We tend to place a great deal of value in last words. Perhaps you can still vividly recall the last thing a loved one said to you before they died. Perhaps you have been inspired by the last words of a public figure.
Sometimes, last words display confidence and contentment. Henry Ford is said to have left the world with these words: “I’ll sleep well tonight.” Others manifest great uncertainty in their final words, like Alfred Hitchcock, who is reported to have said, “One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.” Still others leave the world with a sense of profound dissatisfaction. Leonardo Da Vinci concluded, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Final words leave a legacy. But never have final words carried the eternal import of those uttered by Jesus from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). This sixth utterance of Jesus from the cross is a word of profound victory. Pink observes that, while this utterance was but a single word in the original, “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.”
But what did Jesus mean by these words? Exactly what was finished? Let’s consider the profound depths of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
First, the cross finished all the prophecies that had been made about his coming over the centuries. The Old Testament contains prophecy after prophecy about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It declared that he would be the offspring of a woman (Genesis 3:15) and he was indeed born of woman (Galatians 4:4). It foretold his virgin conception (Isaiah 7:14) and it was so (Matthew 1:18). He was to be of Abrahamic descent (Genesis 22:18) and he was (Matthew 1:1). He was to be a son of David (2 Samuel 17:12–13) and he was (Romans 1:3).
Jesus fulfilled prophecy after prophecy. He was born in Bethlehem as foretold (Micah 5:2). It was prophesied that he would come out of Egypt and it was so (Matthew 2:14–15). He healed the lame and the mute (Isaiah 35:5–6), stilled storms (Psalm 107:29), and was despised (Isaiah 53:3), rejected (Isaiah 8:14) and hated without cause (Psalm 69:4).
The above is but a sampling of the prophecies that found their fulfilment in Christ. When he cried, “It is finished,” there were technically prophecies yet to be fulfilled (no bone broken; buried in a borrowed tomb; rise from the dead; etc.), but these were certainties and Jesus could accurately say, “It is finished.” If every prophecy of his first coming was fulfilled, we can be sure that every prophecy of his second coming will be fulfilled and that he will once again, at the final judgement, have cause to say, “It is finished.”
Second, the cross finished all his sufferings. From birth, Jesus faced opposition and affliction. Throughout his life, he spoke of his “hour” in anticipation of the cross. He suffered in his ministry, in the wilderness, and in the garden. But at the cross, his suffering was finished. He brought to completion everything that his Father designed for him as a suffering Saviour.
Third, the cross finished the purpose of the incarnation. This was the very reason for which Christ laid aside his robes of glory. This is why he left the glories of heaven to come to earth. He took upon himself the form of a servant, robed himself in humanity, and lived among his people for 33 years. He did so not only to serve them and perform miracles but to die for the sins of his people. Now, on the brink of death, that purpose had been brought to completion. It was, indeed, finished.
Fourth, the cross finished the atonement. The wages of sin is death and, in dying, Jesus finished what was required in order to pay for the sins of his people. He experienced the wages of sin—death—so that his people could experience the promise of life. In his death, he met the demands of justice, satisfied the requirements of divine holiness, and paid the awful debt that sin had incurred. It was finished at the cross.
But do we know that it was finished? How do we know that God approved Jesus’ cry of victorious completion? Pink suggests that God showed this in at least four ways: first, by tearing the veil in the temple, signifying that access to God was now possible; second, by raising Jesus from the dead as evidence that he had accepted his sacrifice; third, by exalting Christ at the ascension to his right hand as evidence of his ongoing delight in his Son; and, fourth, by sending the Holy Spirit to apply the benefits of Christ’s completed work to his people.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus finished it? Do you believe that he did everything that was necessary to save his people from their sins? Or do you think that there is yet something for you to add to his work? Do you believe that you must perform some good deed to ensure God’s acceptance? To work for God’s favour is to reject Jesus’ claim that, in his death, it was finished.
Fifth, the cross finished and fulfilled the requirements of the law. Jesus lived a perfect life, fulfilling God’s law in every point (Romans 8:3–4) and sealed it by suffering the penalty of broken law on our behalf.
Sixth, at the cross, Jesus finished Satan’s work. Satan had laboured for centuries to bring an end to the promise of a conquering seed. For 33 years, he had tried to distract Jesus. In the wilderness he tried to distract Jesus from his mission. In the garden he tried to persuade him to avoid the cross. Even on the cross, through the satanic taunts of the bystanders to save himself, Satan sought to thwart the obedient work of our Saviour. But Jesus would not be dissuaded. He remained faithful to God’s calling to the bitter end and could say in full confidence, “It is finished.”
At the cross, Jesus finished once and for all everything that needed to be finished to purchase salvation for his people. Do you believe it? Will you believe it? Will you embrace his finished work to the eternal saving of your soul?