6. It Is Finished (John 19:30)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (11:40)

James J. Tissot, It is finished! Consummatum est!
A remarkable watercolor by James J. Tissot, "It is finished! Consummatum est!" (1886-1894) showing the crucified but triumphant Christ, behind him the holy name of Yahweh in Hebrew letters, and surrounded by the prophets holding up their scrolls of prophecy which he has fulfilled. (Brooklyn Museum, NYC). Larger image.

"When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:30)

Jesus' journey had begun in a simple stable in the City of David thirty some years before. Now it was finished.

What Did Jesus Come to Accomplish?

What was finished? What was this mission that was now finished? Why did Jesus come? Let's look at how Jesus defined his mission --  and later, how his apostles understood it. We read about his commission to "preach the Gospel to the poor" (Luke 4:18, 43), "to bring life" (John 10:10b), "to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8b), "to bring fire upon the earth," (Luke 12:49), "to testify to the truth" (John 18:37). But each of these seems like a means or aspect of the ultimate purpose, to save us from our sins. Consider these purpose statement verses:

"Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Timothy 1:15)

"But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins." (1 John 3:5)

The Cup and the Baptism

Jesus had a very clear view of what lay ahead of him. He used two metaphors: "To drink the cup," to partake fully of an event, and "to be baptized," to be immersed fully in the event.

"Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)

"But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! (Luke 12:50)

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)

"Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'" (John 18:11)

The cross in all its horror --  and in its redemptive power to bear the sins of the world --  hung heavily on Jesus during his last days in the flesh. His struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane was the climax, the point at which he surrendered ultimately to the Father's will. And now the cup had been drunk, the baptism completed. It is finished.

It Is Finished!

Look again at the passage. It is remarkable in how it repeats one singular idea --  completion, fulfillment, finishing.

"Later, knowing that all was now completed (teleō), and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled (teleioō), Jesus said, "I am thirsty" ... When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished (teleō)." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:28, 30)

These three words derive from the same Greek root, telos, which means "end" --  primarily a termination point, then by extension, the end to which all things relate, the aim, the purpose.53

"Completed / finished / accomplished" in verses 28 and 30 is the related verb teleō, "to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete something." With regard to time, it means, "come to an end, be over."54 Moreover the tense of this verb is important to us --  perfect tense (tetelestai). In Greek the perfect tense signifies a past action, the effect of which continues into the present. It has been completed and is still complete. The effect of the tense in this verb is a sense of finality.

In the last couple of centuries scholars have found thousands of papyrus scraps with Greek writing on them. Many of these are mundane commercial documents in which we find this word. Moulton and Milligan pored over many of these receipts and contracts to better understand New Testament Greek. They observed that receipts are often introduced by the phrase tetelestai, usually written in an abbreviated manner indicating that the bill had been paid in full.55 The obligation has been completed. The debt has been paid off. Tetelestai --  it is finished.

A Cry of Victory

It is clear from Matthew and Mark that just before Jesus breathed his last, he "cried out again in a loud voice" (Matthew 27:50, cf. Mark 15:37). John gives us the content of this loud cry: "It is finished!"

Those who are defeated go out with a whimper, but the victor announces his victory loudly and broadly: "It is finished!" The victory shout of Jesus echoed across the small flat hilltop and to the world beyond. It is finished!

The Announcement of Obedience Fulfilled

It is a cry of accomplishment, but it is also an announcement of obedience fulfilled. This shout began in the painful will of the Father --  the cup, the baptism, the suffering, the cross. "It is finished" announces the full obedience of the One who, though equal with God:

"... Made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death --  even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:7-11)

Make no mistake. The ability to say, "It is finished" to the Father's commission was not the beginning of some kind of "glory road," but the end. It was the final culmination of a life of obedience, humility, and suffering that now ushers in a new era.

What Should We Learn from "It Is Finished"?

When we meditate on this Sixth Word from the cross, what should we learn for our lives? This is what I see.

1. We Are to Live Lives of Purpose

First, we are to live lives of purpose. Unless Jesus had a purpose, a mission to complete, the words, "It is finished" would have had little meaning. He wasn't speaking of his earthly life that was finished --  in fact, his life has no beginning and has no end. Rather, he is speaking of that which the Father had instructed him to do.

Our lives may not be so clear, so purpose-driven as Jesus' life. However, I believe that one of the signs of maturity in our lives is to discern our spiritual gifts and abilities, and then order our lives so as to maximize what God has given.

Jesus told the Parables of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27). In each case, success for the servant was to "trade with" what the master had given him in order to produce the largest possible outcome for the master, given each servant's unique talents, time, and circumstances. The reward was to hear the master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21, RSV).

2. We Are to Live Lives of Focus

Second, living lives of purpose requires us to focus on our priorities. Instead of living scatter-shot lives, we are to be marksmen that aim carefully at the target and make our shots count. This requires focus and discipline. It means saying "No" to some choices so that we can say "Yes" to opportunities that are even better.

3. We Are to Live Lives of Obedience

Third, to be able to say, "It is finished," as Jesus did, our lives must be marked by obedience. Jesus is God, but in his earthly life he willingly obeyed. "He humbled himself and became obedient to death" (Philippians 2:8). Paul put it this way:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Obedience is the opposite of independent action. It means living in obedience to God, not to ourselves.

4. We Must Be Willing to Suffer to Achieve God's Purpose

Finally, to say "It is finished," we must be willing to suffer to achieve God's purpose for our lives. We continue in the sunny summer days as well as the stormy winters of our lives. We don't give up just because things are difficult. We are willing to suffer whatever is necessary to complete the Father's plan for our lives.

When our lives are over, we want to be able to say with St. Paul,

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"The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

And with Jesus to say: "It is finished!"


Father, I've wasted much of the momentum of my life because I've tried to go in so many directions. Please corral me so that I will focus on your purposes and your direction for me, that I might finish this life well. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Question for Personal Meditation

Q6. (John 19:30) What had Jesus "finished"? What can we learn for our own lives from this Sixth Word: "It is finished"?





Questions for Group Discussion

  1. What did Jesus come to accomplish? What was his "prime directive"?
  2. What was the "cup," the "baptism" that he faced in order to accomplish his mission?
  3. What was the significance of the word "Finished" written on ancient papyrus receipts?
  4. Why did Jesus shout out this Sixth Word, rather than say it quietly? (John 19:30)
  5. What do we learn from the Sixth Word about purpose? About focus? About obedience? (John 19:30)
  6. How is the willingness to suffer vital to finishing one's mission?


53. Telos, Thayer.

54. Teleō, BDAG 997, 1.

55. J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Text: Illustrated edition the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 630, under teleō.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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