Three simple, yet utterly explosive words: “It is finished.”
When Jesus used his last scraps of oxygen and life to utter these words, absolutely everything changed.
“It is finished,” revolutionizes the way I relate to God.
It transforms the way I think about holiness and putting sin to death.
It re-weaves the fabric of how I live each day.
“It is finished,” truly does change everything.
But there’s a problem: I don’t usually live like it’s finished.
I live as if Jesus cried out, “It’s MOSTLY done!” As if I need to add at least a little bit to the finished work of Jesus. As if the hymn says, “Jesus paid it…some, I must do the rest,” (talk about a lousy hymn).
As a result, I don’t experience the overwhelming, explosive joy that accompanies truly knowing and believing that it is finished. On the contrary, I carry a great weight around.
After all, if it’s not totally finished, I’ve got some serious work to do.
So what’s the solution? How do I live in the almost delirious freedom of, “It is finished?”
I need to daily, even hourly, remind myself of all that Jesus accomplished on my behalf when he cried out, “It is finished.” I need to remember and savor all the glorious implications of those three precious words.
At the risk of using a slightly weird analogy, the words, “It is finished,” are like one of those Russian nesting dolls. You open the outer layer and find something else beautiful inside. Then you open the next layer and there’s another bit of beauty.
Let’s open up the layers of, “It is finished,” and savor what we find inside.
The Glorious Greek Word “Tetelestai”
Let’s start by getting our Bible nerd on and looking at the actual Greek word Scripture uses for “finished”.
The word is, “tetelestai,” and it’s the perfect, passive, indicative form of the word “teleo”, which means to finish, fulfill, complete, accomplish, etc.
I know, I know, you didn’t sign up for this nerdery, but hang with me because it’s about to get real glorious in here.
Because “tetelestai” is in the perfect tense, it means that the result is ongoing and with full effect.
In other words, Jesus is saying, “It is fully and completely finished, and it will ALWAYS be fully and completely finished!”
Put another way, “It is finished,” NEVER comes to an end!
The glorious work of Christ – his sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection – are always in full effect for those who trust in him. It never. Stops. Being. Finished.
Isn’t that staggeringly good news?
Of course, this raises a massively important question: what exactly did Jesus finish?
#1 – It Is Finished Means Christ’s Righteousness Is Mine
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
I can’t help but wonder if, when Jesus’ final breath seeped from his raw lungs, the heavens exploded in applause. Why? Because Jesus had lived a sinless, fully obedient, God-honoring life from first to final breath.
Sinless perfection was completed, like an artist putting the final touches on a masterpiece that has taken years to complete.
He was the only person in history to accomplish such a thing. He stands alone as champion and victor.
When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was referring to the fact that he had fulfilled ALL the requirements of the law. He had always perfectly loved God and his neighbor. He had never violated any of God’s commands, in letter or spirit. He was both sinless (totally free from sin) AND completely righteous (positively obedient to every command).
And now, wonder of all wonders, that sinlessness and righteousness are mine through faith. When I am united to Christ, God sees me as being so closely and vitally connected to Jesus, that his life is my life.
That’s why Paul says in Philippians 3:9 that he has given up everything so that he may, “…be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
How does, “It is finished,” change everything? It means that Christ’s flawless righteousness is now mine.
#2 – It Is Finished Means I Can’t Add To Christ’s Righteousness
If Jesus was perfectly and completely righteous, it means there is absolutely NOTHING I can add to that righteousness. In fact, to try to add any works to the finished work of Christ is an insult to God of the highest order.
If Jesus said, “It is finished,” then he meant it. How dare I try to tack on my own good works to the masterpiece of Christ’s finished work? It would be like me going into an art museum and adding a few strokes to a Van Gogh or Monet. Everyone would be outraged and I would be arrested.
And yet, there are times when I feel as though I must add a bit to Christ’s righteousness. If I’ve really screwed up and sinned, I feel like Christ’s sinless life and death and resurrection might not be enough for me. I need to add something else, like some extra prayer or Bible reading or serving.
I’m falling prey to the same temptation that befell the Galatians, who felt the need to add circumcision to the finished work of Christ. Paul was so outraged at this that he said:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-8)
To add anything to Christ’s work is to distort it. And those who preach a distorted gospel? They should be cursed by God.
Yikes. Gulp. Legalism is a serious affront to God.
This is actually an incredibly freeing truth. I am absolutely forbidden from trying to tack anything onto the righteousness of Christ. When I feel discouraged by my sin, the solution isn’t to resolve to do better, but to repent and then make a beeline for the cross.
How does, “It is finished,” change everything? It means I can’t (and shouldn’t try to) add a single iota to what Jesus has already done for me.
#3 – It Is Finished Means The End of Condemnation
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
If I am not in Christ, then there is every reason for me to be condemned. I’m a sinner, guilty before God, without excuse. But being in Jesus truly does change everything. His, “It is finished,” becomes mine.
God doesn’t do double jeopardy. If my sins have already been paid for, he won’t put me on trial a second time for them. Divine justice has already been fully satisfied. The condemnation that was rightfully mine hit Jesus like a demonic freight train, causing him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There is absolutely ZERO condemnation left for me.
That’s why Paul says in Romans 8:33-34:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
There is only one person who has the authority to condemn me to hell, and that is God himself. But God emptied all his condemnation on his son, leaving none for me.
It doesn’t matter if I feel a sense of condemnation. That feeling is a lie, an accusation from Satan meant to steal my joy. Because I’m in Christ, there truly is no condemnation for me. Christ received my condemnation, I receive new mercies every morning.
How does it is finished change everything? It means that I should never allow condemnation to be part of my life.
#4 – It Is Finished Means The Way To God Is Always Open
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).
The Most Holy Place was sectioned off from the rest of the temple by a thick curtain, and only the High Priest was allowed to pass through the curtain. He did so once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The curtain signified that sin created a barrier between man and God. God had to make a way for us to have any sort of relationship with him. Atonement was necessary.
Throughout the Old Testament, the priests offered sacrifices on a daily basis as atonement for sin. But these sacrifices weren’t sufficient. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, the blood of bulls and goats could never truly take away sins.
If God was going to truly dwell with his people, a better, fuller, truer sacrifice was needed. Jesus was that sacrifice.
When Jesus gave up his spirit, God himself tore the curtain from top to bottom. The way to God was open through Jesus Christ.
Now, incredibly, God’s spirit doesn’t dwell in a building, it dwells in me. I am a temple of the Holy Spirit. Because I am united to Christ, the Spirit of God has taken up residence in me and the way to God is always open.
I don’t have to work my way into God’s presence – I’m always in God’s presence. I don’t have to offer up any sort of sacrifice before drawing near to God. Jesus already did that for me.
How does, “It is finished,” change everything? It means I always have free access to the living, mighty, holy God.
Living Under The Banner of “It Is Finished”
When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” it truly did change everything.
The question is whether I live like everything has changed.
Yes, glorious Lamb of God, it is finished! You have been tempted in all points like as we are, yet have You sinned in none! It was finished, for the last arrow out of Satan’s quiver had been shot at You. The last blasphemous insinuation, the last wicked temptation had spent its fury on You. The prince of this world had surveyed You from head to foot, within and without, but he had found nothing in You. Now, your trial is over, You have finished the work which Your Father gave You to do, and so finished it that hell itself cannot accuse You of a flaw. And now, looking upon Your entire obedience, You say, “It is finished,” and we Your people believe most joyously that it is even so.
Yes, Lord, we believe most joyously that it is so.