Barabbas the Scapegoat?

Today’s reading in Leviticus 16:1-24 describes the offerings for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). One of the most interesting features of this days sacrifices is the offering of two goats; one for the Lord, and one for Azazel.

Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. -Leviticus 16:8-10 (ESV)

The word ‘Azazel’ is translated ‘scapegoat’ in most versions. However it was understood that Azazel is the accusing angel that stand before the LORD accusing God’s people of infractions of the Law. Other names for him are Satan, HaSatan, and the Adversary. These two goats were to look identical. Some have argued that Jesus could not have been an atonement for sin because he was crucified on Passover and not on the Day of Atonement. The interesting thing is that there are many elements of the scacrifices for the Day of Atonement that take place when Jesus is crucified. One of them is taken right from this passage of Scripture. So let’s take a look at some parallels between what God instructed Moses and Aaron in Leviticus and what happened when Pilate presented Jesus and Barabbas in front of the crowd before his crucifixion.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them.

And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.

And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”

And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”

And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?”

But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. -Mark 15:6-15 (ESV)

We see that Barabbas was arrested for insurrection and murder. Many assume that makes Him a criminal in the minds of the crowd and that they chose a criminal and a murderer over Jesus. It is true that Barabbas was a criminal in the eyes of Rome. However, anyone starting an insurrection against Rome would have been considered a hero to the Jews. In fact there could have been some in the crowd that thought Barabbas was the true Messiah and that Jesus was not. Others thought Jesus was the Messiah and Barabbas was not, but those who would have called for Jesus must not have been well represented in the crowd. Some may have even mistook Barabbas for Jesus. So why all the confusion?

Barabbas and Jesus were serving identical functions. They were both working to save Israel. Many Jews believed that the Messaih would deliver them from Rome. Barabbas was working to do just that. He was a good candidate for Messiah according to the leadership in Jerusalem. Not only that but the first name of Barabbas could very well have been Jesus. In these ancient witnesses he was called Jesus Bar Abbas: the Syriac manuscripts of Matthew, the Caesarean group of texts, the Sinaitic palimpsest, and manuscripts used by Origen. If this is true then you have two men named Jesus both candidates for the role of Messiah. Or two identical goats as used for the Day of Atonement.

There is even another interesting connection. The name Barabbas is made of two Hebrew words: ‘Bar’ which means ‘son’ and ‘Abba’ which means ‘father’. So Barabbas means ‘Son of the Father’. Jesus called God his Father and taught his disciples to pray to the Father. This connection is so strong that some scholars believe that Jesus and Barabbas are in fact the same person. It is also interesting to note that Barabbas sounds close to Bar-Rabbis which would mean be ‘Son of the Rabbis’ which is an interesting play on words because the chief leaders and rabbis in Jerusalem favored Barabbas over Jesus of Nazareth.

So we have two identical men standing before the people. They are given the option to choose between the two. It was the High Priest that would cast lots to choose the goat for the LORD and the goat for Azazel. It was the chief priests (presumably led by the High Priest) that stirred up the crowd to let Barabbas go. They took a chance to have the their choice released and they got their wish.

What follows is that Jesus was chosen to be crucified, and Barabbas was chosen to be freed. Even though this happens at Passover the overtones relating to the Day of Atonement point to Jesus as being represented as the atoning sacrifice for sin. We know that both goats were killed; one was sacrificed in the manner prescribed by God, and the other was driven off a cliff and dashed on the rocks below. We see that this was attempted with Jesus after he taught at the synagogue in Nazareth:

And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. -Luke4:29 (ESV)

Jesus was not driven off the cliff that day, and he wasn’t chosen to be freed on the day of his crucifixion. He was chosen to be a sacrifice before the LORD and to save mankind from sin. Barabbas was freed like the scapegoat.

Another interesting article: Barabbas


About Pilgrim's Light

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone." - Isaiah 9:2
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