What does tetelestai mean?

Feb 21, 2019

2.5 Min Read

David Cotrone Jr.

By far the most powerful word, most meaningful, most essential word to the Christian.



So what does it actually mean?

Literally translated the word tetelestai means, “It is finished.” 

The word occurs in John 19:28 and 19:30 and these are the only two places in the New Testament where we see it come up. In v28 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.” 

It is finished or it could even mean, "Paid in full."

So what is paid in full, what did Jesus finish?

Everything that was necessary for you & I to be in right relationship with the Father. 


Not a lot of things.

Not sort of finished.

Not almost finished.

Not potentially finished, if you do this & that.



In full.



“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 & it's meaning

The true payment was the wrath that was due for our sin.

Nobody likes those words: wrath, sin.

But we can't run from them, if we dive into them, and all that they mean, we actually get a really beautiful picture of the grace of God. 

You and I, we sin, we do things that miss the mark with God, and that means we cannot be in right relationship with him, that means we are owed punishment, death, wrath for these sins. God is holy. And good and deserving of all that we are and yet we choose to run from him, run to sin, to things that destroy us.

And God, He is a really good judge. Like the best kind of judge. A really good, righteous judge.

Think of it this way... 

Do you want a judge that lets criminals go free, who says, "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, minor or major.

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 punishment or any sort of recourse. 

No, our God, the true God, the creator of all things, he is a good judge and he is a consuming fire. He will be gracious and loving and merciful but he will not let sin go unpunished. He will deal with all sin.



That guy's.

Your grandma's.

So how can God deal with my sin, my very real, personal, sin and yet forgive me?

One way: the cross.

On the cross, God found a way to be both: Just/Good & Justifier/Forgiver of sinners like you & me.

He put Christ up, in our place, to swallow in the full weight of punishment (wrath) that was due to us & paid it in full. We don't owe God anymore. We don't have any sort of receipt, or debt or punishment waiting for us. 

Christ paid it in full. 

Not sort of. 
Not potentially.




"But wait, I don't have to do anything?"

"Who does this count for?"

"How can I make this real for me?"

This is true & real for all those who turn from their sin & believe it.

So, what do you say? Do you believe it? Go. Run to Jesus. Give up on your old way, believe it, rest in it, he is enough for you.

He did it. He did it all. He is all. Believe it. Believe him.

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