Updated: Aug 5, 2021
We take a look at the Christian tradition of Good Friday. What is it, and why is it celebrated?
There are enormous chocolate eggs, fluffy yellow chicks, and frankly alarming rabbits in the shops: it must be Easter. But two days before Easter, there’s a bank holiday on the day called Good Friday. What is this day, and why is it so important that people get a day off work and school?
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is when Christians remember the day that Jesus died. There are normally all kinds of services going on in churches around the world, including children’s craft activities and story-telling, quiet services of contemplation and prayer, and passion plays – commemorative re-enactments of the last few hours of Jesus’ life.
What happened on Good Friday?
On the first Good Friday, in around 30 C.E., Jesus was executed by the rulers and priests for being a rabble-rouser and a blasphemer. He’d gained a large following over the three years of his ministry, and some people called him a prophet, a king, and even the Son of God.
Jesus’ disciples, and Christians today, believe that those claims are true, and that Jesus really is God’s son and the Saviour of the world. But to the religious leaders at the time, these claims were deeply heretical, dangerous, and deserving of death.
After interrogating, torturing, and sentencing him to death, the religious leaders took Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, as they needed his approval for a death sentence. They accused him of subverting the law and setting himself up as a king to rival King Herod. Pilate tried at first to release him, excusing himself from being involved in petty religious squabbles, but in the end caved to the huge, baying mob, and agreed to have Jesus crucified.
Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to the top of the hill called ‘The Place of the Skull’ – ‘Golgotha’ in Aramaic; ‘Calvary’ in Latin. As Jesus hung on the cross, the sky went dark, and he called out to God ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Jesus eventually died, and as he did the earth shook and the enormous curtain in the Temple ripped in two. His body was taken down from the cross, laid in the tomb of one of his followers, and his friends and followers went away – it was nearly the Sabbath, when no work could be done, so they would have to wait until the Sunday to perfume and wrap his body.
Why is Good Friday ‘Good’?
Torture, mob justice, and bloody execution – none of this sounds very good at all. So why do Christians call it ‘Good Friday’? There are different theories about how the term originated – some believe it was originally called ‘God’s Friday’, and the term corrupted over the years. But regardless of the origin, today’s term ‘Good Friday’ is seen as entirely appropriate to Christians because of why it happened, and because of what happens next.
Christians don’t believe that Jesus’ important work was cruelly cut short by the religious leaders; rather they believe that it was all part of God’s plan to save people from death. In a nutshell, it’s the belief that humans were designed to be perfect and godly, but because sin is tempting and we are weak, we messed up and turned away from God. So, we could either be separated from God forever, or he could do something to fix it. So God sent his own Son, fully human and fully God, to earth to live as a human, to suffer and to die as a sacrifice. He took the full force of God’s anger, disappointment and pain, so that we don’t have to.
Christians believe that when Jesus called out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, it’s because he was experiencing the agonising separation from God to shield us from it. And the curtain in the Temple was the curtain separating the Holy of Holies, where the Jewish people believed God lived, from the rest of the city: when it tore, it broke the borders separating us from God. Good Friday is good because of how horrible it was – Jesus voluntarily went through all that pain and humiliation, to save every person who’s ever lived from having to do it themselves, and to bring us back into a close relationship with God.
What happens next?
Next is Easter Sunday! Which is great because of chocolate, but also for some more significant religious reasons. Christians believe that on the Sunday after Good Friday, when Jesus’ friends went to look after his body, it wasn’t there. He was resurrected – he’d come back to life! In dying and then rising again, Christians believe that Jesus has defeated the ultimate enemy: Death. It’s why Christians have hope in an afterlife in heaven, because they believe that death has been defeated, their sin has been wiped away, and they are free to spend eternity in paradise. Sounds to me like a pretty great reason for calling that Friday ‘Good’!
How do I learn more about Good Friday?
The Bible is the place to find out more about the Christian view of God, Jesus, and what it all means in a wider context. It’s split up into different books, and the four books called Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are the ones which contain day-to-day accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. If you want to dig deeper, for homework, revision, or just because you’re curious, then your local church will always be happy to answer any questions. Easter is a great time to pop along, with all sorts of different events teaching, remembering, and celebrating the most important stories of the Christian faith.
Blog Post Crafted by Rebecca
Background: Rebecca is one of our most popular tutors, with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge and hundreds of hours of private tuition experience in 7+, 11+, English and Maths. She is also an assessor for Titanium Tutors, observing the mock lessons taught by potential tutors and deciding whether or not they meet the high standards of the agency.