Following the Ascension of Jesus, the apostle Judas “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).
Peter needed a replacement for the apostleship. Someone else had to take up Judas’ share of the ministry and his position as overseer. In Jerusalem, speaking to a crowd of about 120 believers, Peter explains the main qualification for the job:
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”Acts 1:21-22
There are only two candidates among the believers, only two men who were present during Jesus’ life: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus; and Matthias.
Joseph and Matthias, the alternate jurors to the original 12 apostles.
Lots are drawn, Matthias is selected. The random outcome divinely ordained, Matthias becomes overseer and takes Judas’ share of the ministry.
What happened to the loser?
Who is this Joseph “Justus” Barsabbas?
Barsabbas means “son of Sabbas.” Was Joseph’s father’s name Sabbas? Or is “Sabbas” a cognate of “Sabbath”?
Or is “Barsabbas” a play on Barabbas? Recall Pilate’s choice between two men named Jesus: “Who do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matt. 27:17)
Barabbas, not chosen for crucifixion.
Barsabbas, not chosen as an apostle.
There’s another Barsabbas.
The church apostles and elders send, with a letter of introduction, a delegation to Antioch consisting of Paul, Barnabas, Judas (called Barsabbas), and Silas.
Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas spend some time with the believers in Antioch, and then “they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them” (15:33). At this point, it seems that Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas are going back to Jerusalem.
From Antioch, Paul and Barnabas decide to revisit the cities in which they had already preached (15:36). But Paul and Barnabas disagree over whether to take with them John called Mark (15:37-38). They go their separate ways.
Barnabas and John (called Mark) go to Cyprus. Meanwhile, Paul goes to Syria and Cilicia with Silas, who it appears hadn’t left the city after all. A footnote in the NSRV shows how ancient authorities solved the problem of the reappearance of Silas by adding to 15:34: “But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.”
But what happened to Judas called Barsabbas? He was last seen with Silas in Antioch. Is he back in Jerusalem? Is he still in Antioch? Did he walk the earth for hundreds or thousands of years? Who knows? And why do I care?
Joseph called Barsabbas: He’s been around since John the Baptist was baptized. He follows Jesus for the entire ride and sticks around even after the crucifixion. He gets a shot at a leadership position, and then what? He loses a coin flip and falls into obscurity.
Judas called Barsabbas: People like the guy, so they send him on the road with the chief. After the first stop on the tour, by all accounts a success, he disappears from the face of the earth.
Barsabbas: Patron saint of the alternate juror, the honorable mention, the footnote to history, the ghostwriter.
Edited version of August 2015 essay.