“After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished he said [in order to fulfill the scripture], ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30, NRSV).
Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.
TYPICALLY, WHEN WE HAVE completed a “project” or task, we say, “It is finished!” That which we set out to do has been completed. We followed the written instructions (hopefully to the letter); we sought advice when needed, and most likely adhered to it. We stood back, realizing there was nothing else to be done. Our project was completed.
“It is finished” is perhaps one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. I know atheists, agnostics, philosophy professors, car mechanics, surgeons, gardeners, school teachers, retail sales clerks, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and humanists who are familiar with the verse. They know Who said it, when it was said, and some even know where to find the verse in Scripture. Yet very few know what it means—especially its scope. Perhaps more sadly, there are those who know what it means, and grasp its comprehensive meaning, yet fail to live out the truth of its significance.
At the beginning of John 19, Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the fifth prefect (governor) of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius. It is important to understand that Pilate was not well liked by the Jews. This is likely because he hung worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and had coins bearing pagan religious symbols minted. Pilate essentially helped create a “cult of personality” of the emperor. The Jews had strong objections to Pilate’s customs, especially executing men accused of crimes without the benefit of a trial or to face the charges lodged against them.
The First Century historian Josephus called Pilate a headstrong strict authoritarian Roman leader who, although both rational and practical, never knew how far he should go in a given case. He provoked both Jews and Samaritans to riot. Josephus tells us that “in order to abolish Jewish laws,” and with the intent of diminishing privileges Jews had hitherto enjoyed, Pilate ordered his troops to encamp in Jerusalem and sent them into the city with images of the emperor attached to their ensigns. This practice violated the Torah’s prohibition of graven images and desecrated the Temple by the presence of pagan cult objects on the Temple hill.
The New Testament suggests that Pilate had a weak, vacillating personality. Could he have at least postponed the death of Christ if he stood his ground, making an official proclamation of “innocent?” Pilate weakly capitulated even though he found no fault in Jesus. He said to the mob, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him (John 19:4, NRSV). Pilate’s wife sent him word of a revelation she had about Jesus, urging Pilate to “…have nothing do do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:19, NRSV). Pilate again appealed to the crowd, arguing that he could find no fault in Jesus. The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7). In any event, Pilate was but a cog in God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.
This frightened Pilate to the point that he returned to his court room and asked Jesus, where he was from (v. 8), but Jesus would not answer. Pilate then said, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you” (v. 10). Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (v. 11). Pilate finally capitulated. He brought Jesus before the crowd and said, “Here is your King! Shall I crucify [Him]? The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then Pilate handed Christ over to the mob to be executed (v. 14-16).
Let’s take a moment to review the etymology of the word crucifixion. Its origin rests solely with the Latin phrase crux, meaning a tree or any wooden structure used to execute criminals. In the Greek, the most common term is stauroo (σταυρόω), meaning “to crucify.” It occurs 43 times in the New Testament. The word excruciating—a word often used to express the most severe pain possible based on the “pain scale” we’ve all heard when asked by a doctor or nurse to rate our pain on a scale of 0 to 10—also has Latin roots. It is based on the term crux, and includes the term cruciāre, which means torment or torture. Some synonyms for excruciating include unbearable, insufferable, unendurable, agonizing, and racking.
The trial of Jesus violated traditional, official Jewish & Roman jurisprudence for capital crimes, procedures, & protocol, ending with an unlawful sentence & subsequent execution by crucifixion.
After His arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane under cover of darkness, Jesus endured six separate trials or hearings (three by the Sanhedrin and three by the Romans). In response to the mob’s insistence, Pilate released Jesus to them to be murdered for claiming to be “King” of the Jews. He underwent scourging, mocking, and horrendous beatings.
Dr. C. Truman Davis, a Christian medical doctor who is affiliated with CBN, felt compelled to apply his medical knowledge to the physical effects crucifixion had on the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Fair warning: This is an account of most horrific acts against our Savior. I was brought to tears several times while recounting them here. Dr. Davis’s description brings to mind the major motion picture The Passion of the Christ.
The physical passion of Jesus actually began in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of His unimaginable sufferings, the one of greatest physiological interest is when He sweat droplets of blood. It is interesting that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible states, “…other ancient authorities insert add 44, And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Modern skeptics have tried to discredit this account under the mistaken impression that this is simply not medically possible. However, medical literature has documented the rare phenomenon hematidrosis, or “bloody sweat.” You can read about this condition at Medical News Today. Under great emotional stress—such as the kind Jesus suffered—tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, causing blood to mix with sweat. This can cause pronounced weakness and possible shock.
Preparations for the scourging of Jesus were carried out when He was stripped naked and His hands were tied to a post above His head. It is doubtful the Romans followed the Jewish law of limiting a whipping to no more than forty lashes. The Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus with the flagrum (or flagellum) in his hand—a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip was brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’s shoulders, back, and legs. At first, the thongs cut Jesus’s skin only. But as the blows continued, the thongs cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and ultimately a spurting of arterial blood from vessels in the underlying muscles. The initial blows produced large, deep bruises which were broken open by each subsequent blow. Finally the skin began to hang from Jesus’s back in long ribbons. The trauma left the affected areas unrecognizable. When the centurion determined Jesus was near death, the beating was stopped. Jesus was untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, soaked in His own blood.
The Roman soldiers are not done yet. They saw an opportunity for mockery. Because Jesus was accused of claiming to be King of the Jews, the soldiers threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a “stick” in His hand to represent a scepter. Still, a “king” needs a crown. Flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used in bundles for firewood) were plaited into the shape of a crown and it was pressed into Jesus’s scalp. There was a lot of blood loss due to the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body. After mocking Him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers took the stick from His hand and struck Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, exhausted from their sadistic beating, the robe was torn from His back; having adhered to the clots of blood and serum in Jesus’s open wounds, this caused Him great pain. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans returned His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers began its slow journey to a hill near Jerusalem called gulgulta in Latin, meaning “place of the skull,” seemingly because of its skull-like shape.
In spite of His best efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, was too much for Jesus. He was, after all, in a human body. He stumbled and fell. The rough wood of the beam gouged into His lacerated skin and muscles across His shoulders. He tried to rise, but his body had been pushed beyond its endurance. A centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selected an onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating and in a state of shock—a 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.
Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild painkiller. He refused to drink it. Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus was violently thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire found the depression at the front of the wrist( between the radius and ulna). He drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. He did the same to the other wrist. The patibulum was lifted in place at the top. A plaque reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was nailed above Jesus’s head. Jesus’s left foot was pressed backward against His right foot. With with both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving the knees moderately flexed. Jesus is now crucified. As He slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in His wrists were putting pressure on the medial nerves.
As Jesus pushed Himself upward to avoid stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail that had been driven through His feet. This caused tremendous pain. His arms fatigued, causing great waves of cramps to sweep over His muscles, causing spasms. Eventually, His muscles were so severely cramped that He could no longer push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, His pectoral and intercostal muscles became paralyzed. He was no longer able to exhale. Carbon dioxide built up in His lungs, coursing through His bloodstream.
Jesus experienced hours of horrific pain, cycles of joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, and burning pain where tissue was torn from His lacerated back as He moved up and down attempting to breath. He began to experience a terrible crushing discomfort deep inside His chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum, compressing His heart. It was almost over. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; His compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into His muscles. His tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp gulps of air. His tissues were severely dehydrated, sending pain signals to His brain.
Jesus’s body was now extremely ravaged. He could feel the chill of death creeping through His body. This realization brought Him to express, “It is finished.” His mission of atonement had been accomplished. He could finally allow His body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deep breath, and said, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
“It is Finished.”
Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word translated “it is finished” is tetelestai, an accounting term that means “paid in full.” When Jesus uttered those words, He declared the debt owed to His Father due to man’s sin wiped away. He died to pay our debt. Certainly, the full meaning of Jesus’s life and ministry had to culminate in His crucifixion. Through His resurrection, that ministry continues to this day. Paul astutely said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, RSV).
It’s been said that just before He died Jesus looked back over His life’s work, and, knowing that His mission was accomplished, summoned Death. He departed His body and went to be with the Father. There is something in Jesus’s dying declaration that has a much deeper meaning than the utterance of a man on his death bed indicating he has come to the end of his journey. Jesus’s dying remark indicates there are no loose ends left, no unfinished tasks dropped from His hands to be taken up and carried on by others. His life is a rounded whole, with everything accomplished that had been endeavored, and everything done that had been commanded. Jesus laid the foundation of salvation by the laying down of His life.
Henry (1997) writes,
“It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning [Jesus’s] sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. It is finished; an end is made of transgression by bringing in an everlasting righteousness. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. It is finished; the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up” (p. 1014-1015).
Matthew 19:28: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill Scripture), ‘I thirst'” (RSV). There is an interesting interpretation that when Jesus said those words He was speaking of a “spiritual” thirst—a need to return to His Father. This sits well with the synoptic gospels: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me'” (Matthew 27:46, RSV). This verse in Matthew refers to Psalm 22:1:”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Kidner (1971) calls this “The Psalm of the Cross.” No Christian can read Psalm 22:1 without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion. It is not only a matter of prophecy fulfilled, but of the sufferer’s abject humility—there is no plea for vengeance, as Jesus certainly would not have intended. Kidner notes, “The Gelineau translation entitles it “The suffering servant wins the deliverance of the nations.” In fact, A. Bentzen ( 1955) points out, “it is not a description of illness, but of an execution” (p. 94, n. 40).
You may recall Jesus’s cry to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, RSV). I believe Jesus was not asking God to “pardon” Him or take away the need for His death. Rather, I believe Jesus foresaw the wrath of God that the Father would justly and rightly pour out upon mankind for their sins. Jesus asked if it were possible that this cup of wrath might pass from Him. That He might not have to “drink” from it. Nevertheless, He was willing to bear the load of His sufferings (to the fullest extent required by the Father) in order that you and I could escape the bitter, dark, lonely, horrific consequences of our sin. Matthew 26:42 says, “Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.'” Jesus was willing to suffer complete and utter abandonment of the Father in order that we might walk with the Father for eternity clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
How Does This Apply to Us?
The last words of Jesus have a deep and eternal meaning. I have no doubt that Jesus knew what His last words needed to be and He knew the power those final words would have for generations still to come. He had great purpose in them, which still breathe such life and meaning for our lives today. Jesus became the final and ultimate sacrifice for our sin. The word in this verse, finished, means “paid in full.” The uniqueness of the wording is in the verb tense: it indicates both a point in time when it was initially accomplished and that it would continue to be complete or finished. This is what Christ came to do. This is the Good News. He came to firmly establish God’s plan for redemption that had been ordained before the foundation of the world. We read in 1 Peter 1:3 that by Jesus’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 says, “As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the salvation of your souls” (RSV).
Peter tells us to gird up our minds, be sober, set our hope fully upon the grace that is coming to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are to turn from our childish ways, no longer conforming to the passions of our former ignorance. Rather, we are to be holy as Christ is holy! He adds, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake… You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:18-20, 23, RSV).
In closing, I can only hope that you have felt in your heart the unbelievable sacrifice Jesus bore for you and for me; that you can spend even a moment imagining how horrific and excruciating His death was, and that He went through it in total obedience to the Father, lifted up on the wings of His glorious and unfathomable love for you and me. And perhaps, if even for a moment, the next time you step outside of the way of Jesus you will feel so severely convicted that you will stop in your tracks and thank Him for the power He has given us all to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Further, I hope you are as changed through reading this post as I have been while writing it.
As a faithful brother in Christ loves to say, “Change me LORD, never to be the same again!”
Bentzen, Aage. King and Messiah. Cambridge, UK: Lutterworth Press, 1955.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1997.
Kidner, Derek. Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971