“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
There is a treasure trove of significance in the condemnation of Jesus and the release of Barabbas. Barabbas was a rebel guilty of murder in a recent insurrection (Mark 15:7). He was awaiting execution for the evil he had done. It is likely that those crucified with Jesus were Barabbas’ co-conspirators. They fully deserved what was coming their way. Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent. This is made plain in Pilate’s words before the crowds, “Why, what evil has he done?” (Mar 15:14).
On this morning, one would be condemned and the other would go free. It is striking because such a scenario didn’t need to happen; Jesus could have just as easily been crucified alongside Barabbas and the others. But Pilate’s custom of releasing to them one prisoner at the feast (Mark 15:6) allowed for an innocent one to be condemned in the place of the guilty. Indeed, that is what is meant by the word “instead” (Mark 15:11).
And so on this morning the innocent one was condemned and the guilty one went free. This act didn’t make Barabbas any less guilty, but it did remove the punishment. Presumably he went on his way, and the penalty prepared for Barabbas fell on Jesus.
Such is the nature of the Atonement. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In our place condemned he stood. For us to escape the penalty of our sin the penalty needed to be borne by another. It was borne by Jesus on the cross. For all who trust in Christ, our salvation is substitutionary in nature. As it was foretold in Isaiah, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
How does this affect your soul? It is one thing for us to receive pardon and to be grateful. But how incredible for us to receive it because another took our place! It is intended to change how we live our lives. Paul picks up on this, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The love displayed is meant to control us, to grip us. The proper response to salvation by substitution is not that we are free to do whatever we want, but free to live for the one who for us died and was raised. May God control us with his love and help us live as his redeemed people.