τετέλεσται! “It is finished!”
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,
He said: ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head
and gave up the ghost.”
Work-righteousness — the most popular false doctrine! Millions of souls practice a false religion of human merit: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). Every false religion in the world teaches a form of salvation by human effort and merit. By fallen nature, man is filled with pride. Therefore, work-righteousness finds a willing devotee and disciple in man. Is it any wonder then that so many souls are caught in the web of work-righteous false religion?
Even in so-called “Christian” churches, many think they must “do their part” to be saved. Whether they place their works at the beginning as a start toward heaven or at the end as a completion to supplement the work of Christ, they still ascribe their salvation, to some extent, to themselves and, therefore, merit the curse of the Law: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them’” (Galatians 3:10).
In our title and title-text we have a powerful proof against all work-righteousness, as we hear, regarding our salvation, a statement of fact from the cross: “It is Finished!” From Holy Writ we learn that Jesus Christ died declaring salvation to be His finished (accomplished) work in history.
Our title-text is John 19:30: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.” This declaration from the Savior’s own holy lips as He hung on the accurséd tree shows that He lived up to His holy name: Jesus — “Jehovah is Salvation.” It was near the end of His great passion as He hung, forsaken by God, in darkness — stricken, smitten and afflicted — that Jesus died. He knew, then, at that point in the time-line of salvation history, that nothing remained for Him to do or to suffer; His saving work was now brought to its termination. He had finished His Father’s business. He had fulfilled His Father’s commandment. He had received the painful baptism He had painfully longed to receive. The plan had been executed, by His active and passive obedience, by His perfect life and by His bloody ransom death; and the redemption of the world had been “accomplished” [Greek: tetevlestai ], both as to the fact of its completion and as to its continuing effect — the perfect tense in Greek.
The long, great work was (and is) completely done, brought to a successful end. God’s plan revealed by promise throughout the Old Testament had been executed in history. This is what Jesus referred 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 17:5). Now the entire Scripture stood fulfilled regarding the sufferings of Christ for sinners. God’s determinate counsel and foreordained plan was fully carried out. The Lamb “slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) in God’s eternal mind had been “taken and by wicked hands …crucified and slain” in history (Acts 2:23). And the blessed result of His redemptive work stood then and continues to stand as “accomplished.”
The Savior solemnly announced that our salvation was now wrought in history: “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man” had been and continue even now to stand as “accomplished” (Luke 18:31). Earlier, on Maundy Thursday evening, the Lord had told them: “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). But now the end has come: Isaiah’s 53rd chapter is a prophetic statement of historical fact for all the world to see, namely, that there, atop the hill of Calvary, God hung on the sinner’s tree of punishment. “It is finished,” God-manifest-in-the-flesh declares from His own mouth!
By His holy life Christ fulfilled the Law of God perfectly: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19; cf. Romans 8:3-4, 10:4). 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). “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, and His work is finished. He came to seek and to save the lost, and His work is finished. He came to save the world, not to judge and condemn; and His work is finished. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and His work: “It is finished,” He declares from the altar of sacrifice, the cruel crucifixion tree.
The entire ungodly world has been redeemed and reconciled to God (Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:19), ransomed and atoned for. God’s wrath is forever appeased, and His justice stands eternally satisfied. God’s Law — both its demands and the punishment it pronounces — was fulfilled by Christ (Matthew 5:17).
The utterance, “It is finished,” is only a single word in the original Greek, τετέλεσται. But this one little word is not short on comfort! The perfect tense in Greek indicates not only that something was done, but that the effect of what was done carries forward into the present time. When the Law resounds in our ears and strikes our conscience with the condemnation: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22a), the penitent sinner is assured by Christ’s sure and certain declaration that Christ did not “come short” but finished His saving work in his place and on his behalf! In the daily life of a Christian the Law constantly reproves and rebukes his many failures and moral shortcomings, but this Gospel declaration from the Savior’s lips tells us that He has made up for all failures and paid for all sins. It is the historical declaration also confirmed by the Apostle John in this declaration of salvation: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). This satisfaction, the atonement, this wrath-appeasing sacrifice once accomplished by Christ (Hebrews 9:28; I Peter 3:18) continues to avail to all eternity (Hebrews 10:18)! The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29) with one sacrifice for sins forever (Hebrews 10:14)! “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25; John 1:29; Hebrews 10:12). Everything necessary to save a sinner’s soul from eternal death in perdition’s flame was finished and accomplished by Jesus Christ that dark Friday atop Golgotha – everything!
What did Jesus do on the cross for you? All that is necessary for your eternal pardon! What must you do to be saved? Nothing! He has done it all! How then do you receive the gift? By God-wrought, Gospel-generated, Holy Spirit-created faith — confidence of the heart in the merits of Jesus! Scripture says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31a). Dr. Martin Luther, on February 18, 1546, prayed: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. Thou hast redeemed me, faithful God.” In such faith Luther then died. To all those who would die happy, Luther said to think and say as follows:
Merciful God, be gracious to me. I am a sinful being and deserve nothing but Thy displeasure. But regardless of my past life, I know without doubt that I am baptized and made a Christian for the forgiveness of sins and that my Lord Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose for me and gave His body and blood for the nourishment of the soul and the strengthening of faith. Therefore, I am absolved and freed from my sins in the name and power of Christ. Such a heart and faith can fare ill and be lost, as little as God’s Word can fail or be false. Of this I can assure you, for God Himself is your security through His Word. (#222 of Luther’s Prayers; reprint by Holy Cross Ev. Lutheran Press, 1976; original publication date 1917; p. 89).
Saving faith comes by hearing the Word of the Gospel (Romans 10:17), the gift of the Holy Ghost, wrought in the heart. Saving faith clings to the Word of the Gospel exclusively. When the world, the devil and the sinful flesh attack a Christian, he, by the grace of God’s Spirit through the Gospel, flees for refuge to the Crucified Christ and His assurance of salvation ,“It is finished.” The Psalmist declares: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. In God I will praise His Word; in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. …When I cry unto Thee, then shall mine enemies turn back. This I know, for God is for me. In God will I praise His Word; in the Lord will I praise His Word. In God have I put my trust; I will not be afraid what man can do unto me. …For Thou hast delivered my soul from death; wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” (Psalm 56:3-4, 9-11, 13).
In particular when the last enemy, death, seeks to terrify a believer, he finds sure and certain comfort in the assurances of his Savior. Remember John 14? There the Savior tells His disciples: “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also” (vv. 1-3).
When Christ bowed His head in death, He did so in full control of the entire situation! Earlier He told the disciples: “No man taketh it [My life] 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” (John 10:18). If He would not thereby have completed His saving task (I Timothy 1:15), He would not have laid down His life. If anything was left to be done, He would have continued to work and to suffer. But His redemptive work was complete. Yes, if it were not so, Christ would not have bowed His head and given up the ghost. He would have remained in the hell of God-forsakenness until His work was done. But His work was “finished;” its goal was “accomplished;” so He willingly gave up His soul to the care and keeping of His Father. He yielded up His life with these words, which Luke records: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (23:46). He died with full assurance that His work was done, and that everything necessary for man’s salvation had been won. He died because He willed to die: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17).
Yes, He knew that God was pleased with His holy and precious offering. He knew that He was going home to Paradise in His Father’s favor. He knew that the curse of God’s Law had been fully borne, and that all sins and their guilt had been atoned for completely and forever!
Given this fact, we readily see His gracious love for us sinners: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” (I John 3:16a). Nothing shall separate us from this love of our God and Savior: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,37-39).
Confident of the everlasting, unchanging, gracious and merciful love of God toward us for the sake of Christ, we can face temporal death with the confident assurance of childlike faith, knowing that “to depart and to be with Christ is far better,” and that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:23, 21). For, by the Gospel, we know that our redemption is complete, that our deliverance from sin, death and hell is a concrete, historical fact, that our sins have all been forgiven, and that salvation is 100% sure to every believer (Mark 16:16a). For God, who cannot lie, not only promised us eternal life (Titus 1:2), but His Son declared concerning the price of our salvation, “It is finished!” Our mansions above are already prepared; our eternal inheritance is reserved in heaven for us (John 14:1f; I Peter 1:3 ff.). For the God-Man, Jesus Christ, “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” and “by one offering …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).
Don’t be deluded by work-righteousness. As the hymn so aptly says:
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, verse 2).
When it comes to salvation, we have Christ’s final word on the subject; and that’s all we need: “It is finished!” He declares. “It has been and stands accomplished!”
God grant us all so to believe today and especially when our last hour comes!
—-E. J. W.