The day we call Good Friday is the day that changed the world forever. The specific event that marked that day was the death of Jesus, a Jewish teacher from Nazareth. Jesus’ death fulfilled His teaching, which echoed like a drumbeat during the last weeks of His life – “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise” (Mark 9:31).
This pronouncement by Jesus was singularly remarkable. God’s plan to provide a way of salvation for all people required a day of death. Now, the Jews understood the significance of the atoning blood of a sacrificed animal. However, they could not conceive that the coming Messiah (the Christ) would die as a sacrifice. No, they expected that the Messiah would be an apocalyptic warrior restoring the independent, earthly kingdom of Israel.
This, then, was the aspect of Jesus’ teaching that did not connect with the disciples. The teaching of His death recorded in Mark 9:31 should not have been a surprise to them. He had taught them the very same thing at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:31) when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah! He explained it for the third time, as recorded in Mark, as they headed for Jerusalem, but still the disciples were astonished (Mark 10:32-34).
This teaching is the key that unlocks the door to all that follows on Good Friday, culminating with the death of Jesus on the cross. As I read once again the gospel accounts of this day, I was struck by a particular moment in time. It took place very early in the morning. Having been arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin and the chief priests. He was asked by Caiaphas, the high priest, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61).
Jesus’ response sets everything that follows into motion. “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds in heaven” (Mark 14:62).
Upon hearing this pronouncement, Caiaphas tore His clothes and accused Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus was ushered off to Pilate and then to Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem at the time. Herod sent Him back to Pilate, and then He was taken to Golgotha where He was crucified.
Pilate, the Roman governor, had told the Jewish leaders three times that he found no basis for a charge against Jesus. No matter. The charge of blasphemy drove events until that day became a day of death.
Interestingly, even His answer to Caiaphas implied that resurrection would follow death. Jesus said that His destiny was to be seated at the right hand of God! That statement merely fueled the agenda of the Jewish leaders who wanted to silence Him. They saw Jesus as a threat to their leadership. They were anxious for Him to die. They were convinced that the ignominy of death by crucifixion would bring an end to it all.
None of the characters in the drama that played out that day could see that Jesus’ death was also on God’s agenda. The coming of the Messiah was not going to initiate an earthly kingdom at all. No glorious return to the days of Israel’s monarchy! Rather, it was in Isaiah 53 where that day was accurately described: The Messiah was coming to Israel, but He was coming as a suffering servant!
After the events of Jesus’ mission had fully unfolded, the disciples would remember, understand and spend their lives spreading the good news and changing the world. They would recall why John the Baptist had declared upon seeing Jesus — “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
But on this fateful Friday the last thing on their minds was that Jesus would be a sacrifice for the sins of the world. It was a terrible day for Jesus’ followers and family. Without a doubt, it was a gross miscarriage of justice. An innocent man was unfairly and cruelly killed. Not just any man, for sure. When He breathed His final breath, darkness came and the sun stopped for three hours. The veil of the Temple was completely torn, exposing the most holy place. It was the most awful and wonderful day in history. It was a day of death.
By Lt. Colonel Vern Jewett