What did Jesus mean when He said “it is finished”?
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30
“It is finished” these are the last words of a dying Man crucified on a Roman cross. Though they were uttered about 2000 years ago, one couldn”™t possibly imagine what the Bible would be like without these three words. Everything in the Bible hinges upon these words. These are no ordinary words; these are words of victory and fulfillment, words of triumph.
The question before us is: what Jesus meant when He uttered those words? Did He mean He lost the battle? Or did He mean that His life was finished since He was about to die? There has to be some meaning behind these words. But before we can answer the question, we should first identify who Jesus was and what was His mission here on earth.
Who is Jesus?
The Bible describes Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah who was to come and liberate His people from sin; the New Testament apologetically states that Jesus fulfilled all of the messianic promises. This tells us that He had a mission to accomplish while on earth and His mission was to die a vicarious sacrificial death on the cross. Now from the manger to the cross He lived a perfect life of obedience to God; and had he failed to fulfill any of the promises that God said the Messiah would fulfill, He would have been disqualified as the Messiah.
Before we venture to answer the question at hand, we need to look at the issue of sin. The Bible teaches that each and every one of us is born a sinner. We are born haters of God, and live a life of sin. We have a moral debt to God to keep His law perfectly, but we cannot.
This creates a problem for us since God is holy and He will not let sinners go unpunished. Since we can”™t fulfill God”™s law, we must suffer for eternity paying for our sins. Our only hope is that someone come and pays the debt for us. This was the mission of that Jesus Christ came for.
It is finished
So what then was Jesus referring to as finished?
As we have stated, Jesus Christ was a man on a mission; He came to die and save His people (cf Matt 1:21). The cross was his destination from the beginning; it had already been prophesied beforehand that the Messiah would suffer on a cross (cf Ps 22), but not for Himself (Dan 10:26). At the cross we see Jesus, having been fulfilled all that was written about Him, drinking the full cup of God”™s wrath.
Paid in full
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Col. 2:13-14
The phrase in Greek is “Ï„ÎµÏ„ÎµÎ»ÎµÏƒÏ„Î±Î¹” which is a commercial term for “paid in full“. It was used when someone has made full payment for a debt. Hence, when Jesus said “It is finished”, He was proclaiming that He had just paid the full payment for our sins. The price that had to be paid for sinners”™ salvation had been paid in full. The justice and the wrath of God had been satisfied; Christ as the propitiator had paid the penalty that was enough to stay God”™s holy wrath upon sinful man. God could now cancel the record of debt that stood against us (cf. Col. 2:13-14)
By His blood
“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
So what did Jesus use exactly to pay our debt? He shed His blood. By the blood of Jesus Christ we mean His violent death. Jesus”™ death on the cross was the only thing that God could accept as payment. He had to die at the end of suffering to fulfill scripture (cf Isa 53:8, 1 Pet. 2:24).
After Jesus died, He had to resurrect to vindicate His claim as the Son of God and also to show that God had accepted His sacrifice. Since Christ had paid the full price for our sins, the father was in effect saying: since My Son had suffered for you, the is no more wrath left for you. That”™s the best news ever!
Did He have to go to hell?
Some people argue that Christ went to hell after His death to suffer and be tormented on our behalf. That is superfluous and unbiblical, why would He have to go to hell? This would mean that Salvation was not purchased at the cross but in hell; it would mean that the cross was not enough to save. There is not a single reference in the bible that states that Jesus went to suffer in hell after His death on the cross; what the bible says is that He accomplished victory on the cross (cf 1Pet 2:24).
The Heidelberg Catechism says that He experience hell on the cross, the hell that was supposed to have come to me and you fell upon Him; and Him being the God man was able to suffer the eternal wrath of God in a matter of 3 hours.
According to Luke 23:43, Jesus promised one of the thieves who was crucified with Him, that He would be with him in paradise that same day. Jesus”™ body could not be in two places simultaneously, that is, He couldn”™t be in hell and paradise at the same time because His human nature is not omnipresent.
Many Evangelicals today teach that the reason why Jesus refused to be touched by Mary Magdalene after the resurrection (John 20:17) was because He had to go to heaven to present His blood before God in the heavenly alter. This is unbiblical because the resurrection of Christ was a vindication declaring Him to be the Son of God in power (Rom 1:4) and that His sacrifice was already accepted. His work was already completed else He would not have risen again. When He ascended into heaven, it was to go sit at the right hand of God Almighty, not to finish a work.
Jesus died and rose again on the third day to save sinners; He accomplished victory at the cross and not in hell. It is finished was His cry; the redemption of lost sinners was paid in full. The resurrection is a comfort that the Father has accepted payment for our sins.
Soli Deo Gloria