What follows is the manuscript of the devotional given at our Good Friday worship service this evening.
“It is finished.” “I’m done.” “It’s over.”
When we use those words and say something is finished, we might mean one of several different things:
- We might mean we have simply endured a process — e.g., “the house project is finally finished…” We aren’t as happy with the product as much as we are happy that the process is finally over.
- We might mean we aren’t sure whether we have attained the objective — e.g., “I finished my workout…” That sentence often contains the ambiguity of “I finished the workout, but I think really it beat me — I’m exhausted…”
- We anticipate a completed end that really isn’t over — e.g., “Our last child has left the house, and I’m finished my role as a parent…” As Jim Newheiser wisely noted in his book title, You Never Stop Being a Parent, which means you just think you are finished, but you never really are.
When Jesus shouted the words it is finished from the cross, they had to be considered as somewhere between ironic and delusional to the unbelievers around the cross. They might even have been considered irrational to John and His women followers who were at the cross with Him. The observers around the cross might have expected Him to say, “I am finished,” as in, “I have been defeated by the cross…the cross has finished Me…” That was the end of everyone else that was crucified on the cross. No one finished the cross. No one endured the cross. The cross was the finish and end of everyone who hung on it.
But that is not what Christ said. He directly and clearly said, “It is finished.” The cross is not the end of Christ. Christ is the end of the cross. Christ is not just saying something about Himself, but He is revealing something about His work of salvation. In fact, it appears that Jesus particularly does not want to be misunderstood with what He says. So in the previous statement He said, “I am thirsty” (v. 28). He had been on the cross for hours, first under the unrelenting heat of the sun, then under the eternal wrath of God in the three hours of darkness, and then under the heat of the sun again. He had been battling for breath to keep His body upright on the cross. Thirst was not the crucified man’s greatest agony, but it was a significant reality. Scourged, bleeding, and baking under the hot sun, the victim would undoubtedly be severely dehydrated.
So why did Jesus wait so long to express His thirst? Why did He wait until now? It was likely so that He could moisten His lips and throat to have a strong voice to shout His final two statements for all to hear: “It is finished” (19:30) and “Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit” (Lk. 23:46). Until now He did not need strength of voice, but these final two cries demanded a bold voice that could only come through quenched thirst. So in response to His declaration of thirst, He was given something to drink (v. 29).
Previously Jesus had refused a drink of wine that was mixed with myrrh, which would have deadened His pain (Mt. 27:34). He wanted to be in control of His faculties and wanted to experience the full extent of God’s wrath against sin, so He refused that drink. But the wrath has ended and now He needs something to drink so that He can have a voice to boldly declare these final two statements. So, He receives the sour wine (v. 30).
Having received quenching for His thirst the three other gospel writers tell us that Jesus cried out with a loud voice immediately before He died (Mt. 27:50; Mk. 15:37; Lk. 23:46). This declaration was one of the last two things Jesus spoke immediately prior to His death and it is a triumphant declaration of victory.
What does Jesus reveal about Himself and His work with this statement? He reveals His victory and authority. In what ways is Christ victorious and authoritative?
- Christ is victorious because sin and death are defeated
The three words, “It is finished,” are actually one singular word in Greek. It is a word you probably heard previously; it is the word tetelestai. It is a word that was used in financial contexts; for instance we have found ancient tax documents on which this word was written. It meant that the debt had been fulfilled; the obligation was “paid in full.” There was no remaining obligation for the indebted person.
John has actually used the root of this word twice already in this context, in v. 28 — “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said ‘I am thirsty…’” The purpose of His coming to earth and the divine intent of the cross have been accomplished, and now Christ makes the declaration to all those who would hear that it has been accomplished.
There are many things that have been fulfilled and completed by Christ through His death. One of these is that sin and its accomplice, death, are defeated.
The prophet Isaiah foretold that the sins of us all would be laid on Him (Is. 53:6). They were not only laid on Him, but He vanquished them. So Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pt. 2:24). His death meant our life; death is vanquished for those who would trust in Him. His death also meant that sin is defeated and His righteousness has prevailed. Those who trust in Him are no longer dominated by sin. Prior to Christ, the sinner could only sin; but after Christ, the sinner is declared righteous and able not to sin. The sinner is now able to please God and do righteousness.
Because of the cross it can be said that sin and death are gone. Prior to Christ, sin and death are tyrannical rulers. But now they have been conquered. Christ is victor over them both, and the believer in Him is freed from the curse of Adam and the power of sin. Because sin was transferred to Christ and He defeated it, sin is no longer on us or counted against us.
- Christ is victorious because the plan of Satan has been overthrown.
Not only is sin defeated, but the architect of sin and the designer of sin and the originator and chief user of sin is also defeated. Satan is not only defeated, but He is overthrown and vanquished. While he still lives today, His final doom and end was sealed at the cross.
In the hours before He went to the cross, Jesus declared, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). How did Jesus overthrow Satan by His death on the cross? He did it this way: Jesus wanted the cross and Satan did not want the cross and when Jesus went to the cross and died on His timetable and in His way, He defeated Satan. The cross was not Satan’s work to take Christ’s life away from Him; the cross was Christ’s work to take Satan’s power from him.
We know that Satan’s objective was to keep Christ from the cross because on at least one occasion after Jesus spoke of the necessity of the cross, Peter said, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Mt. 16:22). And in response Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt. 16:23). In other words, avoiding the cross is a Satanic idea and objective. It was Christ’s intent to go to the cross and it was Satan’s objective to keep Christ from the cross. And if he could not keep Christ from the cross then he wanted to make the cross happen when Jesus didn’t want it to happen (which is what was going on in Jn. 7:44 and in the betrayal of Judas). But when Jesus died in His way at His time, He stripped Satan of His power (Heb. 2:14).
John Piper has correctly noted that “Hindering Jesus from the cross was the work of Satan. Satan did not want Jesus crucified. It would be his undoing.” [Piper, Spectacular Sins, 8.] But this declaration, it is finished, indicates Christ’s power, authority, and victory — He’s dying because He is in control, not because His life is being taken away. Nothing can be taken away from God and nothing can subvert His will and purposes. He is on the cross and He is the victor over Satan there.
- Christ is victorious because the work given to Him by the Father is completed
In John 6, Jesus reaffirms a statement that He made multiple times: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 6:37–38; cf. also 4:34; 5:30; 7:16).
Jesus’ advent on earth was part of God the Father’s eternal plan for God the Son. This was the promise of eternal life which the Father made to the Son long ages ago (Tt. 1:2). This was the inner-Trinitarian promise of eternal life that made to the Son (2 Tim. 1:1). This is the eternal covenant that the Father made with the Son (Heb. 13:20). The Father sent the Son to earth to reveal the Father and His glory (Jn. 1:18) and to live a perfectly righteous life in the flesh and to atone for and redeem sinners from sin.
Everything that the Father sent the Son to do, He accomplished. He was sent to glorify the Father, and He completed that work (Jn. 17:4-5). And He glorified the Father supremely on the cross. That work on earth was finished.
And all Christ’s work on behalf of the Father was finished decisively and completely. Nothing was left undone and nothing would need to be repeated. It was all done and it was all done for all eternity. No one could come after Him to improve on what He did. No angel could add anything to His work. There was nothing lacking in His work that needed correction or addition. “Whatever the law demanded is perfectly paid; whatever a sinner needs, is perfectly obtained and purchased; nothing can be added to what Christ has done; he has put the last hand to it, when he said, ‘it is finished.’” [Flavel, The Seven Utterances…]
- Christ is victorious because the work of redemption is completed
Christ’s work on earth was not to perform miracles that amazed (like the feeding of the 5000 from give loaves and two fish). His work was not to heal the sick (though He certainly did heal some). His work was not to correct the teaching of the Pharisees (though He did teach with a divine authority they lacked). His work was “not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). And the cross finished that divine act and provision of redemption.
To redeem sinners necessitated the death of an unblemished and perfect sacrifice. Every sacrifice of the Old Testament was inadequate because those sacrifices were made under the curse of sin and because animals cannot stand in the place of men and because animals are not infinite and eternal to absorb an infinite wrath. So those sacrifices needed to be repeated time after time until one final sacrifice could be made that would not need to be repeated.
Christ was that final sacrifice. Christ paid all the debt of all those who would trust in Him. Christ secured eternity for those who believe. Christ was a sure victor that reconciled sinners to God (Col. 2:14-15). And that victory was proved when at the completion of the pouring out of God’s wrath Luke says, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Lk. 23:44–45).
Since the building of the Temple, only the chief priest was allowed access once a year into the holy of holies and the presence of God. Access to God was blocked to sinners. But with Christ’s atoning work, God grants eternal access to Himself by reaching down from Heaven and tearing the curtain from the top to the bottom. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life for His sheep and He has done it perfectly, fully, and finally. His work is finished.
It has been noted that this declaration from the cross was “not the moan of the defeated, nor the sigh of patient resignation. It is the triumphant recognition that He has now fully accomplished the work that He came to do.” [Morris]
How do we know that Christ has been victorious and all these things have been accomplished? Notice the end of v. 30 — And He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. Every other individual who died on the cross died, and then his head involuntarily slumped forward. Not so with Christ. He willingly bowed His head and then He willingly gave up the spirit of His life. He picked the time of His death. He controlled the exact moment of His death. Life was not taken from Him. He gave up His life on behalf of others. Death did not defeat Him by robbing Him of His life; He defeated death by determining the exact moment of His death and by volitionally giving up His life (which is something quite different from self-murder). As one writer has said, “More than simply knowing what was taking place, Jesus was consciously in control of the circumstances.…Jesus was declaring the completion of His life’s work. The crucifixion did not thwart His mission. Rather, it accomplished it. Jesus did not hang His head in the agony of defeat. He was the victor, not the victim, on the cross.” [Laney, 349-50.]
One commentator summarizes this statement by Christ this way, “Thus Jesus dies: he who was from all eternity, dies; the eternal Word through whom all things were made, including life itself, dies; he who raised the dead, who at the tomb of Lazarus plundered its dread abode, himself dies.” [Milne, 282.]
Christ has died. But it the culminating act of His victorious life. And in His death He affirms in one final triumphant act that He is the victor. The grave appears to be a grief and sorrow — and surely the weight of our sin and the horror that the infinitely perfect and holy God incarnate carried the weight of our sin is grievous. But don’t confuse that with His defeat. Christ is dead, but He is not defeated. His words, “It is finished” are the capstone to His victorious life.