But the date, which this year falls on April 15, is perhaps the most significant day in terms of the story that has led Christians to celebrate Easter – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
It’s a harrowing story, and one that has caused major religious divisions across the world for thousands of years.
Ultimately, though, Christians celebrate Jesus being put to death because they believe that he was God’s son, and that he died for our sins.
Here’s the full story of what happened on what is known as Good Friday.
According to the Bible, on the evening before Good Friday (Maundy Thursday), Jesus told his disciples to expect his death during what’s known as the Last Supper.
He also told them that from then on, if they ate bread and drank wine they would be eating his body and drinking his blood. This is now known by some Christians as Holy Communion.
Later, one of his disciples Judas Iscariot betrayed him and this helped the royal soldiers find Jesus in Gethsemane.
Judas was given 30 silver coins for his betrayal, and he did so by kissing Jesus, pointing out to the spies nearby who they were to arrest.
The fact that Jesus has performed miracles and claimed to be the son of God had brought him into contention with religious leaders, and now he was going to be punished.
After being arrested, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of a high priest, Caiaphas, and was interrogated.
He was then sent, bound, to Caiaphas himself, where the Sanhedrin (a group of rabbis acting as a tribunal) had assembled to question him.
Jesus remained silent at first, but when finally asked if he was the son of God, he responded: ‘You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven.’
Meanwhile in the courtyard, Jesus’ disciple Peter denied he was the son of God to bystanders three times, just as his leader had predicted.
Ultimately Jesus’s statement meant that Caiaphas charged him with blasphemy, and that the Sanhedrin gave him the sentence of death.
On Friday morning he was taken to Roman governor Pontius Pilate, under the three charges of ‘subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and making himself a king’.
Pilate told the Jewish authorities to sentence him according to their laws, but they responded that by Roman law they could not sentence him to death.
What followed was a back and forth between Pilate and King Herod of Galilee, neither of whom thought Jesus should be sentenced to death, but merely whipped and released.
However, at the time there was a Passover custom that required Pilate to ask the gathered crowd to decide which prisoner out of two was to be released from custody.
When this happened, the crowd – under the guidance of the chief priests – asked for Barabbas, an insurrectionary who had been imprisoned for committing murder, to be released.
Pilate asked what they would have him do with Jesus, and they demanded: ‘Crucify him’. In addition, Pilate’s wife had seen Jesus in a dream earlier that day, and she forewarned Pilate to ‘have nothing to do with this righteous man’.
The governor had Jesus flogged and then brought him out to the crowd to release him. Then the chief priests informed Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death ‘because he claimed to be God’s son’.
At hearing this, Pilate was filled with fear, and he brought Jesus back inside the palace, demanding to know from where he came.
After hearing Jesus’ words, Pilate declared him innocent and washed his own hands in water before the crowds to show he had no part in this condemnation. This is where the phrase ‘wash my hands of this’ comes from.
Despite this action, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to stop a riot and ultimately to keep his job. A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head, then he was whipped and bound to a wooden cross.
Jesus then had to carry his cross to the site of execution (assisted by Simon of Cyrene). There, he was crucified along with two criminals. Crucifixion was a common punishment of the day.
He was alive on the cross for six hours and for the last three, darkness is said to have fallen across the land.
In religious paintings, Mary Magdelene (a follower of Jesus), Mary of Nazareth (Jesus’ mother) and Mary the wife of Clopas (Jesus’ aunt) are often depicted sitting at the foot of the cross crying over Jesus’ fate.
Jesus, despairing, asked: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, and before his death he cried: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!’.
Two Jewish members of the Sanhedrin, who had been secret followers of Jesus, then made arrangements to take Jesus’ body, embalm it in spices and wrap it for burial.
A soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance causing blood and water to flow out, and the centurion informed Pilate that Jesus was dead.
Jesus’ body was wrapped in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been carved in the rock in a garden near the site of crucifixion. Myrrh and aloes were placed in the linen with the body, in keeping with Jewish burial customs.
The two Jews rolled a large rock over the entrance of the tomb. Then they returned home and rested, because Shabbat had begun at sunset.
Jesus is said to have risen from the tomb on Sunday, which is the day which Christians celebrate his resurrection.
Good Friday – the Crucifixion of Jesus
After Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the mob took Jesus to the house of Caiaphas [KY uh fuhs], the high priest. Peter had vowed he would never desert Jesus. But Jesus said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” All of Jesus’ disciples ran away in fear when Jesus was arrested. But Peter followed at a distance and came to the courtyard of the high priest. Three different people recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples, but Peter strongly denied it each time. Then a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said. He felt very ashamed and began to cry.
The high priest, all the chief priests, the elders and the scribes were waiting at the high priest’s house. This was an informal late-night meeting of the Sanhedrin [SAN hee drun], the Jewish ruling council. They had come together to put Jesus on trial, but it was not to be a fair trial. The religious leaders were looking for evidence that would justify putting Jesus to death, but they could not find any. They called many witnesses against Jesus, but the witnesses did not agree with each other.
Finally, the high priest demanded of Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God’s right hand and coming back on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest said, “You have just heard His blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? What is your verdict?” They all shouted, “He deserves death!” Then they spat in Jesus’ face and started beating Him.
Jesus Is Tried by Pilate
The religious leaders take Jesus to Pilate and accuse Him falsely.
In their mock trial, the religious leaders had agreed that Jesus should be put to death. But they did not have authority to put anyone to death under Roman law. So, as soon as morning came, they took Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate [PON chus PIE lat]. They falsely accused Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire for claiming to be the king of the Jews and for urging people not to pay their taxes.
Pilate saw that Jesus was not really guilty of anything and wanted to let Him go. But Pilate did not want trouble with the religious leaders. He asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would have fought to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is from another place.”
It was the governor’s custom to release one prisoner at the Passover Feast – anyone the people wanted released. The Jewish leaders knew this and had persuaded the crowd of people gathered around Pilate’s house to call for the release of a criminal named Barabbas [buh RAB bas] and to demand that Jesus be crucified.
Pilate asked the crowd of people, “Which do you want me to release, Barabbas or Jesus?” The crowd yelled for Barabbas to be released. Pilate asked, “Then what should I do with Jesus?”, and the crowd yelled “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” So Pilate ordered the Roman soldiers to crucify Jesus.
Jesus Is Crucified
Jesus is crucified.
Crucifixion was a cruel form of death reserved for criminals and slaves. First, Jesus was beaten by Roman soldiers. Then he was made to carry His cross to the place of execution. Jesus must have been too weak from the beating to carry His cross all the way; the soldiers forced a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry it the rest of the way.
The cross was placed between two other men who were being crucified that day. The soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross and left Him to die. They put a sign on the cross to mock Jesus that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
About noon, strange things begin to happen. Darkness came over the land for three hours. Then Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and then He died. The curtain of the temple was mysteriously torn in two, and there was a great earthquake.
It was Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath would start at sundown. It was also a very special Sabbath because it was Passover. The Jewish leaders wanted all the bodies buried before the Sabbath started because they were not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath.
One of Jesus’ followers, a man from the town of Arimathea named Joseph, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. He took Jesus’ body and hastily put it in a new tomb that had been carved in rock. He rolled a large stone in front of the tomb to seal it.