They released Barabbas and condemned Jesus Christ
They released Barabbas and condemned Jesus Christ

The Great Substitute

During Easter, as we read about the passion of Christ, who among the personalities around the cross engaged your thoughts deeply and significantly?


When I asked myself this question, I settled on Barabbas, the prisoner who had been languishing in condemned cells. He was awaiting execution for his numerous crimes when, on the spur of the horrible moment, he was dramatically released.

Historical records establish that Barabbas was a coup plotter who, together with others, had been involved in insurrection and was convicted of treason.

He was also an armed robber, a rapist, a murderer, a fearsome troubler of peace-loving people, and a blot on the conscience of society. Barabbas was a convict for immediate execution for his crimes.

Whom to release

Governor Pilate, in a weak but desperate move to spare Jesus, evoked a Jewish custom at the Passover Festival when a prisoner of the people’s choice was released.  

Would the people choose to release the kind and gentle Jesus? No. Did they choose to release a prisoner of less wicked records? No. Instead, they chose to release the hardened Barabbas.

The choice of Barabbas was figurative, for he was the embodiment of wickedness and evil, representing how we might all be described.

Romans 3:23 says that we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. It was us, not just Barabbas, in the condemned cells, and Christ’s condemnation caused our release!

Free indeed

In that sense, Christ became our substitute, taking our place while we are set free. And when the Son of God sets us free, we are free indeed.
Other meanings of the word “substitute” include “replacement”, “stand in for”, “relieve” “take the place of”, “exchange”, “instead of”, and “switch” or “swap”.  

These meanings express the significance of what Christ has done for us. He was crucified “in place of” us; he “stood in for” us; he “relieved” us of our troubles.

The prophet Isaiah saw the great substitution of Christ from afar when he prophesied that, “He took up our pain and bore our suffering. He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4, 5).

Wounded for us

Think about it: instead of humanity bearing the consequences of our own transgressions and iniquities, the consequences were heaped on Christ instead.  

Somebody does wrong and another person suffers for the wrong!  Isaiah captured it more graphically when he said, “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  So he was wounded for us.

I looked up the meaning of “transgressions” and ‘iniquities” and found words like wrongdoings, misbehaviours, offences, sins, crimes, injustices, immorality, and all kinds of vices.

Symbolically, God, who cannot condone sin or even look upon sin, turned aside when the sins of humanity were piled up on Christ. In that excruciating pain, he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Not forsaken 

Do you think God will forsake his one and only begotten Son whom he sent to die for us? Never. That “forsaken” scenario was for us. But for Christ, God would have forsaken us forever!  So Christ took that rejection “instead of” us being forsaken.

The cross Jesus carried represents the heavy burdens of humanity, the eternal troubles that await us, the problems and disasters that are in store for humanity.  

Read the Book of Revelation to acquaint yourself with tribulations and hardships that are waiting to be unleashed on humanity. The tsunamis, earthquakes, disease pandemics, and road and air disasters that claim lives are mere skirmishes in comparison with the approaching catastrophe of the universe.  

So when Jesus carried the cross, symbolically, he took upon himself the approaching world devastation. He carried our troubles. So, in the dreadful description of the end-time destruction as portrayed in the Book of Revelation, those who are in Christ will be saved!  Why? Because Christ our Great Substitute has taken our place. 

Rejecting the offer 

This means that those who reject him have decided to bear their own troubles. If you were carrying a heavy load and someone graciously offered to carry it for you and you rejected the offer, then, of course, you bear your own heavy load.  


Those who reject this offer do so because of pride and blind arrogance. Imagine Barabbas sending word to Pontius Pilate or the Jewish leaders, “I don’t want to be released from this condemned cell. Come and cut off my head; I don’t care!”

Of course, we know instances of prisoners who have temporarily refused amnesty because they felt they were prisoners of conscience who had been unlawfully treated. But none of those instances involved death sentences.

For the eternal suffering for which Christ died for us, it is ridiculous to reject the eternal life he offers us as our great Substitute.

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