What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “It Is Finished?”

June 24, 2022
George T. Ferrier

One of Christ’s seven sayings from the cross, this sentence is one word in the original Greek (tetelestai) meaning “to complete, it is done.” So, the question is, “what was completed?” In those days, the word was stamped on tax receipts to indicate “paid in full.” The Lord did not mean “I am finished” but that His redemptive work had been completed. He had paid in full, suffering God’s judgment for all sin. 

It is normal for believers to look back on their lives with regret, wishing they had served Christ more faithfully. Contrast our experience with Christ’s perfect life. He had no regrets, no unfinished tasks, no thought of “I could have done more.” The Lord testified early in His ministry that He had come to do the Father’s will and to finish His work (John 4:34). Anticipating the completion of His work, He prayed to His Father the day before His crucifixion: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). In every word, in every action, in every attitude, in every thought, He glorified God the Father. At Calvary as His loud, victorious cry of “finished” echoed over the earth, the discerning witness would have observed that this was no weak cry of defeat. Having now finished His saving work, He would after His resurrection be the author of eternal salvation to all who believe on Him (Heb. 5:9).

He completely finished all that had been prophesied of Him regarding His first coming: His incarnation, suffering for sin, and glorification (Luke 24:25-27). Isaiah 53:4-6 says: “Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

He fulfilled the Old Testament types that depicted His Person and work during His first advent. He was God’s Passover Lamb to offer redemption to the whole world. He was portrayed in the two goats on the Day of Atonement, both the slain goat whose blood was taken behind the veil as well as the scapegoat bearing imputed sin into the wilderness. As John the Baptist exclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He was also a burnt offering of devotion to God. Ephesians 5:2 says: “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Christ testified that He would be glorified at Calvary and that the Father would be glorified in Him. John 12:23 says: “But Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.’” Then, in verse 28 Christ prayed: “Father, glorify Your name.” This was followed by a voice from heaven which said: “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” There was much more that God could have said about His Son’s work. John 21:25 says: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.”  

The Roman centurion had seen many crucifixions, observing the condemned become weak and exhausted, their heads dropping forward after collapsing and suffocating. John 19:30 says, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” Christ did not collapse on the cross like all the others. After finishing His work, He purposely bowed His head, and by His own omnipotent power dismissed His spirit, committing Himself into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46; John 19:30). No one took His life but as Matthew 27:50 says, “He yielded up His spirit.”  But only after He finished His work. Is it any wonder that the Roman centurion said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God?”