Really, truly, finished. Forever!
At our church’s evening meeting on Good Friday we have seven speakers preach from the seven things Jesus said while on the cross. Creatively called: Words from the Cross
This year I had the 6th “word”. John 19:30
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The first question which came to mind was: what “it” is Jesus referring to?
The immediate context could lead us to think “it” is the sour wine - that is, Jesus has finished his last drink. But that doesn’t feel very compelling.
A bigger picture is that Jesus is referring to his life - that is, Jesus is about to die. Again, this is true, but leaves “it is finished” very ambiguous. Is it a triumphant statement - Jesus has succeeded? A defeated statement - death has ended Jesus mission? The usual Bible reader picks between one of those options: reading in a loud and definite voice “IT. IS. FINISHED.”, or a tiny “it is finished“.
The best way to figure out the “it” is to look back in John’s gospel, has he hinted at anything in progress or soon to be finished? It just so happens that he (and Jesus) has!
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish [= finish] his work.”
Our Bible translators have obscured things a little here, the “accomplish” in John 4 is the same root as in 19:30 for “finish” (although the latter has a much more “forever” feel to it). The Greek root (τελέω, teleo) is used, which means “to finish” or “to accomplish” or “to complete”.
So Jesus has raised the idea of finishing a particular work given by his Father (“him who sent me”). Which means Jesus has a rather important sounding, God given mission, but we still don’t really know what it is. Until we read on a few verses to John 4:36
Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
Jesus is using an agricultural picture here: sowing, reaping and gathering. The fruit being gathered is for eternal life and seems to have the final goal that the “sower and reaper may rejoice together“. It seems most likely Jesus is referring to himself and his Father here, and the end game is joy: God and Jesus together with those they have harvested for eternal life (Christian believers).
The point in our little search is that eternal life is what’s on offer.
A little further along in John 4:42, we get a slightly different take on the mission:
“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
The “Saviour of the world” is a pretty good title to have! Referring to Jesus, its similar to “eternal life”, but coming from a different angle.
Continuing along in chapter 5, Jesus talks about the mission, his “works” again in John 5:36:
For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish [= finish] …
Again, it reinforces the “mission from God” idea, and Jesus needing to complete or finish it. But a few verses earlier in John 5:34, Jesus makes one of the grandest mission statements of his life:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.
This is a fantastic explanation of Jesus’ mission or “work”. Speaking so that people hear and trust Jesus, which gives eternal life! Or, from the “saviour” angle, avoiding judgement and death to have life!
The “it” of 19:30 is eternal life.
Now, it’s worth clarifying “eternal life”. Because it’s not living forever, which is actually a terrible idea given the state of our world and bodies - both of which tend to break down and generally suck. It’s not your soul living forever after your body dies, as a kind of ghost either, although I can understand how that holds a certain appeal to some.
Eternal Life is life to the full! As it was meant to be! Life in a new body, one that doesn’t break down every day. Life in a new world, a world that is a joy to live in – not a chore. Life with the one true God: Jesus’ own Father!
Life and salvation, that is God’s mission and Jesus mission. And it’s what Jesus is saying he has finished on the cross.
The burning question then is: did Jesus succeed? Was it a triumphant “IT. IS. FINISHED.” or a defeated “it is finished“?
On the face of it, a dying man isn’t likely to be making any statements of triumph. So its natural to read Jesus’ “it is finished” as a way of saying “I’ve failed” or “it didn’t work out”.
Except, that doesn’t fit the context.
John 19:28 indicates this is a very particular “it is finished”: to fulfill the scripture. The sour wine, on a practical level, is all about Jesus making the completion of his mission clear to those watching. After what we’ve seen in chapters 4 and 5 about Jesus’ mission being about “eternal life”, it seems Jesus is going out of his way to say mission is finished now he is dead!
And that is indeed the case!
Although not explained in detail in John’s gospel, Jesus’ death is how he gives that eternal life. His death is when his mission finishes because he gives up his life so we can receive life to the full. The author, John, explains it in his letter 1 John 4:10:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Jesus shows his love to us by giving up his life for our sake, and to be the propitiation for our sins. Essentially, that means Jesus’ death is the sacrifice that turns away God’s anger because of our sin. Or, in other words, Jesus death enables us to come to God for life.
At the point Jesus says “it is finished”, everything he needs to do has been done. And although God needs to raise Jesus to life in glory on Easter Sunday, Jesus has completed his mission. There are no ifs, buts or gotchas: Jesus has given the opportunity of eternal life for all humanity, for all time.
That is what Christian believers celebrate at Easter!
When Jesus is raised on Sunday, it will confirm all he has done. It will bring glory to God and Jesus. It will be utterly magnificent!
But God the Father will do that bit, Jesus’ mission is complete, finished and done!
There are two implications to this for people:
First, Jesus has done everything for eternal life and salvation.
Which means there is nothing we as humans need to do to achieve that life. No sacrifices to make, no rituals to perform, no magic words to say, no good deeds to do, no holy men to guide us. Everything we need for life and salvation has been done by Jesus on the cross.
The only action, if it is really an action at all, is to accept that gift. Say “yes” to Jesus’ offer and receive life to the full! Trust he really has done everything and be saved!
Second, don’t be tempted that anything we do has any effect on our status before God. Not only do our actions bring us no closer to God, they are completely unneeded - after all, Jesus has done everything on the cross.
Now I find this much harder to accept than I should, as I have a degree of pride that pushes me to achieve something before God - something to make a name for ourselves. Jesus has the name which is above every name; my feeble attempts at impressing the God who makes planets, starts and galaxies is nothing in comparison!
Also, our day to day experiences are filled with unfinished things. Complete the laundry and there’s another load tomorrow. Finish the kids homework and next week they have more.
Even bigger things like marriage or retirement or starting a new job aren’t the neat life transitions they are supposed to be. A marriage starts something new, but doesn’t really change anything old. I’ve met retired people who are busier than they ever were in the workforce. And I have clients who are eager to keep in contact with me after I finish work with them.
But eternal life and salvation with God is 100%, completely finished. Without any unexpected gotchas that sneak up on us.
And that is different, and refreshing!
So trust that Jesus really did complete his mission. Really, truly, 100% finished. Forever. For everyone. Everyone who trusts Jesus.
Life and salvation for you and me.
It is finished!