by Pastor George Van Alstine

One of the traditional “Seven Last Words” of Jesus from the cross is the profound, yet enigmatic, “It is finished!” Actually, in the original Greek of John’s Gospel (19:30), this exclamation is not three words, but one – “Tetelestai!” It would probably be better translated “Finished!”

What was in Jesus’ mind when he spoke this word? To an unbeliever this might seem obvious: Jesus’ dreams of influence and leadership were over; he had failed in his mission – he was finished.

From a human point of view, it would be natural to think that Jesus was referring to his suffering. During the past hours, he had been arrested, questioned in two courts, ridiculed, abused, repeatedly whipped and forced to carry his cross. At the place where condemned prisoners were executed, he was brutally nailed to the cross. Then he had hung there in excruciating agony for three hours. Now all this suffering was finally over – finished.

But three days later, his followers witnessed an empty tomb and a risen, triumphant Jesus, and they were sure that his word “Finished” had a much greater meaning. As they lived out their faith and recorded their spiritual insights in the New Testament, they interpreted his word, not in terms of failure and despair, but in terms of fulfillment and victory.

Finished! In that climactic moment on the cross, his mission was completed. What he came into the world to do, as a baby that first Christmas morning, he had now accomplished. The years of identifying with human need and lostness, his ministry of loving and healing, his teaching about the new order God was bringing into human experience – all of this climaxed, was finished, completed, fulfilled on the cross.

Finished! He came to save us, and it was on the cross that his work of redemption was fully accomplished. All of his wonderful teachings, his great examples of how to love each other, his affirmation of godly values, such as integrity and loyalty and forgiveness – these were not enough to deliver us from our sins. It was his sacrificial death for us that finished his work of salvation.

Finished! God’s work of creation was fully realized in Jesus’ death on the cross. God made humans in his image, the highest point of his creative activity. It seemed as if his purposes were thwarted by the intrusion of sin and death into the world. But Jesus from his crucifixion vantage point could see that sin and death were being decisively defeated, obliterated. God’s creative purposes were back on course toward their glorious destiny. It was a sure thing, finished on the cross.

Some of us may feel finished today, in the negative sense of the word. We should take comfort from the fact that on the cross Jesus turned this word upside down, making it an exclamation of triumph. Visualize Jesus on the cross, thinking about you and saying with approval, confidence and hope, Finished!