A Very Good Friday

Reading Time: 4 mins

The death and resurrection did indeed really happen. They are accomplished historical facts, and by them, so too is the forgiveness of our sins and justification before God.

Jesus died nearly 2000 years ago. The historical source material for his life is not entirely clear on the year, but the evidence strongly favors April 3rd (Nisan 14 in the Jewish lunisolar calendar) of AD 33. It all happened when Tiberius Caesar was emperor of Rome. Pontius Pilate was prefect over Judea. Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee. And Joseph Caiaphas was high priest in Jerusalem. 

The events leading to his death are well-known. He was arrested late Thursday night or very early on Friday morning while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Almost immediately, he was brought before the high priest Annas and, more officially, Caiaphas, his son-in-law, for a brief trial. Finally, after several flimsy accusations in what seems like a kangaroo court, Jesus himself gave the evidence needed to convict him of a theological crime when he affirmed that he was the “Christ, the son of God” (Matt 26:63-64). With that, he was found guilty of blasphemy.  

Judea, the region in which Jerusalem was located, was administered by the Romans, and the conviction of blasphemy by a Jewish court would have carried little weight for the charge of a capital crime. So, the Jews altered the charges, and Jesus was brought before Pilate, accused of political crimes. “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar,” claimed the Jewish officials, “and saying that he himself is Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2).

Pilate’s initial interrogation found Jesus blameless. He sensed, however, that the Jewish leaders wanted a conviction. They, after all, had been trying to find a way to kill him (Matt 6:4). So, upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, he tried to pawn him off to Herod Antipas—the man who had Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist beheaded just a few years earlier. But Herod found him innocent of any crime as well. And back to Pilate, Jesus went. 

Pilate made one last attempt to do the right thing. He called Caiaphas and the Jewish leadership together and announced: “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you…I do not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving of death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23: 14-16). 

But the crowd would hear none of it. They pleaded for the release of Barabbas instead and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate caved. Preparations for his crucifixion began in earnest, including flagellation and the placing of a crown of thorns upon Jesus’ head. As was customary, he was then made to carry a crossbeam to Golgotha, but he was too weak after a night without sleep and repeated abuse and torture. So, a man from North Africa named Simon the Cyrene was enlisted to help. As they walked, Luke tells us that a “great multitude” of Jews (probably those who greeted him with shouts of hosanna earlier that week) followed along, “mourning and lamenting” what was about to happen (Luke 23:27). 

By 9 a.m. on Friday morning, his arms and legs were nailed to the cross. He was hoisted up next to two other criminals where, over the course of about six hours, he spoke very little (just seven times, according to the Gospels), and by 3 p.m., he was dead. 

What we call Good Friday—was anything but good from a historical perspective.

The sun would soon set. So, the Jewish leaders asked for his body to be taken down and buried. Pilate complied. Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb. The tomb was sealed shut, and guards were posted at its entrance to prevent anyone from stealing the body. And the next day—the sabbath—officially began. 

What happened the day before—what we call Good Friday—was anything but good from a historical perspective. It was filled with obvious and outright injustices. Behind it all, however, was the work of God’s justice, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). It is natural and perhaps even reasonable to look at the events that took place so long ago with grief and even anger. It is important to remember, though, that it wasn’t really the feckless leadership of Pontius Pilate or the vindictive plotting of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem that ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion. They didn’t really know what they were doing, Jesus said (Luke 23:34). It was “God,” Paul Maier poignantly puts it, “who was ultimately responsible.” 

He had planned it from the beginning, ever since he first promised to undo the work of Satan (Gen. 3:15). That promise was reiterated “many times and in many ways…by the prophets.” In the days of Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Joseph Caiaphas, he spoke “by his son” (Heb. 1:1-2). The promise of God would finally manifest itself as a sacrifice, and because it was a promise, it was necessary. The “Son of Man,” as Jesus put it, “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed” (Luke 9:22). “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead,” proclaimed Paul (Acts 17:3). Why? For our trespasses and sins (Rom. 4:25). This is why Jesus went to—and it is what he paid for on—the cross. That part of his promised redemptive work was finished there on Golgotha (John 19:30). 

There is more, though. Jesus also said that the “Son of Man” must “on the third day be raised.” And though the liturgical calendar would have us wait (and it is good for us to wait), on the third day, he did. He was (and, even as we now wait, will be) “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). From this perspective, we can call that Friday in AD 33 good, for without it we would all be lost, dead in our trespasses and sins. The death and resurrection did indeed really happen. They are accomplished historical facts, and by them, so too is the forgiveness of our sins and justification before God. Today, just as it was nearly 2000 years ago, is a good Friday. Indeed, it is a very good Friday, for you and I are forgiven and free on account of the work of Christ and him alone.