‘It Is Finished!’
In a single word, Jesus proclaimed that His work to secure our redemption was done.
It was 12 o’clock noon in Jerusalem, the time for the Passover sacrifices to begin. An unusual darkness covered the land (Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33). Yet the priests still stood ready to sound the threefold blast from silver trumpets to signal the slaying of the Passover lambs.
Earlier, around 9 a.m., Roman soldiers drove large iron stakes through the wrists and feet of Jesus of Nazareth, nailing Him to a wooden cross (Mk. 15:25). As He hung crucified in agony, He probably heard the Levites singing the Passover hymns, Psalms 113 through 118. In torment, He uttered seven brief statements. The sixth was a powerful shout of victory on the greatest day of all eternity: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30).
In Greek, the extraordinary proclamation is but a single word: tetelestai. An accounting term, it means “paid in full, to bring to a close, to complete and to fulfill.” In Latin, tetelestai translates into consummatum est (it is consummated).
This was Jesus’ divine declaration that His work to secure humanity’s redemption and salvation was fully, finally, and forever finished. As He told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34; cf. 6:38, 51; 12:24–27, 46; 17:1–5).
Jesus used the Greek perfect tense for a reason. It combines the present and aorist tenses. The aorist tense refers to something happening at a specific point in time, whereas the present tense implies a continuance. The combination produced the exactness of what Jesus said: “I have come to fulfill; and all that has been fulfilled will continue to be finished. Nothing more needs to be or can be added to it” (paraphrase). Tetelestai declared a finality. As Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662–1714) wrote,
It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning his sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is 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; the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up.1
The Perfect Lamb of God
After His resurrection, Jesus walked with two travelers on the Emmaus road, explaining how He fulfilled all the Messianic types and prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, including those in the writings of Moses and the prophets (Lk. 24:26–27).
Because the crucifixion occurred on the Jewish Passover, it’s probable Messiah Jesus shared how His death fulfilled various features of the Passover celebration. Perhaps He even selected verses from Psalms 113 through 118. While on the cross at noon, Jesus would have heard the opening verse of Psalm 113, chanted at the slaying of the first lamb: “Praise the LORD [Hebrew, Hallelujah]! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!” (v. 1). The primary Hebrew meaning of the opening word (Hallelujah) means to praise and celebrate.
At 3 p.m., as the last Passover lamb was slain, the Lord may have heard the closing verse of Psalm 118: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (v. 29). This was a popular Messianic expression of expectation and thanksgiving for God’s love and mercy, which never fail.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus would have known the most important feature of the original Passover, which was held as the children of Israel prepared to flee from Egypt. Moses instructed the Israelites to apply the blood of a slain lamb to the lintel and doorposts of their homes to save their firstborn males from the plague of death that would afflict all of Egypt (Ex. 12:3, 21–23). Only the blood, properly applied, would save them.
Gradually, the disciples would have understood the deeper reason for celebrating God’s gracious love and mercy as sung in the Messianic Passover hymn: Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, whose pierced body and shed blood secured everlasting redemption from eternal judgment for all who believe.
Only Jesus’ blood, applied to our lives, can save us. His blood alone removes sin: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
Jesus’ declaration “It is finished!” signaled that the Messiah completed what He had been sent to do (Jn. 5:36; 17:4).
He Did All and Paid All
Three days later, He arose from the grave and lives today to save all who call on Him; for “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
Salvation is a gift to be received—not a goal to be achieved. We cannot work for it, nor can we earn it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
Jesus did everything for us. It is finished. Tetelestai. Never again will one word mean so much.
English preacher John Charles Ryle (1816–1900) offered this encouraging significance of Jesus’ statement for the believer in Christ:
We need not fear that either sin or Satan or law shall condemn us at the last day. We may lean back on the thought that we have a Savior Who has done all, paid all, accomplished all, performed all that is necessary for our salvation. We may take up the challenge of the Apostle, “Who is the one who condemns? . . .
Christ Jesus is He Who died, yes, rather Who was raised, Who is at the right hand of God; Who also (continually) intercedes for us.” . . . 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.2
But perhaps it was American composer Philip P. Bliss (1838–1876) who best 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!
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, John 19:19, biblehub.com (tinyurl.com/MH-jnn-19).
- J. C. Ryle, cited in “TETELESTAI—Paid in Full,” preceptaustin.org, May 28, 2018 (tinyurl.com/TTT-Paid).