What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is Finished!”?

by Mike Ratliff

28 Μετὰ τοῦτο εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἤδη πάντα τετέλεσται, ἵνα τελειωθῇ ἡ γραφή, λέγει· διψῶ. 29 σκεῦος ἔκειτο ὄξους μεστόν· σπόγγον οὖν μεστὸν τοῦ ὄξους ὑσσώπῳ περιθέντες προσήνεγκαν αὐτοῦ τῷ στόματι. 30 ὅτε οὖν ἔλαβεν τὸ ὄξος [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· τετέλεσται, καὶ κλίνας τὴν κεφαλὴν παρέδωκεν τὸ πνεῦμα. John 19:28-30 (NA28)

28 After this, Jesus having known everything that had been completed that the Scripture may be fulfilled, said, “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of vinegar was there, so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on a hyssop branch and put it to his mouth. 30 Therefore, when he received the vinegar, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And having bowed his head, he gave up his Spirit. John 19:28-30 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Many of those with whom we earnestly contend for the faith have a problem with the absolute truth that is presented to us in the three verses above. Many of them may deny the fact that they hold to a form of salvation that denies the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ on the cross to accomplish all that is required for all of the elect to not only believe the gospel, but also to persevere. Those who have doubts about that do so because they either do not understand or believe the doctrine of imputation. We have looked at this many times and I do not intend to go into that here. In this post we will look at what Christ meant when he knew that everything had been completed in John 19:28 and then said so in John 19:30.

In the passage above (John 19:28-30) the Greek verb τετέλεσται (tetelestai) is used in both v28 and v30. In both cases it is in the perfect tense, indicative mood, and passive voice case of τελέω (teleō), “end, goal, to make and end or accomplishment, to complete anything, not merely to end it, but to bring it to perfection or to its destined goal, to carry it through.” Τελέω  was originally derived from τέλος (telos), which “originally meant the turning point, hinge, the culminating point at which one stage ends and another begins; later, the goal, the end.” From this we learn that τελέω means “to bring to a τέλος, to complete.”

In the perfect, indicative, passive case in John 19:28-30, we have described for an action that took place in the past with the results of the action continuing into the present. There is no way to directly state that in English, therefore, it is often translated as “has, “have,” or “hath.” Your English translation may translate τετέλεσται from v28 and v30 as “it has been finished” or something similar. The work accomplished at Calvary occurred over 2000 years ago, but the results have not diminished one iota through the ages. The work of redemption was accomplished for all time.

The word τετέλεσται has been found written across ancient papyri receipts for taxes to state that the one who owed the taxes had “paid them in full.” When Christ stated τετέλεσται on the cross as he was dying, he was stating that the work of paying the price for our sin had been fully accomplished. Nothing else either needs to paid because no more is owed. Salvation is by grace alone. Therefore, no works of any kind are necessary and it is a corruption of the Gospel to add them. Also, those who have been redeemed are redeemed forever. All of the elects’ sins were paid for on the cross, all past, present and future sins. It is finished.

Soli Deo Gloria!