ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
IT IS FINISHED
1.“It is finished”
Just before Jesus died on the cross, He “cried out again in a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50), John tells us that the cry was “It is finished”(19:30). In the Greek that is just one word (tetelestai), and it is a victor’s cry, a cry of triumph, a cry of accomplishment. Jesus did not die as a beaten do-gooder but as a victorious Redeemer (as the events of Easter Day and after prove). But the question we must ask ourselves is “What was finished”? The simple answer might be that His life’s work was completed, but we can dig a little deeper than that to see what was finished (and, for that matter, what was not – see 8. below) included in that triumphant cry.
“It is finished” is a cry of victory.
The story of Satan’s temptation of Jesus after forty days in the wilderness is well known, and we are aware that Jesus rebuked Satan in well chosen words (Luke 4:1-13), but we may not always note the significance of verse 13, where we are told that Satan left Jesus “until an opportune time.” Surely this means that Satan renewed his attacks in other ways which are not detailed for us in the Gospels. In other words this means that Jesus, who in heaven had been free of the wiles of the devil had had to withstand them throughout His earthly life.
When Jesus was suffering both mental and physical agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:44), it is not hard to see that Satan was at His elbow. There he was urging Him not to follow the plan agreed between Father and Son, even before Jesus was born.
But all this was over, victory was won and never again could Satan exert his temptations against a risen Christ.
“It is finished” is a cry that temptation is ended.
From the start of His ministry Jesus faced rejection. Even in the town of Nazareth where He had been brought up, the people tried to throw Him over a cliff-edge because they became furious at His preaching (Luke 4:28,29).
Then the authorities were on the watch to find a reason to accuse Jesus of not keeping the Jewish Law (Luke 6:7) and when Jesus showed them the error of their thinking, they too became “furious” (Luke 6:9,11).
This conflict continued throughout His ministry and reached its climax in His trial before Pilate when the crowd, stirred up by “the chief priests and elders” (Matthew 27:20) asked for the release of Barabbas and for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Even as He hung on the cross, His own disciples fled to safety (Matthew 26:56), only John coming back to be given the responsibility of looking after Mary, Jesus’ mother (John 19:26,27). Indeed such was their fear that even after the resurrection they met behind locked doors (John 20:19,26) and seemed willing to return to their old way of life (John 21:2,3)
“It is finished is a cry that means that the rejection Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry was over.
John records a time when “many of His disciples [not the twelve] turned back and no longer followed Him” (6:66). Jesus knew loneliness. From early in His ministry He felt the need to leave His human companions and talk with His Father (Mark 1:35). On occasions He would spend the whole night on His own as He talked things over with His father (Luke 6:12), especially as He prepared for an important decision, such as the choice of the twelve disciples (v.13).
These twelve companions shared His human life in many ways, but, when the end was near, they could not even keep awake as Jesus wrestled with the thoughts of what He had to do and what was going to be done to Him (Mark 14:37-41).
However, surely the greatest loneliness came upon Jesus as He hung on the cross – not because of the physical agony, which was bad enough, but because He took on His back, as it were, the sins of all the faithful throughout all ages. As a result this burden became between Himself and His Father. It was this spiritual load, this spiritual isolation, never before experienced, which triggered the terrible cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me” (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1)
“It is finished” is a cry that means that the loneliness was over, Jesus was on His way back to heaven, to a fellowship with His Father and with those He had redeemed which never again would be broken.
- The descent from majesty
John’s Gospel starts with a reference to “the Word”. When we get to 1:14 it becomes crystal clear that this is a reference to Jesus who “was with God in the beginning.” (1:1). Jesus was in heaven with God from the very beginning and there He had all the majesty and glory that befits Almighty God. I suppose that Jesus could have come to this world with that glory intact, but if He had done so He could not have carried out the plan for our salvation. So he had to lay aside that majesty (Philippians 2:6-8a) and become like one of us. Perhaps we fail to see the full contrast between the glory of His kingship in heaven and the life of a humble village carpenter and then itinerant preacher in an occupied country.
We must also see that there is another contrast. Heaven, being the place where God is, must be a sin-free zone. Earth, as we all know, is a sin-ridden area with no part free from taint. So for Jesus it must have been like coming from the sweetness of a freshly spring-cleaned house to the foulest hovel stinking of death and decay! Yet such was the love of the Godhead that Jesus did not refuse to follow His chosen path.
“It is finished” is a cry that earthly degradation is over and that He and those He has saved can be on the way to a holy heaven.
- His foreknowledge
If a person is suddenly faced with a situation of extreme peril he or she may call upon reserves of strength that they hardly knew they possessed and perform acts of great courage. However it would be courage of a different order to carry on if one knew exactly what was going to happen even before one started.
Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him, and He warned His disciples of His forthcoming suffering (e.g. Luke 9:22)
They may have found it difficult to understand (Mark 9:32) but in the end they did and Peter even proclaimed it (Acts 2:22,23) in his sermon on that Pentecost morning when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples.
“It is finished” is a cry that the plan, conceived in the minds of the Godhead was being completed.
- Not all was finished on earth
The suffering was over, Jesus had finished the work on the cross so He could bow His head and give up His spirit (John 19:30). Yet His earthly task was not completely finished, the victory that He had won on the cross must be underlined by the empty tomb. So, over forty days (Acts 1:3), “He appeared to them [His followers]….and spoke about the kingdom of God.” This period ended when Jesus “was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
“It is finished” was a cry that was underlined by the post-resurrectio n ministry of Jesus.
- Not all was finished in heaven
The Ascension of Jesus showed that He had left this earth and returned to the glory that He had with the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven. However, even there His work was not over.
When Stephen, the first martyr, had made his speech of defence before the authorities, they were very angry at his remarks. Then he was shown Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, waiting to welcome His faithful servant into heaven (Acts 7:56). When Stephen revealed this to his accusers their simmering anger boiled over and he was stoned to death.
Yet Jesus is not just concerned with martyrs. He is looking out for all those who believe in Him. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome said, Jesus “is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus “entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24), and John adds, “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
So we see Jesus ever concerned about His people, even though He is temporarily away from them in heaven.
“It is finished” is a cry which does NOT apply to our Lord’s continuing care for us, His people.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.