Who are the people who became Christians? – a few Jews who felt the innocence of the person, but were afraid of the priesthood, the religious hierarchy in power. But many more people were crucified in Rome – and many more Romans became Christians.
It was a convention that every year the Jews were allowed to ask Pontius Pilate to save one life, because it was just before their religious day of Sabbath that the crucifixion used to happen. So one man can be saved each year. It was a religious mercy and compassion.
Pontius Pilate was hoping that they would ask – because there were three people who were going to be crucified – that they would ask for Jesus to be released, because the other two were great criminals. But the priests and the hierarchy of the rabbis shouted, “We want Barabbas!” – one criminal who had committed seven murders. Even Barabbas could not believe that he was being released, and this poor guy, Jesus – he knew him – they were not asking for him to be released, and he had not done anything!
Barabbas was saved. Christians don’t talk much about Barabbas, but he is a tremendously powerful character, and very important, because the miracle happened to him, not to Jesus. It was expected that God would save Jesus. God missed his target. Barabbas could not believe it. When they released him he looked back again and again – there must be some mistake. He was such a criminal; there was not any crime that he had not done – rape, murder – and he was always drunk, he was a drunkard.
But the face of Jesus remained in his mind and tortured him. He also started feeling guilty, “I should not have been released. It was perfectly right for me to be on the cross. That poor man…I have taken his place and he has taken my place.” He felt a soft corner for Jesus. And within six months he committed a rape, he committed a murder, and he was caught again.
But this was the rule, that once the Roman emperor releases somebody from crucifixion, he cannot be crucified again. So they had to find an alternative for such people, because those people are bound to do something if they are such diehard criminals. In Rome they had a dangerous coal mine; they used to send those people to that coal mine to dig coal. It has reached to such places that once in a while it used to collapse, and thousands of the people who were working under it would be killed. That was their way of avoiding crucifixion.
Barabbas was sent to the coal mines in Rome. Within three months the coal mine collapsed. There were at least three thousand people; only Barabbas remained alive, everybody else was dead. That was the second miracle! He could not believe what was happening! He had been hanged on the cross and then brought down. He could not believe it that day; he was completely ready to be crucified, and he knew that he had done so many criminal things that it was perfectly right; there was no question of his being released.