Mar 29, 2024

Why Is Good Friday Called “Good”?

4 Min Read

Good Friday, which commemorates the suffering and death of Jesus, has long been celebrated in the Christian church. The historical record is unclear regarding how the church came to call this day “Good Friday” since the term is not mentioned in Scripture. Some have posited that it was originally called “God’s Friday” and later morphed into “Good Friday,” but most linguists find that theory untenable. It’s more likely that the term comes from an antiquated meaning of “good” as “holy”—in other words, “Holy Friday.”

Regardless of how this term developed historically, the fact remains that Christians do see Good Friday as good in the way we understand the term today—a fact that some people might find puzzling. Why would Christians call “good” a day that saw their leader experience horrific injustice at the hands of corrupt religious rulers and put to death by the Romans on a shameful torture device?

At first glance, there appears to be nothing good about this day at all. Jesus’ followers certainly didn’t see it as good when they mourned His death that Friday and Saturday. The disciples who had given up their livelihoods, believing they would be key players in a messianic kingdom that would overthrow the rule of Rome, had their hopes and dreams dashed. Indeed, if Jesus’ death on that dark day had been the end of the story, people would rightly view Christians as objects of pity (1 Cor. 15:17–19).

Why, then, do Christians call Good Friday “good”? The answer is that Resurrection Sunday interprets and transforms Good Friday. We see woven throughout Scripture the pattern of “not good” later being reinterpreted as God sovereignly uses it to bring about what is good.

For example, consider the story of Joseph in Genesis. There is nothing inherently good about being betrayed by one’s own brothers, sold into slavery in a foreign country, and—just as things seem to finally be getting better—being falsely accused, thrown into prison, and forgotten by a fellow prisoner turned freeman. It would be natural to stamp “not good” over these parts of Joseph’s story. Yet in God’s mysterious but wonderful providence, He fashions good from these “not good” raw materials, using Joseph and his eventual position of authority in Egypt to save not only Joseph’s family from starvation but the entire region. In retrospect, Joseph can say of his brothers’ evil betrayal of him, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20, emphasis added).

So it is with the evil events of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. As the Apostle Peter makes clear in his sermon at Pentecost, Jesus was indeed “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23) who “killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). It was evil for these people to knowingly sentence to death an innocent man who was also God incarnate. But over all these events, God was sovereignly working out a plan that had been prophesied through the ages to bring about the greatest good from the greatest evil. What was the good that God was working in the death of Jesus that Friday?

Good Friday is good because on this day, the greatest exchange took place.

Scripture makes clear that humankind is in a predicament. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The evil and ugliness of sin separates us from the glorious, perfect, and holy God, who in His righteousness and justice must judge sin (Rom. 2:5–6; 5:9–10; 1 Thess. 1:10). What hope do we have as we hurl toward a future of eternal separation from the love of God, and instead face His righteous wrath against our sin? We lack the righteousness that is required to stand in God’s presence and can’t pay the debt we owe for our sin.

There would be no hope apart from the triune God’s plan in eternity past to bring us a salvation that we cannot secure for ourselves. The second person of the Trinity, the Son, took on human flesh and lived the perfectly righteous life that we all fail to live. On the cross, according to God’s own plan (Acts 2:23), Jesus faced much more than the wrath of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. He faced and satisfied (or “propitiated”) the wrath of God Himself for the sins of all those who belong to Him (Rom. 5:9–10; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2). The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed forward to Jesus, who is both the perfect High Priest and the perfect sacrifice (Heb. 9:12, 26). His perfect life and substitutionary, sacrificial death satisfied God’s righteous wrath and judgment against the sins of all who trust in Christ alone for salvation. Jesus, the perfectly righteous One, took the punishment for our sins upon Himself, and we who deserve eternal punishment for our unrighteousness receive the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Therefore, Good Friday is good because through His death, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 3:13–14; 4:5). Because Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses (Eph. 1:7). We are ransomed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18–19). We are justified, saved from the wrath of God, and reconciled to God (Rom. 5:9–10).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day validates all that He accomplished on Good Friday, revealing that death has no ultimate claim on Him (Acts 2:24). His triumph over death in His resurrection shows that He has the power and ability to secure our justification (Rom. 4:25). The resurrection proves that He really is God (Rom. 1:4) and that God’s wrath was indeed satisfied by Christ’s atoning death. Because Jesus bore God’s wrath for the sins of all who would trust in this provision by faith alone, Christians will never face the wrath of God against their sins or be separated from God, for they are united to Christ in His death and in His life.

In short, Good Friday is good because on this day, the greatest exchange took place: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). May we then declare with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).