The Friday was, without doubt, a day of immense mystery and paradox.
It was a day when mankind violently abused all ideas of justice to the fullest extent possible. Yet, it was through the tremendous suffering this caused to the source of all justice that mankind was redeemed.
Each previous night of this week, He had slept and woken in Bethany. But Friday was different. He had no sleep and He was not in Bethany, but was dragged about midnight before Annas. Annas was the father-in-law of the High Priest, Caiphus, and he was a man of great influence.
Annas was the first of four to interrogate Him that day, grilling Him about His teaching and disciples.
“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort: and in secret I have spoken nothing.
Why askest thou me? Ask them who have heard what I have spoken unto them. Behold they know what things I have said.”
It was a simple answer. The authorities already knew what He had taught. If He had done wrong, the witnesses would be readily available.
But it was not a pleasing answer, so He was struck in the face by one of the servants. His response to that servant spoke for the rest of the day:
“If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?”
He received no reply and was instead bound and sent to the High Priest: Caiphus.
Caiphus was the second to interrogate Him but the only one to judge Him as guilty. This was not surprising for Caiphus had already determined that it was expedient for Him to die.
Caiphus lined up a long queue of witnesses to testify against Him. One by one, they were brought before the whole council – the Sanhedrin – and each accused Him of blasphemy. But their testimony was conflicting. Caiphus had a problem: his case was falling apart.
Finally, the last two witnesses made reference to His words regarding the destruction of the Temple and His ability to rebuild it. His words, of course, were an allegory. They referred not to the Temple in Jerusalem, but to His body.
Destroy it, He said, and in three days I will raise it up again.
In the search for any reason to put Him to death, Caiphus latched onto His claim that He would defeat death itself. There appears a kind of symmetry in this drama, but that does not do full justice to the situation. The two concepts are not equally balanced. This is made even clearer with what happens next.
The last two witnesses had misquoted His words and there was no reason yet found to justify a death sentence. So Caiphus took matters into his own hands and he decided not to bandy around with peripheral issues. He went straight to the heart of the subject, asking:
“I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ the Son of God.”
It was a question that already hinted at an answer. If Caiphus really believed that He was an imposter, he would have mockingly asked Him for evidence to justify this most serious claim. But Caiphus did not do this. Instead, Caiphus asked Him to confirm a nagging suspicion that he already held deep inside.
And confirm it is exactly what He did. Caiphus now had a choice: accept Him as God, or reject Him.
He chose the latter. Caiphus rent his garments, judged Him guilty of blasphemy and sentenced Jesus Christ to death.
In the background, Peter was denying that he even knew the Master he loved. And after this sentence was pronounced, Judas went and hung himself.
Caiphus’ verdict was one that brought out all the worst in humanity: hatred, fear and despair.
It also made one thing crystal clear: Christ was crucified because He was God.
Again there appears a kind of symmetry, but again it is an illusion. The reality is much different. It is the difference between black and white and death and life. There is no balance. The former is the complete absence of the latter. In fact, the symbolism goes even further. This drama is not so much about evil being an inverse reflection of good, but of goodness using the means of evil to totally confound it. God would use Satan’s own weapons against him.
Caiphus’ sentence was the rejection of the source of all good. He chose evil.
When we choose evil, we always choose death. It is the price of sin because evil is the rejection of God and God is life. And in willingly accepting this verdict, Christ confounded sin and death: He would accept punishment for the sins of men through His own death. But because He was God, His sacrifice would be able to pay the infinite debt owed by men to God.
The story of Judas and Peter playing out in the background of this day of drama reinforced the message that this was a battle between life and death. Forgiveness was available to both, but only one sought it. And those who seek God will find the hope of life and love; those who reject Him will find death, despair and hatred.
However, Caiphus still had a problem. He did not have the power to order a death sentence. That was a power the Romans reserved for themselves.
So Caiphus sent Him to Pontius Pilate and accused Him of a much different crime than being the unwanted Son of God. The Jewish leaders told Pilate a lie: that He was forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar. This accusation was made while His words about rendering the things of Caesar to Caesar were still ringing in their ears from that day of verbal battle: the Tuesday, just three days before.
Ecce homo (Behold the Man) was painted bu Antonio Ciseri in 1871.
So it was not just any lie. It was a lie born of the deepest hatred. The High Priests and Pharisees had specifically questioned Him about the tribute to Caesar on that Tuesday because it was the most difficult question they could invoke. And He had turned it back in their faces. They were humiliated before the multitude. Now, in front of the mob, they took His answer and completely twisted it before Pilate.
Hence, Pilate became the third person to interrogate Him. Pilate did so multiple times that day and he grew increasingly troubled. At the behest of the Sanhedrin, the mob was causing a tumult. Yet it was the High Priest’s concern just a few days earlier that He would cause a tumult on this very day that resulted in the decision to seek His death. Pilate might not have known the background to the situation, but he knew it was serious.
However, Pilate could find no cause in Him to justify any punishment. And so Pilate also asked Christ directly if He was a king. He replied:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.”
This prompted a serious man of Rome, a governor no less, to ask a second time if He was a king. And just like Caiphus, this time the question presupposed an answer:
“Art thou a king then?”
It is the kind of question we ask today when, overcoming doubt, we want to confirm a truth. The modern equivalent of Pilate’s question is the excited, “are you really a movie star?”
He told Pilate that He was a king. Pilate found no reason to disbelieve, nor could he find any guilt. Then Pilate even received a message from his wife that she had dreamed that the Man he questioned was innocent. The combination of these events forced Pilate to examine the concept of truth itself. And like so many people today, Pilate pretended the truth could not be found. But he was wrong: the truth is always available. The question is just whether we are capable of accepting it.
Pilate could not accept the truth because it was truly inconvenient.
So instead of letting justice prevail and releasing Him, Pilate sought a second opinion: that of Herod.
And Herod became the fourth to interrogate Him that day.
Herod was a vicious man and already had a history of sorts with Him. To please his daughter, Herod had sentenced John the Baptist to death a year or two earlier. John was His cousin. It would not have been difficult for Herod to impose a new death sentence today.
But Herod was also frivolous. He represents the superficial fickleness of human nature. Herod had heard of his many miracles and was excited at the prospect of meeting Him. Herod wanted Him to put on a magic show. But of all the questioners that day, Herod is the only one who He refused to answer. He would have no part with shallow socialites and the ancient ‘social media’ set. He would save His words for those who were troubled by truth, even if they were on the side of evil. At least these people understood something of the seriousness of life.
Disappointed but convinced of His innocence, Herod sent Him back to Pilate. And Pilate, knowing that He was innocent, had Him scourged. It was a Roman scourging that tore into His skin and left it shredded and hanging. The Church fathers say He endured this punishment to atone for our sins of the flesh.
And then He was crowned with thorns and mocked by Roman soldiers. They genuflected before Him and then spat in His face. This punishment was to atone for our sins of pride.
Finally, half dead, Pilate presented Him once again to the Jews.
Unsatisfied, they cried out: crucify Him!
In desperation, Pilate gave them a choice. On this day it was customary to release a prisoner. The Jews chose a convicted murderer, Barabbas, instead of Him. It was another moment of symbolism. The cry of the Jewish crowd, who had only days earlier welcomed Him into the city, shows the full impact of the rejection of God.
It is not just death in the manner that black is the absence of light. It is much more. It is the embrace of death. In rejecting God, we not only lose life, we actually fall in love with death. That is why the Jews called out for a murderer to be released. They had fallen in love death.
And then the Jews called out, not just to Pilate, but to God, confirming their choice:
“Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”
So Pilate washed his hands and gave Him over. In doing so, Pilate represents all of us. Each of us are responsible for His death through our sins.
But in a special way, Pilate represents all those in leadership positions who dance with the devil. He represents those who justify a little evil in order to achieve a greater good. And Pilate should be a warning: justifying a little evil leads only to hands wringing wet while their owners look on and watch evil increase in power to destroy all good in its path.
He was immediately set upon the path to Calvary, a small hill just outside the city gates. His last journey was to carry the wooden beam upon which He was to be nailed through the capital city of God’s chosen people. And then, between two thieves, He was crucified. The Roman document stating His crime simply gave His title: King of the Jews.
The ground shook, the sky darkened and at about 3pm the veil in the Temple shielding the Holy of Holies was torn asunder from top to bottom.
Jesus Christ had died for us. But He had also died by our hands. It is a mystery of immeasurable love and forgiveness.
It is the climax of history, tying together the fall of the first parents, explaining the meaning of suffering and the immense consequence that our sins have on God Himself. But the resolution to that climax was not yet at hand. It was still a few days away.
However, it was clear that the old era was over and a new one was about to begin.
But before the victory, there was still suffering to come. Christ was taken down from His cross and placed in His grieving mother’s arms. She had watched Him suffer so much. This was compounded by the knowledge that so few would accept his offering.
Then He was buried.
That was the Friday.
This beautifully detailed image is taken from the Einsiedeln panorama in Switzerland.
See also in this series:
- The Sunday before
- The Monday
- The Tuesday
- The Wednesday
- The Thursday
- The Friday
- The Saturday
- The Sunday
I have relied heavily on Guiseppe Ricciotti’s book, Life of Christ, for this article. It was translated by Alba I. Zizzamia and published by the Mercier Press, Ireland in 1955. It carries the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Moses Kiley, dated 6 February, 1952.