What Did Christ Mean?
When He said “It is finished!”
Jesus the Christ (Gk. Christos: the Anointed One, the Messiah), the Son of God (i.e., God manifested in the flesh), made a number of exceedingly significant statements during His ministry prior to being crucified on Calvary.
But the one most important, the most sin-shattering statement Christ made while on earth was the one He declared on the cross of Calvary at the end of His crucifixion, as follows:
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30a)
And having said this, He bowed “His head” and “gave up His spirit” (John 19:30b). The truth of His statement, “It is finished,” had nothing to do with the physical consequences He had been experiencing while on the cross, even though they were unspeakably devastating to His physical body. Rather, the truth of His statement follows.
The obvious question is: “What is finished?”
To a great many throughout Christendom the answer is that Jesus was referring to the suffering and sacrifice of His physical life prior to and upon the cross, which He endured for all mankind. Indeed, He did experience great physical suffering prior to and upon the cross for and by others, but that was not what He referenced when He declared “It is finished.”
If Christ was only speaking of the physical aspect of His dilemma, He would then be no different than multitudes throughout history that have suffered and died at the hands of others, for others. Indeed, it could be argued that down through the corridors of time many have experienced more pain, torture, and cruelty in their path to an involuntary death.
So the physical aspect surrounding Christ’s crucifixion, although significant, was not the critical feature of it; and, was definitely not that which was declared “finished” by Him near its end. In fact, that part of it (i.e., that which was connected to temporal/physical life) came to an end subsequent to His remarks.
This being the case, it is sad that many — in fact the majority — within Christendom, when speaking of the crucifixion, are only aware of the physical aspect of it. Sadly, they believe Christ’s physical suffering surrounding the cross is what the crucifixion is all about; that His physical suffering was in fact the purpose for Christ’s coming in human form to earth. When they say it is Christ who died for man in order to procure salvation for all, they most always refer to His physical death. Yet, they are so completely wrong!
It is clear that Christ did in fact die for mankind:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10)
It is true that there are many passages of Scripture referencing the “blood of Christ” as that which has provided man the avenue back to God, e.g., Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:14, 20; Hebrews 9:12-14; 10:19; 1 Peter 1:2, 18, 19; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5, etc.), but what the student of the Word needs to understand is that such expressions are God’s way of referring to death — the passage of life.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22)
To focus on Christ’s physical death is to miss the purpose of His coming in the form of human flesh entirely. His physical death, as was the case with the various substitutionary animal deaths in the Old Testament, foreshadowed (type to antitype) a more substantial truth, which was the purpose for His coming.
The Purpose of Christ’s Coming
Jesus Christ came in the flesh because of the condition of man. To be exact, He came to make certain that anyone “by choice” could be able to escape this “condition.”
The question then is: “What was and continues today, the condition of man?”
In the “beginning” God created man to have dominion over (rule) the earth.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
God created man (Adam) in a specific fashion, with a spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23), after the triune image of Himself. Upon his creation, Adam was given a specific mission, to have dominion over (rule) the earth and its creatures.
Regarding this mission, God took a rib from Adam and made a “helper comparable to him,” whom he called “woman” and later named “Eve.” She was taken out of man, and speaking of her he declared she was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” So that when she was presented to man, he was then complete (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-24; 3:20).
Both man and woman were to rule together, forming an unchangeable principle established by God. Man could not rule alone; rather, he could only rule as a complete being. This principle of union and rulership was a type that would later be born out in the antitype of Christ and His bride (a discussion for a later time).
But circumstances, initiated by Satan, led Eve and Adam down the path of sin, which then placed man — this complete being — into a “fallen state,” one in which he was spiritually separated from his Creator.
(Scripture declares that the “wages of sin is death,” a state of being indicating “separation from life.” When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, he surely died, but his death (separation) was not physical; it was spiritual—he was separated from God, a condition that has been passed on to his ancestry throughout all of history [Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12, 17, 21; James 1:15].)
Because of this the Creator then took measures to keep man from eating from the “tree of life,” which would have placed man in a perpetual fallen state of sin, spiritually separated from God.
Man’s condition at this time, which continued down through history, passed on through the blood of every progenitor, was one in which he was “dead in trespasses and sins,” destined to be eternally separated from God (Romans 5:12, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13).
In his fallen state, man was (is) incapable of overcoming this condition — incapable of doing anything to satisfy God so that he may be forgiven and brought back into spiritual unity with his Creator. Because of this, and this alone, Jesus Christ came to execute a substitutionary sacrifice for man that would satisfy God (appease His wrath regarding sin) and bring man back into a spiritual relationship (unity) with His Creator.
That which was “Finished” on the Cross
That which was “finished” on the cross of Calvary was that substitutionary sacrifice for man that satisfied God and made it possible for anyone to reestablish a personal, spiritual relationship with God the Father, the Creator. It was a sacrifice, which only the Son of God could perform. But it was not His physical death that accomplished this objective; although, such (His physical death) pictured it.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all. (Isiah 53:6)
Who [Christ] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree [the cross], that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.
(1 Peter 2:24)
. . . He [Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us . . . . (Galatians 3:13a)
For He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
On the cross, in line with His purpose for coming, Christ in the flesh took upon Himself the sin (all the sins) of man and, in some mysterious way (God only knows) became that sin in order that God’s judgment (punishment) could be administered for and to it. This Christ did for and in the place of man, so that anyone who might accept His sacrifice “by faith” could become the “righteousness of God” in Christ.
This most merciful and gracious gift (sacrifice) by Jesus Christ for man took place over a period of time in which God the Father forsook (deserted, separated Himself from) His Son, indicated by the darkening of the earth, and which placed Christ in such agony over the separation that He cried out to His father in obvious pain.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
(Matthew 27:45, 46; cf. Mark 15:33, 34)
But the good news for man is that in that limited period of time in which God the Son was separated from God the Father, a period that would take man an eternity to match, came to an end, which was exactly what Christ referred to when He declared, “It is finished.”
And because God the Father is now satisfied with and over the sacrifice of His Son for all of man’s sin, man may now by faith — and faith alone in Christ alone — be spiritually united back to his Creator.
A Past, Completed Action
The eternal salvation of man, a total grace-gift by God to man, is solely based on a past, completed action by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. It cannot be added to by God or man; it cannot be altered in any way. It can only be accepted by faith (believed, trusted, relied upon), a voluntary act (decision of the will) by man. And once the decision of faith is made, it can never be reversed by man or taken back by God.
Possibly, it cannot be expressed more clearly than what Arlen L. Chitwood stated in the Foreword of his book, Salvation by Grace through Faith, which follows:
The message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God is given in very simple terms in Scripture. In fact, it is so simple that man often misses it. And any person, missing the one true message given by the infinite God and drawing from his own finite wisdom and knowledge, invariably — he can’t help but so do — ends up with a corrupted salvation message.
The salvation message, that which makes salvation possible for fallen man, is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3:
. . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
The one key thought in the salvation message is death and shed blood (e.g., Genesis 3:21; 22:8, 13), which is what God requires (Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22). And the one key word in the salvation message is believe (e.g., John 1:12; 3:15, 16), which is also what God requires (John 3:18).
The Lamb has died, His blood has been shed, and all that is left — all that can possibly be left — for man to do is simply believe that which has already been done on his behalf.
Eternal salvation is by grace (that which God is able to do completely apart from human merit) through faith (through believing on God’s Son [Ephesians 2:8, 9]), and it is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ (John 19:30). Nothing that man has done, is presently doing, or will ever do can have anything to do with his eternal destiny. Man can do no more than receive by faith that which has already been done on his behalf.
This is why Scripture states:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . . (Acts 16:31)
This statement is in response to a question in the preceding verse,
Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (v. 30)
And, within another frame of reference, the response to this question could only be, “Nothing!” This would have to be the response simply because there is not one single thing left for unsaved man to do (nor could he do anything if something were left, for, he is spiritually dead and incapable of acting in the spiritual realm [Ephesians 2:1, 5]).
It is of interest to note that the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, and the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” only appear together in one place in the entire Bible. Scripture is filled with information concerning redemption, but Acts 16:30, 31 is the only place, from Genesis to Revelation, where the question concerning eternal salvation is asked and answered in so many words.
Thus, within a completely biblical framework, if the question in Acts 16:30 is asked, there can be only one answer: “Believe . . . .” Man’s ideas, thoughts, comments are of no moment. God has spoken, and that’s the end of the matter.
John 3:16 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell” by individuals seeking to draw attention to the overall salvation message stated in its simplest form in Scripture. God, because of His love for fallen man — created in His image, after His likeness, for a purpose (Genesis 1:26-28) — “gave His only begotten Son [1 Corinthians 15:3], that whosoever believes in Him [Acts 16:31] will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Everything, in its entirety, to procure man’s salvation was done by Christ. It had to be accomplished by Christ, for the one being redeemed was “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), totally incapable of acting on his own behalf.
Christ is the one who died, Christ is the one who performed the work to procure man’s salvation, and God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work.
When Christ cried out from the cross in “a loud voice” near the ninth hour, “It is finished” (Luke 23:46; John 19:30), He used one word in the Greek text — tetelestai — that could be better translated, “It has been finished.” Tetelestai is a perfect tense usage of teleo, which means “to bring to an end,” “to complete.” And the perfect tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of that action extending into and existing during present time in a finished state.
All of the work surrounding man’s redemption that Christ had come to perform had, at that point in time, been completed. This was the announcement that Christ made, in “a loud voice”; and, because of that which was involved in the announcement, there was then no longer any need for Him to continue His sufferings on the cross. Thus, immediately after He cried out, “It has been finished,” He “gave up His spirit [lit., ‘He breathed out’ (He expired, willingly relinquishing His life)]” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
The work of Christ at Calvary, from the point He cried out, “It has been finished,” has existed in exactly the same finished state in which He proclaimed it to exist at that time. It has existed as a work completed in past time that extends into present time (in a finished state) and which will extend into all the ages comprising eternity ahead (in the same finished state).
Nothing can ever be added, and nothing can ever be taken away. That is to say, nothing can ever change relative to Christ’s finished work at Calvary.
That’s the way God’s procurement of man’s salvation had to occur. Once Christ’s work had been finished, that’s the way His work had to always continue to exist — in a finished state — throughout both time and eternity.
Because of Christ’s finished work, salvation is extended to man “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1); and apart from Christ’s finished work, there is no salvation.
He that believes on Him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already [lit., ‘has already been condemned’ (a perfect tense)], because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
It is utterly impossible — and foolish to even consider — that finite man, “dead in trespasses and sins,” could add one thing to or take one thing from the finished work of the infinite God through His Son. All man can possibly do is simply receive, through believing on the Son, that which has already been done on his behalf.
Although the bases of salvation for man rests exclusively in that which Christ “finished” on the cross, the reader should understand that application of God’s comprehensive redemption program for man is multi-faceted. This is not to say that once a person makes a faith-decision in Christ for his eternal future he must do something additional in order to secure it, because he doesn’t. A faith decision in Christ will assuredly secure one’s eternal destiny. So how is God’s redemptive program multi-faceted?
Prior to the beginning of the eternal ages there will be a thousand years involving Christians who will either (1) be alongside Christ as His bride ruling over the earth; or (2) be apart from Him in a darkness outside of the light during the Messianic Era. And although one’s eternal life will be secured by the “finished” work of Christ, a Christian’s participation or non-participation in the Millennial Reign of Christ will have been based on the results of a Christian’s record at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10, 12).
To adequately understand God’s comprehensive, multi-faceted redemptive plan for man, the reader is advised to read Salvation of the Soul by Arlen L. Chitwood, which may be accessed in its entirety at www.bibleone.net.