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The Prison of Christ and Barabbas

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Step Inside the Prison of Christ

Location – The Via Dolorosa

Map Coordinates - 31.7802382, 35.232919

If it is open, we always take our live Octagon Tour groups into the prison where Jesus, Peter and John were imprisoned. During the trial of Jesus with Pontius Pilate, it is believed that both Jesus and Barabbas were detained in this facility.

The Roman empire, which occupied the land of Israel during the time of Jesus, bestowed power and privilege to the local Jewish rulers in exchange for their allegiance to Rome. Like king Herod the Great, who wanted to protect his position by killing Jesus as an infant, the Jewish leaders also wanted to kill Him for the very same reason.

Every year at the Passover feast, as an act of goodwill, Pontius Pilate would release one prisoner at the request of the Jews. This is a story told by all four Gospel writers. Among the prisoners being held at this time, there was Jesus, and a man called Barabbas.

The Upper Prison.

In this part of the prison there are anchor holes in this ceiling, around which prisoners’ chains were fastened.

In this photo behind the iron fence you can see an ancient altar on the left, and a baptistry on the right, indicating that this prison was converted into a church.

The Altar.

Behind an iron railing there is a primitive altar – one of the oldest altars in the Holy Land. That tells us that this prison ultimately became a church.

The Baptistry.

On the right side of this area there’s an ancient plaster-lined baptistry. You might say that this was the world’s first prison chapel, and it could have been built before the time that Christianity was legal in the Roman empire. The one thing this room does tell you is that the early church believed that this was a holy place – that it was, in fact, the prison of Christ.

The Lower Prison (Down the Spiral Staircase).

The prisoners who were held down here were confined in total darkness. Among the prisoners who were held down here were the two thieves who died on either side of Jesus. According to Mark 15:7, there were other prisoners called insurrectionists - those who, along with Barabbas, were planning a rebellion against the Romans.

The Anchor Holes.

Anchor holes like this are all over the walls and ceilings of the prison, to which the prisoners were chained so that they could not escape.

All over this jail there were anchor holes, though which each prisoner’s chains were wrapped, so that they couldn’t escape. The lucky ones were fastened to the wall where there was a bench carved out on which they could sit. The unlucky ones were chained to the ceiling for reasons that you don’t really want to think about.

The Prison of Barabbas.

The prison cell of Barabbas.

Behind a barred gate was the deepest, darkest part of this dungeon, traditionally believed to be the prison of Barabbas. Barabbas was conspiring to lead a rebellion against the Romans. As you can imagine, the Jewish leaders didn’t like Barabbas because they enjoyed the privileged lives granted to them by the Romans, and Barabbas was a threat to that relationship. The Gospel of John tells us that, like the two thieves who died on either side of Jesus, Barabbas was also a thief. This means that he was probably going to die for the same reason as the other two thieves. It is likely that Barabbas would have been the third person to have died that day on Mount Calvary. This means that between the two thieves would have hung Barabbas.

But Jesus was a much greater threat, because He was far more popular with the people. Therefore, Jesus was chosen to die, and Barabbas vanished, never to be heard from again. If Barabbas was at all curious about Jesus, he probably also learned of His resurrection, which could explain why he eventually chose a life of solitude.

The Blocked Doorway.

On the south wall is a blocked doorway. It is a door that led out to the street of first-century Jerusalem. In the fifth chapter of the book of Acts, we read that Peter and John were once arrested, and put into a place called “the public jail”. Acts 5:19 says that an angel had opened the door of the prison and allowed them to escape, telling them to go onto the Temple Mount.

The blocked doorway.

This is the only public jail discovered near Temple Mount. If this jail is the one spoken about in Acts chapter 5, then it’s likely that this is the door that the angel opened.

The Prison of Jesus.

Here is a fisheye view of the prison of Jesus.

The traditional prison of Jesus is where it is believed that He was detained before and perhaps during His trial with Pontius Pilate. In this cell you can see a cold stone bench, on which are carved two holes, through which Jesus was forced to put His legs, and His ankles were chained, making it impossible for him to escape. The picture above the bench illustrates what this looked like. The anchor holes that you see on both sides of this cell were also used to chain prisoners. The hole on the right is for guards to keep an eye on the prisoner.

It’s very likely that the cross on which Jesus died was actually intended for Barabbas. While we often say that Jesus died in our place, from the standpoint of history, Jesus actually died in Barabbas’ place.

When you think about it, isn’t Barabbas a picture of us all? We are all guilty, and we deserve to be condemned. But if you love the Lord with all your heart, then like Barabbas you will not be condemned. You will walk into the light, and you will live eternally because Jesus died in your place.

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