The Final Word…
A Dying Man’s Final Words
Only one person in history never left behind any unfinished business. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the only person who could come to the end of his life and say—with absolute and total truthfulness—”I have finished everything I set out to do.”
It is Friday in Jerusalem and a huge crowd has gathered at the place called Skull Hill. It was on the north side of the city, just outside the Damascus Gate, and located by the side of a well-traveled road. The Romans liked to hold their crucifixions in public places. Killing people in public had a salutary effect on the masses.
This particular crucifixion started at 9 A.M. For three hours everything proceeded normally. Then at exactly 12 noon, the sky went black. Not overcast, but pitch black, so black that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It wasn’t anything normal like an eclipse. The darkness seemed to pulse and throb, almost like the darkness was a living thing, an evil mutant creature escaped from some science fiction movie.
Only this was no movie. What happened was real. For three hours darkness fell across the city of Jerusalem. There were screams, hideous cries, moans, and other unidentifiable sounds. Then, just as suddenly as it started, the darkness lifted, disappeared, vanished, and sanity returned to the earth.
One glance at the middle cross made it clear that this man Jesus would not last much longer. He looked dead already. His body quivered uncontrollably, his chest heaving with every tortured breath. The soldiers knew from long experience that he wouldn’t make it to sundown.
Then it happened. He shouted something—”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone in the crowd shouted back to him. Moments passed, death drew near, then a hoarse whisper, “I thirst.” The soldiers put some sour vinegar on a sponge and lifted it to his lips with a stalk of hyssop. He moistened his lips and took a deep breath. If you listened you could hear the death rattle in his throat. He had less than a minute to live.
Then he spoke again. It was a quick shout. Just one word. If you weren’t paying attention, you missed it in all the confusion. Then he breathed out another sentence. Then he was dead.
What was that shout? In Greek it is only one word … Tetelestai … “It is finished.”
Was, Is And Always Will Be
Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It’s a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. It’s the word you would use when you climb to the peak of Mt. Everest; it’s the word you would use when you turn in the final copy of your dissertation; it’s the word you would use when you make the final payment on your new car; it’s the word you use when you cross the finish line of your first 10K run. The word means more than just “I survived.” It means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”
But there’s more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.”
When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present and it will remain finished in the future.”
Note one other fact. He did not say, “I am finished,” for that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. Rather, he cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”
Tetelestai, then, is the Savior’s final cry of victory. When he died, he left no unfinished business behind. When he said, “It is finished,” he was speaking the truth.
What Was Finished?
When you read these words of Jesus, only one question grips the mind—What was finished?
Matthew Henry, who lived and wrote over 300 years ago, in his remarks on this saying of Jesus (volume 5, p. 1201), he lists 8 things that were finished or completed when Jesus cried out “It is finished.”
1. The malice of his enemies was finished. By nailing him to the cross, they had done their worst. There was nothing more they could do to the Son of God.
2. The sufferings ordained by God were finished. Many times during his ministry, Jesus spoke of “the work” he was sent to do and of the “hour” of trouble that was coming. He once spoke of a “baptism” of suffering he must undergo. All those things were ordained by God. None of them happened by chance. Even the evil plans of the Jews fit somehow into God’s greater plan to save the world through the death of his Son (Acts 2:23). But those sufferings were now at an end.
3. All the Old Testament types and prophecies were fulfilled. Matthew Henry lists a number of examples—He had been given vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21), he had been sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), his hands and feet had been pierced (Psalm 22:16), his garments had been divided (Psalm 22:18), and his side was pierced (Zechariah 12:10). There are many other prophesies surrounding his death. All those had been or very soon would be fulfilled.
4. The ceremonial law was abolished. As Romans 10:4 puts it, Christ is “the end of the law.” It finds its completion and fulfillment in him. Therefore, all the Old Testament rules concerning animal sacrifices are set aside. And the rules and regulations concerning the priesthood are out of date since the Greater Priest has now laid down his life for his people. Those laws pointed to the cross. But once Jesus died, they were no longer needed. “The Mosaic economy is dissolved, to make way for a better hope.”
5. The price of sin was paid in full. Do you remember the words of John the Baptist when he saw Jesus? He called him “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) That “taking away” of sin was accomplishment by the death of our Lord.
6. His physical sufferings were at an end. “The storm is over, the worst is past; all his pains and agonies are at an end, and he is just going to paradise, entering upon the joy set before him.”
7. His life was now finished. When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he had only a few seconds to live. All that he had come to do had been fully accomplished. His life and his mission came to an end at exactly the same moment.
8. The work of redemption was now complete. This is undoubtedly the major meaning. Matthew Henry expands on what Christ’s death accomplished in four statements, each one beginning with the letter F. The death of Christ provided a …
Full satisfaction for sin
Fatal blow to Satan
Fountain of grace opened that will flow forever
Foundation of peace laid that will last forever
Paid In Full
But there is more to the meaning of tetelestai. It means all of the above, but it especially applies to the price paid for the sins of the world. Merrill Tenney (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, IX, 185) notes that the verb was used in the first and second centuries in the sense of “fulfilling” or “paying” a debt and often appeared in receipts. “It is finished” (Tetelestai) could be interpreted as “Paid in full.”
“Paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, you never have to pay for it again. In fact, “paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for, it is foolish to try to pay for it again.
So let me ask you a personal question. What sin is keeping you from God today? Is it anger? Is it lust? Is it a hard heart of unbelief? Is it alcohol abuse? Is it an uncontrollable temper? Is it cheating? Is it stealing? Is it adultery? Is it abortion? Is it pride? Is it greed?
Let me tell you the best news you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter what “your” sin is. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.
IT IS FINISHED!! Paid in full.