Behold, the Man
“Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (John 19:5)
Behold, the man!” That is what Pilate said to the Jews — and in particular to the leaders in Israel, as they petitioned him to put Jesus to death. The chief priests and officers heard these words. They saw Jesus before them wearing a purple robe and a crown of thorns, put on him by Roman soldiers in mockery. Jesus had been smitten, beaten, scourged, and disgraced.
What did the Jewish leaders say when they saw and heard this? Were they overcome by compassion for this innocent man? Did they change their minds and realize that Barabbas the murderer should be crucified and Jesus allowed to go free? Did they listen when Pilate himself said three times that he found no fault in Jesus? No. Instead they cried out all the more, “Crucify him!”
Barabbas is a person we do not talk much about. He is an actor in this real life drama who had no speaking part. But his presence adds a twist to the scenario. Barabbas’ cameo part this day did not really need to be part of the story about Jesus giving his life on the cross. But Barabbas was there. Perhaps God has some deeper lessons here respecting Barabbas.
The name Barabbas, according to Professor Strong, means son of a father or master. What does it mean? Who else in the Scriptures is called the “Son of a Father or master”? Jesus is called the Son of God in many places. For example, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But there is another man who is called the Son of God: “Adam, which was the son of God” (Luke 3:38).
Barabbas’ presence in this story seems to be a microcosm of a greater plan. We know from the Scriptures that Christ paid the ransom price for Adam — a perfect life for a perfect life. One “son of God” paid the price for another “son of God.” Jesus gave his life in place of Barabbas, son of a father. Barabbas is in the narrative for a good reason. He provides one more picture concerning the ransom sacrifice.
The Crime of Barabbas
“And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). Note the three things said about Barabbas: he was bound or imprisoned, he was an insurrectionist, and he was a murderer. How do those three things compare to Adam?
Adam was initially free — free to roam the garden, free to worship God, and free from death. Barabbas had also been free, though under Roman authority. He could roam about the land. He could worship the God of his ancestors (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and he was free of any special judgment by the Romans. But the sentence of death was given to both men, Adam and Barabbas, after they broke the law.
Barabbas made an insurrection, rebelling against Rome. Did Adam make an insurrection? Yes, when he rebelled against God and ate the forbidden fruit. “[God] cast Adam out from the garden of Eden and all its favors; he no longer treated him as his loved creature and friend but as one who had rebelled; he virtually said, you have chosen your own path, now walk in it” (Reprints, page 1176).
The last thing mentioned in Mark 15:7 was that Barabbas had committed murder in his insurrection. Did Adam commit murder in his insurrection against God? Yes, in the sense that his disobedience led to the death of every one of his progeny. “God determined to make an example of the sinner and of the natural consequences of sin, and so the penalty of sin went into effect” (Reprints, page 1176). “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thus, Adam’s insurrection was directly responsible for causing all other people to die.
Now consider the first part of Mark 15:7 which says: “Barabbas ... lay bound.” Who made insurrection with Adam? It was Eve. Together, they disobeyed God. Were they bound? Yes, they came under the bondage of sin and death. This was the same as Barabbas and his fellow insurrectionists. They were literally bound in prison awaiting their fate. Thus, we see a correlation between Barabbas and Adam. Jesus gave his life directly for each. This forms another vivid picture of part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
Release of a Prisoner
The only time in the Bible that a prisoner is offered a release at Passover, or any other Jewish holy day, is at the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:15-17, NIV). 
On this custom, there is an interesting comment from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary by Frank Gaebelein, Editor: “The custom referred to of releasing a prisoner at the Passover Feast is unknown outside of the Gospels. It was, however, a Roman custom and could well have been a custom in Palestine. An example of a Roman official releasing a prisoner on the demands of the people occurs in the Papyrus Florentinus 61:59 ff. There the Roman governor of Egypt, G. Septimus Vegetus, says to Philbion, the accused: Thou hast been worthy of scourging, but I will give thee to the people.”
Also, the Interpreter’s Bible states, “The custom of amnesties (a general pardon) at festival times is known the world over. It used to be said that there was no evidence for such a proceeding in Palestine at this time, but there is a Talmudic rule that a paschal lamb may be slaughtered for one who has been promised release from prison.”
Releasing a prisoner to the people was a custom, not a law. Pilate did not have to offer either Jesus or Barabbas a release. But these people and events came together at just the right time to provide a lesson. In the Bible, Barabbas, whose name means son of a father, just happened to be in prison and sentenced to death at the time. His crimes fairly match those of Adam. He was not heard of either before or after this incident.
Roman rulers and leaders tended to be cruel, rather than merciful, especially to one who claimed to be a king. Remember, Herod killed all of the children two years old and younger in Bethlehem, to kill the newborn king. Yet here, in Pilate, is a Roman governor who realized Jesus’ innocence and did what he could to free him. This just happened to take place at the time of Passover. The odds against this all coming together at the appropriate time seem large. In this we see the providence of God.
As Jesus was being mocked, spit upon, and struck in the face, how did he react? How would most other kings react? With pompous pride knowing they were about to die as martyrs? With trembling fear knowing they were about to experience the cruel and excruciating death of the cross? Did Jesus even cry out for help? “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, NIV).
Those were the words that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading when Philip came upon him on his way to Gaza: “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth” (Acts 8:27,28,32,33).
The Eunuch was reading about a humble, fearless, and meek man — a quiet man. He did not know who this man was and asked Philip to identify the man for him. The Eunuch’s heart was stirred by Philip’s explanation and forthwith, he was baptized. Were not our hearts stirred as well when we came to know this humble yet fearless man? There is no record of him saying this, but we can almost hear the words coming from the Eunuch’s heart as he read this prophecy about Jesus: “Behold the man.”
That fateful day in Jerusalem meant little to the Roman soldiers. Just another crucifixion. But that crucifixion meant a great deal to the Jewish leaders. Their nemesis was being put to death. Business could continue as usual. That crucifixion also meant a great deal to Jesus’ followers. Their Master, their guide, their loving teacher, and their perfect example, was not only killed but was humiliated and put to death like a common thief or murderer. What shame and ignominy he endured. What shame his followers must have endured that day as well.
They must have been confused as well as sorrowful. Jesus had told them that he was going to die. Indeed, he must die. Jesus had explained to them just the night before as they ate some unleavened bread that it represented his body. He also told them to drink the fruit of the vine and that it represented his blood.
These must have been strange words to them. What did they mean? As they pondered the words and events of the last supper, things began happening fast. Jesus was arrested and taken before Pilate. There was an angry mob — not made up of just common people but prominently the Jewish leaders as well. Jesus was put in a dungeon to await his crucifixion. What was happening? It must have been overwhelming for those dear disciples.
The disciples ended up leaving Jesus alone for most of the trial and crucifixion. Even Peter denied the Lord three times that night, and publicly cursed at the suggestion that he might be one of Jesus’ followers. Jesus bore this trial alone. That was part of God’s plan. “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief ... I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isaiah 53:10; 63:3, NIV, KJV). He alone was the ransom price; the experience was just for him.
We may wonder how many naysayers sarcastically repeated Pilate’s words as Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem, with a cross on his back — “Behold, the man.”
Remember Jesus’ Deat
We receive a number of good lessons from Jesus’ birth and his life. What a marvelous character he had. He so perfectly reflected the Father’s character that he said to the apostle Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus was full of life, perfect human life. Yet, he knew why he was here on earth. He had come to die for Adam. His mission was to save the whole of mankind from eternal death, for Adam’s disobedience guaranteed that the human race would be born into sin, sickness, sorrow and death (Romans 5:12). It was Jesus’ death, not his birth, that brings us redemption.
We remember Jesus’ death when we partake of the memorial emblems, as Jesus requested that we do. Those emblems, more than just representing Jesus’ life, also help us remember our consecration vows. When we consecrated our lives, we made a vow to God to follow his son, even unto death. In a sense, we renew this vow each time we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine. Partaking of the emblems reminds us to fully grasp the meaning of our consecration.
An old Chinese proverb says: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” The observations about human experience expressed in this saying seem to apply to some of the benefits of our Memorial service.
When we partake of the Memorial emblems, we are not just hearing and seeing, but we are doing, as the disciples did at the last supper so long ago. That has to have an effect on our hearts. It makes us feel closer to God. It moves us to want to stay the course of our consecration even though the battle may be tough.
If celebrating the
Memorial does not have this effect, then perhaps we are new, or in the process
of considering consecration. Observing a Memorial service is a good thing, even
for the unconsecrated. Remember that when the Israelites celebrated that first
Passover, everyone in each home represented the household of faith. But only the
consecrated were represented by the first born. What a wonderful thing for the
unconsecrated to behold as they observe the service, for they see and they
When we partake of the emblems, does this mean we going to die the next day as Jesus did? No, but remember the words of the apostle Paul: “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). We have promised God that we would die daily as well, as we daily keep our lives on the altar of sacrifice. So, in a sense, we will die the next day, and the day after, and the day after that.
Our Lord had a variety of different experiences. Some were wonderful blessings — fellowship with dear brethren, performing miracles, and communing with God. He also experienced many painful and sorrowful experiences — rejected by the Jewish nation, falsely accused, and then crucified like a common criminal.
We, too, will have our own cup of experiences. When the mother of Zebedee’s children asked Jesus that her two sons be seated on his right and left side in his kingdom, Jesus answered: “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” (Matthew 20:22).
As we drink of the cup of experience, let us not become prideful or complacent when we have pleasant experiences, nor become discouraged or fearful in difficult experiences. Let us do what Jesus did: pray to God and trust his guidance.
Someday, the whole world will say about their Savior, “Behold, the man.” In our hearts, as we reflect upon our Master’s sacrifice, we also “Behold the man.”
(1) Mark 15:7 and John 18:39 also refer to this episode. Luke 23:17 says, “For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.” This part of Luke is questionable. The Emphatic Diaglott says the whole verse should be omitted because it is not found in the Vatican manuscript. The verse is omitted by Tischendorf, and in the ASV, Rotherham, NIV, Weymouth and other versions. It is in italics in the NAS version. So Luke evidently is not a good source for the episode, but Matthew, Mark, and John are.
Matthew 27:15 says the release of a prisoner was the “governor’s custom” (NIV). John 18:39 says Pilate said to the crowd, “You have a custom” (NAS). But the Emphatic Diaglott more precisely says here, “It is customary for you.” The Phillips translation says, “I have an arrangement with you.” The custom was something offered and used at the discretion of the Roman governor, and the Jews had become accustomed to it.