Apostle Barbara Childress
Christ finishing the task
It is not too much to say that from the moment the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agreed upon the plan of redemption they began to look forward to one word being spoken. That word, 'tetelestai,' is translated with three words in English: 'It is finished.'
That single word would finally signal the completion of their plan. When it was at last uttered it indicated that nothing remained to be done concerning the provision of salvation. The redemption of souls from eternal destruction has to be considered the most important matter in all of human history. Therefore, the word that signalled the accomplishment of that redemption has to be considered the most significant word ever spoken.
All the promises and types of the Old Testament looked forward to that word. Jesus left heaven and took our humanity for the sole purpose of uttering that word. Yes, his coming can be reduced to that single word! All that he did during his earthly life and ministry was in preparation for that one word. He endured the intense agony of Gethsemane and the anguish of the cross so that he could utter that one word.
Six long hours he has been on the cross. Every prophecy has been fulfilled; not one is missing. The wrath of God has been endured in fullest measure. The cup is now empty. And Jesus cries, 'It is finished!' All of heaven has been focused on that cry, and it is now uttered. Heaven cheers. Hell trembles.
Jonathan Edwards says of Christ's cry:
And thus was finished the greatest and most wonderful thing that was ever done. Now the angels beheld the most wonderful sight that ever they saw. Now was accomplished the main thing that had been pointed at by the various institutions of the ceremonial law, by all the typical dispensations, and by all the sacrifices from the beginning of the world...
Then was finished that great work the purchase of our redemption, for which such great preparation had been made from the beginning of the world. Then was finished all that was required in order to satisfy the threatenings of the law, and all that was necessary in order to satisfy divine justice; then the utmost that vindictive justice demanded, even the whole debt, was paid. Then was finished the whole of the purchase of eternal life. And now there is no need of anything more to be done towards a purchase of salvation for sinners; nor has ever anything been done since, nor will anything more be done for ever and ever.
We must not slight this word. We must roll it over in our minds. Eternities are compressed here. Salvation rests here. This word requires us to go over ground we have been over before. It is ground we cannot traverse too often. This ground consists of what Jesus finished and how he finished it.
The great 'it' - what Jesus accomplished
We might be inclined to conclude that Jesus spoke this word out of relief that his agony was ending. Crucifixion was such an incredibly horrid gruesome way to die that we can well imagine the victim gasping, 'It's over,' just before finally dying.
But when the Lord Jesus Christ said, 'It is finished!" he was not speaking as a tortured man who was glad to see suffering come to an end. These are not the last words of a poor, helpless victim who is happy to see the curtain of death drop. Although he suffered unplumbed depths of anguish and pain, this is not a last tortured gasp. It is not the final expression of agony.
There is all the difference in the world between finishing something and accomplishing something. When Jesus died he not only finished something; he accomplished something. What did he accomplish? We have a remarkable summary of it in Jesus' prayer in John 17. The opening words of that prayer take us to a time 'before the world was' (verse 5) and to three gifts the Father gave the Son. The first mentioned by the Lord is the gift of authority over all flesh (verse 2). The second is that gift that has occupied us so much in these pages, that is, the gift of a people to the Son by the Father. In this prayer the Lord Jesus specifically refers to this gift a total of seven times in six verses (verses 2,6,9,11,12,24).
The third gift was a work. Jesus says to the Father, 'I have finished the work which you have given me to do' (verse 4). Those words, spoken the night before he was crucified, are heavy with meaning. The work of the cross was so certain and definite that Jesus could speak of it in advance as already finished.
It is essential for us to understand that the one gift, the people, necessitated the other, the work. To receive the people, the Son would have to perform the work. The work, as we have noted time after time, was the work of redemption, or the work of the cross. The people whom the Father was giving to the Son would have to be redeemed from their sins, and that redemption could take place only through the Son's becoming their substitute and bearing in their place the punishment for their sin.
So when Jesus cried, 'It is finished!' he was referring both to the people and to the work the Father had given him. The 'it' comprehended and represented both. It was the work of dying on the cross to provide redemption for those whom the Father had given him. This 'it' to which Jesus referred is the theme which we have been tracing all along. It is the plan of salvation that was adopted by the triune God before the foundation of the world. It is the plan which was announced and pictured in the Garden of Eden and which was anticipated in promises and types throughout the entire Old Testament. It is the object which Jesus had in view when he left heaven to become God incarnate, when he stood with John the Baptist in the water of the Jordan and which he kept steadily in view as he conducted his public ministry. It is the goal which he unrelentingly approached even in the last hours of his life. It is the glorious plan of redemption.
Now we see why these words ought to cause us to have a sense of awe. The salvation of sinners is not the haphazard work of a distraught God who frantically tries one thing and then another. It is rather the result of the triune God carrying out with perfect faithfulness a plan that stretches all the way back to that time when there was not even a world. What a tremendous truth is conveyed in this one little word 'it'! How it staggers and boggles our minds!
So when Jesus spoke these words on the cross, 'It is finished!', he was referring to the same 'it' - the salvation he and the Father had planned before the world was created. And in saying these words, he was not just giving up his last breath; he was speaking as a mighty victor who was crossing the finishing -line.
The finishing - how Jesus accomplished his mission
But let's now turn our attention away from the 'it' to the finishing, or to the accomplishing, of the task. Here we must deal with the question of what Jesus did to provide salvation. What he accomplished was the work of the cross to redeem the people the Father had given the Son. But what was necessary for Jesus to perform this redeeming work on the cross?
First, he had to come into this world as a man. He had to come to this world because it was the arena or realm in which the first Adam had failed. But he could not just come to this world as God. He had to come as man. He could not be the representative head of his people if he were not a man himself. This does not, of course, mean that he ceased to be God. God cannot stop being God. It means rather that he added to his deity our humanity so that he was at one and the same time fully God and fully man without any contradiction or confusion between the two.
As marvellous and glorious as his coming was, it was not sufficient in and of itself to save us. The Lord Jesus had yet more to do in order to accomplish redemption. For one thing, he had to live a life of sinlessness, a life of perfect obedience to the holy law of God. Why was this necessary? This was the requirement of God from the very beginning. If Adam and Eve had perfectly obeyed the one commandment God gave them in the garden of Eden they would have been given the gift of eternal life.
The one thing most people fail to realize about God's dealings with man is that God has never changed the condition for eternal life. Eternal life is only given to those who perfectly obey God, those who are perfectly righteous and without moral blemish. But Adam and Eve had not obeyed. They were not righteous. And all of us who have followed them are likewise disobedient and sinful.
The Lord Jesus Christ lived the sinless life that God demands. He did not fail at one single point. He did nothing wrong. He thought nothing wrong. He said nothing wrong. The Bible calls him 'a lamb without blemish and without spot' (I Peter 1:19).
It was not enough for Jesus, however, to come and live a sinless life for us. We were already guilty of sin when he came. Something had to be done to pay for that sin. Here we come to the work of the cross. There the Lord Jesus Christ paid for our sins. He bore in his own body the penalty that was rightfully ours (I Peter 2:24). There he endured the wrath of God on behalf of those whom the Father had given him.
By his life, then, the Lord Jesus provided the righteousness God demands of me to get into heaven. By his death, he paid for the sins that I have committed against God. When, by the grace of God, I came to Christ several years ago in repentance of my sins and in faith in him, my sins were counted as though they were Christ's and God declared them paid for, and Christ's righteousness was counted as though it were mine (II Corinthians 5:21). He took my sin; I receive his righteousness. My sin is paid for, and God's demand for righteousness is met. When Jesus cried, 'It is finished!' he was simply saying that he had done all that is necessary for believers to be saved.
Perhaps someone will ask about the resurrection. Is it not an essential part of the plan of salvation? It is indeed. Why then did Jesus say everything was finished before the resurrection? The answer is that he had done all that he came to do. It was the Father's work to raise him from the dead, and this the Father did (Acts 2:32; 17:31).
What should our response be to all of this? Those of us who are saved should break out in song and sound the trumpets of jubilee. We should daily praise God for such a glorious plan of salvation, and we should seek each day to bring honour and glory to his name.
Those who have not yet received the salvation provided by the life and death of Christ should flee to him at once. The work is done. There is nothing left to do except to bow by God's grace before the finished work of Christ and receive it.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.