John 18:40
When the Lord Jesus, in explanation of his claim to kingship, declared himself a Witness to "the truth," the turn to the conversation between him and the Roman governor was to all appearance very abrupt. Government, royalty, - these were ideas with which Pilate was familiar, in which his position bound him to take interest. With regard to truth, he might or be might not concern himself. In any case it would scarcely occur to him that there was any special connection between kingship and that witness to the truth which the accused One professed that it was his mission to bear. Whether Pilate asked the question from mere curiosity, from real interest, in ridicule, or in cynical unbelief, we cannot confidently say. The possibility that any one of these motives may have influenced him suggests the various attitudes of mind with which the truth of God is regarded by men.

I. UNBELIEF ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH A CYNICAL CONTEMPT TOWARDS THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THEY HAVE FOUND IT. The disbelief of Christianity as a Divine and authoritative religion is no new thing. Infidelity has existed from the earliest ages of Christianity down to the present time. It has taken different forms. Atheism, agnosticism, deism, rationalism, mysticism, differ in what they affirm, but they largely agree in what they deny. The chief offence taken with our religion is because of its supernatural claim, because, by affirming Jesus to be the Son of God and to have risen from the dead, it affirms the being of a God deeply interested in man's true welfare, and interposing in order to secure it. That there is some solid basis for the Christian faith and-for the Christian Church, only the most ignorant deny. With regard to the historical facts which accounted for Christianity as a human system, there is among unbelievers difference of opinion. But when the Christian teacher or preacher declares, as he is bound to do, that the Scriptures reveal "the truth" concerning the character and purposes of God, and concerning the nature and prospects of man, then all the hostility of the opponent of religion, of the man who believes in food and clothing, in science and art, and in nothing beyond, is aroused within him; and with all the scorn of incredulity in his tones he asks, assured that there is no answer to be given, "What is truth?"

II. SCEPTICISM ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH THE SADDEST DOUBT AS TO THE POSSIBILITY OF ATTAINING IT. The opponent of the believer is the infidel, who disbelieves. Between the two stands the skeptic, whose attitude is one of doubt, examination, indecision. This is a stage of thought through which most educated and thoughtful persons pass - some to faith and some to disbelief, whilst there are those who linger in this state throughout the rest of life. Christianity is no foe to candid inquiry; it bids us "prove all things;" any other principle would keep heathens, heathens, and Mohammedans, Mohammedans, all through life. What is to be avoided and blamed is the settled, contented acquiescence in doubt, which tends to no conclusion of belief, no definite action. Now, whilst there are topics upon which we are not bound to have an opinion - topics beyond our faculties, or remote from our interests - it must be maintained that religion is of importance so vital, that if truth with regard to it can possibly be attained, it must earnestly be sought. Permanent skepticism is either a sign of the weakest intellect, or it is a confession that the problem of greatest interest to us is a problem we can never solve.

III. INQUIRY PUTS THE QUESTION, "WHAT IS TRUTH?" WITH SINCERE AND PRAYERFUL INTEREST. There is no question which affords to the Christian teacher and preacher greater pleasure, when propounded with intelligence and candor, than this. It evinces a mind alive to the great purposes and the great possibilities of life. And further, there is the assurance that the seeker shall be the finder of truth. In many of their enterprises the fervent, the inquisitive, the avaricious, the ambitions, are doomed to fail. But there is a price with which truth may be bought; and the promise holds good, "He that seeketh findeth." Truth must indeed be sought in a right method and in a right spirit; so sought, it will not be sought in vain.

IV. FAITH ASKS, "WHAT IS TRUTH? "AND RECEIVES TO THE QUESTION AN ANSWER DEFINITE, ASSURED, AND SATISFYING. Belief in Christian truth is reasonable, based as it is upon evidence and testimony, upon the highest and most unquestionable authority, and upon the congruity between Christianity and the innate needs of man's understanding, conscience, and heart. Belief, as an intellectual assent, is necessary to true religion; but it is in itself insufficient. To believe the gospel is to put faith in him who is himself the Gospel, and faith in Christ is faith in God. Christ has said, "I am the Truth;" they, then, who find him, find revealed in him the mind, the very heart of God. The truth is to the Christian the favor and the fellowship of the Eternal, the law of life, the satisfaction of the whole nature. Very different are the Christian's convictions from many which are held tenaciously by the "men of this world;" for they are convictions which shall never be distrusted and abandoned; they shall outlast the perishable fabrics reared by human ingenuity and human imagination. - T.

Not this Man but Barabbas.
The name seems to tell a tale. Bar, signifies "son;" as, Barjonah, "son of John;" and Bartholomew, "son of Tolmai;" abbas was the Greek form of the Hebrew word for "father." It looks as if the name here had, years before, been given in fond endearment to this creature when young, and that it meant "father's own boy." Perhaps there was sadness in the unfolding of the young life, and by degrees the bud of promise burst into a flower of deadly nightshade. We know nothing with certainty; but on such a subject as this the imagination will work, and we think of the "father's boy" as ruined by unwise fondness; we see the natural history of such indulgence in the indulged child becoming the sorrow of his father and the shame of his race. Whatever was the process we here see the result. Are the officers of justice looking for the hand that accomplished the last bold robbery? or that applied the match that made the last explosion? or the hand that struck the last blow in the dark? or has there been a secret muster of dangerous force, and they want to find the "head centre" of the conspiracy, and the captain of the gang? I think that in many such searchings, Barabbas was the criminal wanted. On this occasion, he had been arrested as the leader of an insurrection, and under colour of political aspirations was a convicted robber and murderer. It has even been thought by critics who are not to be slighted that this adventurer professed to be the leader of a religious as well as a political revolt, and that he arrogated to himself the title of "Messiah." "Jesus," we are told by some authorities, was one of his names, and that Pilate's question took the form, "Do you wish that I should release to you Jesus who is called the Christ, or Jesus Barabbas?" There he stands! "Dangerous" is written on his face, — robber, plotter, desperado, murderer, caught red-handed; at the sight of him horror creeps over me, my heart beats hard throbs, and the muscles of my hand stand out like cords of iron. "Jews! Turn your eyes away from this type of demonized humanity, and look at Him against whom he has been set up as rival, Jesus, the wiser than the wisest, kinder than the kindest, purer than the purest, better than the best; what say you, will you release Him?" When this appeal is made, the cry comes back, "Not this Man, but Barabbas."

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

Not the only time that a robber has been preferred to Christ. It is a choice that is made by multitudes in Christian England, as it was by that infuriated rabble eighteen hundred years ago. Why should I mince matters? You are preferring something before Christ. Its name may not be Barabbas. The ban of society may not rest upon it. And yet for all that, it is a robber.

1. It robs you; it robs you of peace, happiness, Christ. Anything you choose before Him robs you of Him. He will take no second place in your heart.

2. It robs Christ of you. You belong to Him; He made you; He bought you with His blood. Many prefer —

I. THEIR SINS TO CHRIST. Jesus stands before you. Deity come down to humanity, humanity exalted into Deity. He says, "Come unto Me." But men refuse. Failing there, He stands, shall I say higher, or lower still? On Calvary; and thence His dying voice again says — "Come." But — will you believe it? — this call of a dying Redeemer dies away unheeded. "Not this Man, but" — but — oh! who or what is this rival, who blinds your eyes to the grace of that heavenly form? Sin is its name, that hideous, deformed, repulsive thing.

1. Sin is a robber. It robs you of —(1) Your peace of mind. The sinner is not a happy man. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."(2) Heaven. Remember, while you are imbibing its stolen draughts, and rolling its forbidden fruit as a sweet morsel under your tongue, that is not the end of it. You would not knowingly harbour a thief beneath your roof, and yet you scruple not to make a home for sin in your heart — that heart for which Jesus is asking and waiting in vain.

2. Sin, like Barabbas, is also a leader in sedition. What is it that disturbs the peace of nations, that snaps the bonds of fraternity, and breaks up the foundations of a people's prosperity, but sin?

3. Like Barabbas, sin is a murderer — it was a murderer from the beginning; it murders souls with an eternal dying.

II. EASE AND SELF-INDULGENCE. Here we come from the outer circle of the world into the inner circle of the Church. How many pay Christ the compliment of coming to church once a Sunday, and here their service begins and ends! There are men who name that name which is the synonym for all that is disinterested and unselfish, who think more of their champagne than they think of the Church, and who give more for their champagne than they give to their Saviour. If I were an author, ambitious of signalizing myself by writing the shortest volume ever known, I would come to some of the members of our genteel suburban churches, and ask their permission to write an account of what they are doing for Christ and for the world. Brief indeed would be the history! A solitary cipher would describe all that many are doing for the Lord that bought them, and for a perishing world! There is a passage that must be a precious solace to some so-called Christians — "We which have believed do enter into rest." But remember, that is the labourer's rest after toil, not the idler's rest from toil. But I have another passage to set over against this — "Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!" Yes, woe, for this ease is a Barabbas, a robber.

1. It robs your fellow-mere There are multitudes of ignorant, hungry, afflicted, dying, to whom a Christian visit is like an angel's presence. Your selfishness robs them of that.

2. It robs Christ of the reward of His sufferings, of jewels to His crown. Who knows what little one might have been led to Jesus had you taken your place in the Sabbath-school?

3. It robs yourselves —(1) Of present happiness. It is the working Christian who is the happy Christian. While "he waters others, he is watered also himself."(2) Of the Divine approbation; it will deprive you of that encomium at the day of reckoning which it were well worth spending a thousand lives to hear — "Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." You are loving your ease better than Christ. What if Christ had loved His ease better than you?

III. GAIN. All some men are living for is pounds, shillings, and pence, as though no Christ had ever lived and died. There was no room for Christ in the inn; there is no room for Him in the shop and in the counting-house, I fear. Now, this Barabbas is a robber. Ah! you think that you are growing rich; but instead of this, you are being daily robbed, and growing unutterably poor. You would soon be alert if you thought a thief was at your till. This Barabbas of mammon is robbing you —

1. Of your precious probation time here on earth.

2. Of your souls. Wealth is "the pearl of great price," that lies in the field of business, and men will sell all that they have to enable them to buy that field. They will sell their veracity, their honour, their principles, their manliness, and of necessity, in the end lose their souls. But "what shall it profit a man," &c.

(J. Halsey.)

I. THE SIN AS WE FIND IT IN THIS HISTORY. The sin will be more clearly seen if we remember that —

1. The Saviour had done no ill. No law, either of God or man, had He broken.

2. He had even conferred great temporal blessings upon them. Oh ravening multitude, has He not fed you when you were hungry? Did He not heal your sick?

3. Wherein did His teaching offend against morality or the best interests of man? What did He preach for? No selfish motive could have been urged. The true reason of their hate, no doubt, lay in the natural hatred of all men to perfect goodness. To be too holy in the judgment of men is a great crime, for it rebukes their sin.


1. When the apostles went forth to preach the gospel, and the truth had spread through many countries, there were severe edicts passed by the Roman Emperors. Against whom were these edicts framed? Against the foul offenders of that day. I find that they were borne with and scarcely mentioned with censure; but tortures of every kind, were used against the innocent, humble followers of Christ.

2. Then the world changed its tactics; it became nominally Christian. The Pope of Rome put on the triple crown, and called himself the Vicar of Christ; then came in the abomination of the worship of saints, angels, and images, the mass, &c., and every head bowed before the sovereign representative of Peter at Rome. The Church of Rome was equal in sin to Barabbas.

3. Since that day the world has changed its tactics yet again; in many parts of the earth Protestantism is openly acknowledged, and the gospel is preached, but what then? Then comes in the Barabbas of mere ceremonialism, orthodoxy, or morality.


1. What company did you like best? Was it not that of the frivolous, if not that of the profane? When you sat with God's people, their talk was very tedious.

2. When we had time for thinking, what were our favourite themes?

3. And what were our pleasures?

4. Some of us have to confess with shame that we were never more in our element than when conscience ceased to accuse us and we could plunge into sin with riot. What was our reading then? Any book sooner than the Bible.

4. What were our aspirations then? Self was what we lived for.

5. Where did we spend our best praise? Did we praise Christ? No; we praised cleverness, and when it was in association with sin, we praised it none the less. It would have been the same to-day with us, if almighty grace had not made the difference. It was mighty grace which made us to seek the Saviour.


1. Let me state your case. There are those who would have been followers of Christ but that they preferred —


(2)Some favourite lust.


(4)Acquaintances and friends.

2. Let me plead Christ's cause with you. Why is it that you reject Christ? Are you not conscious of the many good things which you receive from Him? You would have been in hell but for Him? Why will you prefer your own gain and self-indulgence to that blessed One to whom you owe so much?

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Tremellius was a Jew from whose heart the veil had been taken away, and who had been led by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. The Jews who condemned Christ had said "Not this man," &c. Tremellius, when near his end, glorying in Christ alone and renouncing whatever came in competition with Him said, "Not Barabbas but Jesus."


I. POPULAR. Popular election wrong for once! Vox populi non semper vox Dei.

II. FRENZIED. When passion rules judgment dies.

III. CRIMINAL. They desired a murderer and killed the Prince of Life (Acts 3:14).

IV. FOOLISH. They chose an enemy and rejected a Friend, and such a Friend l

V. FATAL. It sealed their destruction as a people.

VI. PREDICTED (Isaiah 53:3).

VII. OVERRULED. It brought salvation to the world, even to the Jews (cf. Psalm 76:10; Amos 5:8; Isaiah 40:4; Romans 8:8).

(T. Whitelaw D. D.)

Barabbas was a robber; but He was not a common thief. He was a political adventurer, as we gather from combining the narratives. The two "malefactors" were probably His comrades; and it is not hard to identify the section of the people to whom he belonged. They were "Zealots," men whose resentment of heathen usurpation was so profound and bitter that they would keep no truce with Rome. They would pay neither toll nor tax, and in their continual risings became mere brigands robbing and murdering to gratify personal passion as well as religious ends. Judas the Gaulonite (Acts 5:37) is mentioned by Josephus as the earliest distinguished leader of the party; and to his action the historian traces the downfall of the Jewish nation. Theudas was another of their leaders; Simon the Cananaean, one of Christ's disciples, had been originally of their numbers; and Paul was supposed (Acts 21:38) to be implicated in their proceedings. Jut]as is said to have risen up "in the days of the taxing" (cf. Luke 2:1). The movement, therefore, was about the age of Jesus. He found Himself surrounded by its influences, but He from the first distrusted and repelled it. His hostility to such methods of advancing the kingdom of God is shown in the temptation. Throughout His ministry He was beset by the temptation to aim at political influence for the advancement of God's kingdom, and to encourage political expectations to His followers. It was presented to Him by His friends and by His enemies, and by the people who were neither, but were ready to become either according as He should flatter or deny their hope of deliverance from Rome. A signal instance of the disappointment of the people is recorded in chap. John 6. When He declined the crown "many of His disciples went back," &c. Another incident occurred when the Pharisees and Sadducees came "tempting Him "to show them a sign from heaven, some portent which should prove His Messiahship by the overthrow of the powers of the world. He promised them no sign but that of Jonas — the minister of God's mercy to the Gentiles. Perceiving the impossibility of satisfying the people's requirements, and forecasting the issue, He set Himself to prepare the disciple's for it and "from that time forth to show how He must be rejected," &c. The incident of the tribute money brought the climax nearer. His recognition of Caesar was repressive of the people's hopes, and shut Him out from being their representative. And now they who a few months before had asked Him, "How long dost Thou make us to doubt?" declare that they are no longer in doubt. There had come to the Jews one of those critical hours which sometimes arrive for men and nations, when their hesitancy is determined; when they do an irrevocable deed, and in doing it reveal their deepest choice, what has been the actual bent of their purpose all the time of their apparent indecision. The Jews rejected Christ because His spirit and purpose were not theirs. Barabbas was their true representative, not Christ; henceforth Barabbas will be their leader; with Barabbas they will fall and be judged. The chief priests and elders have alienated the people finally from Jesus; but to do this they have betrayed their trust. They are no longer the people's leaders; they are drawn on in the current of the feeling they invoke. They have flattered the prejudices and aroused the passions of the crowd; in the great disasters which subsequently befell the nation they were either the unwilling instruments of popular prejudice, or the victims of the fury of the mob. To recognize the full significance of their action we must remember that up to this, they had been uncommitted to the violent procedure of men like Barabbas. The Zealots were popular heroes, but they had met with no favour from the heads of the nation: the priestly party objected both to their objects, and to their way of securing them; and elders from among the Pharisees, while partially sympathising with their spirit, absolutely disapproved their methods. But the malice of the rulers against Jesus was more potent than their convictions concerning the destiny and policy of their nation: they were ready to face any possibility rather than that Jesus should escape. The same self-abandonment which afterwards appeared in their cry, "We have no king but Caesar," is evident in their stirring up the multitude to ask for Barabbas. They are twice betrayers of their nation. They encourage the people in the way of insurrection; they invoke Caesar as their king. The final result of their action was seen when Jerusalem was compassed about with armies and torn by intestine strife. Barabbas holding garrison in the Temple, and Caesar thundering at the gates — "Whose was the anguish in that death hour?" The world contains no record of horrors like the seige of Jerusalem; and the most frightful feature of the narrative is the conduct of the Zealots. They had proved themselves men void of understanding, with neither ruth nor scruple; and yet the people could not cast off the habit of obeying them: there were no other leaders whom they could choose. The name "Zealots" was lost in their other name, "murderers" — Sicarii, or dagger-men. The whole city was given up to their government, and their conduct was such as to move the heart of Titus, who invoked God to witness that this was not his work. Such was the issue with which the incident before us was charged; such the portentous prophecy when, under the instigation of their chief priest and rulers, the Jews cried out, "Not this Man, but Barabbas."

(A. Mackennal, D. D.)

One of the most striking works of that true spiritual genius, George Tinworth, represents the release of Barabbas and the condemnation of Christ. Pilate is delineated as the centre of the group; he is standing washing his hands, thus emphasizing the innocence of Jesus, who, at his left, is seen bound and in custody, led away to be scourged and crucified. Barabbas is on Pilate's right; he is stooping down, free and light-hearted, to rejoin the people. Barabbas is styled in an inscription below his figure, "The world's choice." The inscription below Jesus is "The Good Shepherd." The levity of the call for Barabbas and the unerring Divine Judgment, are suggested by a reference to Ecclesiastes 8:12. The general lesson of the composition is one with which historians, moralists, poets have made us familiar —

"Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the throne —

Yet that scaffold sways the Future, and behind the dim unknown

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own."Tinworth's genius appears in the extraordinary vividness with which he has conceived and expressed the fact that Barabbas was personally popular. While Jesus comes forward, sorrowful and solitary, followed by supercilious smiles or cold despite, those who have known Barabbas crowd around him to congratulate him; the very soldiers who have been his jailers clasp his hands, as if they were sorry to lose a boon companion. Intensity of moral purpose, elevation of spiritual thought, are hindrances to popularity; the absence of these is distinctly favourable to a superficial geniality, which may blind even to the heinousness of crime. Christ could never have been "the world's choice."

(A. Mackennal, D. D.).

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