It was noon in Jerusalem and time for the Passover sacrifices to begin. There was an eerie, unusual darkness that suddenly covered the land for the next three hours (Mt. 27:45), but the priests still stood ready to sound the threefold blast from the silver trumpets to signal the slaying of the Passover lambs. Earlier that morning, Roman soldiers had driven iron spikes through the wrists and feet of Jesus of Nazareth, nailing Him to a wooden cross (Mk. 15:25). As Jesus hung from that cruel crucifixion cross He probably heard the Levites singing the Passover hymns (Psalms 113-118, known as the Hallel (Praise) Psalms).
During those hours of torment on the cross, as Jesus not only suffered the excruciating pain of having been beaten, scourged and now nailed to the cross, struggling for each breath, He uttered seven brief statements. The sixth was a powerful shout of victory: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30). In Greek, the extraordinary proclamation is just a single word: tetelestai, an accounting term which means “paid in full, to bring to a close, to complete and fulfill.” This was Jesus’ divine declaration that His work to secure humanity’s redemption and salvation was fully, finally, and forever finished. At the well in Samaria, Jesus had told His disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (Jn. 4:34), something He repeated several times (cf Jn. 6:38,51; 12:24-27,46; 17:1-5). When Jesus cried out tetelestai from the cross, He was declaring a finality to His Father’s plan to provide redemption indicating nothing more needs to be or can be added to it! The work of providing for man’s salvation from the penalty of sin was now completed–the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” had been offered (Jn. 1:29).
The writer of Hebrews, speaking of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, says “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10: 12-14). All the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed to the sufferings of the Messiah as our sin-bearer, were now accomplished. The ceremonial law was abolished, the substance had now come, and all the shadows are done away. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. “It is finished!”
And, of course, Praise the Lord, three days later, Jesus arose from the grave and lives today to save all who call on Him: “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Ro. 10:13). His resurrection was proof that God’s holiness was propitiated (satisfied), our sins were indeed paid for (Ro. 3:21-26; 4:25) and now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we could have eternal life. “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:11,12).
Because Jesus finished the work, salvation is a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved, or something we work toward earning: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Jesus did everything for us–It is finished (tetelestai)!
Yesterday at Faith Bible Church, Grant Clay, executive director of ELLS (Equipping Leaders for a Lifetime of Service), shared with us the amazing story of how God worked in the life of Hudson Taylor who founded the China Inland Mission. After struggling spiritually Hudson finally realized the fact of “the finished work of Christ” and, on his knees, trusted in that finished work, and consecrated his life to serve the Lord. It totally transformed his life. What a difference it makes when we stop struggling in the flesh to please God and rest in His finished work. English preacher John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) offered this encouraging significance of Jesus’ statement from the cross for the believer in Christ:
“We need not fear that either sin or Satan or law shall condemn us at the last day (see Ro. 8:1,31-39). We may lean back on the thought that we have a Savior Who has done it all, paid all, accomplished all, performed all that is necessary for our salvation…When we look at our own works, we may well feel ashamed of their imperfections. But when we look at the FINISHED WORK of Christ, we may feel peace.”
Philip Bliss, American composer (1838-1878) also captured the emotion of tetelestai when he wrote the hymn “Hallelujah! What a Savior.” The fourth stanza goes like this:
“Lifted up was He to die;
‘It is finished!’ was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
AMEN! Have a blessed time this week celebrating the finished work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, culminating with the victorious resurrection. Praise God, “He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are opened wide” (Don Francisco).