“When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished’, and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John 19:30
When we use the word “finished”, it tends to point to either a failure (finished with) or a success (completed). What do these words of Jesus mean? Here, as often in John’s Gospel, these apparently simple words are not as clear as one might think. What has been “finished”, and what does that mean?
One word is clear enough at once. “Is” is definite. When Jesus says something, He makes it so. We can do this in smaller matters – saying the marriage vows, for example – but He does it for even bigger things like forgiveness, commanding the weather, healing the sick. So, whatever is finished, really is finished.
Does Jesus mean His life on earth is finished? No, because we know that His death was not the end of everything: He rose to new life. In the same way, we do not have to remain stuck in Good Friday, but can live in the resurrection life of Easter morning. So what does He mean?
Jesus’ categorical statement that “it is finished” makes it clear that there must be a very firm division between the “it” which is finished, and the new life afterwards (for Him and us). One distinct thing has been completed by His death. Jesus tells us what this is in Mark 10, when He asks James and John: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”
What was finished was Jesus’ drinking the cup the Father had given Him to drink. The honest answer to Jesus’ question was “no”. We cannot choose perfectly as He did. The good news – the Gospel – is that Jesus did what we could not, drinking the cup of God’s punishment of our sins on our behalf. Before was Law – God’s demands which we cannot meet. After came … Gospel.
“It” is the Law and its penalty to which Jesus is referring when He says “It is finished”. “It” is also His baptism into death and sin for us, completed in His death on the cross. He is then ready to rise to new life; and in our own Baptism, we too share in the Good Friday of His death and the Easter morning of our rising again with Him.
We thank You, Lord Jesus, for all that You accomplished on the cross, Amen.