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What Did Jesus Mean When He Cried "It is Finished!"?
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:28-30, ESV
When Jesus hung on the cross, one of the last things He cried out was "It is finished!" Years ago, people who were searching for the "real historical Jesus" beneath the supposed propaganda of the Gospel accounts latched onto this desperate cry of a dying man as proof that Jesus died in despair. They claimed that "It is finished!"- when combined with "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?"- tells us all we need to know about Jesus: He was a failure in His mission to become the Jewish Messiah and He died a horrible death in utter rejection as a failure.
Looking at Jesus' death in this way is far from historical or real. It ignores the eye-witness accounts of Jesus' triumphant resurrection. It also ignores the Old Testament source for two of the seven things Jesus said on the cross before He said, "It is finished!" Once we place "It is finished!" into the broader context (something all good historians should do), we find that this is not a cry of despair and defeat but of triumph and satisfaction.
Two of Jesus' seven sayings on the cross come from Psalm 22, which opens "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" and then in verse 15 refers to extreme thirst, "my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws." John tells us that when Jesus said, "I thirst," He did so "to fulfill the Scripture" of Psalm 22:15. If we go to Psalm 22, we find the following details of the crucifixion of Jesus:
1. Jesus scorned and despised by the people. (v. 6)
2. Jesus mocked by those who see Him on the cross. (vv. 7-8)
3. Jesus' bones being out of joint. (v. 14) This commonly happened during crucifixion.
4. Jesus being extremely thirsty. (v. 15)
5. Jesus' hands and feet being pierced. (v. 16)
6. None of Jesus' bones bring broken. (v. 17)
7. Jesus' clothing being divided and then gambled over. (v. 18)
Seven specific details about the crucifixion of Jesus from the pen of David, written 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Add to this the details of Jesus' trial and death from Isaiah 53 and it's not hard to see part of Jesus' meaning behind, "It is finished!" All that had been written about how He would suffer had been fulfilled. His work to fulfill the Scripture was indeed finished.
But Jesus' words mean more. Isaiah 53 tells us not only details about Jesus' death (like Psalm 22), but it also tells us the reason for Jesus' death and what His death accomplished:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (vv. 4-6)
Jesus hung on the cross for our transgressions, for our iniquities. He died to take away our sin and to give us peace and healing instead. In the light of this, "It is finished!" meant "paid in full." Full atonement had been made, the full price of ransom had been paid.
Today, when we're wrestling with doubt and fear, we can look back at the cross and say with Jesus: "It is finished!" Jesus fulfilled every detail of the prophecies made about Him. Jesus paid for every sin. Jesus purchased full healing and lasting peace. Because of the cross, our salvation is finished indeed!
Prayer Based on Psalm 85:
Lord, on the cross, You were favorable to Your people;
you redeemed Your people and restored our fortunes with You.
You forgave the iniquity of Your people;
You covered all our sin.
You withdrew all Your wrath;
You turned from Your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away Your indignation toward us!
We confess our sin and our unfaithfulness!
We have been worldly and idolatrous in many ways.
We have been worldly and idolatrous in many ways.
Will You be angry with us forever?
Will You not revive us again,
that Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us Your salvation.
Let me hear what You, O God our Lord, will speak,
for You will speak peace to Your people, to Your saints;
but please keep us from turning back to folly.
Surely Your salvation is near to those who fear You,
that Your glory may dwell among Your people.
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
At the cross, love was displayed and justice fulfilled
promises faithfully kept and righteousness perfectly fulfilled.
Because of the cross as the demonstration of Your love,
we know that You, O Lord, will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Let us always live by the rightousness of Jesus;
may His footsteps be the way in which we walk.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
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