You probably know that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. What you may not know was that Good Friday was one of the busiest days in Jesus’s life. As far as I can tell, no other day in the Bible receives more attention.
To help you appreciate this, I have drafted a timeline of the key events of the first Good Friday (below). There was a little bit of guesswork involved in this, but you can check my timeline against the scriptures.
Some points to note before we start:
- Good Friday was the preparation day that precedes the Sabbath, and the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday (Luke 23:54). Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath (on Friday morning; the first day) and raised after the day after Sabbath (Luke 24:1) early on Sunday morning (the third day; see Luke 24:46).
- In scripture, there are reckoned to be about twelve hours of daylight (John 11:9). So when the gospel writers refer to the third hour or the sixth hour of the day, they mean the third or sixth hour after sunrise.
- Since people in biblical times didn’t wear watches, it is more safer to interpret “the third hour” as mid-morning rather than a specific time such as 9am. This explains the apparent contradiction when Mark says Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), while John says Pilate sentenced Jesus in “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14). We don’t know exactly when Jesus was crucified, but it was around mid- to late morning.
- At Easter, the sun rises in Jerusalem at around 6:30am and sets at 7pm. This means everything that needed to be done – from the trial to the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus – had to be completed before the commencement of the Sabbath at around 7pm. We can fiddle with the timing of the events, but sunset provides us with a hard deadline.
Got all that? Good. We are now ready to see what happened on that first Good Friday. As you go about your day this Friday, scan the timeline to find out what Jesus was doing at different times during the day.
What happened on Good Friday?
12am: In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is betrayed with a kiss from Judas (Mark 14:44). He is arrested by a crowd of 500 armed men and officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees (Matt. 26:47, John 18:3). When Jesus identifies himself to the mob, they fall down under the power of God (John 18:6-7). Peter strikes a servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear (John 18:10-11). Jesus rebukes Peter and heals the injured servant (Luke 22:51). As the soldiers seize Jesus and bind him, his disciples desert him and flee (Mark 14:50).
1:00: Jesus is taken to Annas, a former high priest (John 18:13). Annas questions Jesus then sends him, still bound, to Caiaphas, his son in law and the current high priest (John 18:19-24).
3:00: At the house of Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of 70 men) has assembled (Matt. 26:57, Luke 22:54). Jesus is made to endure a sham trial (Matt. 26:59, Mark 14:55). Many false witnesses make accusations, but their lies are transparent and Jesus says nothing. Finally, Caiaphas says, “I command you to tell us if you are the Son of God.” Jesus breaks his silence. “You have said so. But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God” (Luke 22:69). This is enough for Caiaphas. Tearing his robe, he accuses Jesus of blasphemy and convinces the Sanhedrin to condemn him to death (Matt. 26:65). The guards blindfold Jesus, spit on him and beat him (Matt. 26:67, Mark 14:65, Luke 22:63-65).
5:00: Outside in the courtyard, Peter is recognized by several people as a follower of Jesus. Three times Peter denies knowing Christ (Matt 26:69-74).
6:00: Lacking the authority to put Jesus to death on a cross, the Sanhedrin set out to enlist the aid of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate (John 18:31). As Jesus is led away, he looks directly at Peter in the courtyard. Peter flees, weeping bitterly (Luke 22:61-62). Judas too, having learned that Jesus has been condemned to die, is filled with remorse. He tries to return the money he was paid then hangs himself (Matt. 27:3-5).
6:30: The chief priests take Jesus to the governor’s residence (Matt 27:2, Mark 15:1). Since the Jews refuse to enter the Praetorium, Pilate comes out to meet them (John 18:28). Pilate asks the Jews, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” The Jews make a number of vague accusations. “He’s a criminal, obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t be here” (John 18:30).
6:45: Pilate takes Jesus inside and questions him privately. “Are you king of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3, John 18:33). Jesus replies, “If you say so” (Mark 15:2). Pilate repeats the trumped up charges of the Jews and asks, “How do you defend yourself?” Jesus says nothing (Mark 15:5). Pilate is stumped. He has been given no evidence to condemn Jesus. After learning that Jesus is a Galilean, Pilate sends him to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, who happens to be in Jerusalem for Passover (Luke 23:6-7).
7:30: Herod has heard about Jesus and is pleased to meet him in person. Herod hopes to see Jesus perform a miracle (Luke 23:8). Herod questions him at length, but Jesus says nothing in reply (Luke 23:9-10). The chief priests and law teachers vehemently accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. Herod mocks Jesus. He dresses him in an elegant robe and sends him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11).
8:30: Pilate tells the chief priests and the rulers, that neither he nor Herod have found any evidence for the charges they have made against Jesus. “I find no fault in him at all” (John 18:38). The governor says he will punish Jesus then release him in accordance with the Passover custom (Luke 23:13-16, John 18:39). Stirred up by the chief priests and the elders, the mob shouts for the release of a notorious criminal called Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-21). Pilate receives a message from his wife: “Have nothing to do with this innocent man” (Matt 27:19). She is the only woman to speak at Jesus’ trial. Pilate tries three times to release Jesus, but the mob is insistent (Luke 23:22).
9:00: Fearing a riot in a city packed with pilgrims, Pilate releases Barabbas and sends Jesus to the Praetorium to have him scourged (Matt 27:27, Mark 15:16, John 19:1). The soldiers twist a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus’ head. Pilate presents the bloodied Jesus to the crowd saying, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). The chief priests and the rulers whip the crowd into a frenzy. “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6). “Why? What crime has he committed?” says Pilate. But the mob shouted all the louder. “Crucify him!” (Matt. 27:3-24). Again, Pilate refuses and retreats into his residence to question Jesus further (John 19:9). But the Jews at his door will not go away. “If you release this man who claims to be a king, you are no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).
10:00: Pilate brings Jesus outside and sits in the judgment seat (John 19:13). “Shall I crucify your king?” he asks. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests reply. When Pilate sees he is getting nowhere, he washes his hands in front of the crowd saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” The Jews reply, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:24-25). Finally, Pilate condemns Jesus to death (Luke 23:24).
10:15: Events move swiftly. The soldiers take charge of Jesus and lead him to Golgotha (Matt 27:33). Jesus carries his cross at least part of the way (Luke 23:26, John 19:17).
11:00: Jesus is stripped of his garments and is crucified between two thieves. On the cross Jesus prays, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Pilate has a notice of the charge fastened to the cross that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (Matt 27:35-38, John 19:18-19). The religious leaders and passersby mock and jeer Jesus (Matt. 27:39-44).
12pm: From about the sixth hour to the ninth hour, darkness blankets the land (Matt 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44).
3:00: Realizing that his mission is complete, Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). Then he calls out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and breathes his last (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 23:46). At that moment, the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom, the earth shakes, and rocks split. Tombs open and many resurrected saints enter the city where they are seen by many people (Matt. 27:51-53). Roman soldiers guarding Jesus are terrified and exclaim, “Surely he was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54). Meanwhile, many women followers of Jesus stand watching at a distance (Matt 27:55-56, Luke 23:49).
4:00: Not wanting bodies to be left hanging on crosses over the Sabbath, the religious leaders ask Pilate to have them taken down (John 19:31). To hasten the deaths of the two thieves, the soldiers break their legs, but Jesus is found to be already dead (John 19:33). A soldier pierces Jesus’ side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34).
4:30: Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Jesus, petitions Pilate for the body of Jesus (Matt 27:57-58, Mark 15:42-43, Luke 23:52).
5:00: With the Sabbath approaching, Joseph hastily wraps the body of Jesus in linen cloth and lays it in a nearby tomb (Luke 23:54, John 19:40-42). The women disciples follow Joseph, then return home to prepare spices and perfumes. They plan to return to the tomb after the Sabbath on Sunday morning (Luke 23:55-56, 24:1).
7:00: As the sun sets, the day ends and the Sabbath begins. The chief priests congratulate themselves for eliminating the “threat” of Jesus, while Pilate in the Praetorium is pleased that law and order have been restored in time for Passover. In a locked room, fearful disciples mourn the loss of their Lord and the death of their dreams. For the second time, darkness falls on the city. But among the few who have eyes to see it, there is a growing sense that all is not lost, and that this evil day may yet turn out to be good. Though they can’t explain it, in their heart of hearts they feel that everything has changed and for the better.
Reflections on Good Friday
I have celebrated Easter my whole life. From an early age I heard about the parallels between Christ’s crucifixion and the annual sacrifice of Passover lambs. I didn’t think there was anything more I could learn about Good Friday. I was wrong.
Before now, I did not fully appreciate how desperate the chief priests and religious leaders were to kill Jesus quickly and quietly. The midnight trial done outside their normal precinct smacks of cunning and illegality.
Nor did I appreciate how hard Pilate tried to release Jesus. It seems to me he was thoroughly ambushed by the powers of darkness and when the pressure came he wilted. Jesus seemed to sympathize with the man.
I was also amazed by Joseph of Arimathea, Christ’s secret disciple on the Sanhedrin. This man did not consent to their trial (Luke 23:51), which suggests he was not there. (Caiaphas and his cronies had good reasons for holding the trial in the middle of the night. They were wary of men like Joseph and Nicodemus.) But when Joseph found out what had happened, he acted. He boldly went to the Roman governor to ask for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43).
But the biggest insight I took from this is that the events of Good Friday seem to have been choreographed to the nth degree, like a Shakespearian play but faster. One minute Jesus is in the house of the high priest, then he’s at the governor’s residence. Next he’s off to see Herod, and then he’s with the soldiers in the Praetorium.
It’s like watching high-speed chess.
I don’t believe there was nothing accidental about this. Can you sense the Holy Spirit operating behind the scenes?
What the devil meant for evil, the Holy Spirit turned for good. He was the One positioning Jesus where he needed to be at different times of the day. Prophecies had to be fulfilled. Passover parallels had to be made. So Jesus is taken here and there and says this and that because God was telling a story that had been told before and would be told again for thousands of years.
Good Friday is about so much more than a trumped-up trial and a unjustified execution. It’s the climax of God’s long-awaited rescue plan. It was signaled in the garden, foreshadowed in Moses, Joseph, and the prophets, and gloriously fulfilled on this Great and Holy Friday.
At least that’s what I got out of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts too. What comes to your mind when you consider the events of Good Friday?
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Image: Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri (1821-1881)