Treasures From the Original

Tetelestai: The Glory of the Accomplishments of the Cross

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Christ's great shout from the cross means that no one who believes in Him is saved 'on the installment plan' -- and much more.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

Christ's great shout from the cross means that no one who believes in Him is saved "on the installment plan" -- and much more.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!"

Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

Why do true Christians glory in the cross of Jesus Christ? Why is it both our right and our responsibility to glory in the cross? Why is it both our right and our responsibility to carry the message of the Gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world? It is because of that shout uttered by our Lord Jesus Christ as He gave up His life as a ransom for many: "It is finished!"

"Tetelestai!"

Can we find, anywhere, a more significant utterance by God or man? These words have an infinite depth of meaning that is wrapped up in the eternal counsels of God. Godly commentators through the centuries have admitted that we can only scratch the surface in exegeting them. But even to scratch the surface is to reveal great treasures from the vast, immeasurable storehouse of God's grace.

"It is finished!" In the original Greek of the New Testament this is a single word: Tetelestai. It means, "It is accomplished" - or - "It is complete." What did our Lord mean by these words? I would like to submit to you, briefly, nine things that the Scriptures tell us are finished and accomplished by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on a cross of shame, on our behalf. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but let us consider what Christ has accomplished by His cross.

1. Christ's Obedience: A Full & Finished Work

First, the work of God the Son in the great covenant of redemption, designed and agreed upon by the triune God in eternity past, that work was brought to completion on the cross. "It is finished!" We read of this in the first chapter of Ephesians. God the Father has chosen a people for Himself in eternity past. God the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, came into the world voluntarily to live a life of perfect obedience, perfect righteousness, a righteousness that could be imputed to poor fallen sinners who have no righteousness of their own.

In His prayer to the Father the night before His crucifixion in John chapter 17, the Lord Jesus declares that He has completed that work - His active obedience on our behalf. He prays, "Father, I have finished the work which You have given Me to do."

Not only that, on the cross Jesus made full and final atonement for our sins. We read in verse 28 of our text in John chapter 19, "Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I thirst!' " The word "accomplished" in verse 28 is same word as in verse 30 - tetelestai. In verse 28 it is translated, "accomplished" in the New King James. In verse 30 the same word - tetelestai - is translated, "It is finished!" At that moment in verse 28, the passive obedience of Christ - His sufferings for sin on our behalf - was complete. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:8, Jesus "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death - even the death of the cross."

And because that is true, Jesus in verse 30 cries out with a loud voice (as we are told in the other Gospels), "It is finished!" These are not words of weakness, or resignation, or desperation - they are words of triumph, shouted from the cross by our Savior. "It is finished!" The great work of God the Son in providing the way for Hell-bound sinners to be justified, pardoned before the judgment bar of God - that great work is finished.

All of our remaining points derive from that great first point.

2. Old Testament Types & Symbols Fulfilled

Second, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, all of the Old Testament types and symbols and prophecies concerning the coming Savior of the world have been fulfilled. They are accomplished. They are finished.

The Levitical priesthood is finished. The Passover lamb is finished. The lamb of the Day of Atonement is finished. The daily sacrifices for sins are finished. The type of the scapegoat, bearing away sins outside the camp, is finished. The type of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, is finished. The Old Testament sacrificial system is finished. Jesus has come as both Priest and Sacrifice, all in one, once for all.

Jesus has entered into the Holy of Holies in Heaven, of which the earthly tabernacle and temple were only types. He has entered in as a perfect High Priest, with the perfect sacrifice of His own blood. "It is finished!"

3. The Sin-Debt "Paid In Full"

Third, because the work of the Son God in the covenant of redemption is completed, payment for our sins has been made in full. This wordtetelestai, which is translated "It is finished!" in verse 30, can also be translated, "Paid in full."

Archaeologists have found many ancient business documents from the Greek and Roman world of that time -- bills, invoices, receipts for various kinds of things -- and they are marked with this word, "Tetelestai." "Paid in full."

Dear friends, there is much confusion and false teaching about this in the church today. We need to get hold of this great fact once again: The Lord Jesus Christ did not go to the cross to make a down-payment for our redemption. He did not go to the cross to make a sacrifice that would be only partially sufficient, so that we could add our own righteousness to it, in order to stand on the Day of Judgment.

Beloved, we are not redeemed from our sins on the installment plan. Jesus did not make a mere down-payment on the debt, so that we could continue to make installment payments on the debt by accumulating good works during the rest of our lives - so that on that basis, His righteousness plus ours, we could stand in the Judgment. No! We cannot pay the debt! We need not pay the debt! Not one tiny part of it! "Jesus paid it all!" -- "It is finished!"

4. No Condemnation: The Curse Removed

Fourth, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, the curse of the law has been taken away. Galatians 3:13 tells us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us. Romans 8:3 tells us that what the law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son. Romans 8:1 tells us that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

How did this happen? In Colossians 2:14 we read that Christ has wiped out the handwriting of the requirements of the law that were against us. God the Father has nailed them to His cross. The law condemned us, but Christ has redeemed us, once for all, from the condemnation of the law. "It is finished!"

5. Sin's Power Broken

Fifth, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, the power of sin has been broken. The Apostle Paul exhorts us in Romans chapter 6, "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."

"It is finished!" We can live a life that is pleasing to God - not to pay the debt for our sins, but out of gratitude that the debt has been paid.

6. The Way Opened

Sixth, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, the barrier between sinful man and the very presence of God has been taken away. The Levitical high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, the very dwelling place of God among the Israelites, once a year. He had to go in with blood to atone both for himself and for the people or he would die before the presence of God. He himself was a sinner. And there was a heavy veil between the people and the dwelling place of God.

But we are told in the Gospels that as soon as Jesus had uttered those triumphal words, "It is finished!" and had bowed His head and given up His life as a ransom for many for the remission of sins - as soon as that happened, the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was split from top to bottom. The Holy of Holies where no man except the high priest once a year had dared enter, was exposed to the view of all who served in the temple. The way to God had been made open by the cross of Christ.

No longer would men need to go to God through a human priest who was a sinner like themselves. Jesus Christ, the perfect High Priest, has entered the Holy of Holies in Heaven once for all, and has opened the way for us to approach the throne of God directly through Him, and through no one else.

The writer to the Hebrews says this, "Seeing that we have such a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God...Let us therefore come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." We obtain mercy, and we find grace, because, "It is finished!"

7. Satan Defeated

Seventh, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, Satan has been defeated. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus came in the flesh and went to the cross, "that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Satan's doom is sealed. His destiny in the lake of fire is certain. As Martin Luther wrote in his great hymn, "And lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him." And here we have that word - Tetelestai! - "It is finished!" Because of that, we can stand against the Devil, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18, putting on the whole armor of God.

8. Israel's Long Wait Ended

Eighth, because the work of the Son of God in the covenant of redemption is completed, the long wait of Israel has ended. Israel's Messiah has come. Most Jews, from Jesus' day down to our day, reject their Messiah. But Romans chapter 11 tells us of a future in-gathering of Jewish believers: "after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in...all Israel shall be saved."

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day," Jesus told the Jews in John chapter 8. And one day, because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, Abraham will rejoice to see an in-gathering of his descendants according to the flesh, who are also his spiritual descendants as we are. A coming generation of ethnic Israel will turn to the Messiah that they have long rejected. The promise of God is sure, because "It is finished!"

9. A Glorious Eternity Guaranteed

Ninth and finally, because the work of God the Son in the covenant of redemption is completed, the eternity of God's people is guaranteed. Nowhere does God's Word say that we who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation "may" see the Lord - we "might" gain entrance to Heaven - we "probably" will be raised from the dead and given glorified bodies - or that "if we do good works we might be able to stand in the Judgment."

Never does Scripture speak like this. Scripture speaks emphatically from beginning to end. It says that the eternity of God's people is guaranteed because of the cross. Thousands of years before Christ came, Job said this, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."

In Hebrews 12:2 the writer exhorts us to look "unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." He is the author of our faith. In the original the word is archegon, meaning the initiator. He is the One who made the plan of redemption as the Second Person of the Godhead.

He is now also the finisher of our faith. In the original this word "finisher" is the noun form of that verbal shout of Christ from the cross - "It is finished." He is the teleioten, the One who has brought to perfect completion the faith of that great roll-call of saints in the preceding chapter of Hebrews. They, "having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not [in their lifetimes] receive the promise, God having provided something better for us [who would come after them], that they should not be made perfect [or complete, teleiothosen, another form of the same word] without us.

Such is the redeeming love of Christ for us. In I John 4:17 we read that this love has been "perfected" in us. This word "perfected" is teteleiotai - yet another form of the same word that is translated, "It is finished."

It is complete. It is perfected. God's love has been perfected in us, who believe on His Son. And because of this, I John 4:17 goes on to say, because "It is finished" - "we will have the right to boldness on the day of judgment." Because of the cross - because, "It is finished!" - we who are in Christ need not fear the judgment seat of Christ.

A Completed Work Yet Being Applied

As we noted in our first article, the book of Ephesians tells us that the covenant of redemption is a threefold covenant.

God the Father covenanted to choose a people from every tribe and tongue and nation, to redeem them for Himself, so that they could be with Him in glory for all eternity.

God the Son, secondly, covenanted to voluntarily come into this world, take on the body of a man, live the perfect life that fallen men cannot live, and die the death that God's justice required, to redeem men and women and boys and girls from their sins.

God the Holy Spirit, thirdly, covenanted to apply the saving work of Jesus Christ to God's people, both those in ages past who looked forward to the cross, and those of the last 2,000 years and of the years yet to come before the Lord returns, we who look back on the cross.

The first two parts of that threefold covenant are complete. God the Father has chosen a people for Himself in eternity past. God the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has come into the world to live a life of perfect righteousness, a righteousness that could be imputed to us, poor fallen sinners who have no righteousness of our own. And not only that, our sins have been imputed to Him, because He has made full and final atonement for them, on the cross. Truly, "It is finished!"

But the third part of the covenant of redemption is still, in our time, a work in progress. That part of the covenant is just as sure of accomplishment as the other two, but it is a work that God is still doing. There is yet time for people to come to God and be saved. God the Holy Spirit is applying the work of Christ's redemption by bringing men and women and boys and girls to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, trusting in His finished work to deliver them from eternity in Hell.

An Invitation

Dear reader, if you have never received God's gift of eternal salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, I invite you to receive Christ. You stand condemned before God because of your unbelief. No matter how young or old you are this day, if you are without Christ you stand on the verge of eternal separation from God in Hell.

That is your position. You still bear the penalty for your sins. You are without hope of eternal life. You are lost. You need to be saved. But if you will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive Him as your Savior, God will lift that burden which you cannot bear. God will pay the debt that you cannot pay. He will mark your account, "tetelestai" - "finished" - "paid in full." Paid in full by the blood of Jesus Christ.

If your heart is being moved toward God but you still have questions, then I encourage you to contact us here at TeachingTheWord. We will be glad to help you.

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