Tomorrow morning our family has what we think is a fairly moderate yard task ahead of us — we have about 450 sq. ft. of sod to lay and about fifty feet of shrubs to trim (the shrubs average 8-10 ft in height). It seems like a manageable task now; in the middle of it, I am quite certain that even if I don’t voice it, my sentiment will likely be something like, “what were we thinking that we would be able to do all this work in one morning?” And at the end of the task, I’ll probably say something, like — “Finally — we’re done. Can you believe how big that task was?”
There is something about finishing a large and seemingly overwhelming task that makes us lean back in some gratitude and relief and sigh, “There — it’s done.”
It’s easy to have that same kind of thought as you read the words of Christ on the cross in Jn. 19:30 — “It is finished.” You and I might be tempted to hear resignation and relief in those words, but they are far from that. Jesus is not happy that His life is over — “I sure am glad to get this over with — we’re finally done!”
As the God-Man, as the sinless God-Man, He would have enjoyed and been satisfied in life more than anyone. It is true that He set aside the rights and privileges of heaven to come to earth, but that was also a joy to Him. He did not come to earth begrudgingly or reticently. And He did not die with resignation and relief.
His words are words of victory and triumph. It is finished! is a bold declaration of Christ’s sovereign supremacy.
This phrase is an accounting term that means “paid in full.” It is like that red stamp that the bank even now places on a loan after it has been paid off — there is nothing further owed or to be paid. The obligation and debt are completely fulfilled.
It is important to notice that Christ does not say, “I am finished,” but He says, “it is finished.” He is not talking about Himself, but He is talking about a work and task. What He has come to do is complete. The question, of course, is what is finished?
The obvious answer is to say that it is the work of atonement, which it is. But it is so much more than that. [A. W. Pink has been helpful in organizing my thoughts here.]
- The OT prophecies that had been made of Him are finished and complete. All the things into which the prophets made careful searches and inquires are completed and revealed. All the things they sought to know of the identity of the Messiah and the time of His coming have been revealed. And the angels now know that which they have sought to understand ever since the rebellion in heaven (1 Pt. 1:10-12). Every promise made of the Messiah is now fulfilled and complete in the person of Christ. Nothing is left undone. It is finished.
- His sufferings are complete — Hebrews repeatedly tells us that Jesus made His sacrifice “once for all” — He endured only one suffering so that for all time, all those who believe in Him will be cleansed of their sin (7:27; 9:12; 10:10; cf. Rom. 6:10). “That from which His holy soul shrank is over. The Lord has bruised Him; man and devil had done their worst. The cup has been drained. The awful storm of God’s wrath has spent itself. The darkness is ended. The sword of Divine justice is sheathed. The wages of sin have been paid.…Never again shall He endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself. Never again shall He be in the hands of Satan. Never again shall the light of God’s countenance be hidden from Him.” [Pink, pp. 108-9.] It is finished.
- The goal of the incarnation is complete. The work which God had given Him to do and the mission on which Christ had been sent is completed. There was nothing more for Jesus left to do. There is nothing left undone. He accomplished all He was tasked to do. The obedience He learned from His suffering is over (Heb. 5:8). He glorified His Father in His work, and now He is returning to Heaven to receive His glory (Jn. 17:4-5) because it is finished.
- The atonement is finished and complete. It was this task that Isaiah spoke of when he prophesied (Is. 53:11-12):
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
And it is this task that Jesus Himself referred to when He said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). The reason for Christ’s coming was for redemption and the atoning of sin. And with these words, that is finished and accomplished. He’s done. The price of our sin has been paid. He can add nothing to improve the atonement and we cannot add anything to improve the atonement. Everything that can be done to satisfy God is done. For those who will believe in Christ, all the massive debt of sin is paid, eternity is secure, fellowship with God is provided, freedom (from the power of sin) is granted, and victory is sure. Christ has won, and gives victory to those who trust in Him (1 Cor. 15:57; Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:14). It is finished.
- Our sins are finished. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:6). And if it is on Him it is no longer on us. Unlike the scapegoats who took away the sins of the nation of Israel each year on the Day of Atonement, Christ has taken our sins away from us permanently. As far as the East is from the West, to the depths of the seas, God has chosen not to remember any of our sins anymore — because Christ finished His work. It is because of this reality that not only the penalty of our sin is removed, but so is the power of sin. No more must we obey sin. No more are we under its power and domination. It is now possible for the believer in Christ to live free, because it is finished.
- The requirements of the Law are finished. Jesus affirmed that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). With these words, that task is done. Every facet of the Law is complete and finished. The Law no longer condemns us. The righteousness which was not possible to achieve by the Law has been imputed to us by Christ. We are no longer under Law, but are now under grace. Our sin has been imputed to Him and His righteousness has been imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21). He is our substitute because it is finished.
- The power of Satan is finished. The word finished is not strong enough. Satan’s power is vanquished and destroyed. He is powerless against us (Heb. 2:14). He has no more accusations to render against us. Death has no more hold on us. We are no longer of the flesh, but are now of the Spirit. He is still our enemy, but He’s beaten, because it is finished.
That all this is true is demonstrated in the next part of the verse: He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. If Jesus were to have His life taken from Him, everything I’ve just said would be null and void. If Christ came as just one more sacrificed lamb, unwilling and unable to avert the knife of the priest, then Jesus’ sacrifice is no more worthwhile than any of the other thousands of sheep that were sacrificed every Passover. But if Jesus dies willingly, and under His own authority — if Jesus gives His life to satisfy God’s wrath, then everything really is finished.
And John tells us that is precisely what happened: “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Every other man dies and then his head slumps. Not Christ. He bows His head, and volitionally gives up the spirit of His life of His own accord. He is in control of His life until the very end. He is King and sovereign to the end of His life and beyond. Nothing is taken from Him; everything is given from Him.
One more thing you need to know about these words. It is not clear from John, but it is clear from the other gospel writers. This statement, it is finished is no timid whisper or meek mumble. It is a bold and authoritative declaration. Matthew says that, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up His Spirit” (27:50). After hanging on the cross for hours, His limbs aching and weakened from a lack of blood flow, His lungs screaming for oxygen, His feet and hands numb from the pain of bearing the weight of His body all those hours, one last time He pushes Himself up to gulp in one final breath and with that breath He declares for all to hear, “IT IS FINISHED.”
I picture the thieves next to Him lifting their own slumped heads to see what has happened, and the soldiers snapping their heads around from their debates over His robes and their bored attempts to pass the day away, and the women around the cross stopping their weeping for a moment and passersby muting their mocking at the sound of His voice. Did people who were on the way to view this spectacle hasten their steps and did those who had just left return, both wondering, “What was that cry? What just happened?”
And I also envision the prophets and angels and redeemed saints in glory peering over the walls of heaven to view the activity on this cross. The attention of the entire universe is focused in this moment on the cross, and if heaven rejoices at the salvation of one sinner, my guess is that with this declaration, all heaven exploded in thunderous worship and praise of the Savior and the plan of God! This is the very moment at which all history turns. Christ reigns. Christ proves that He is crowned with strength and might. At the moment He declares it is finished, He demonstrates that He is the sovereign King.
In moments, Christ would be dead and the disciples would be distraught. They would spend the next couple days in secluded despair. But Christ’s hope-filled and joyful words were ringing throughout the universe and heaven. These dying words were victorious words.