Christians recently commemorated what we call “Good Friday”, the day on which Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross. In these posts I’m explaining why Jesus came to earth specifically to die and why Christians believe it was in God’s plan for him to do so.
John 19:30 says: When he had received the drink, Jesus said,"It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. NIV
These are well-known words of Jesus on the cross, and with good reason. The words “It is finished” have significant meaning. What exactly does the statement “It is finished” mean in the context of the crucifixion? Does it mean that Jesus’ pain and agony would soon be over since he was about to die? It could certainly mean that, but I believe its meaning is much more profound.
When we try to get deep into the meaning of a word or phrase used in the Bible, we have to go back to the original language. In the case of the New Testament, the original language is Greek. Jesus didn’t speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic, but the Gospels were written in Greek, a widely known language in the Roman Empire at the time (especially in the Eastern Mediterranean). Therefore, it is helpful to understand the meaning and nuances of the words the writers of the Gospels carefully chose to tell their story of Jesus.
Jesus followed God’s plan
The Greek word used for “finished” is tetelestai and it has the sense of accomplishment, or of something being completed. As a matter of fact, that same Greek word (tetelestai) is found two verses before this one, in John 19:28, which says: Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” NIV
So the Greek word used has a meaning of completeness or accomplishment of a task. What does that tell us? How do we relate this to the crucifixion? It tells us that Jesus was not just the unfortunate victim of a gross injustice, but that he willingly suffered and died to carry out God’s plan.
Throughout the Gospels it is clear that Jesus knew he was going to be put to death. He spoke several times of his coming death to his disciples, but they were in denial. It didn’t make sense to them. Why would the Messiah have to be put to death? We are all familiar with the scene in which Jesus tells his disciples he must go to Jerusalem to die (in Matthew 16:21-23):
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
We can see in this passage that Jesus was focused on God’s will and carrying out God’s plan.
Jesus came to die
Jesus spoke of his coming death many times, and several passages in the Old Testament speak of it (such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22). When we look at all this, it becomes obvious that Jesus came to earth to suffer and die on our behalf. That was God’s plan. Now we may not completely grasp the theology behind all of this, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and give us eternal life. That’s also why Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-12): “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Isn’t that what Jesus did? Lay down his life for you and for me, his sheep? That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus this way (John 1:29b): “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” NIV
In the Old Testament lambs were sacrificed to obtain God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice, once for all. He voluntarily became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In John 10:17-18, Jesus made another clear statement of what was to come, and why we have to understand that Jesus was in control of his own death and resurrection:
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” NIV
“It is finished” means that Jesus willingly suffered and died for us as part of God’s plan.
Archeologists have found ancient debt instruments, promissory notes in Greek. Across some of them was written the same word we are talking about, the word translated as “It is finished” in the Gospel (tetelestai). Of course on the promissory note, the word had the meaning of PAID IN FULL. Christians believe that’s what Jesus did. He paid in full a debt that you and I are unable to pay. When those who have trusted Jesus or their eternal destiny get up to the pearly gates, St. Peter will look up our name in his book. What do you think it will say after the names of those that have chosen to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
TETELESTAI. PAID IN FULL.
St. Peter will then say: “Come on in. We’ve been expecting you. Welcome home. Come to the place that has been prepared for you.”