Robertson's Word Pictures of the New TestamentMatthew 27:17
- Barabbas or Jesus which is called Christ? (Barabban h Ihsoun ton legomenon Xriston;).
- Pilate was catching at straws or seeking any loophole to escape condemning a harmless lunatic or exponent of a superstitious cult such as he deemed Jesus to be, certainly in no political sense a rival of Caesar. The Jews interpreted "Christ" for Pilate to be a claim to be King of the Jews in opposition to Caesar, "a most unprincipled proceeding" (Bruce). So he bethought him of the time-honoured custom at the passover of releasing to the people "a prisoner whom they wished" (desmion on htelon). No parallel case has been found, but Josephus mentions the custom (Ant. xx. 9,3). Barabbas was for some reason a popular hero, a notable (epishmon), if not notorious, prisoner, leader of an insurrection or revolution (Mark 15:7) probably against Rome, and so guilty of the very crime that they tried to fasten on Jesus who only claimed to be king in the spiritual sense of the spiritual kingdom. So Pilate unwittingly pitted against each other two prisoners who represented the antagonistic forces of all time. It is an elliptical structure in the question, "whom do you wish that I release?" (tina telete apolusw;), either two questions in one (asyndeton) or the ellipse of ina before apolusw. See the same idiom in verse 21. But Pilate's question tested the Jews as well as himself. It tests all men today. Some manuscripts add the name Jesus to Barabbas and that makes it all the sharper. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ?