As the movie began Barabbas had been imprisoned by the Romans and was due to be executed. However Pontius Pilate had decided that since it was Passover he was going to follow local custom and release a prisoner. He asked the crowd whether to release Barabbas or the young preacher named Jesus Christ. The crowd chose Barabbas and the man was set free. Pilate predicted Barabbas would not be able to stay out of trouble and would be arrested again before too long.
Returning to the tavern where he and his friends passed their days, Barabbas asked where his lover Rachel was. He was informed that she was a follower of Christ now, and was not there. Barabbas and one of the young ladies there went off the sleep together. After making love to the woman Barabbas and the young lady slept. Barabbas was awakened in time to see the sky becoming black as night at the moment of the crucifixion of Christ. A short time later Rachel returned but was not overjoyed to see him.
On the third day Barabbas found Rachel at the tomb where Christ had been buried. Christ's body was gone. Barabbas was convinced that someone had taken the body and hidden it somewhere. He went to the disciples and found them oddly accepting of the death of Christ, and that they had no idea where he had gone. Barabbas met a fisherman named Peter who took him to meet Lazarus, a man who Christ had one time brought back from the dead.
Meanwhile Rachel was continuing to spread the message of Jesus Christ. She was set upon by the same religious authorities who had Christ killed, and was stoned to death by them. When Barabbas encountered the priests who had killed his former lover he threw rocks at them, and was arrested by the Romans again.
Pilate found that according to the law since Barabbas had been pardoned once he could not be put to death again. Pilate sentenced Barabbas to be taken to the island of Sicily and put to work in the sulfur mines there.
For the next twenty years Barabbas lived a hellish existence in the mines, being sent to the lowest levels of the mines. He was soon paired with a former sailor named Sahak who had been sent to the mines in punishment after slaves escaped on his watch. At first Sahak hated Barabbas for squandering the gift he was given when he was spared, however the two became friends. Sahak weakened to the point where the Romans were about to kill him, but it was then the mines collapsed in a massive earthquake.
Barabbas and Sahak were the only two survivors of the disaster. After recovering the two were sent to work in the fields, which they both found much more agreeable. Upon learning of how lucky Barabbas and Sahak were the prefect's wife Julia insisted on them being taken along when the prefect was recalled to the capital. While there they were both trained as gladiators under the watchful eye of Torvald.
After a series of games Torvald overheard Sahak sharing his Christian faith with other gladiators. Sahak was condemnned to death as a traitor. Barabbas soon took revenge on his friend and killed Torvald during the next gladiatorial games. Impressed by him the Roman Emperor Nero gave Barabbas his freedom.
The first thing Barabbas did was to locate the body of his friend Sahak. He took the body to the catacombs where the Christians were worshipping. The Christians accepted the body of their friend to give Sahak a proper burial but were less than please that Barabbas did not stand with his friend during his trial. Barabbas became separated from the Christians and lost in the catacombs.
Barabbas emerged to find the city of Rome on fire. Thinking that this was the coming of the Kingdom of God that Rachel and Sahak had mentioned Barabbas worked to spread the fire. He was quickly taken prisoner by Roman soldiers and thrown into a dungeon with a number of other Christians. There he met Peter again, and was informed that the fire had been the work of Nero himself - that the Christians were being used as scapegoats by Nero and the other Romans.
In the persecutions that followed the fire Barabbas was crucified with a large number of other Christians. Placing his faith in the man who had been crucified in his place many years earlier, Barabbas finally died.
Barabbas was played by Anthony Quinn, who later went on to play Kiril Lakota in the 1968 movie The Shoes of the Fisherman.