Jesus Barabbas (/bəˈræbəs/; Aramaic: ישוע בר אבא Yeshua Bar ʾAbbaʾ, literally “son of the father” or “son of the teacher”) is a figure mentioned in the New Testament. He was an insurrectionary held by the Roman governor at the same time as Jesus. Pontius Pilate freed him at the Passover Feast in Jerusalem while keeping Jesus a prisoner.
Barabbas is mentioned in all four gospels of the New Testament: Matthew 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:18–24; and John 18:40. His life intersects that of Christ at the trial of Jesus.
Related to this intersection, the release of a Jewish prisoner was customary before the feast of Passover (Mark 15:6). The Roman governor granted clemency to one criminal as an act of goodwill toward the Jews. The crowd chose Barabbas over the Lord Jesus to be released despite Barabbas being an insurrectionist and murderer.
In some ways, some people in the Church seem to be following the methods of Barabbas more than Jesus. One of the ways they do this is when they focus on a political solution to transform their nation (with some even discussing the possibility of a Civil War to restore the nation to its Biblical Foundations).
Barabas and the early Church
The early Church had a choice to work to overthrow the Roman government that advanced polytheism and abortion. In its lust for power over the empire, these murderous, sex-crazed emperors dehumanized those around them. Instead of joining Jewish zealots in attempting to overthrow the Roman government, the Apostle Paul told believers that the power that exists is of God and that they should submit to it (Romans 13:1-7).
Of course, when it comes to submitting to God or men, the Bible says to obey God when the government is opposed to biblical ethics (Acts 4:19-20).
Augustine and the “just war” theory
Saint Augustine had something to say regarding when Christians have a right to bear arms when he taught the “just war” theory.
In essence, he wrote that the principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be the following: having just cause, being the last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used.
Thomas Aquinas, a doctor of the Church in the 13th century, revised Augustine’s version, creating three criteria for a just war: the war needed to be waged by a legitimate authority, have a just cause, and have the right intentions.
Based on the above definitions, it seems as though a U.S. Civil War would not fit the construct of a just war. First, who would legitimize the insurrectionists trying to overthrow the US government? Secondly, there should be a reasonable chance of success. With all the power in the hands of the state and city, police departments, and national military, Christian insurrectionists would probably have no chance of overall success except in some remote rural areas where they have powerful militias.
What should be the focus of the Church?
Should the Church focus on a top-down political solution for religious liberty or should its focus be on gospel proclamation (even when threatened with persecution)? It seems as though a clear reading of the New Testament shows that our struggle is not against flesh and blood in our proclamation of the gospel (Ephesians 6:10-13). Hence, political means are not the primary tool of the kingdom. (Of course, it is never illegitimate to use legal and political means to grant us the proper rights to preach even as Paul utilized his legal rights to preach, Acts 16:36-40, Acts 21:37-40.) The issue in this article I propose is the question regarding the Church’s primary focus. It should not be the use of ancillary legitimate legal means for religious liberty.
(For the proper posture of the Church under persecution read Acts 4:27-31.)
Acts 1:4 or 1:8
Unlike the nation of Israel that was called to glorify God by defeating the 7 godless nations of Canaan, the Church is never called to proselytize with the sword (Joshua 1-2). After Jesus said that all power was given to Him in heaven and on earth, His mandate was clear. He said to go and preach the gospel, and make disciples by baptizing people, not by overthrowing nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Despite this, the disciples were still stuck on establishing a political kingdom under Messiah (Acts 1:4).
Jesus’s answer to them was to focus on gospel proclamation after being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses. The empowering was not to force conversions or to lead a political victory, but to be witnesses through the power of the Spirit to every nation, despite opposition.
Presently, it seems to me some Christians are going off into a ditch in comparing our current situation with the American revolution. They seek to legitimize the use of force in order to accomplish their national goals. What many don’t realize is that the American revolution initially took the focus away from the gospel, as people integrated their political goals with the Church.
As a result, Church membership dwindled to almost extinction. It took the second great awakening to revive the Church again and restore America back to its true spiritual foundations. The 20th century has shown us how the Church can thrive even in the midst of oppressive totalitarian regimes like Communist China.
Even now, one of the greatest Church planting movements in the world is taking place in Middle Eastern nations like Iran. It is up to us. Are we going to focus on having our way by force or by Gospel proclamation? Are we going to follow Barabbas or Jesus?