What Is Good Friday?

What Do Christians Celebrate on Good Friday?

Jesus Christ on cross
On Good Friday Jesus was crucified. Pat LaCroix / Getty Images

Good Friday is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday. On this day Christians commemorate the passion, or suffering, and death on the cross of Jesus Christ. Many Christians spend Good Friday in fasting, prayer, repentance, and meditation on the agony and suffering of Christ.

Bible References to Good Friday

The biblical account of Jesus' death on the cross, or crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection, or raising from the dead, can be found in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 27:27-28:8; Mark 15:16-16:19; Luke 23:26-24:35; and John 19:16-20:30.

What Happened on Good Friday?

On Good Friday, Christians focus on the day of Jesus Christ's death. The night before he died, Jesus and his disciples took part in the Last Supper and then went to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the garden, Jesus spent his last hours of freedom praying to the Father while his disciples slept nearby:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."  (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

"This cup" or "death by crucifixion" was not only one of the most disgraceful forms of death but also one of the most dreaded and painful methods of execution in the ancient world. But "this cup" represented something even worse than crucifixion. Christ knew in death he would take on the sins of the world—even the most heinous crimes ever committed—to set believers free from sin and death.

This was the agony our Lord faced and humbly submitted to for you and me:

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44, NLT)

Before morning dawned, Jesus was arrested. At daybreak, he was questioned by the Sanhedrin and condemned.

But before they could put him to death, the religious leaders first needed Rome to approve of their death sentence. Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea. Pilate found no reason to charge Jesus. When he discovered that Jesus was from Galilee, which was under Herod's jurisdiction, Pilate had Jesus sent to Herod who was in Jerusalem at the time.

Jesus refused to answer Herod's questions, so Herod sent him back to Pilate. Although Pilate found him innocent, he feared the crowds who wanted Jesus crucified, so he sentenced Jesus to death.

Jesus was brutally beaten, mocked, struck on the head with a staff and spit on. A crown of thorns was placed on his head and he was stripped naked. He was made to carry his own cross, but when he grew too weak, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry it for him.

Jesus was led to Calvary and where soldiers drove stake-like nails through his wrists and ankles, fixing him to the cross. An inscription was placed over his head that read, "The King of the Jews." Jesus hung on the cross for approximately six hours until he took his final breath. While he was on the cross, soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothing. Onlookers shouted insults and jeered.

Two criminals were crucified at the same time. One hung on Jesus' right and the other on his left:

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NLT)

At one point, Jesus cried out to his father, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Then darkness blanketed the land. As Jesus gave up his spirit, an earthquake shook the ground and caused the temple curtain to rip in half from top to bottom.

The Gospel of Matthew's reports:

At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51-53, NLT)

It was customary for Roman soldiers to break the criminal's legs, causing death to come more quickly. But only the thieves had their legs broken. When the soldiers came to Jesus, he was already dead.

As evening fell, Joseph of Arimathea (with the help of Nicodemus) took Jesus' body down from the cross and had him placed in his own new tomb. A great stone was rolled over the entrance, sealing the tomb. 

Why Is Good Friday Good?

God is holy and his holiness is incompatible with sin. Humans are sinful and our sin separates us from God. The punishment for sin is eternal death. But human death and animal sacrifices are insufficient to atone for sin. Atonement requires a perfect, spotless sacrifice, offered in just the right way.

Jesus Christ was the one and only perfect God-man. His death provided the perfect atoning sacrifice for sin. Only through him can our sins be forgiven. When we accept Jesus Christ's payment for sin, he washes away our sin and restores our right standing with God. God's mercy and grace make salvation possible and we receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

This is why Good Friday is good.