“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,He said: ‘It is finished!’
And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.” — John 19:30
“I suppose certainty [of salvation] is important to some people,” a lifelong E.L.C.A. Lutheran recently said to me. This was his response to the witness I had given regarding what Jude calls “the common salvation… the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3) and the “most holy faith” (v. 20), the doctrine which is believed [fides quae creditur] (Cf. Ephesians 4:5 – “one faith”). I had given “an answer [a defense]…of the hope that is in [me]” (I Peter 3:15). I had given him the words of eternal life on the basis of which anyone may declare of Jesus Christ “[I] believe and [am] sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69).
The response that the aforementioned E.L.C.A. Lutheran gave was both shocking and sad! One would think that all Christians would not only want certainty of salvation but would, on the basis of God’s faithful and absolutely trustworthy Word, have certainty of salvation! Titus tells us that “the faith of God’s elect [is also] the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (1:1b-2).
God wants us to be certain of our salvation on the basis of His Word. The Apostle John says: “And this is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. …These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (I John 5:11, 13). May God keep us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end (Luther: Third Petition), so that we may ever have certainty regarding our salvation in Christ Jesus on the basis of His Word. To that end, we study “The Accomplishment of Our Redemption” recorded by the Holy Ghost in John 19:30.
The Evangelist John records the sixth phrase spoken by the Lord Jesus while suffering on the cross on Good Friday: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.” A key to understanding this verse is found in verse 28: “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” Our Lord, who knows all things (John 21:17), is fully aware of what He needs to do in order to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). As He is about to lay down His life (John 10:18) as the ransom for all (I Timothy 2:6), He knows “that all things [are] now accomplished” (John 19:28a) for the reconciliation of the world. He knows that His propitiatory sacrifice has paid to divine justice the price demanded.
Everything that the Savior says and does fulfills what Holy Scripture foretells. The Savior knows that now, in “the fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4), nothing remains for Him to do or to suffer except the final act of yielding up His soul. He has finished His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), He has fulfilled His Father’s commandment (John 14:31), He has received the baptism He has so painfully longed to receive (Luke 12:50)! The eternal decree of redemption is being executed in the fulness of time “that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:5). The word translated “accomplished” is the same word that Jesus declared “with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37) in our title-text, testifying that God’s plan, revealed by promise throughout the Old Testament, had now been executed in time. This is what Jesus was referring to when He said: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34) and again when He prayed to His Father: “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4). God’s determinate counsel and foreordained plan has been fully carried out. The Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) in God’s eternal plan has now been “taken and by wicked hands…crucified and slain” in time (Acts 2:23).
Jesus says, “I thirst.” The Messianic prophecy: “They gave Me also gall for My meat, and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21) had been fulfilled earlier (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34) when, before nailing Him to the cross, they “gave” or offered Him the drug-laced wine which He refused AND later, at three o’clock in the afternoon, after His cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me??” they gave Him “vinegar” to drink (Matthew 27:48). But NOW, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” a singular, particular passage of Holy Writ [hJ grafhv], Christ says, “I thirst,” essentially the very same words which He spoke through the Psalmist David in Psalm 22: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws; and Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death” (v. 15). Jesus is suffering from intense thirst brought on not only by the loss of blood and the dehydration of crucifixion (which the malefactors also suffered). He had just suffered the anguish of the damned in hell for our sakes (Matthew 27:46), and His thirst had already been noticed by at least one of those attending Him (v. 48).
“Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar and put it upon hyssop and put it to His mouth” (John 19:29). Earlier He had refused to drink (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34) because the sour wine was mixed with drugs. He wanted to bear the curse with a clear mind, fully conscious of the Father’s wrath, and willing to endure all of the agony, even the pains of hell, in the place and in the stead of all mankind. THIS “vinegar” was not that earlier anesthetic but probably the generic wine issued to the soldiers to quench their own thirst; and Jesus now receives a bit of moisture upon His parched lips and burning throat as He prepares to die. “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
The Savior solemnly proclaims that our redemption is now wrought in history: “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man” are now “accomplished” (Luke 18:31). Earlier, on Maundy Thursday evening, the Lord had told His disciples, “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was reckoned among the transgressors;’ for the things concerning Me have an end” (Luke 22:37). And now the end has come. Isaiah’s 53rd chapter, a detailed prophecy of the Messiah’s vicarious atonement written in the past tense, is fulfilled as historical fact for all the world to see there atop the hill of Calvary, as God hangs on the accursed tree in the person of His Son. “It is finished,” God manifest in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16) declares!
The phrase “It is finished” is one word in the original Greek, tetevlestai. It is the perfect tense and the indicative mood of the verb “to accomplish” or “to complete.” The perfect tense indicates a finished act with present results. A process has been brought to completion and yet continues to have results that are in effect today and forever. The indicative mood refers to an objective fact, something definite and real. The word, as used in this context, has both a chronological sense of something finished in time (with a present continuing result), and a theological sense of an “it,” that which has been achieved or accomplished for the purpose of that result. Jesus, the Savior of the world, loudly declares that the redemption He came to accomplish, the payment He came to tender, the propitiation or satisfaction of divine justice that He came to render, stands complete and finished in time and for all time, as we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26b).
All that was necessary for the redemption of the entire world, for the purchase of every soul from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, was accomplished! By His holy life Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly as to its demands and earned righteousness for every soul of man, “so [that] by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). And by His bloody ransom-death Christ fully atoned for all sins of mankind: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). “And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). “The Son of Man came…to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), and His work is now finished. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), and His work is now finished. He came to save the world, not to judge and condemn (John 3:17); and His work is now finished. Christ Jesus came into the world “to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). “It is finished! It has been and stands as accomplished!” He declared from the altar of sacrifice, the cruel crucifixion tree.
The world has been redeemed (Galatians 3:13), ransomed (I Timothy 2:6) and reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). God’s wrath is forever appeased, and His justice stands eternally satisfied (I John 2:2). And so, at peace again with His heavenly Father, who was “well pleased” with the accomplishment of His Son (Cf. Matthew 17:5;Luke 9:31), He willingly gave up His soul into the care and keeping of His Father. He yielded up His spirit with these words, which Luke records: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (23:46); and He died with the full assurance that His work was done and that our salvation had been won. He died because He willed to die, as He Himself makes perfectly clear in John 10: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” (17-18).
Yes, He knew that God was pleased with His holy and precious offering. He knew that He was going home in His Father’s favor. He knew that the curse was fully borne and that all sins and the guilt of all men had been atoned for completely. The Father confirmed His Word with two signs: the darkness that covered the whole world, a sign of judgment, was lifted (Luke 23:44); and the great Temple curtain was torn asunder after Jesus died (Matthew 27:51), signifying that Christ had opened our way into heaven and given us direct access to God: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
By the Gospel, we know that God’s justice has been satisfied, that our redemption is complete, that we have been reconciled to God, that our deliverance from sin, death and hell is a concrete, historical fact, and that our salvation is 100% sure. For God, who cannot lie, promised us eternal life (Titus 1:2) in view of Christ’s vicarious atonement, which Jesus declared “is finished!” Our heavenly mansions are already prepared, our eternal inheritance is reserved in heaven for us, our names are already written in heaven (John 14:1-3; I Peter 1:3ff.; Luke 10:20). The God-Man “offered one sacrifice for sins forever; …for by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12,14). God says to us in the Gospel: “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17) for the sake of Christ’s blood “shed for the remission” of our sins. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).
Thus, not only is our salvation 100% sure, but the Gospel also tells us that it is 100% free. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). When God’s Son declared, “It is finished,” He assured us that nothing more is needed, nothing needs to be added — by us or anyone else — to secure God’s gift of salvation to us and all the world. For the sake of His sacrifice alone, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth.
His death did for our sins atone,
and we are saved by grace alone.
(TLH 373, 2)
When it comes to our redemption, reconciliation, justification and salvation, we have Christ’s final word on the subject; and that’s all we need: “It is finished,” He declares! God grant us all so to believe, today and especially when our own last hour comes!
— E. J. W.