Why Does Jesus Say "It Is Finished"?

Why Does Jesus Say "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).

 Tetelestai, it is finished. We've no doubt heard these words during a Good Friday service or during our reading of the Gospels. But why does Jesus say it? And why does he reserve this as his last and final words? "It is finished" indicates he has consumed the cup of God's wrath, and through his sacrifice, the bridge between God and sinful man had been established.

The Context Surrounding John 19:30

When we look at the context of this verse and what led up to it, this quote from St. Peter's Anglican Church says it best:

"Before the arrest of Jesus by the Romans, Jesus prayed His last public prayer, where He asked the Father to glorify Him even as He had glorified the Father. He prayed to 'finish the work you have given me to do” (John 17:4). The work of Jesus is to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:10) and to provide atonement for sinners whom Jesus died to reconcile to God (Romans 3:23-25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). None but the Lord God could accomplish and say with the authority of the God-Man, “It is finished” (John 19:30)."

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/1971yes

What Did Jesus Finish at the Cross?

cross, it is finished

It is finished indicates Christ had finished the redemptive work he set out to do since the first prophecy in Genesis 3 (and likely much before then). Because sin had entered the world, a cup of wrath existed. Either man or God had to drink it. So Jesus set out to fulfill the 300+ prophecies found in the Old Testament, telling how God would come to earth and take our place on the cross

What Else Did Jesus Say on the Cross?

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

- Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

A number of people jeered at Jesus from the crowd at Golgotha. Jesus asks that God forgive them for not knowing what they were doing. 

- Luke 23:43, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus tells the other robber this on the cross, the one who asks that Jesus remember him. 

- John 19:26-27, “Women behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

Jesus tells Mary this and then tells the disciple John to care for her.

- Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The Father turns his face away when his sin and wrath are placed upon Jesus. Jesus feels this abandonment.

- John 19:28, “I thirst.”

Jesus thirsts not only in a physical sense (he would've experienced massive hydration) but also thirsts for his people to come to him.

- John 19:30, “It is finished.”

- Luke 23:46, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.”

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Romolo Tavani

What Does “It Is Finished” Mean for Us Today?

hands holding cross, it is finished meaning

No matter how much our culture tries to tell us to, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," we can do nothing when it comes to sin. We have waged an eternal debt (Romans 3:23) and someone has to pay it. 

Thankfully, Christ decided to take our place. Part of the reason why the Old Testament had so much sacrifice was because it foreshadowed Christ's work on the cross. In the Old Testament, a family would take a spotless lamb, one without blemish, and would sacrifice it as a symbol for it taking the place of the sins of the family. Granted, the lamb itself could not remove their sin-debt. But it helped them to recognize that they had a serious spiritual sickness, and they needed a Savior to rescue them.

Once we realize that we cannot get to heaven on our own, and what Christ has done for us, we realize the weight of the words, "It is finished." God's plan unraveled over the span of thousands of years of him yearning for his people to come back to him, and for him carving a way for us to do so with nine-inch nails in his wrists in feet.

It is finished means that we can stop trying to clean up our act before "making good," and instead, come to Christ as broken sinners in need of salvation. Christ died for you, and he died for me. The more we understand the great story of God's love, the more we can understand how deep that agape love is for us.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/thekopmylife

What Does it Mean That Jesus Is a "New Covenant"?

woman praying in front of a laptop, it is finished

We witness a number of covenants in the Old Testament. For those not familiar with a covenant model, the two parties would make the terms of a covenant (a binding promise) and saw an animal in half. They would then walk through the pieces of the dead animal, essentially saying, "If I don't uphold my half of the covenant, may what happened to this animal happen to me."

Some covenants in the Old Testament include:

Noahic Covenant: God sets a rainbow in the sky, indicating he will never again flood the entire earth. He does this after the great Flood in which Noah and his family escaped on a large boat known as the Ark.

Abrahamic Covenant: God promises Abraham that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Interestingly, God puts Abraham under a deep sleep before he can walk through the animal carcass halves. But the Holy Spirit walks through the animal anyway, showing he will do what he said he would do.

Davidic Covenant: David's line will include Jesus. We see this fulfilled in the genealogy found in Matthew 1

So what about the New Covenant? Sam Storms on Crosswalk states it best, "the Old or Mosaic Covenant was temporary. It was designed by God with a built-in obsolescence. God never intended for the Old Covenant to last forever. He never intended for it to be the final revelation of his will for mankind. We know this because we read in Hebrews 8:5 that everything Moses did in constructing the Old Covenant tabernacle, together with its rituals and sacrifices, was only “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”

In other words, although the Old Covenant for Israel worked for a time, the people needed something permanent, everlasting. This is where Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection step in.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes

What Does the New Covenant Mean for Us?

smiling woman, it is finished

The New Covenant means a number of things for us, some things that we may not have as great of an appreciation since we did not live during the time of Jesus.

We can approach God boldly in prayer

Previously, under the Old Covenant structure, only the High Priest could enter the holiest part of the Temple during special occasions. He had to do the rituals just right, or he risked death. We see this in the case of Aaron's sons and the strange fire they present in Leviticus 10. They receive an instant demise for this.

But now, we can go to God boldly in prayer. We can approach him with our hurts, our needs, our thanksgiving. We can have a personal relationship with him—something the prophets and patriarchs couldn't imagine in their wildest dreams.

God invites all people in the New Covenant

God had personally selected the Israelites as his people in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, we see God grafting in the Gentiles. Although some of us may come of Israelite descent, "Gentiles" does apply to most of us.

The New Covenant was quite scandalous in the Early Church because never before had the Gentiles had a chance to be called children of God. 

But now, all people, if they surrender their lives to Christ, can be grafted into God's family (Galatians 6:28).

Furthermore, the New Covenant gives us a greater appreciation of Christ's sacrifice. We see just how much he did for us to offer us a chance to live in eternity with him.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/m-imagephotography

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, book editor for hire, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids. Check out her editing profile at Reedsy.com to find out about hiring her for your next book project.