By far the most powerful… the most meaningful… the most essential word to the Christian:
So what does it actually mean?
Literally translated it means... “It is finished.”
There are only two places the word Tetelestai occurs—in John 19:28 and 19:30.
In 19:28, it is translated: “After this, when Jesus knew that all things were now completed, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, he said, ‘I thirst.’”
Two verses later, he says the word himself: “Then when he received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Some scholars believe that “It is finished” can be interchanged with “Paid in full” but… what exactly did Jesus finish?
Everything that was necessary for you and me to be in the right relationship with the Father.
Not a lot of things.
Not sort of finished.
Not almost paid.
Paid in full.
The true payment from Christ was to take on the wrath due for our sin.
Nobody likes those words: wrath… sin… punishment…
But we can't run from them, if we dive into them, and all that they mean, we get a really beautiful picture of the grace of God. We get Tetelestai.
“An ocean of meaning in a drop of language, a mere drop. It would need all the other words that ever were spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it. IT IS FINISHED is the most charming note in all of Calvary’s music. The fire has passed upon the Lamb. He has borne the whole of the wrath that was due to His people. This is the royal dish of the feast of love.”
— CH Spurgeon on Tetelestai and its meaning
You and I… we sin. We do things that miss the mark with God. And that means we deserve punishment, death, and wrath.
And because God is a really good judge (like… the best kind of judge) someone has to suffer that punishment.
Because good judges don’t let criminals go free. Would a good judge say, “I see you committed this crime, but don't worry about it. I forgive you!"
No punishment for evil.
No punishment for wickedness.
No punishment for murder.
No punishment for anything.
That isn't a good judge. That is a bad judge. That is a lazy judge. That judge is not really even a judge. He is just "forgiving crimes" as though they don't deserve any sort of recourse. What about justice? What about those who have been hurt by all that you and I and everyone else have done?
Our God, the true God, the Creator of all things… He is a good judge. He will be gracious and loving and merciful but He will not let sin go unpunished.
The bully from high school.
That begs the question…
How can God deal with my sin — my very real and personal sin — and still forgive me?
On the cross, God found a way to punish and forgive. He found a way for justice to be done and for mercy to be offered. Tetelestai.
He put Christ up in our place, to suffer our punishment and paid the debt in full. We don't owe God anymore. We aren’t walking around with an IOU for a punishment waiting for us after we die.
Christ paid it in full.
"Wait, I don't have to do anything?"
"Who does this count for?"
"How can I make this real for me?"
You don’t have to do anything! It counts for you! It’s real for you! That’s the good news!
This is true and real for all those who turn from their sin and believe it.
So… what do you say? Do you believe it? Go. Run to Jesus. Give up on your old ways. Believe it. Rest in it.
He is enough for you.
He did it all. He is all. Believe it. Believe him.
And believe in Tetelestai.