Symbolism in the Good Friday Narrative, Down to the Last Detail

Every single detail in the Good Friday story shows us God’s love and the fulfillment of his amazing plan for salvation. In today’s episode, we look at seven symbolic details of the Crucifixion—the climax of Salvation history.  Through these details, we gain immense insight into who Christ is, how he fulfills the Old Testament, and the nature of his relationship to the Church.

Snippet from the Show

“Water and blood, baptism and the Eucharist, come from the side of Christ. Christ’s death gives birth to the Church, to the Sacraments.”

Entering into Holy Week Through the Scriptures

Coming off Palm Sunday, the anticipation of Holy Week is approaching quickly, but this year it’s coming under much different circumstances. Because of the novel coronavirus, many of us will not be able to go to Mass on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. That doesn’t mean, however, we’ll be spending this Easter separated from God. We can actually experience the Lord’s presence in the comfort of our own homes. All we have to do is read his word, the Scriptures. 

Our Catholic faith reveals that Jesus is uniquely present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. But it also tells us that he is present in the Word of God. We may not have access to Mass, but we all have the gift of Scripture. Keep your Bible close to you this Holy Week. 

Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

7 Details in the Good Friday Narrative That Reveal the Fulfillment of God’s Plan

1) The Prophecy of Christ’s Passion

Matthew 27:35 – “And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.

We may know the story of Jesus’s Passion, but do we really understand the symbolism and meaning of everything said about it? Take Matthew 27:35 for example: This line may seem small, but we’ve heard it before, in Psalm 22:16-18:

Psalm 22:16-18 – “Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.

Sound familiar? This psalm is about a righteous man being persecuted for following the Lord, but on Good Friday, Jesus is this righteous man. He’s the one who’s being persecuted, having his hands and feet pierced and his garments torn. Christ’s Passion is prophecy being fulfilled. 

2) The Hyssop Plant

John 19:29 – “A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.”

Small details of scripture can often be overlooked, like this part about the hyssop plant. However, what may seem like an irrelevant detail in Christ’s Passion story carries strong symbolism within his ministry, and to the history of God’s people. We see this connection in Exodus 12 when the first Passover is instituted: 

Exodus 12:21-24 – “Then Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons forever.

Why does this matter? Because John is trying to show us that Jesus is the new passover lamb. He’s being sacrificed, just as the Israelites sacrificed lambs in the Old Testament, for the glory of God. Not only this, but the blood of the lamb protected the Israelites from the angel of death, just as the shedding of Christ’s blood has protected all of humanity from death. He is truly the new passover lamb. 

3) The Unblemished Sacrifice

John 19:33 – “but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

This is another reference John makes to Jesus as the new passover lamb. We’re told that, when the Roman guards went around to kill those being crucified by breaking their legs, Jesus’s legs were spared, because he had already died. Not only does this show us how much pain and agony Christ was in (it would usually take days for someone to die of crucifixion), but it’s another reference to the passover lamb: 

Exodus 12:46 – “In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it.

It was unlawful to sacrifice a blemished lamb. Because of this, the Israelites were always very careful not to break the bones of the lamb, so to respect the sacrifice. Just so, Jesus, the new and final passover lamb, is kept whole out of respect and dignity for his ultimate sacrifice for our salvation. 

4) The Curtain Torn in Two

Matthew 27:51 – “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split”

Ever wondered what this curtain was all about? Well, it turns out this curtain in the Temple is meant to symbolize our access to God. The temple veil was what divided the outside from the inside of the Temple. But when the curtain was torn in two following the death of Christ, this showed that we all have access to God—that there’s no barrier blocking us from his presence in the Temple. And not only is it torn, it’s torn from “top to bottom,” showing that it’s God who’s torn the curtain and invited us into a relationship with him. 

5) Blood and Water

John 19:34 – “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

The Church Fathers, after studying his passage in scripture, found that there is a lot of meaning behind the images of blood and water. The water that comes from the side of Jesus reminds us of the water of baptism—the sacrament that wipes away our original sin and allows us to enter into relationship with God: 

John 3:4-5 – “Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

As for the blood coming from Christ’s side, the Church Fathers pointed out a connection to the Eucharist. Blood and water, Eucharist and Baptism, pouring forth from the side of Christ. Jesus’s Passion and death gave birth to the Church and to the sacraments. 

6) From the Side

The blood and water in John 19:34 aren’t the only details with significance. Where in Christ’s body do they pour from? Christ’s side. Where else in the Scriptures have we seen something come from someone’s side? 

Genesis 2:21-22  – “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”

Eve comes from the side of Adam, just as blood and water come from the side of Jesus. Jesus is the new Adam, and the Church is the new Eve: the Bride of Christ. 

7) The Seamless Garment

John 19:23-24 – “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’”

The word used for “tunic” in this passage can refer to a long seamless robe, but it is also used to describe the garment of a High Priest. Not only that, but this specific garment was never to be torn, according to a law in Leviticus:

Leviticus 21:10 – “The priest who is chief among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil is poured, and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose, nor rend his clothes

That’s why the soldiers don’t want to tear it—they know its significance. John is trying to tell us that not only is Jesus like a priest, he is the true High Priest. It’s easy to think that Jesus is a helpless victim in this sacrifice, but he’s not just the victim, he’s the High Priest performing the sacrifice. He freely offers himself to us. 

John 10:18 – “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

We Want to Be More Like Christ

Even as lay people, we are called to share in Christ’s priesthood. By virtue of our Baptism, we all participate in Christ’s three roles of priest, prophet, and king. We’re called to participate in his sacrifice, to offer up our lives like he did on Calvary. 

When we are faced with inconveniences and trials, do we face them as a passive victim? Or do we follow in Christ’s footsteps and accept them willingly, offering them up to God for the salvation of souls?  


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