It Was Finished Upon That Cross

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It is finished. (John 19:30)

Just before Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” he spoke three wonderful words: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The words carry a tone of victory. No criminal in the electric chair says, “It is finished.” No general captured in war says, “It is finished.” Surely no crucified man, except Jesus alone, has died saying, “It is finished.” These are words of victory, not of defeat.


And yet, these wonderful, victorious words also carry a weight of mystery. What was finished? What did Jesus see in his mind’s eye as he took his final breaths? What wonders did he behold? What victory did he enjoy?


He gives us clues, strewn throughout the second half of John’s Gospel. Various forms of the Greek word for finished in John 19:30 appear in the hours before his death, each one illuminating some aspect of Jesus’s finished work. On the cross, Jesus finished the prophecies of the Messiah’s suffering, he finished his Father’s mission, and he finished the saving love he had for his disciples.


Scripture Finished


Just before Jesus says, “It is finished,” we read, “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28). “I thirst,” an allusion to Psalm 69:21, is not the first psalm we find on the tongue of the crucified Christ. Both “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” come from Israel’s songbook as well (Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:1; Luke 23:46 and Psalm 31:5). Such psalms sang of the Messiah’s suffering — and now, Jesus could see from the cross, they were finished.


In the life of Jesus, we find a man governed by Scripture. As an infant, he fulfilled the promise of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1). As a boy, he sat in the temple, feeding on his Father’s book (Luke 2:46). As a young man, he came to see himself in the prophecies of a coming King — and a coming Sufferer (Luke 2:52; 4:17–21). As a man, he not only treasured and taught Scripture, but took every step in light of it, including every step toward the cross (Matthew 26:52–54).


And finally, as a dying Savior, he finished every part of Scripture that spoke of his suffering. Behold our greater Job, slain in his uprightness. Behold our greater David, hunted and pierced without cause. Behold our greater Isaac, unspared on the altar. Jesus saw every prophecy and said of them all, “It is finished.”


Mission Finished


Toward the beginning of his final prayer with his disciples, Jesus says to his Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Though veiled in our English, the Greek for accomplishedbuilds from the same root as the Greek for finished. When Jesus surveyed the mission the Father had given him, he saw a mission now finished.


He had set his face to complete his Father’s mission from the beginning. Early in his ministry, when the disciples worried that he had not eaten enough, Jesus told them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish [or finish] his work” (John 4:34). Jesus hungered and thirsted to see his Father’s will fulfilled.


And what was that will, that all-important mission? Chiefly, to save the Father’s chosen people. “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world,” Jesus continues to pray. “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6). Jesus came to find the Father’s children and fill the Father’s house. The children gathered, the house prepared, Jesus looked at his Father’s mission and said, “It is finished.”


Love Finished


One final mention comes as Jesus and his twelve gathered for their final supper. John writes, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The phrase to the end, as with the word accomplished, shares a kinship with the word for finished. Jesus loved his own, we might say, all the way to the finish.


What carried Jesus from Galilee to Golgotha? What sustained him under whips and thorns, fists and nails? Not only submission to Scripture, and not only obedience to his Father, but love to his people. As John Piper writes, “Every step on the Calvary road meant, ‘I love you.’”


Of course, the cross did not finish the love of Jesus. His love would soon break free from the tomb and rise to the heavens, where it has formed an unbreakable bond between us and the Father, such that nothing can now separate us from his love (Romans 8:35–39). But when Jesus looked upon the greatest act of love the world has ever known (John 15:13; Romans 5:8), he said, in a cry both wonderful and victorious, “It is finished.”