What Happened to Jesus on Good Friday?

What Happened to Jesus on Good Friday?

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The events of Good Friday are of the greatest consequence for history. The day restored the identity of creation from victim of Adam’s sin to that of promised restoration. It changed the trajectory of human eternity as well as marked the civilizational turn toward sanctified virtues that were grounded in Christ’s kingdom and his character. What made this possible? What happened to Jesus on Good Friday? In Christ Jesus, God was offering his best gift to humankind even as humankind did its worst to him. What happened on Good Friday serves as a kind of consolation to our question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Thursday Night: The Last Supper, Garden of Gethsemane

The Thursday before Good Friday, Jesus shared a dinner known as the Last Supper with his closest disciples (Matthew 26:20-30; Mark 14:17-26; Luke 22:14-38; John 13:21-30). The bread he broke and the wine he drank foreshadowed the way his body and blood would be offered as a sacrifice of atonement in the near future. He renewed his commitment to the divine kingdom program of offering himself up for the sake of the world that night as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the same place where he was betrayed by one of his followers, Judas Iscariot, and turned over to his religious and political opponents (Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-52; Luke 22:39-53; John 18:1-11). Finally, Jesus was condemned by the religious leaders in a covert trial at night (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71).

Friday: His Trial, Crucifixion, and Consequential Events

On Friday he stood trial by the Roman authorities, overseen by Pontius Pilate, who though he found no guilt in him, condemned him due to the pressure of the crowds and Jewish religious authorities (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:23-24; John 19:16). By the third hour, or 9 in the morning according to modern timekeeping, he was crucified—a most cruel Roman means of execution (Mark 15: 25). He was placed between common criminals, further identifying him with our sinful plight, and even became sin, so that we might become God’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). By the afternoon, Jesus had finished his atoning work and entrusted his spirit to God the Father (Luke 23:46; John 19:30a).

The Gospel of Matthew reports that an earthquake shook the land and the veil in the Temple which divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the space was torn from top to bottom. Jesus thus renewed humanity’s access to God, and his presence was no longer mediated by the Temple institution (Matthew 27:51-52; Acts 17:24). Reports came through of the tombs becoming opened, offering a foretaste of the resurrected life that Jesus would experience along with all of the saints (Romans 8:22-24; Philippians 3:20-21).

Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday

The phrase “He descended to the dead” from the Apostles’ Creed, or, in some versions, “He descended into hell” has troubled some modern Christians who have not taken time to study the history or meaning of this phrase. The phrase, “He descended to the dead” refers to the period between the death of Christ and His resurrection. The early Church did not understand the death of Christ on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday as two separate events (as they are often understood and thought of by modern Christians). Rather, they understood the entire drama to unfold as one continuous event.

The biblical understanding of salvation highlights that redemptive events unfolded throughout the time subsequent to His death, culminating in his resurrection on Sunday morning. There in the place of the dead, Jesus preached the gospel. 1 Peter 3:18–20 describes this descent and proclamation by Jesus Christ on Holy Saturday following his death.

Jesus’s descent to the dead expresses the full victory of Jesus Christ over Satan and all the principalities and powers of evil. This is known in Christian tradition as the harrowing of hell. Satan thought that the crucifixion of Jesus was his greatest victory over God and His redemptive plan. But at the moment of Jesus’ death and the descent to the dead, Satan first realizes that the death of Jesus was actually God’s plan. In Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul describes this when he declares that at the death of Jesus, he “disarmed the powers and authorities” and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (2:15)

On the Sunday following his crucifixion, according to multiple eyewitness accounts, Jesus was physically raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-9). He appeared to hundreds of people, taught his disciples, and commissioned them to share this good news with the whole world.

If you would like to go deeper and learn how to become a follower of Jesus, consider our resource How to Follow Jesus by Craig Springer.