Good Friday: Where did we get it?

Tradition can be a good thing when it is based on truth because it can be used as a reminder of important events that have taken place and provide opportunities to review where we stand on our beliefs about things.  Tradition, however, can also be a bad thing if the story it tells is inaccurate.

Each year millions of people celebrate a number of traditional holidays that observe various aspects of the “Christian” religion.  While there are many of them, there are two that are considered the main holidays – Christmas and Easter.  Here we will deal with the 2nd of the two and its accompanying holiday known as “Good Friday”.  Let’s have a look at this set of holidays (also sometimes known as ‘Holy Week’).  There are several components to “Holy Week” but we’ll primarily deal with Good Friday/Easter in this study.  (By the way, the term “Easter” is a misnomer – Resurrection Sunday is only called “Easter” by association.  Easter is a pagan fertility ritual that has nothing to do with true Christianity).  

The correct part

Good Friday and “Easter” are traditional holidays that attempt to remind people of the events that took place at the end of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Approximately 2,000 years ago Christ, the creator of the universe (paying us a visit to pay for our sins!) allowed himself to be nailed to a Scaffold (known commonly as a ‘Cross’).  Let’s take a quick look at the two pieces of this holiday pair before we dig it apart and see what has “fallen through the cracks” so to speak with this tradition.

The Crucifixion (“Good Friday”)

John 19:14-19  And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!   But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.   And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.   And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The Resurrection (“Easter”)

John 20:1 -17 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.  Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.  So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.  And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.   Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,   And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.   Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.   For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.   Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.  But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,  And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.   Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.   Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

OK … Right – Good Friday = Execution, “Easter” Sunday = Resurrection, So what?

So far so good.  “What”, might you be saying, “is the big deal?  I know this story by heart!”  (Or maybe not if you’ve never actually read it – but I digress).  Jesus was crucified on Friday and he rose again on Sunday morning right?

Well … not quite.  He did rise again by Sunday morning. It says that clearly in John 20:1 – Mary came to the sepulchre on the first day of the week.  Here’s where the problem comes in.  Jesus was not crucified on Friday.  According to the written record it is much more likely that he was crucified and laid-to-rest no later than Thursday.

“What?” you say.  “But that’s what my preacher [priest, bishop, elder, Church Fathers, etc.] have been telling me for years.  It’s tradition.  I’ve always believed that way!  Just look – the church celebrates Good Friday. The company I work for takes Good Friday off.  Even the government takes Good Friday off!  Who are you to tell ME that the tradition is wrong?”

I’m not telling you that – the scripture does!  Let’s have a look at it, shall we?

(By the way, you probably also believe the three wise men were at the manger.  They were not – but that’s for a different study!)

How Long did Jesus say it would be?

What did Jesus himself say about how things would go?  How long did he say the period of time would be between his crucifixion and resurrection?  (Emphasis mine)

Mat 12:38-40  Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.  But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Mat 27:40  Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.   And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,  And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Mat 27:62-63 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,  Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

Mar 8:31  And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mar 15:29  And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,

John 2:19-21  Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?   But he spake of the temple of his body.

OK … so he said three days.  What’s the big deal?

Here’s the “big deal”.  The tradition says that he was crucified on Friday and rose again on Sunday.  Does that sound like 3 days to you?  He specified three days and three nights (Matt 12:38-40).  

Pull out your calendar and have a look.  If Jesus was crucified and died on Friday afternoon and rose on the first day of the week then here’s what you’ve got.

 Friday – Crucified [Fri Night] Saturday: Dead  [Sat Night] Sunday – Gone-from-the-tomb.

Oops … looks to me like there’s only 2 nights here.   What happened to the other night?  Note in the above verse references the Lord Jesus Christ said he would rise after three days – not after the evening of the first, one full day and then first thing in the morning on the third day!  (That’s an old Cruise Line trick – sell a 2-night cruise as a 3-day vacation!).  With that in mind, here’s a more likely timeline.

 Thurs [night] Fri [night] Sat [night] Sunday

Now we have three days and three nights. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday).  Makes a little more sense, doesn’t it?

If we wanted to stretch it a little further, we could actually make a case for the crucifixion having taken place on Wednesday night.  How?  Well, consider this:  Jesus said plenty of times that he would rise after 3-days and 3-nights.  You could legitimately argue that he was crucified on Wednesday, was in the tomb 3 FULL (24-hour) days which would be:

Wed->Thurs, Thurs->Fri, Fri->Sat.  In this case he would have been “down” for three full days (Thu, Fri, and Sat) and then arose sometime Saturday night.  The record only states that he was discovered missing on Sunday morning.  Interesting to think about, isn’t it?

One conclusion is clear, though: he was not crucified on Friday.  It just doesn’t work.

One Last thing … didn’t it have to be Friday because of the Sabbath?

Nope.  One thing that most Christians don’t understand is that the term Sabbath does not strictly refer to Saturday.  There are other Sabbath’s.

Exo 35:2  Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.

Lev 23:24  Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.

Lev 23:32  It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.

Note that it calls the seventh day(of the week) a sabbath – not the sabbath.  The term sabbath refers to a day of rest, not to a particular calendar day of the week.  Lev 23:24,32 – neither of those were the “regular” weekly sabbath.  

John 19:30-34  When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.   The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.   Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.  But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:   But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

Luk 22:1-2  Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.   And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people.

The Sabbath being referred to here (if you’ll just read it) is the PASSOVER.  The Passover does not necessarily fall on a Saturday yet it is still considered a Sabbath day.  Even though it was on Thursday you can still call it “the sabbath day” – just as you would say “the holiday”.


It’s better to trust the written record than tradition.  Tradition can carry error with it.  Are there any other traditions you might know of that don’t accurately convey the story?