later, knowing that everything was over, and so that the scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said: “I am thirsty”. There was a jar of wine vinegar there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a stem of the hyssop plant, and held it to Jesus’ lips. when he had received the drink, jesus said: “it is finished”. Saying this, he bowed his head and gave up the spirit. (John 19:28-30)
meaning of “it is finished” as tetelestai
“It is finished” is the English translation of the Greek word tetelestai, which was the last thing Jesus said before he died on the cross. tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to achieve”. it is a crucial word because it signifies the successful end of a particular course of action. is the word you would use when you climb to the top of Mt. Everest; is the word you would use when you turn in the final copy of your dissertation; it’s the word you’d use when making your final payment on your new car; is the word you use when you cross the finish line of your first 10k race. the word means more than just “survived”. means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”
but there is more here than the verb itself. tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. that is significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action that was completed in the past with results that continue in the present. it’s different from the past tense that looks back at an event and says, “this happened.” the perfect tense adds the idea that “this happened and is still in effect today.”
When Jesus shouted “it is finished”, he meant “it was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present and it will remain finished in the future”.
note another fact. he did not say “I am finished”, because that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. rather, he shouted “it is finished”, meaning “I have successfully completed the work I came to do.”
tetelestai, then, is the savior’s last cry of victory. when he died, he left no unfinished business. when he said, “it is finished,” he was telling the truth.
tetelestai is gospel in one word
“it is finished”. the ancient Greeks prided themselves on being able to say much in little: “giving a sea of matter in a drop of language” was considered the perfection of oratory. what they were looking for is here. “It is finished” is only one word in the original, but in that word the gospel of God is involved; in that word is contained the basis of the believer’s security; in that word is discovered the sum of all joy, and the very spirit of all divine consolation.
“it is finished”. This was not the desperate cry of a defenseless martyr; it was not an expression of satisfaction that the end of his sufferings was now reached; It was not the last breath of a worn life. no, rather it was the declaration by the divine redeemer that everything he came to do from heaven to earth, had already been done; that all that was needed to reveal the full character of god had already been accomplished; that all that the law required before sinners could be saved had already been fulfilled: that the price of the flail of our redemption had already been paid.
“it is finished”. God’s great purpose in the history of man was now accomplished. From the beginning, God’s purpose has always been one and indivisible. it has been declared to men in various ways: in symbol and type, by mysterious hints and clear hints, by messianic prediction and by didactic declaration. God’s purpose can be summed up as follows: to show his grace and to magnify his son by creating children in his own image and glory. and on the cross was laid the foundation that would make this possible and real.
adapted from the seven sayings of the savior on the cross, 6. the word of victory, by a.w. pink.
the crucifixion of jesus – his last words on the cross
at the height of his ministry and miracles, many jews came to believe in jesus as the messiah, the son of god. Jewish leaders feared Jesus because of his growing following. With the help of Judas Iscariot, Roman soldiers arrested Jesus and put him on trial for claiming to be the King of the Jews. under Roman law, the punishment for rebelling against the king was death by crucifixion.
the roman governor pontius pilate was reluctant to punish jesus. pilate could not find anything wrong with jesus, however, he wanted to give the people what he wanted, and that was the death of jesus. Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize that he was not taking responsibility for Jesus’ bloodshed and then handed Jesus over to be beaten and flogged. Jesus had a crown of thorns nailed to his head and forced to carry his cross up the road to the mount where he would be crucified. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion is known as Calvary, which translates to “place of the skull.”
Crowds had gathered to mourn and witness the death of Jesus. Jesus was nailed to the cross between two criminals and his sides pierced with a sword. while they made fun of jesus, one of the criminals asked jesus to remember him and jesus replied: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Jesus then looked up to heaven and asked God to “forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” Giving his last breath, Jesus spoke: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit…it is finished.”
-from the crucifixion of jesus – bible story at biblestudytools.com
learn more about the historical context of the crucifixion, the persecution of jesus by the romans, and more about the last days and the words of jesus when he sacrificed himself for the sins and salvation of man: 10 powerful facts about the cross of Christ & the crucifixion of him
the “seven last words of jesus from the cross”
- Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. luke 23:34
- truly I tell you that today you will be with me in paradise. luke 23:43
- woman, there you have your son. son, there you have your mother john 19:26-27
- my god, my god, why have you forsaken me? matthew 27:46 & mark 15:34
- I’m thirsty. john 19:28
- is finished. (from the Greek “tetelestai”) John 19:30
- Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. luke 23:46
it’s over: a prayer for Good Friday
excerpts from “tetelestai!” by ministries to keep believing (used with permission).