Good Friday morning …
It is Friday in Jerusalem and a huge crowd has gathered at the place called Skull Hill. It was on the north side of the city … just outside the Damascus Gate … and located by the side of a well-traveled road. The Romans liked to hold their crucifixions in public places … because killing people in public made a big impact on the masses.
This particular crucifixion started at 9 A.M. There were three victims … three crosses … three men condemned to die … positioned in a row.
For three hours everything proceeded normally. Then at exactly 12 noon … the sky went black. Not overcast … but pitch black … so black that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It wasn’t anything normal … like an eclipse. The darkness seemed to pulse and throb … almost like the darkness was a living thing … like an evil mutant creature had escaped from some science fiction movie.
Only this was no movie! What happened was real. For three hours darkness fell across the city of Jerusalem. There were screams, hideous cries, moans, and other unidentifiable sounds. Then, just as suddenly as it started … the darkness lifted … disappeared … vanished … and sanity returned to the earth.
One glance at the middle cross made it clear that the man nailed upon it would not last much longer. His name was Jesus and was identified as “The King of the Jews.” He looked dead already. His body quivered uncontrollably … His chest heaving with every tortured breath. The soldiers knew from long experience that He wouldn’t make it to sundown.
Then it happened. He shouted something—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone in the crowd shouted back to him. Moments passed, death drew near … then a hoarse whisper, “I thirst.” The soldiers put some sour vinegar on a sponge and lifted it to His lips with a stalk of hyssop. He moistened His lips and took a deep breath. If you listened you could hear the death rattle in His throat. He had less than a minute to live.
Then He spoke again. It was a quick shout. Just one word. If you weren’t paying attention … you would have missed it in all the confusion. Then He breathed out another sentence … and He was dead.
What was that shout? In Greek it is only one word … Tetelestai … “It is finished.”
Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo … which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It’s a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. It’s the word you would use when you climb to the peak of Mt. Everest; it’s the word you would use when you turn in the final copy of your dissertation; it’s the word you would use when you make the final payment on your new car; it’s the word you use when you cross the finish line of your first 15K run. The word means more than just “I survived.” It means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”
But there’s more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s significant … because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.”
So when Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present and it will remain finished in the future.”
Notice one other thing: Jesus did not say, “I am finished” … for that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. Rather, He cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”
Tetelestai! The Savior’s final cry of victory. When He died … He left no unfinished business behind. When He said, “It is finished,” He was speaking the truth!!!
But what exactly was finished? The commentators on this subject give many answers:
The sufferings ordained by God were finished. All the Old Testament types and prophecies were fulfilled. The ceremonial law was abolished. The price of sin was paid in full. All Jesus’ physical sufferings were over. The work of redemption was now complete.
But there is more to the meaning of tetelestai. It means all of those things … but it especially applies to the price paid for the sins of the world. The verb was used in the first and second centuries in the sense of “fulfilling” or “paying” a debt and often appeared in receipts. “It is finished” could be interpreted as “Paid in full.”
“Paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for … you never have to pay for it again. In fact, “paid in full” means that once a thing is paid for … it is foolish to try to pay for it again.
This is probably the best news you could ever hear … because it doesn’t matter what “your” sin is! It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life! It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are! It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week! It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been! It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet!
All of your sins have been stamped by God with one word … Tetelestai … Paid in full!!!
And since Jesus paid in full … the work of salvation is now complete. That is what “It is finished” means. The debt was paid … the work was accomplished … the sacrifice was completed. And since the verb is in the perfect tense … it means that when Jesus died … He died once for all time. The sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of every person who has ever lived … past, present or future.
This is our Good Friday morning “Good News.” Acknowledge it … be thankful for it … and share it with someone else before Sunday when we celebrate the Resurrection. May God bless your Good Friday followed by a joyous Easter!!!