eden through sin. Eternal life is a relationship with God (John 17:3) and it’s this type of life that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10) it now being by faith that both spiritual death is removed (that is, separation from God) and new life is implanted (union with Jesus Christ).
Bringer of death
Barabbas is taken to be a symbol of death here notably through Mark 15:7 which observes that he
‘...had committed murder...’
and he therefore becomes the antitype of Jesus who we’ve just considered as being the bringer of spiritual life to mankind through His work on the cross. This is about as far as the comparison goes for, in the following notes, we’ll look at the rebellion of mankind (paralleled in the life of Barabbas also in Mark 15:7 which we’ll look at later in the third of the articles where we consider him to have taken part in the rebellion) and how Paul goes on to describe the state in which mankind finds themselves in Rom 1:18-32. Although Paul’s writing to the Roman christians concerning Gentile paganism, this passage has much to say to modern man in three specific areas.
Firstly, mankind doesn’t accept God for who He is (Rom 1:18-20). Believers often like to say that
‘Immorality will be judged by God’
‘God is angry with homosexuality’
and the like. Although these are true statements (Rev 20:12, 22:14-15, Heb 13:4, Rom 14:10-12, Gal 5:19-21, Lev 18:22) and, ultimately, will be outworked at the final judgment of all things, these sins are already a judgment in themselves, a consequence of a far greater sin - that is, a failure to accept the truth that is clearly visible about the one true God, making Him conform to the image of man’s own mind.
Things about God are plainly discernible in the world around. His eternal power and deity are perceived in the things which have been created (Rom 1:20, Ps 19:1-4), Creation being a silent witness as to the nature and presence of God.
Man is without an excuse, therefore - not because he can’t perceive a certain amount of truth about God, wandering through an existence of meaninglessness and aimlessness, but because he can and will not acknowledge it. He forms a god out of the concepts of his own mind, going against the light that’s clearly being revealed all around him. Such a voluntary blindness pushes mankind towards total spiritual death, separation further away from God’s presence.
Secondly, because man chooses this way of hardness, God withdraws from mankind (Rom 1:24,26,28). Wherever and whenever man sets up a god in his own image - whether a god of humanism or secularism which is a conceptual framework that denies God’s ultimate existence, or a religious god in the form of an idol (a ‘god’, very simply, is what a man serves with their lives, money and time - it’s what mankind sacrifices other things for that shows the worth of the god of their own image), God withdraws from that individual or that society, giving men over to the desire of their own heart (Rom 1:28 especially - but compare the list that follows with that recorded in Mark 7:21-23). A man becomes less like the person that God both created and intended him to be.
God, then, removes the restriction that keeps sin in check - that is, He withdraws Himself from society. In the revivals of yesteryear, those who lived where God was moving found that the presence of God was so intense that even those who didn’t become believers were restricted in the sins which they could commit. The Downs Bible week held at Plumpton Racecourse (which is now finished as an annual event if I remember correctly) was also a case in point, for the Police of the area were content to take their annual leave when it was being put on because the crime figures in the area always took a dramatic dip - the believers used to refer to it as ‘The Downs Syndrome’ (I lie not!).
The presence of God removed only pushes mankind into worse sin because the ‘brakes’ are taken off, but when He enters a situation, His presence restricts that which is being done which is opposed to Him. It sounds very nice for men and women to think they can clean up society by better policing and raising awareness of crime but there’s only one thing that can eradicate it completely and that’s a return to a commitment to God Himself that His presence might be brought back into society.
Thirdly, when man lives in spiritual death away from the presence of God and chooses to reject the clear proof of who God is in the Creation, it’s not long before he starts transmitting that death into the society around him (Rom 1:28-32)
Man, therefore, goes on to approve of death (Rom 1:29-31 and especially 1:32) by promoting those things that are spiritual death to mankind and leading others into deeper and deeper alienation from God, bringing death into society by agreeing with those people who practise death.
This is the lot of every life outside Jesus Christ - a gradual weakening in the upholding of what is good and proper and, at the same time, an escalation in what is evil and base. If it wasn’t for God’s grace, no one could ever be saved.
But not only does mankind approve of death but they also begin to reflect it. God created mankind in His own image so that they’d reflect the nature of God into the world through his life (Gen 1:27). The way a man lives is a reflection of their concept of God and is on display for all to see.
If a man reflects a false image of God into the world, he reflects death into their society that people will learn from - children with un-Godlike fathers can find it difficult to comprehend that God is a true and proper Father because the definition of words in one’s vocabulary are always coloured by the experience of those concepts.
Barabbas stands as a type of these principles which condemns the presence of God when given liberty of expression in society as a whole. Men love death much more than they do life for it represents the easy way for them to take as they will for their own ends and their own pleasure.
God’s purpose in Jesus Christ when He experienced death on mankind’s behalf was more than to achieve the reunion of mankind with Himself - it was also the means whereby God would counteract the transmission of death into society through the active ministry of the Church (see below).
c. The Church
Bringers of life, dispellers of death
As Jesus was in this world, so the Church is called to be now and, being His body, should be doing all that the Lord did while on earth. Of course, this doesn’t extend to the personal sacrificial death for the sins of many but it does mean that the enforcement and the application of that work on the cross is meant to be outworked through it.
Carrying over what we said in section a, then, the Church is to be the people who continually abide in the presence of God because of what Jesus has done in and through the cross, resurrection and ascension (Heb 10:19-22, John 17:21). But it’s equally true that God dwells within the Church by His Spirit (I Cor 6:19, 3:16-17, II Cor 6:16, John 17:23) for this has been His purpose through the cleansing work of the cross, making them a Temple to Himself and making the need for buildings made with hands obsolete. A Church building is quite obviously not a NT concept and, though many organisations and fellowships have felt the need to build such structures, God’s Kingdom would advance even without their existence.
God has chosen, then, to move around society through His people - if a believer goes into the local chippy, then so does He! Believers no longer go anywhere to meet with God as they did in OT times when the congregation of Israel assembled firstly around the Tabernacle under Moses and then, during the period of the monarchy, by journeying to the Temple in Jerusalem - for God never leaves His people. It’s not possible to come to Church for believers are the Church and, to a very great extent, if God’s presence is in a fellowship’s midst it’s because primarily they’ve brought Him with them, not because He was there to be met!
Both statements are true that a believer lives in God’s presence and that God’s presence lives in the believer - and God has broken free from the mould of having to stay resident in one specific geographic location to which worshippers must come.
Psalm 84 is about living and abiding in the Presence of God under the Old Covenant set up before the Christ came - for instance, notice verses 1,2,4,10 where His presence is spoken of as being something external - but, in the midst of the psalm, the writer changes tack and looks prophetically towards the time that was to come when abiding in the presence of God would not be limited to a geographical location but would reside ‘within men’.
Ps 84:5-7 are written in the language of a pilgrimage, of one who, living far away from the Temple, was making the journey to the city of Jerusalem to enter the Temple of God. Even so, it’s these verses which are prophetic in nature and which speak of a time which has now come in Jesus Christ.
Ps 84:5 speaks of the follower of God
‘...in whose heart are the highways to Zion’
but it means far more than
‘those who know how to get to Jerusalem without an A to Z’
Instead, it’s talking about those who have the way into the presence of God in their hearts. Blessed is the man, says the psalmist, who knows in his heart the highway that will take him into God’s presence. In John 14:6 we get an indication of the fulfilment of this prophetic insight when Jesus announces
‘I am the Way...no one comes to the Father but by Me...’
declaring Himself to be the highway which leads back to God. This pilgrim in the psalm has freedom of access to God, knows the road which leads directly back into Heaven and wastes no time in travelling it. The christian life is an eternal pilgrimage to draw ever nearer, ever closer, ever deeper into God by allowing Him to reflect Himself in His followers through them and out from them into the world.
Ps 84:6 notes the effect that these followers have on the situations around them. The psalmist writes
‘As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools’
The valley of Baca is a place which lies north of Jerusalem on the pilgrimage route where brackish water oozes out of the rocks so that vegetation is unable to grow. This is a picture of the world (the Barabbas of the passage who is responsible for bringing death into situations), endlessly producing death and forbidding the life of God’s expression to take hold.
But the one who knows the way into God’s presence and who desires to continually abide there (Ps 84:1,2,4,10) changes the death into life. He makes it a place of springs because he’s there - and because He’s there in him - and so changes that valley of weeping (which is the meaning of the title ‘Baca’) into a place of joy and hope because He brings God’s presence into situations of death.
Even so, God also rains down upon it from Heaven, though this is clearly secondary to the Psalmist’s description of cause and effect. The result (Ps 84:7) is that
‘...the God of gods will be seen in Zion...’
and God’s presence enters the situation that the pilgrim finds himself in. His presence is made manifest for the world to see in the life of the Church where Is 60:14 proclaims to the people of God that
‘...they shall call you the Zion of the Holy One of Israel...’
the stronghold - the ‘Zion’ - being related not to a geographic location around Jerusalem but to a people who are following after God. And, through this, there’s an increase in a believer’s life every time he changes situations where death held dominion into areas where life begins to reign and God’s presence is established on earth. Therefore Ps 84:7 goes on to note that the pilgrim goes
‘...from strength to strength...’
The pilgrim is being equipped by Jesus and encouraged to get out into the world and establish God’s rule in all the earth by annulling the reign of death and bringing in the rule of life (I’ve expounded this subject more fully on my web page dealing with the Feast of Tabernacles under section 3bii entitled ‘Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah’).
God’s people, therefore, are the people who’ve been called to bring back God’s presence into society by their own presence and, therefore, by God’s presence in them as they come into situations. If His followers speak against sin then so does God in them - if they lay hands on the sick to heal them, God does in them because God is with them always (Mtw 28:20).
This might sound like a calling which no one has ever achieved - but that it’s the calling of God upon the lives of individuals through the work of Christ is certain. Whatever the reasons for a believer’s failure to live in the reality of the New Covenant, we shouldn’t then go on to negate the purposes of God because of experience.
Like Jesus, the Church is called to bring life - as the antithesis of Barabbas, they’re called to dispel death. Primarily, however, this is through the preaching of the Gospel of the completed work of Jesus on the cross, the declaration of the offer of eternal union with God that has been lost by every individual on earth through personal sin and, consequently, outworked in a wide variety of ways including signs and wonders.
2. Giver and taker
Gave away what was His
The basis of all ministry is that the minister gives away what belongs to him for the benefit of others who have need of such resources. Jesus, also, ministered to Israel by imparting the presence and resources of God to those He met throughout His three and a half year ministry to the nation.
Jesus had received power initially at His baptism (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1, 4:14) but allowed its distribution freely to the people He met (Luke 6:19). Even inadvertently, Jesus didn’t cling on to what had been given Him but allowed the power of God to be taken from Him by those who had the faith to receive (but not the politeness to ask! - Mtw 8:46).
His teaching, also, imparted to Him by the Father was freely distributed to those who came to listen (John 8:28, 8:26, 7:16) that each person might receive not from Himself but from the wealth of the resources of the Father. The principle at work in Jesus was the same as that which He commanded the disciples to live by when He sent them out to the nation (Mtw 10:8) that they’d
‘...received without paying [so] give without pay’
and Jesus could point toward the source of all His provision as being the Father, declaring (John 5:19) that
‘...the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise’
What had been entrusted to Him by the Father was passed on to others for their benefit and edification. But Jesus went one step further than simply giving what He’d been given by the Father, for He gave Himself when He obeyed the Father’s will by submitting to the cross.
Jesus had no earthly riches to give (Luke 9:57-58, John 12:6, 13:29 - one treasurer amongst thirteen men with one money box speaks of scant resources) but gave to all men the only thing that He possessed - Himself. Therefore the Scriptures abound with references to the self-giving of Jesus and it’s spoken of in many ways. For instance, Jesus proclaims (John 10:15,17-18) that
‘I lay down my life for the sheep’
and (Mtw 20:28) that He
‘...came not to be served but to serve [ministry] and to give His life as a ransom for many [sacrifice]’
Speaking of His ‘life’ is a clear way of summarising the full contents of one’s life and, just in case the reader or listener might think that such a sacrifice was to be in purely spiritual terms and that the cross was an unfortunate incidental, Jesus instructs His disciples (Mtw 26:28) that the Passover wine drunk the evening before the crucifixion is
‘...My blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins...’
and the writer to the Hebrews observes (Heb 9:12) that Jesus
‘...offered His own blood to God on our behalf’
This suffering and death is also spoken of in terms of His body being broken and of being given up for others (Luke 22:19, John 6:51, Heb 10:5,10, 7:27, 9:14) so that there can be no doubt that the cross was the ultimate giving of Himself to mankind for their benefit and provision.
The crucifixion was no accident - Jesus knew it was going to happen and walked, with eyes wide open, into it (Mtw 20:17-19). He came forward in the Garden of Gethsemane to give Himself into the hands of those who were seeking Him (John 18:4) when a reluctant hero might have turned His back on the advancing band of soldiers and fled.
The believer’s inheritance is now, therefore, not just in Christ but Christ Himself and all that His life has achieved for them. As in a marriage relationship, Jesus has given Himself to the Church and has become not just the sacrifice which secures the New Covenant in His blood but the New Covenant itself (Is 42:6). The ultimate gift, however, is the place where Jesus is seen to have fully established the covenant with all those who put their trust in Him and look to Him for the resources which can never be obtained by natural means.
As Jesus is the husband, the Church is the wife (Eph 5:25, Rev 19:7). Marriage is a type, a reflection, of that perfect union between the Son and the Church and the provision for her is found only in the cross in whatever she needs.
A fellowship that has a genuine spiritual need but who seeks a solution other than Jesus is one which may not have come to the point where it’s realised the abundance of what’s available - it may be a group of people who’ve given up on seeking God for that which they know they need - but the Church is to yield to Jesus and give herself to Him by obedience and submission in all things in order that the full resource of God Himself might be made available to her.
The New Covenant is Jesus Christ - and the provision for the believer is solely in Him.
Took what belonged to others
We read of Barabbas as the antitype of Jesus in John 18:40 where it’s noted that
‘...Barabbas was a robber’
The Greek word (Strongs Greek number 3027) may also denote a revolutionary and Josephus uses it in this way when referring to the Zealots but I shall be taking it in its normal sense even though there’s evidence in the text to show that Barabbas was a revolutionary (Mark 15:7).
The break up of marriage relationships (whether they be between people who’ve sealed it legally by a recognised ceremony or between people who have simply chosen to live together as man and wife) is a complex issue and one which certainly needs careful counselling and understanding. But all break ups are the result of one taking back what belongs by right to another - that is, they involve at least one of the partners attempting to recover themselves from the other’s possession - where marriage is the act whereby each individual gives themselves to the other for life.
As such, the break down of marriage is robbery and adultery is also to be considered as the taking of what belongs to another for one’s own purpose - it’s a lie about the nature of Jesus Christ and the Church for He will not forsake the bride that He’s entered into covenant with (although the concept of 'covenant' is lacking from the Biblical provision of marriage in Gen 2:24, it's an additional part of God's marriage to the Church, the latter coming out of a consideration of the former).
Moving on from marriage and into more general principles, it can be seen that whenever a believer takes from another or withholds what can be given to another believer from their own resources, then an act of theft has taken place - the believer is robbing the other by refusing to give what is needed into the situation (James 2:15-16) so long as the believer is in a position to be able to give it and provided that the gift will resolve the problem (sometimes, an input of financial resources will not sort the root cause of the problem).
The OT Law had legislation to safeguard the poor in Israel so that they wouldn’t be exploited, that they would be looked after by the wealthier Jews amongst the nation who could give of what was theirs for the benefit of others. Lev 19:9-10 and 23:22 gave instructions concerning the feeding of the poor at harvest time and, even if it wasn’t that time of the year when the increase of the land was being brought in, Deut 15:7-11 instructed them to be careful to support the poorer amongst them and Deut 24:12-15 that the poor man had to be given his due and not to be exploited if money was being lent to them (see also Lev 25:25,35,47-48).
Luke 10:29-37 is also a case in point for the priest and Levite didn’t give their brother (a fellow Jew, it is presumed, otherwise the story’s point seems to be lost) their time and their ministry - that is, what the man needed. The reason was one of religious expediency for they couldn’t draw too close to him in case they became ceremonially defiled and so they withheld what they could have given. By withholding themselves from the situation of need, they stole what rightfully belonged to their brother.
With regard to the unsaved, the term ‘brother’ should be taken to mean those of their own family, clan or, more widely, the ‘brotherhood of man’ that humanists are so proud of declaring but so weak in upholding.
Barabbas, then, was a thief and a type of the person that believers shouldn’t become. Too often, however, fellowships languish because of spiritual theft when one is overly rich and another underly poor. But, more than this, and as we’ll see below, ministry in the Church is from one to another and, where this is frowned upon by the religious hierarchy and strong-handed leadership, the believers are not allowed to fulfil their calling of meeting their brother’ needs.
c. The Church
Ministers of what it’s been given
Before we begin, we need to emphasise the point that, before the Church can move in the reality of its calling that it should give to others what it has, it must give itself to God as Jesus Christ gave Himself to both God and mankind - that is, wholly and with nothing being held back. The statement holds true here that to give up all for God means that all of God is given.
The inheritance of Jesus that the believer has received is the same as that which is given, so that feeding from Him is vitally necessary before others can be fed from the resource of God within. There’s total provision in Him both in and through the cross which, having been assimilated, is required to be given away to others. As a believer participates in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, they feed upon Him, assimilating the provision of the cross into their lives (John 6:53-38).
While it’s quite true that believers are called to share their earthly possessions with all those who are in need (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32, II Cor 9:13-14), it’s more important in the present day for the believer to realise that they are called to share the received Holy Spirit and all the things (both gifts and provisions) which He brings with Him. For, even though we may be poor materially, the believer is to make many rich spiritually through the provision of the cross and resurrection - the principle displayed through Peter and James in Acts 3:6.
Gifts of the Spirit are given for others and not for the recipient themselves (if at all - I Cor 12:7, 14:12, 14:26). Believers aren’t appointed teachers, pastors and the like for themselves (Eph 4:11-12) but for others’ benefit that they might be built up into the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:11-16). Whatever ministry one has, service towards others is required by using it for their benefit - whatever gift one has, others are served by giving it to them (I Peter 4:10).
For too long in the Church, however, either gifts have been stifled by others who can’t conceive of that uneducated man being called to be a Teacher or Prophet or they’ve personally withheld (especially material possessions) through selfishness and unwillingness. Only if the Church fulfils its calling, however, will the presence of God be once more seen within it.
But it doesn’t stop within the Church, for the believer is to minister what they’ve received from Jesus both into believer’s lives and out into the world. If there are needs in society (whether they be material, spiritual, emotional, physical, psychological - the list is endless) the Church is the body which has been placed by God there to meet them. That sounds horrendous, I know, but if full provision is in Christ and Christ is in the Church, the inference is not that we don’t have the resources but that we haven’t yet tapped into them presumably because our devotion is less than it ought to be.
The example of Paul should be noted here for he wrote in II Cor 4:5 (see also I Thess 2:7) that he considered the band of travelling ministers as
‘...your slaves for Jesus’ sake’
and, in II Cor 12:15, was content to announce that
‘I will gladly spend and be spent for your souls’
giving himself for the benefit of others. He applied what he had to feed and nourish the young fellowships which he’d planted.
In everything, Mtw 10:8 (previously quoted) should be the guiding principle. I have very little time - and I know I need more grace in this - for people who delight in charging for the ministry they’ve been given by God and of creating vast empires of wealth for their own personal benefit but the example of the early Church was surely to give away freely what had been personally given to them by God.
3. Submission and rebellion
Submitted to the Father’s will
It should go without saying that Jesus was the perfect example of what it means to be submitted to the will of the Father, but we’ll cover the ground anyway. Jesus did what He saw the Father doing in each and every situation that He found Himself in but this wasn’t something which occurred in mimicry but harmony (John 5:19). As Jesus perceived what the Father wanted done, He aligned Himself with that and did it. He always sought to do the will of the One who sent Him and refused to seek after His own desire so that He could honestly say (John 5:30) that
‘I can do nothing on My own authority...I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me’
And, just in case we think that there was a legalism in Jesus’ life which saw Him apply every Scripture to His own walk and that that was how He became obedient to the Father, Heb 10:5-9 (Pp Ps 40:6-8) hints at the truth that Jesus didn’t come to obey a written law but to obey the will of the Father. God doesn’t take delight in the ritual of sacrifice and offering if there’s no accompanying obedience in the believer’s heart. The writer notes that God had taken no pleasure in legalistic observance (Heb 10:5-6) before going on to announce that Jesus had come (Heb 10:7)
‘...to do Thy will, O God...’
‘...He abolishes the first [legalism] in order to establish the second [obedience to the will of God]’
Perfectly obedient in life, Jesus was also perfectly obedient in death. In the Garden of Gethsemane (Mtw 26:36-46) when the ugliness of separation from the Father through the experience of the cross stared Jesus in the face, He doesn’t doubt the Father’s will and demonstrates His willing obedience in an attitude of total submission, not rebellion (Mtw 26:39a), and it was only from this place of submission that Jesus was able to pray that, if there was some other way, the cup of God’s wrath would pass Him by.
Jesus was already perfect but obedience is made perfect (or, is proven to be perfect) when it submits to the Father’s will that entails suffering and doesn’t shrink back from doing it (Heb 5:7-10). Ultimately, Jesus’ obedience is demonstrated in His work for mankind on the cross (John 8:28-29, 18:11) and not just in His total obedience before it. When that obedience entailed suffering - and not for His own sins but for those of others - He went through with it and fulfilled the Father’s will.
Therefore, having had His obedience (Heb 10:9)
‘...made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him’
and it’s only in Him that man can find a way back into the presence of God. Jesus, therefore, typifies what it means to be perfectly obedient to the will of God.
Barabbas is the antitype of obedience. In Mark 15:7 we read that he’d taken part in ‘the insurrection’, a recognised offence against the governing state of Rome. He may well have been a Zealot, a nationalist attempting the overthrow of Roman occupation as noted under the previous section where the Greek word for ‘robber’ could be taken to indicate this.
He might, however, simply have been a robber whose deeds had been directed against Roman jurisdiction and, therefore, had been mistakenly attributed as an anarchist. Whatever the precise description we adopt, he was definitely considered to be in rebellion to the established authorities and was, therefore, an antitype of Jesus’ obedience.
Mankind’s rebellion began in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7) when the first man and woman refused to submit to the revealed will of God and has continued ever since so that John the Baptist can say of Jesus (John 1:29 - my italics)
‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world...’
where what may be in mind here is the continued act of rebellion (singular) rather than the outworking of that action through many deeds (plural). What I’m about to write may not sit very comfortably with many believers and the phraseology may need to be adjusted for some to accept it but, in my own understanding of the present day meaning of words, ‘religion’ is purely a negative concept.
Religion (defined as the observance of a set of rules or the adherence to any form of written law) is man’s way of serving God which springs out of his own disobedience and rebellion. It announces to others
‘I will serve God my way’
or can go by the attitude that
‘This is the way I earn brownie points so that God will bless me’
Religion, however, even though it can look very good on the outside, is a work of the flesh, an alternative work to that of God and set up by men. One only has to think of the religion of the Pharisees (Mtw 23:25-28) and Sadducees which was all very holy on the outside but which managed to justify the removal of Jesus by execution so that it could maintain its authority over the people.
Religion was also the reason for the world’s first murder (Gen 4:1-8). Cain worshipped God His way (the fruit offering) and Abel worshipped Him the way God wanted (blood sacrifice) and found acceptance. Cain’s religion proved to be unacceptable to God, causing him to be jealous of his brother and culminating in an act of murder. The problematical thing is that this statement of affairs has continued down through history and one of my work colleague’s observations that religion has been the source of hundreds of wars is completely true - the only problem is that she hasn’t come to realise that religion is not God-made but relies upon a series of beliefs which are formulated in the mind of man.
King Saul and his dealings with the Amalekites are also a case in point (I Sam 15:22-23) and exemplifies the point that might have been indiscernible from the previous passage. The sacrificial offering of sheep and oxen offered according to Divine Law can never remove the guilt of the rebellion of disobedience (I Sam 15:1-3 Cp with verse 9). Where rebellion takes hold (that is, disobedience to the spoken word and will of God), religion - as a way to appease God - abounds.
Sacrifice and offering (that is, all forms of serving God externally which have set methods) are subservient to the primary requirement of obedience from the heart to the voice of God.
Man, left to himself, produces all by himself those attitudes of heart which are unacceptable and rebellious towards God (Mark 7:21-23) and everyone who lives their life following after the desires of the flesh cannot please Him (Rom 8:7-8).
Religion, then, is not a work of the Spirit but an expression of the flesh, a work of rebellion.
Barabbas represents rebellion towards God, even though what he’d done by opposing the rule of Rome was certainly acceptable to the religious of the nation as they sought to fulfil the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom and become masters of their own national destiny.
c. The Church
Submission to the will of God
The rebellious nature which exists within has been crucified with Jesus on the cross (Gal 2:20, Rom 6:6) so that the way has been made clear for the Law to be written upon the hearts of disciples (Jer 31:31-34) and for them to serve the voice of God through the leading and directing voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ obedience has put to death the deeds of the body, the fallen nature, that produces only rebellious thoughts and impulses continually (Rom 8:7, Gen 6:5, Mark 7:21-23).
Like Jesus, the Church is called to ‘live in the Spirit’ - that is, to do what the Holy Spirit says. The New Covenant is so simple as to make it almost bizarre for, failing to perceive that God’s one requirement is to hear and obey, we often complicate it with our legality, thinking that there has to be more to it!
But believers aren’t called to be legalistic - that is, to make sure that they take communion, go to Church meetings or to raise hands in praise - but to be obedient to the voice of God and to respond positively to anything He says. True, service to God will spring from hearing that voice and will propel the believer to do many of the things which others do but it isn’t in observing a written code that the believer is justified but, rather, in obeying God Himself.
Like Jesus, the Church is called to do what it sees the Father doing in each situation that it finds itself in (John 5:19) - not in mimicry but in harmony, perceiving what God wants done in situations and allying themselves with it. Obedience, therefore, comes by revelation and not religion.
Paul urges believers in Gal 5:25
‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit’
where the Greek word behind the translation ‘walk’ (Strongs Greek number 4748) means more like ‘walk in step with’ then simply a stroll in the park with a dog who goes off all over the place and only returns to the master at regular intervals.
Neither does it mean ‘walk in front of’ meaning that a believer would be pulling God into doing things that they want doing, nor ‘walk behind’ meaning that the believer would always be there after God had done something.
The truth is that the believer is called to be a worker with God (II Cor 6:1, I Cor 3:9, II Sam 5:19-20), working in harmony with everything that He shows the believer He’s doing. Gal 5:1 announces to the reader that
‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’
where the urgency is laid upon the believer not to submit themselves to a legalistic written code (the ‘yoke of slavery’).
There’s also the need to remember practically the contrast between the ‘flesh life’ and of following after a legal requirement with the New Covenant (Gal 5:13, Rom 7:6, 8:13) with being led by God’s Spirit (Rom 8:14), of serving in His new life (Rom 7:6) and of walking by Him (Gal 5:16).
To obey the Holy Spirit, then, is to submit to the will of God and to rebel against the requirements of the flesh. This battle will continue until the believer’s day of death but the contrast is epitomised in the two characters of Jesus and Barabbas, the former who perfectly obeyed all that the Father required of Him while the latter did what was acceptable to the religious amongst God’s people but which was displeasing to God.
4. Liberator and binder
Liberator of all men
When Jesus was first anointed to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, He read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue at Nazareth and announced (Luke 4:18-19) that He’d been anointed and sent
‘...to proclaim release to the captives...to set at liberty those who are oppressed [and] to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’
and to fulfil those words through His subsequent ministry (Luke 4:21). Liberation to all those in bondage was the reason for Jesus’ coming, then, and He set about doing just that in the years which followed, even to the fulfilment of the ultimate deliverance for mankind in His death and resurrection.
‘The acceptable year of the Lord’, however, was a reference to the Mosaic legislation of the year of Jubilee (Leviticus chapter 25 - see my notes here) and not just to a time that God would be pleased with in some general way. What the Jubilee year foreshadowed was now about to come in reality and those things which the legislation had pointed towards were about to be made known to everyone in the nation of God’s people.
The Jubilee began with a trumpet blast throughout the land in the fiftieth year on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9-10). That it didn’t take place at the beginning of the religious year (1st Nisan) or of the secular year (1st Tishri - the present day ‘Rosh Hoshanna’ but the Biblical Feast of Trumpets which the NT Jews used erroneously as the day of the trumpet blast of Jubilee - Rosh Ha-shanah 1:1) is significant.
It was to be in fulfilment of the Day of Atonement years later that the shadow or type of the Jubilee would find its ultimate reality in the atoning death and victory of Jesus on the cross.
In the OT, Jubilee taught God’s people to release the land back to its rightful owners (Lev 25:13,28) and to grant freedom to all slaves (Lev 25:40,54), thus preparing them for the greater freedom that was to be proclaimed as a result of Jesus’ work on the cross - a fulfilment of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus chapter 16 - see my notes here).
There are three main areas of freedom that are foundational in the christian life and from which the deliverance of secondary bondages all stem - for example, sickness may be a manifestation of satanic influence (Mtw 17:14-15,18, Luke 13:11,16), of sin (Mtw 9:2,5-6, John 5:14) or the flesh (that is, a result of the fall, the weakness of our bodies. See John 9:1-3 and the numerous healings Jesus performed where sin and satan aren’t mentioned as needing to be addressed). Each one of these bondages that mankind is subject to has been dealt with on the cross by Jesus.
Firstly, freedom from satan’s influence was demonstrated by Jesus throughout His earthly ministry (Luke 13:10-17, Mtw 8:28-34) but, in the NT, the principalities and powers are proclaimed as being disarmed through the cross (Col 2:15, John 12:31, 16:11). The latter of these three Scriptures speaks of ‘judgment’ where the teaching conveyed is one of total defeat for an enemy and total victory for the aggressor. The Hebrew word for judgment is also employed in II Sam 18:19 but the RSV renders it ‘delivered’ for this is the sense - it’s not a vengeance against an enemy which is in mind but a victory that brings in one’s rule over that of one’s opponent. This is the way we should think of God’s judgment of satan in the cross.
Secondly, there’s freedom from sins through forgiveness which has been secured because of Jesus’ shed blood (Mtw 26:28, Rom 5:9, Jer 31:34, Eph 1:7), a subject which needs very little saying about it for it’s the aspect of the cross that even the unbeliever is normally aware of.
Finally, there’s freedom from the desires of the flesh. The believer is to consider himself as crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6,11, Gal 2:20), dead to the desires that sway them into living in disobedience to what they know to be right. Though the believer may still have those desires, the victory over them is certain by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:13).
So, whichever way one looks at it, it’s in Jesus that liberation and freedom is found to release the bondage that any man or woman may find themselves in (see also my notes on ‘Healing’).
Attempted liberation brought bondage
Mark 15:6-7 speaks of Barabbas as being a prisoner of his own attempts at liberation. Even though the man had taken part in a plot to overthrow Roman authority, the end result had been that he’d been incarcerated, held captive and condemned to the death penalty. As such, he’s a good example of mankind who attempt self-liberation but who discover that they propel themselves only into further complications which frustrate God’s purposes.
The apostle Peter wrote concerning false teachers (II Peter 2:19) that
‘They promise [their followers] freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption...’
because there’s a teaching which seems to point towards the liberation of the soul even though it achieves nothing and actually increases the dilemma of its adherents.
It holds true here that a man becomes like the person and the teaching they follow. If they follow after man, they become like man - but, if the person follows after Jesus and His teaching, they’ll become like Him and will grow to be more like Him with the passing of time, finding freedom and liberation from those things which bind them into slavery for (John 8:32)
‘...the Truth shall set you free...’
Whatever the world teaches - however nice it may sound to the believer’s ears with it’s emphasis on humanistic principles that presents its thesis that man is basically good; whatever different type of Christ a believer is urged to follow - whether he is the Jesus of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Rastafarian Christ or the Messiah of Liberalism; whatever ‘systematic liberation of humanity’ a believer may be aiming for - whether communism, socialism, psychology or psychiatry; or whatever set of religious external written rules and regulations the believer endeavours to observe - whether of Catholicism, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, Rabbinism; all of it leads to a person’s bondage. Indeed, anything outside Jesus Christ has the same effect and tends only to make slaves of its adherents.
Barabbas, then, stands as the antitype of Jesus - the striving after freedom in one’s own efforts and by one’s own rational workings of the mind which has the initial semblance of wisdom but which, in the end, binds its follower into imprisonment, slavery and the condemnation of death.
c. The Church
Liberators of men
Now that Jesus has made the provision for the opportunity of freedom for all men, it’s up to His Church to establish that victory and liberation wherever they’re able to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit who both lives within them and flows out from them (John 7:38).
Mark 16:17-18 is the passage which most believers wish wasn’t there and which some believers claim isn’t part of the original - but the point is that such a passage is not an isolated Scripture that holds a teaching that isn’t found elsewhere in the NT. Though it’s not possible to find a record of a believer drinking a deadly substance and surviving (or dying!) in the NT, we can’t doubt that the early Church claimed to have experienced the casting out of the demonic (Acts 16:16-18), the speaking with new tongues (I Corinthians chapter 14), the picking up of serpents (in a literal manner - Acts 28:1-6) and the healing of the sick (Acts 5:16).
The early Church got on with the preaching the Gospel and signs clearly followed that proclamation - for example, Acts 3:1-8 (a release from disability), Acts 5:15-16 (a release from sickness and unclean spirits), Acts 8:7 (again, a release from both sickness and unclean spirits) and Acts 9:36-41 (a release from physical death).
Today - the same as in the first generation of the Church - believers are called to proclaim the age of Jubilee’s arrival, not just in word but in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and with power (Rom 15:18-19). Jesus’ victory of liberation from every bondage that’s opposed to the welfare of mankind is to be established in all the earth through the Church.
This all may sound like pie in the sky and, because we generally don’t experience such movings of God in our midst, that the miracles of the first Church must have long since died out and be consigned to the annals of history in a kind of ‘golden age’ which no one should expect to return to - but the needs of the world haven’t changed.
And those needs must be met with the same solution for the Church to prove itself obedient to the will of God and faithful to the message of the Gospel.
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