The name “Good Friday” definitely needs explanation. The events of that day seem anything but good. In fact, they were horrifying. It confuses many people. “Good” refers to the outcome, not the process. If God is good, why would He allow, let alone insist, on such a cruel process?
First, it is important to understand that Jesus was on board for the whole thing. He was not compelled by the Jewish leadership, the Romans, or God. He understood from the beginning that His life was primarily about being a sacrifice for sin. That doesn’t mean that Jesus wouldn’t have preferred another route, if available. The crucifixion was going to be a tough experience, even for the incarnate Son of God.
There was of course, the physical aspect. It starts with a severe beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers. While details are few in the Bible, I expect the depiction in the movie, “Passion of the Christ” was about right. It would appear that the whipping took so much out of Jesus that it actually was the eventual cause of death. Crucifixion would take longer to cause death. In that movie, it was the hardest thing to watch. Imagine though, a troop who has you in their power. They are already antagonized by the claim, “King of the Jews”, even though they didn’t understand it. I expect that were also driven into a sadistic frenzy by Satan’s influence. Satan needs Jesus to use his own power to quit. Enduring such a beating would have presented a great temptation.
Then there is the physical temptation of the crucifixion itself. I can’t imagine what having spikes driven through your ankles and wrists (more likely than hands and feet) would feel like. There are many nerves in those areas.
There was also psychological torture. Mocking, spitting, taunts inviting you to prove yourself, the crying of the women, and the pleas of other criminals on the cross all pressing for Jesus to exercise power to end it.
Believe it or not, that was the easy part. The part that Jesus feared, and that we cannot plumb the depths of the suffering was being forsaken by His father. Jesus knew this was coming. The whipping and taunting were unnecessary. I think Satan urged these on. Physical death is insufficient of itself. The wages of sin is physical death and “spiritual death”, which is being fundamentally and completely separated from God. How this is possible within the Trinity is a mystery. The impact is observable. Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus surely knows the answer to this question. He is forsaken to take away the Laws requirement of forsakeness from every human who will be saved. For us, this condition would be permanent. How long for Jesus? We don’t have that information, but the best guess would be that the supernatural darkness corresponds to the forsaken period–three hours.
If there was something necessary about the three hours, then we can see why the Father would not have had His Son endure other forms of capital punishment. All are too quick. Satan also would not have preferred a quick method. The Romans provided the answer.
But why do it at all? Jesus asked several times during his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to “take this cup away from me”. We know the answer, but what where the options? God could just unilaterally declare all sin forgiven. Evil would go unpunished. But it would also not be removed from both Heaven and the New Earth. Damnation segregates evil from God’s realm. Physical death eliminates our sinful nature. We start holy and fresh because of Jesus’ ordeal.
While God is a being whose primary quality is love, love is not His only quality. God insists on justice. God lives by “what is written”. God does not change. The judgment for rejecting Him as God was written and fair. If you don’t want God, then you don’t get to share in all the good He creates. Humans were enticed into rebellion. Adam and Eve definitely and willfully rebel. The act of rebellion not only damaged their relationship to God, it changed them genetically. Sin was now a part of human nature. Every human since was not truly possessors of free-will with respect to sin and choosing God. We fail the holiness test from conception. It’s not exactly fair, which is at least part of why God makes the effort on our behalf, I am sure.
The combination of all these qualities leads to the unusual process that Jesus performs. He becomes a similar person to Adam and Eve in the sense that He could by one act impact the whole species, even the majority of creation. God the Father loves His Son, loves human beings, and loves His creation. He wanted them back without failing to fulfill the Law. Jesus’ whole life culminating on Good Friday was the process to make it happen.
As a total aside, it probably didn’t happen on Friday. The early church assumed it was Friday because the next day was a Sabbath (usually Saturday). Apparently they didn’t know there were other types of Sabbaths (days were work was forbidden). This was a special Sabbath (as noted in the Gospel of John) associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (see Leviticus 23:7). It would seem that the crucifixion was on Thursday, special Sabbath Friday, regular Sabbath Saturday, and Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. That would explain why Jesus was “in the tomb” for three days and three nights as noted several places. It is not a big deal that they got the day wrong. They got year zero wrong. I think they got the location of Mount Sinai wrong too. Limited resources.
Jesus got it right. That what matters. Muslims complain that God would never allow this to happen to a prophet. They really don’t understand the Kingdom of God. Love is the thing. Self-sacrifice and serving others are greatness. God not only allowed it, He planned it, and insisted on it; all for the sake of saving us.