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Matthew 27:17 New International Version

So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?"

What is the significance that they are both named Jesus?

Luke 23:34

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Jesus is the true Son of the Father.

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There is a textual problem in Matt 27:16 & 17 as to whether the name of the criminal was just "Barabbas" or "Jesus Barabbas". The USB5 regards the most probable reading as "Jesus Barabbas" but is far from certain. For the extensive reference, see UBS5.

For the sake of this question, let us assume that the correct text is "Jesus Barabbas". The irony of the choice between "Jesus Barabbas" and "Jesus Christ the Son of the Father" is total.

JESUS

"Jesus" is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew "Joshua" which means "the LORD is salvation", or "The LORD saves". There is a direct reference to this in Matt 1:21 -

She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus,d because He will save His people from their sins.”

BARABBAS

Barabbas is Aramaic for "Son of my Father" or "Son of the Father".

CHRIST/MESSIAH

Christ is the Greek for "anointed one". The word "Messiah" is Hebrew with the same meaning.

Irony

Pilate was no fool and understood this well and mocked the Jews by putting a stark question to them:

Do you want me to release to you either:

  • Jesus Barabbas [= The savior who is the son of the father] - and a criminal who had been involved in a political insurrection, John 18:40.
  • Jesus Christ [= The Savior who is the Anointed One, who is also the Son of the Father, 2 John 3] - a man (John 19:5) who was holy, innocent, blameless, set apart from sinners (Heb 7:26)

To complete the irony, Pilate set a sign over the cross.

Pilate also had a notice posted on the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (John 19:19)

Thus, when the Jews insisted that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified, they selected a false messiah and crucified the true Messiah.

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  • Although I'm less certain that Pilate understood all of these details, I don't dispute he saw irony here and was more than happy to ridicule the Sanhedrin with the sign over the cross. Good discussion of the meaning of the name Jesus. +1 Jun 15 at 1:12
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Jesus was a very common name at the time (for a thorough list of most common Jewish names, see Bauckham's extensive review here), so the fact alone that both men bore the same first name is not terribly remarkable.

Note that some manuscripts do not contain "Jesus Barabbas", but just "Barabbas". However, there is a decent case to be made that this was indeed his given name (see discussion on the site here).

I asked a similar question on this site here; where several answerers suggested Pilate's words are best understood as a disambiguation between two men with the same first name.

There is irony in that Barabbas means "son of the father". They traded the literal "Son of the Father" who gave life, for this "son of the father" who was a murderer.

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    There is also greater symbolism still in the fact that Barabbas, "son of the father" just as you noted, essentially represents all the guilty (humanity) who have been freed from bondage by the real "Son of the Father".
    – Xeno
    Jun 15 at 0:34
  • @Xeno good observation Jun 15 at 0:59

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