All the Way to Calvary: The Sixth Cry From the Cross

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (Joh 19:30).[1]

Putting the Gospel records together, it seems that the final four sayings of Jesus from the cross happened in quick succession. Perhaps the only interruption to them was the time it took for an unnamed volunteer to run to the sour wine container and raise a drink to Jesus’ lips after he said “I thirst.”

Like the fifth cry, the sixth is recorded with one word in Greek, tetelestai. This verb has no precise subject. We are not told specifically what was finished or brought to completion. The rest of the New Testament will help us fill in the blanks. Yet, as Spurgeon put it, this one word “would need all the other words that were ever spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain it …. It is together immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it.” But we must make the attempt to fathom it, and in so doing we will discover that the Savior’s word, “finished,” suggests several things.

Suffering Was Over

The life of Christ recorded in the Gospels was one filled with suffering. He bore the pain of rejection; “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh 1:11). Even before the cross, verbal assaults were launched at Him (Mat 12:24; Luk 7:34; Joh 10:33). More than once, an angry mob sought to take His life (Luk 4:28-29; Joh 8:59; 10:31,39). He had to endure the sting of the traitor’s kiss and the injustice of mock trials. Blows pelting His face, thorns piercing His brow, lashes striking His back, and nails biting into His flesh were among the dreadful sufferings He sustained in His final hours. But worst of all, He “suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe 3:18). No one ever suffered like Jesus did, nor was there ever a sufferer so innocent. But now it was all over. The wrath of men and the wrath of God were behind Him.

Never more shall God, Jehovah,
Smite the Shepherd with the sword;
Ne’er again shall cruel sinners
Set at nought our glorious Lord.[2]

Scripture Was Fulfilled

We should not miss the connection of tetelestai with what is recorded two verses earlier. John speaks about Jesus knowing all things were “accomplished” (tetelestai) and that Scripture was being “fulfilled” (teleiothe). In fact, John mentions fulfilled Scripture throughout his crucifixion account (19:28,36,37). The prophecies of the Old Testament in relation to Jesus’ birth, life, suffering and death have now reached fulfillment as He is about to dismiss His spirit. “Those who have been exacting students of the prophetic Scriptures tell us that with this victorious shout – dismissing his Spirit – 332 distinct prophecies in the Old Testament were literally and minutely fulfilled. All the types and prophecies, all the redemptive work, and all of the will of the Father were fulfilled.”[3]

Service Was Complete

The word on Jesus’ lips here was also used in relation to a servant completing a task. “As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion …. The verb teleo from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task.”[4] Christ was the Perfect Servant sent by the Father to carry out the work of redemption. Isaiah prophesied that this Servant would delight the heart of God (42:1) and would not fail in His mission (v4). We hear the passion expressed in this Servant’s words, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work” (Joh 4:34 NET). Indeed, in His prayer to the Father Jesus spoke of this work being completed (see 17:4). In describing Christ Jesus as this Servant, Paul wrote that He “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Php 2:7-8). And now the work of God’s Perfect Servant was brought to completion on the cross. Here was a Man who could die with no regrets, having fulfilled in every detail the mission assigned to and accepted by Him.

Satan Was Defeated

Earlier in his Gospel, John recorded Jesus as saying, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (12:31). There Jesus pronounced the sentence upon Satan, but here at the cross it was executed. The Seed of the Woman triumphed over the Serpent (Gen 3:15). Satan’s main weapons are guilt and fear, especially the fear of death. But through death Christ destroyed the one who held the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb 2:14). And since our debt of sin has been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col 2:14), Satan’s power to accuse us of sin has been stripped away.

Matthew (27:50) and Mark (15:37) stress that Jesus cried out with a loud voice before His death. It seems clear that Jesus shouted out, “It is finished!” It was a victorious cry. Satan was defeated. And although he has not yet been banished eternally to the Lake of Fire, the cross guarantees his ultimate doom.

The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.[5]

Sacrifice Was Perfect

The word used in Jesus’ penultimate cry could also be found in a priestly context, when examining a sacrifice for offering.[6] Its approval could be expressed with the word tetelestai. We argued in the previous article that John is intentionally making Passover connections throughout his account of Jesus’ death. He wants to prove that Christ is indeed “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (1:29). To this end, John records Pilate’s thorough examination of Jesus and has him concluding three times that he can find “no fault” in Jesus (18:38; 19:4,6), thus fulfilling the requirement of the Passover lamb (Exo 12:5).

Sin Was Paid

Many Bible commentators will point out another meaning of tetelestai. It appears frequently in nonliterary papyri (e.g., bills of sale) with the meaning “paid in full.”[7] Thus, it was a word used by merchants when payments were made or debts were satisfied. Our sin is described in Scripture as a legal debt that must be satisfied (e.g., Mat 6:12; Luk 7:36-50, esp. vv41-42). The wages (or payment) demanded for sin is death, eternal death (see Rom 6:23). None of our works can satisfy one penny of the staggering debt we owe God. We were facing sin’s penalty without any hope of deliverance. But this was why Jesus came. He came to pay our debt of sin in full, a payment that would demand His death. He said Himself that He came “to give his life a ransom [payment] for many” (Mar 10:45). Paul tells us that “Christ died for our sins” (1Co 15:3). Our debt was completely paid, and God would be unrighteous to still expect a payment from us. Praise His name!

I close with one more technical point. The verb tense of tetelestai is perfect, which means, “It is finished and always will be finished.” I am going to heaven, and you can too because “it is finished and always will be finished.”

Settled forever! Sin’s tremendous claim,
Glory to Jesus, blessed be His name,
No part-way measures doth His grace provide,
Finished the work was, when the Saviour died.

Settled forever! Fear not then to trust
Thy soul upon Him, even as thou must;
On Calvary’s cross, the claims of God were met;
Settled forever all the grievous debt.[8]

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] Robert C. Chapman (1803-1902)

[3] Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening John’s Gospel and Epistles (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 236.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 621.

[5] Martin Luther (1483-1546), translated by Frederick H. Hedge (1852)

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, Jesus’ Seven Last Words (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1981), 60-61.

[7] Comfort and Hawley, 242.

[8] Edward G. Taylor (1830-1887)