How many people at the hour of their death can say that they have perfectly completed all they ever wanted to do in their life? For the most part folks will say, “I wish I still could do this, or see that, or say that, but life is too short.” Unlike Jesus, we are more likely to throw up our hands and say, “I am finished.” But, it does not have to be that way.
The sixth of the words Jesus uttered as He hung on the cross was one Greek word: “It is finished” (tetelestai, literally, “It has been finished” or accomplished, fulfilled, consummated). This is one of the most significant and uplifting statements spoken to the church. It is recorded for us in John 19:30 (see also Jn. 19:28), and intended for all the church in every age to hear.
At this time of the year when we especially remember the suffering, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, let us not forget that everything Jesus did was “according to plan”—not simply His plan, but His Father’s. In Luke 2:29, we see that Jesus was self-conscious of fulfilling all that was His task in the covenant of redemption,”Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Again, in His prayer of John 17:4, our Lord said, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” Jesus was not focused on Himself, but on the work given to Him—to be the Mediator, Redeemer, and Savior of His elect people.
What was finished by our Lord? We can begin by saying that He has completed the active and passive obedience by fulfilling the law and bearing the curse. All the types, promises, and prophecies regarding redemption were fulfilled. All the sacrifices specified in the Old Testament were fulfilled and abolished in Christ’s one sacrifice (see Heb. 10:13–14). The justice of God against the sins of His people was fulfilled. Jesus finished the suffering of hell on the cross; that’s more than those in hell can ever say. He also totally destroyed the power of Satan, sin, and death. Foreseeing His burial, resurrection, and ascension, His humiliation was finished. Power and glory awaited Him.
How does that affect us as Christians? By faith in Him, we know that the covenant was ratified by Christ’s blood. He paid the ransom to the last drop of His blood in order to reconcile us to God. It can never be added to nor taken away. Those who were “given” to Christ by the Father, no one shall pluck from our Father’s hand (Jn. 10:28–30). Nor should we think that Christ is now idle. He is ruling all the church and all the nations of the world. When God raised Jesus from the dead, “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23)
“It has been finished!” Those words were not spoken just to the Jews, Romans, or the few believers at the foot of the cross. They have been recorded in scripture for us—for our comfort! Complete salvation by grace through faith is bound up in this announcement by Jesus. I read somewhere that this word, used by Jesus, was also written by the Greeks on a loan that was paid off. It had the effect of declaring, “Paid in Full” when the final payment was made.
Is there ever a time when we can use these words regarding the scope of our lives? It is certain that we cannot say this in every sense that Jesus did. God’s plan for Jesus and for us are different on many fronts. Yet, there is a sense in which we can say, at the very end of our life, “It has been finished.” Such words could never refer to our perfect obedience, or even to our plans. But we surely can say we have fulfilled the plan of God for what He would have us do in life. After all, it is God who ordains our days and tasks and then takes us out of this world when His plan for us is completed. If God’s plan for us is accomplished as He gives us time, then we can say, “It (God’s plan) is finished” here on this earth.
As wonderful as these words are in terms of our salvation, they are equally important to us in terms of having the purpose of Jesus throughout our lives: “I must be about my Father’s business.” It is the Father’s business for us, as taught in His Word and seen in His providence, which must be our business until the day that we commit our souls to our Father in heaven.