Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”
The crowd chose freedom for a thieving insurrectionist over the release of Jesus. In the mob-induced frenzy the irony is clear: they chose a man who violently sought political change over the Prince of Peace Who is King of kings and Lord of lords. They rejected the true King in favor of their own rule by force. The mob outside Pilate's governor's mansion wanted Jesus crucified. Yet this was God's sovereign plan.
Pilate knew well that Jesus was delivered over solely for the pride of religious leaders who wanted Him shut down out of their envy of Jesus (Matthew 27:18). Pilate had hoped that by narrowing the choices in their annual prisoner release program to only two very different choices, one clearly a societal menace, the other a man falsely accused, that the crowd would make the right choice and free Jesus. Pilate gambled and lost with a very wrong guess! The mob chose Barabbas.
Theologically though, this is no surprise for a couple of reasons. First, we usually underestimate depravity to our hurt. And the mob is worked up by the proud and jealous Sanhedrin to support their wicked plan. In this crowd, sinful humanity is exponentially compounded with increased depravity. And no good will come of it. The pull of the intense gravity of sin cannot be escaped. Secondly, the inevitability that Jesus would be crucified instead of Barabbas is a powerful first picture of substitutionary atonement. Jesus took the place of a murderous rebel on the cross... and in that way literally showed us what He was dying for. Jesus would die for the worst of sins and in the place of condemned people the Lord of heaven would give His life. The pain He suffered, the death He died, the immensity of the Father's wrath would all fall on very real sins that Jesus bore on that cross for all sinners. By dying instead of Barabbas, Jesus died for my sins, instead of me paying the debt and suffering the punishment. The love and mercy is profoundly real in the delivering death of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.