Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education
Estimated reading time: 7 min.
Did you know that one of the last things Jesus spoke from the cross was that He had completed His God-assigned task of providing substitutionary atonement for those willing to accept it?
In this hectic world, people often feel at the end of the day they still have unfulfilled tasks. At His death, Jesus knew He had accomplished all God had appointed Him for His first coming. This Digging Deeper explores His declaration and its meaning for Christians as they draw near to their annual observance of Passover.
Our focus verse this week is: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30 KJV throughout). This was the sixth of seven statements Jesus delivered from the cross that are recorded in the Four Gospels.
A duty fulfilled
Jesus came to earth with an assignment from His Heavenly Father. Early in His ministry: “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). God had assigned Jesus this duty and Jesus had accepted it willingly before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9; Revelation 13:8). During his high priestly prayer before His arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). He understood His soon-coming death was part of this work.
The ESV Study Bible explains His statement: “It is finished proclaims that all the work the Father had sent him to accomplish (cf. 4:34; 9:4) was now completed, particularly his work of bearing the penalty for sins. This means there was no more penalty left to be paid for sins, for all Jesus’ suffering was ‘finished’ (see Heb. 1:3; 9:11–12, 25–28)” (Tecarta Bible App).
The Greek word for “finished” in our focus verse is teleo. Greek words of that same family appear just two verses before it and are translated as “accomplished” and “fulfilled”: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (John 19:28). These words have the same Greek root. Jesus knew He was fulfilling many scriptural prophecies concerning his sacrificial death for sin.
This word finished had a historical significance in that culture, as Bob Utley’s You Can Understand the Bible explains: “John 19:30 ‘It is finished!’ This is a perfect passive indicative. From the Synoptic Gospels we learned that He shouted this with a loud cry (cf. Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50). This refers to the finished work of redemption. This form of the term (telos) in the Egyptian papyri (Moulton and Milligan) was a commercial idiom for ‘paid in full'” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Peter Pett’s Commentary Series on the Bible describes it further: “Interestingly we know from papyri that tetelestai would be written across invoices to indicate ‘paid in full.’ He had given His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)” (Ibid.).
What was finished
Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments details what was finished: “The important work of man’s redemption is accomplished. The demands of the law, and of divine justice, are satisfied, and my sufferings are now at an end. It appears from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that in speaking these words he cried with an exceeding loud voice; probably to show that his strength was not exhausted, but that he was about to give up his life of his own accord” (e-Sword 13.0.0).
B.H. Carroll’s An Interpretation of the English Bible itemizes more of what Jesus accomplished: “Expiation for sin was made; the penal demands of the law were satisfied; the vicarious Substitute for sinners died in their behalf; and the claims of the law on the sinner that believes in Jesus Christ were fully met. Therefore, no man can ‘lay any charge to God’s elect.’ The debt, all of it, has been paid” (e-Sword 13.0.0).
Psalm 22 is known as the Crucifixion Psalm and was recited by Jesus, at least in part, during His hours on the cross, as explained by Peter Pett’s Commentary Series on the Bible: “As the final words in Psalms 22 tell us ‘He has done it’. God’s work had been accomplished, and Jesus had successfully completed His mission” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Imagine Jesus’ deep emotion as He recited David’s words that He was then experiencing. He was the One who had inspired David to write them as a prophecy of His own death.
He suffered God’s wrath, for us
To understand the horror Jesus faced in His last moments, David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary writes: “This was the cup – the cup of God’s righteous wrath – that He trembled at drinking (Luke 22:39-46, Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross, Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father’s fury. He did it so we would not have to drink that cup” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Humanity deserved that wrath, but Jesus suffered it in their place. This explains His agony in Gethsemane before He was arrested. He was repulsed by sin, yet He would bear the sins of the world on the cross.
John the Baptist described Jesus at the beginning of His ministry: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” They understood the significance of Jesus’ coming to earth to provide salvation from sin for humanity. Paul explained that God “…hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter later wrote: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The victorious end
There was another work that Jesus finished before His sacrifice. He was the Creator in the Book of Genesis (John 1:3). Notice these words: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Genesis 2:1). Jesus finished creation and redemption for His creatures. All that believers need for life and happiness has been supplied by the One who gave Himself for us (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:2). These are words to remember during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Paul wrote to primarily Gentile Christians at Corinth in the first century who were observing the spring festivals.
As tragic and heartbreaking as the words “It is finished” are, Jesus was victorious in His death, nonetheless. David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary explains: “It is finished! Jesus’ final word (tetelestai in the ancient Greek) is the cry of a winner. Jesus had finished the eternal purpose of the cross. It stands today as a finished work, the foundation of all Christian peace and faith, paying in full the debt we righteously owe to God” (e-Sword 13.0.0).
Jesus died victorious, even though it seemed He had lost it all. Satan was defeated (John 16:11; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14) and humanity’s reconciliation with God was accomplished. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible provides a thought-provoking explanation: “‘It is finished’ is one word in Greek–tetelestai (G5055) –and Jesus died with a shout of triumph on his lips. He did not say, ‘It is finished,’ in weary defeat; he said it as one who shouts for joy because the victory is won. He seemed to be broken on the Cross, but he knew that his victory was won” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Because Jesus was victorious, believers can be too.
Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.