Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)
Meaning of “It is finished” as Tetelestai
"It is finished" is the English translation of the Greek word Tetelestai, which was the last thing Jesus' said before dying on the cross. 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 10K 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."
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."
Note one other fact. He 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, then, is 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.
Tetelestai is Gospel in a Single Word
"It is finished." The ancient Greeks boasted of being able to say much in little - "to give a sea of matter in a drop of language" was regarded as the perfection of oratory. What they sought is here found. "It is finished" is but one word in the original, yet in that word is wrapped up the gospel of God; in that word is contained the ground of the believer’s assurance; in that word is discovered the sum of all joy, and the very spirit of all divine consolation.
"It is finished." This was not the despairing cry of a helpless martyr; it was not an expression of satisfaction that the termination of His sufferings was now reached; it was not the last gasp of a worn-out life. No, rather was it the declaration on the part of the divine Redeemer that all for which He came from heaven to earth to do, was now done; that all that was needed to reveal the full character of God had now been accomplished; that all that was required by law before sinners could be saved had now been performed: that the flail price of our redemption was now paid.
"It is finished." The great purpose of God in the history of man was now accomplished. From the beginning, God’s purpose has always been one and indivisible. It has been declared to men in various ways: in symbol and type, by mysterious hints and by plain intimations, through Messianic prediction and through didactic declaration. That purpose of God may be summarized thus: to display His grace and to magnify his Son in the creating of children in His own image and glory. And at the cross the foundation was laid which was to make this possible and actual.
Adapted from The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, 6. The Word of Victory, by A.W. Pink.
The Crucifixion of Jesus - His Last Words on the Cross
At the height of his ministry and miracles, many Jews came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God. Jewish leaders feared Jesus because of his growing followers. With the help of Judas Iscariot, Roman soldiers arrested Jesus and he was put on trial for claiming to be the king of the Jews. According to Roman law, the punishment for rebellion against the king was death by crucifixion.
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate was reluctant when it came to the punishment for Jesus. Pilate could find no wrong in Jesus, yet he wanted to give the people what they wanted, and that was the death of Jesus. Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize that he was not taking responsibility for the bloodshed of Jesus and then handed Jesus over to be beaten and lashed. Jesus had a crown of thorns thrust on his head and made to carry his cross along the pathway to the hill where he would be crucified. The location of Jesus' crucifixion is known as Calvary, which is translated from "a place of skull".
Crowds had gathered to mourn and watch Jesus' death. Jesus was nailed to the cross between two criminals and his sides pierced by a sword. While Jesus was mocked, one of the criminals asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus responded: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus then looked to heaven and asked God to "forgive them, for they do not know what they do." When taking his last breath, Jesus spoke: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit...it is finished."
-Sourced from Crucifixion of Jesus - Bible Story on BibleStudyTools.com
Learn more about the historical context of crucifixion, the persecution of Jesus by the Romans, and further about the last days and words of Jesus as he sacrificed Himself for the sins and salvation of man: 10 Powerful Facts About the Cross of Christ & His Crucifixion
Jesus' "Seven Last Words from the Cross"
- Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43
- Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your motherJohn 19:26-27
- My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- I thirst.John 19:28
- It is finished. (From the Greek "Tetelestai") John 19:30
- Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.Luke 23:46