This post first appeared here back in 2006 but it still seems to fit:
El Cabrero is not sure at what point in church history the observation of the crucifixion of Jesus acquired the name "Good Friday." It pretty terrible to the people involved. It's hard in our day and age to understand how terrible or commonplace crucifixion was to people in the ancient world. The early church would have been horrified at the use of crosses as ornaments; they did not become standard features of Christian art until around the 4th century, after the practice was largely abandoned.
According to Martin Hengel, author of Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, "among the Romans it was inflicted above all on the lower classes, i.e., slaves, violent criminals, and the unruly elements in rebellious provinces, not least in Judea. The chief reason for its use was its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent; it was, of course, carried out publicly..."
The practice was in part a spectacle of power and degradation. Hengel continues, "By the public display of a naked victim at a prominent place--at a crossroads, in the theatre, on high ground, at the place of his crime--crucifixion also represented his uttermost humiliation, which had a numinous dimension to it. " Often the crucified were denied burial and simply left on the cross, which for many in the ancient world was worse than the death itself.
Historians and believers agree that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem during Passover week shortly after he caused a disturbance at the Temple. Passover was more than a religious holiday to the Jews in Roman controlled Judea: it was a subversive celebration of freedom. The Roman occupiers would have been on high alert for the slightest disturbance at such politically charged times.
The Romans were right about one thing: the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted was and is a threat to all systems of violence, hierarchy, exploitation, oppression and degradation. To that extent--and to his honor--Jesus was guilty. In the best sense of the word.