When someone knows he is about to die, he is more than likely to impart some words of comfort, appreciation, love, and maybe even wisdom, to loved ones standing nearby. A convicted killer may confess his crime and ask forgiveness, while a person who has lived selfishly may curse God for cutting his life short when he feels he has so much to live for. Some who have rejected God in their lives cry out in fear as the blackness of eternity looms before them. The last thing a person says or does is often preserved for posterity. For instance, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1119-1179) – who had a clear understanding of God’s grace and control over men’s circumstances – said as his murderers prepared to kill him, “I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.” He said this in the same spirit as the apostle Paul who knew he would soon be executed: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8 NIV).
Jesus’ Last Words
As significant as these last words are, there are no recorded last words by anyone that can compare to those spoken by the Lord Jesus on the cross. His seven last utterances in the Gospels are not just interesting conversation topics, but words which resonate with the power and authority of One who, in spite of the agony of the crucifixion, was in complete control of His circumstances. They are:
- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).
- “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
- “Dear woman, here is your son” … “Here is your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27).
- “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” (Mk. 15:34; Mt. 27:46).
- “I am thirsty” (Jn. 19:28).
- “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
- “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46).
God In Control
The fact that the Lord Jesus was arrested and taken by His enemies wasn’t a matter of bad luck or mismanagement. God’s timing is perfect, and the Lord, aware of God’s timetable said, “The hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mt. 26:45). The purpose and control which the Lord had at that time are made increasingly obvious by the statements the gospel writers included in their narratives. While questioning the Lord, Pilate asked: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” By His silence, Jesus was fulfilling this prophesy: “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth” (Isa. 53:7). He then answered: “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above” (Jn. 19:10-11). God was in control!
Together the Lord and His Father were bringing to fulfillment a plan with a precise timetable which had been established in eternity past. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice would make possible the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners with a holy God. Many prophets and Old Testament writers, in direct statements or through types and shadows, prophesied this. Israel practiced different offerings and sacrifices which pointed to the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God. Many prophesies were fulfilled as Jesus was arrested, judged, and crucified. In fact the apostle John linked Psalm 69:21 to the fulfillment of that prophesy when the Lord Jesus cried out “I am thirsty.” John showed that the Lord knew what He was doing and was in control, “knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, ” (Jn. 19:28).
While each of the sayings from the cross is important and worthy of in-depth consideration, I’d like to direct our thoughts to the short sentence, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Some who read this verse might think that it was just an exhausted, dispirited way of saying “It’s all over for me,” but that’s definitely not what was meant. The English phrase “It is finished” is just one word in Greek – tetelestai. The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes this observation: “Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them meaning ‘paid in full.’ This word on Jesus’ lips was significant. When He said, ‘It is finished’ (not ‘I am finished’), He meant His redemptive work was completed. He had been made sin for people (2 Cor. 5:21) and had suffered the penalty of God’s justice which sin deserved.”
Matthew stated, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit” (Mt. 27:50). This indicated that His cry in a loud voice was the word tetelestai, meaning “It is finished.” This was then followed by “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
To what did Jesus refer when He cried, “It is finished”? Perhaps it was a shout of victory because His work – which He had come to fulfill at the command of His Father – was completed in every way: “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). He had fulfilled all the prophesies in the Old Testament Scriptures that pointed to Him as the promised Messiah and the Savior of the world. All the types and shadows in Scripture that pointed to His sacrificial death, resurrection and perfect life as the perfect Lamb of God were brought to fulfillment.
In other words, none could find any fault in Him, even those who falsely accused Him and couldn’t agree on anything that would show sin in His life. Through His death and resurrection grace was shown to sinful mankind, and salvation is forever based on the blood of the perfect sacrifice, thus doing away with approaching God through the Law which only condemned the sinner. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
The effect of a perfect sacrifice meant that a new priesthood was established. Jesus became the Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10), and all His disciples became “believer priests” able to come into the presence of God. This was clearly shown by the tearing of the temple veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The Old Testament high priest could enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sacrifice just once a year on the Day of Atonement. But God Himself tore that veil from top to bottom indicating that He was making a new way for us to come into His presence.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22).
Now believer priests can come to God, not through a religious through the one and only true mediator, Jesus Christ our Great High Priest. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). In this way we become “holy priests” who offer worship and praise, and “royal priests” who serve God (1 Pet. 2:5,9). As believer priests we can offer our own bodies as sacrifices: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1). “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16).
Jesus knew beforehand that His atoning death would make salvation possible to all who believe in Him and become His disciples. He knew that the Church, comprised of all believers, would one day become His Bride and His companion for all eternity. It is no wonder that He could shout in victory, “It is finished,” meaning the debt had been paid in full. Now eternity can be filled with the redeemed from every tribe, language, people and nation because of His perfect work at Calvary (Rev. 5:9).
God’s perfect plan was carried out faultlessly. God’s own Son had taken the righteous judgment for sin upon Himself, dying in the place of sinful men and so appeasing the holiness of God. That is why Scripture says, “When this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God … because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb. 12:12-14).
Tetelestai! It is finished! Paid in full!
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org