Suddenly I awakened from a restless sleep by cries coming from the dudgeon’s one small window. “What are they saying?” I asked myself as I tried shaking what little sleep I had gotten out of my head.
“Bar-Abbas, give us bar-Abbas” they chanted over and over.
“What is this?” I wondered. I couldn’t figure out what they wanted. My only thought was maybe some of my fellow rebels had gathered enough people to make a run on the palace. But, quickly my fantasies were dashed. After a brief silence the crowd changed the chant from “Give us bar-Abbas” to “crucify him.”
I sank down into the corner of my dark, dank and musty cell. The cold stones were hard on my back as I tried to melt into them to hide. I could understand the Roman’s wanting my death, for I was guilty, according to them, of robbery, murder and worst of all insurrection. But, these people were shouting in Aramaic, the tongue of my own people, the Jews.
I had only days before led a raid on a small Roman troop outside Jerusalem where a few soldiers were killed. But I did it all for my people. Didn’t they understand that? I did have a few fleeting hopes and dreams of my name being known all over the world for generations to come, but mostly I only hoped to force the Jews to finally rise up and drive the dreaded Romans out of our land.
The darkness of the prison was suddenly broken as the door to the cell block burst open. Several Roman soldiers in full battle gear entered the block. One of the soldiers held a torch and he and another walked in front of each cell door, reading the plaque with the prisoner’s name engraved.
I brought my clinched fists to my face in a vane attempt to hide, knowing the guards were searching for my name. Finally the moment of my nightmare arrived. The guards looked at the plaque and the man with the torch grunted, “Jesus bar-Abbas”.
The other took his key and unlocked the cell door, and barked, “Stand up, dog.” But I was unable to find the strength in my legs to lift myself up. The guards entered and with little regard to my comfort, yanked me to my feet. Sandwiched between the two I was escorted out of the cell, through the doors of the cell block. The heavy oak door slammed shut behind us and one of the other guards locked it. Two guards returned to their positions on either side of the door and came to attention. My escorts practically dragged me up the long stone stairway that led to the main court of the palace.
Once at the top of the stairs I was looked out to a balcony where twenty or more finely clad soldiers stood guard. Over the railing I could see the court yard literally filled with hundreds or maybe a thousand or more people. All shouting and throwing their fists in the air. When I was roughly led to the center of the porch, the mob screamed louder than ever. I could not quit make out what their excitement was about, but I guessed they were shouting approval over my soon execution.
A man dressed in a beautiful white robe, and a crown on his head turned toward me. My eyes grew wide. This was none other than the Praefectus Pontius Pilate. I had seen this man’s image all over the region. Pilate was the procurator of all of Judea. Hand appointed by Caesar himself.
Pilate gave me a quick glance, but he did not make eye contact with me. In fact he was looking on past me, as if I didn’t even exist.
I turned my head to the side, to see who or what Pilate was looking. There I could see a man surrounded by ten guards. His hands were chained; he was wearing a mock royal robe of purple. He had been beaten, by the look on his face. He lifted his face and our eyes met. A feeling of warmth came over me and a peace I could not comprehend filled me.
“Release Jesus bar-Abbas” said Pilate in a low, but commanding voice.
“I … I don’t understand,” I said. The guard rapped my jaw for speaking without being addressed. I could taste the blood in my mouth and decided to keep my mouth shut.
I looked at the other prisoner. His eyes caught mine again and in them I could see love and compassion for me. It was as though he felt sorry for me, yet I was going free, he was still in chains.
The chains were loosened from my wrists and the guard forced me to turn around and leave the porch, even though I tried hard not to lose the man’s eyes. As I was being led out off the balcony into the main part of the palace court, I kept looking back at the man. He gave me a parting smile and his eyes, his eyes glowed with love.
I never seen this man before, but I felt at that moment I would gladly lay down my life for him. As I thought that I lost sight of him and the balcony. I was led to the front gate of the palace and without ceremony I was thrown out on to the ground outside the palace gates.
“Get lost, dog.” Were the last words of the guards to me.
I strolled along the streets of Jerusalem for a few hours when I noticed a crowd gathering near the gates of the city. I made my way through the crowd to see what the excitement was all about. Finally I managed to fight my way to the center of the street where I could see a parade coming toward us. In the front were several Roman soldiers pushing the throng out of the way so the rest of the parade’s participants would have room to pass.
“What is going on?” I asked a woman next to me.
“Jesus, the man from Nazareth. He is being crucified.”
“Is that all?” is said, but as the words left my lips, I remembered just how close I had come to being crucified myself. Crucifixion was common, the name Jesus just as common, but how ironic. “If not for the some quirk of fate, this man named Jesus may have been crucified today.”
At that moment one of the guards pushed me hard to the ground and shout, “Make way, make way.” As I started to pick myself up, the man carrying a cross fell. He landed so close to me I could feel his breathe on my face. I looked in his eyes. “Oh, my God” I whispered. It is he. The same man who was on the porch. It was he whom the crowd shouted to be crucified. As I got up, I helped him to his feet. He touched my face and smiled. His touch burned into my soul.
Just then I thought to myself about charging the guards to free this man, but his eyes told me “No”. The burning in my soul to fight turned to a joy I could not understand. Before I had a chance to think, a guard blindsided me and knocked me out cold on the street.
I finally woke up; a young girl was washing my face with a towel wetted in a pail of water. The sky was dark as night. I could not believe I had been out that long. “Is it night? What time is it?”
“No, sire, it is not night,” she said in a nervous tone. “It is still midday.” She looked around up at the sky and continued, “Only moments ago the sky turned black. The sun should be out in its glory.”
“What is happening? Where did the crowd go?”
“Oh, they are at the place of the skull, they crucified Jesus there.”
“I must go there” I said, I stood up but my head was spinning and I fell down again.
“You must rest, you took a very nasty hit to the head” the girl said.
A man whom I did not see before, said, “You are the man, the man bar-Abbas aren’t you?”
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“I saw you on the porch this morning. When the people required the death of Jesus. Pilate decided to put you up as a trade so he could live. But, the people wanted you to live and him to die.”
“So he died in my place?” I said with great sorrow.