Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)
Meaning of “It is finished” as Tetelestai
“It is finished” is the English translation of the Greek word Tetelestai, which was the last thing Jesus' said before dying on the cross. Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It's a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. It's the word you would use when you climb to the peak of Mt. Everest; it's the word you would use when you turn in the final copy of your dissertation; it's the word you would use when you make the final payment on your new car; it's the word you use when you cross the finish line of your first 10K run. The word means more than just “I survived.” It means “I did exactly what I set out to do.”
But there's more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.”
Importance of Jesus saying “It is finished”
When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present, and it will remain finished in the future.”
Note one other fact. He did not say, “I am finished,” for that would imply that he died defeated and exhausted. Rather, he cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”
Tetelestai, then, is the Savior's final cry of victory. When he died, he left no unfinished business behind. When he said, “It is finished,” he was speaking the truth.
The Crucifixion of Jesus – His Last Words on the Cross
At the height of his ministry and miracles, many Jews came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God. Jewish leaders feared Jesus because of his growing followers. With the help of Judas Iscariot, Roman soldiers arrested Jesus and he was put on trial for claiming to be the king of the Jews. According to Roman law, the punishment for rebellion against the king was death by crucifixion.
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate was reluctant when it came to the punishment for Jesus. Pilate could find no wrong in Jesus, yet he wanted to give the people what they wanted, and that was the death of Jesus. Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize that he was not taking responsibility for the bloodshed of Jesus and then handed Jesus over to be beaten and lashed. Jesus had a crown of thorns thrust on his head and made to carry his cross along the pathway to the hill where he would be crucified. The location of Jesus' crucifixion is known as Calvary, which is translated from “a place of skull”.
Crowds had gathered to mourn and watch Jesus' death. Jesus was nailed to the cross between two criminals and his sides pierced by a sword. While Jesus was mocked, one of the criminals asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus responded: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus then looked to heaven and asked God to “forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” When taking his last breath, Jesus spoke: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit…it is finished.”
-Sourced from Crucifixion of Jesus – Bible Story on BibleStudyTools.com
Learn more about the historical context of crucifixion, the persecution of Jesus by the Romans, and further about the last days and words of Jesus as he sacrificed Himself for the sins and salvation of man: 10 Powerful Facts About the Cross of Christ & His Crucifixion
Jesus' “Seven Last Words from the Cross”
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43
Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother John 19:26-27
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
I thirst. John 19:28
It is finished. (From the Greek “Tetelestai”) John 19:30
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46
It Is Finished: A Prayer for Good Friday
Excerpts from “Tetelestai!” by Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).
Originally published May 13, 2010.