In the Jerusalem of Christ’s day, time could be reckoned according to the Jewish system or the Roman system. Both were commonly used. A 24-hour day in the Jewish system began at 6:00 p.m. sundown and ended at 6:00 p.m. sundown the following day. The four “watches” of the night lasted from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m., 12:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m., and 3:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. At 6:00 a.m. the “day” part of the day began and lasted until 6:00 p.m. when a fresh 24-hour period began. As for the Romans, their 24-hour period began at midnight and ended the following midnight.
John 19:14 says it was “about the sixth hour” when Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. John is reckoning by Roman time, which means that Pilate sentenced Jesus around 6:00 a.m. This stands alongside Mark 15:25, which says it was the “third hour” when Christ’s crucifixion began. Mark is reckoning by Jewish time, which means that three hours elapsed between Christ’s sentencing and the moment He was actually nailed to the cross at 9:00 a.m.
From 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon everything was normal about that morning. At 12:00 noon, however, an eerie, supernatural darkness settled upon the entire land and remained there until 3:00 p.m. (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33). Shortly after 3:00 p.m., Jesus died. Plans for a rushed burial were then put into play because the Sabbath began at 6:00 p.m. and Jewish law stated that no body could be left hanging on a cross during the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 23:22-23).
During the six hours in which Jesus hung on the cross, He uttered seven statements. The first three were made during the three hours before noon and the last four were made in fairly rapid succession beginning at 3:00 p.m. The statements were as follows:
- (said of those who had a part in His crucifixion): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
- (said to the penitent criminal who was one of two crucified alongside Him): “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
- (said to His mother Mary and His apostle John as He commended Mary to John’s care): “Woman, behold your son! Behold your mother!”
- (said to God the Father at the close of the three-hour darkness): “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
- (said of Himself): “I thirst!” (John 19:28)
- (said of His life’s work, ministry, and impending death for the sins of the world): “It is finished!” (John 19:30)
- (said to God the Father): “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Since the Bible teaches that the “spirit” is the body’s spark of life (James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7), we are right to say that Jesus releasing His spirit to God the Father was the actual cause of His death. Jesus is the only person who ever lived who was able to do this. This is what He meant when He said of His life, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18, N.I.V.).
With the Sabbath fast approaching at sundown that afternoon, the Jewish religious elite requested that Pilate command his Roman soldiers to employ the standard method of speeding up a death by crucifixion: breaking the legs of the victim (John 19:31-32). The Romans were experts at the art of crucifixion and knew that broken legs induced suffocation by preventing the victim from pushing himself up to draw a breath. Much to their surprise, though, when they came to break Jesus’ legs He was already dead (John 19:33). So, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear just to make certain of the death (John 19:34).
What followed next was a hasty three-hour dash to get Christ’s body taken down from the cross, anointed with burial spices, and buried. Of all people, it was two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin ruling council — Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus — who saw to all of that. Both men had become followers of Christ by this time.
It was Joseph who immediately went to Pilate and requested that Christ’s body be given to him, a request to which Pilate agreed after receiving assurances that Jesus really was dead (Matthew 27:57-58; Mark 15:43-45; Luke 23:50-52; John 19:38). It’s likely that Nicodemus was buying the burial spices while Joseph was with Pilate, and the two men rejoined one another at the cross (John 19:39). There they took down the body, bound it in strips of linen, anointed it with burial spices, and placed it in Joseph’s recently built “cave” tomb which was very close to the site of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:59-60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54; John 19:38-42). A group of women, including Mary Magdalene, who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem joined the two men at the tomb for the burial (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). Early the following Sunday morning, these women would make the trip back to the tomb for the purpose of more thoroughly anointing the body, only to find the tomb empty.
And so go the highlights of the twelve hours of Good Friday. But, of course, nothing that happened that day will be of one iota of help to you if you never place saving belief in Jesus. Rather than being “Good” Friday to you, the day will only mean more eternal judgment because God the Son died to pay the sin debt that you owe to holy God but you rejected Him. On the other hand, if you have placed saving belief in Jesus you can rest in the knowledge that on Good Friday God the Father transferred all of your sins to Jesus, and Jesus died for those sins so that you might spend eternity with God. So rejoice in that this Good Friday, and rejoice all the more in the knowledge that Sunday is coming!