28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
A term of an ancient language which, when written 2000 years ago, heralded the most significant event of the bible – and all history. The term itself… bears no power. Its power rests upon the lips that spoke it: those of Jesus of Nazareth – the Christ, the mighty counselor, incarnate Messiah, Son of God.
These words were spoken by a flailed, dying man. To be specific, a man nailed on a cross for blaspheming the name of the Holy God. Why should they be of significance to anyone? Do they even make sense? I mean, the man did say that He was thirsty. Dehydration has never been the cause of coherent sayings, surely.
Suppose one of the Roman soldiers at the feet of Jesus retained a curiosity about this Jew: how could one called ‘The King of the Jews’ stir up so much hatred among his own people? But then again, the first ‘Caesar’ was stabbed multiple times on the Roman streets (you know nothing, Julius Caesar). So maybe Kings aren’t having the best time right now. Fine. Then as he ponders this Jew King’s tragic fate, the man proclaims from above him:
“It is finished.”
“What?” “What’s finished?” “What do you…?”
Jew bows head. Dies.
“Dude. That pronoun points to no subject at all. Like, you got me waiting to know exactly what ‘it’ is. And then you just go ahead and DIE.”
By now you’ll know that this isn’t how the rest of chapter 19 of John plays out. It’s unlikely that Jesus would have spoken his final words in a language the soldier understood, so this episode is rather wishful thinking anyhow. Fair enough. But to relieve ourselves of the ‘high and dry’ feeling the soldier might have been left with (notice it was in fact Jesus who was ‘high and dry’), let us deconstruct.
Jesus knew that all was now finished. There’s that phrase again: tetelestai. Greek that loosely translates to ‘It is finished’. Rather, it has been finished – perfect participle tense, noobs. The significance here being… it has been accomplished and remains so even now. In perpetuity. Forever.
The second last thing Jesus said by John’s account is “I thirst.” An echo of David’s words: “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69:21). Jesus was selective with His final sayings – a fulfillment of words written by His father (by ancestry) David. These are the words which the apostles would return to understand as ‘fulfilling scripture’: Jesus left clues for us to know that the Old Testament was always about His agenda. The work He had come to do was always on the cards. He is the ‘Son of David’ – as God established the David’s house, He did so by promising him the savior of his people from his seed. And his seed gave a nod to him in the dying hour.
Jesus’ saying is not what fulfilled David’s words: it’s what the soldiers did next that does. They doused a sponge (which must definitely have been clean) in sour wine and put it on a hyssop branch to reach the whining Jew and shut Him up. They unwittingly fulfilled the words of David – and how would they know it? Without any background in Jewish scriptures, any knowledge of this ‘David,’ any Hebrew scribe to stop them, “It’s a trap, don’t do it!!” how would they know? They wouldn’t – and nobody else present would either. Jesus knew scripture perfectly because Jesus caused scripture in the first place. He knew what He was coming to fulfill because He ordained what would be fulfilled. It’s a circle – one which was on the cusp of completion. Only Jesus knows the full meaning of what He, the Father and the Spirit have inspired people to write. And nobody else may know what scripture means until God reveals it to them (1 Cor 2:14). None of us – even the apostles – would even know what ‘It is finished’ means, save for God’s gracious revelation to us through His Spirit (1 Cor 1:18).
And while we’re talking about Paul, his ‘word of the cross’ probably refers to the entire gospel message of Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of mankind – the good news of salvation in Jesus name. But there is indeed a ‘word of the cross’ that Jesus spoke, and this word is truly the very power of God to those who are being saved. Having received the wine, Jesus said: “It is finished.”
The language it may have been said in – Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Naija pidgin – is less important than its significance for humanity. When Adam and Even sinned, we all sinned. We were therefore born in iniquity, away from God – dead at conception (Psalm 51:5). But God planned from the very beginning the salvation of mankind, and through His chosen act of painful death have men and women of all languages gotten the chance to become the children of God. When Jesus said “It is finished,” he had accomplished the very work which the Father sent Him into the world to do. He fulfilled the great hope of all of Israel, and all of man. We cannot even begin to imagine what happened in the spiritual realm when those words were said. We can scarce imagine all the sayings of all the prophets, all the decisions of Israelite Kings, all the Kingdoms of the world which rose up to subdue Israel, all of nature and all of history, converging at the cross of Calvary. When Jesus said it is finished, the death of sin was undone. The offering on behalf of all men for reconciliation to God was made. When Jesus said “it is finished,” the irredeemable man became redeemed. When he said those words, you and I who believe were saved.
So what can we say about these things? Jesus came into the world with a distinct, exact purpose given to Him by His Father. Throughout His life, the man who is Christ was aware of what His mission on earth was. He debated in the temple at 12, called 12 disciples at 30, walked among men and showed through His powerful signs that He was the One who was promised. And only when He had seen that the sin of the world had been removed by His blood, did He bow His own head, and give up His Spirit. Therefore, the Son of Man completed the work of saving the world.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39)
And now, glory. The glory of Jesus Christ is now equal to that of the Father, who has placed him above every conceivable power and authority, not only in this age but the one to come (Eph 1:19-21). And much more than this: Jesus Christ, the one who finished the word, will also finish this world – and He will judge it (John 5:22-23). I reckon we are most fortunate to even have chance to live with God for eternity. For some reason, a part of me hopes that just one of those soldiers gave a second look to the dying savior of the world, and live also. For in Jesus’ final words is the completion of redemption, and the beginning of a new work: bringing this good news to all people, that we may be full in heaven.
*All passages in this article are taken from the ESV bible translation, ©2001 Crossway Publishing.