According to John’s Gospel, they were the last words uttered from the cross. The Lord must have chosen them carefully, and they must bear extremely important meaning.
But what is that meaning? When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” to what was he referring?
Growing up, I assumed that Jesus was simply pointing to his time on earth. In other words, he was declaring that his human life was now at its end; he was at the point of death. Others might understand the statement as reference to Jesus completing the task of paying the debt for sins—or perhaps to the end of the power of sin itself.
Still others might hear echoes of a marriage being established. The Latin translation of the phrase is “Consummatum est” or “It is consummated.” This is the same declaration that would be heard at a Jewish wedding during biblical times once a bride and groom had privately consummated their marriage sexually.
At the most recent Millis Institute formal hall, we considered another possibility: the “It” in “It is finished” may refer to the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated during his Last Supper.
Millis Institute students and staff celebrate a formal hall dinner shortly before Easter.
As a Passover celebration, the disciples would have expected Jesus to follow the traditional order of the festival meal. This included singing certain Psalms, eating certain foods, and drinking from four cups of wine at specific intervals during the meal. The latter part of the meal would be marked by drinking the third cup of wine, singing a hymn (called the “Great Hallel”), and then concluding with the fourth cup of wine. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus took a cup and said, “this is my blood of the covenant." Scholars believe that this was the third cup of the Passover meal, the “cup of blessing.” Paul even identifies it as such in 1 Cor. 10:16. Immediately after drinking from this cup, Matthew writes that, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt 26:30).
At this point, the disciples would have no doubt been pondering a huge question: what happened to the fourth cup?
Jesus referred to a cup later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Then, when he is on the cross, we read:
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” (John 19:28-30).
This passage links Jesus saying “It is finished” to the cup that he had just drunk, and we can understand that cup as the fourth and final cup of the Passover meal left incomplete from the previous night.
This is significant because the Passover meal was the meal that renewed God’s covenant with His people—his personal, intimate union with Israel and the Church forever. By completing the Passover on the cross, Jesus not only fulfilled this covenant perfectly but also established a new covenant, centered upon himself as the sacrifice. God’s promised covenant blessings—new life in His Spirit—poured forth 2 days later!
The fact that John’s Gospel presents these words as Jesus’ last is indeed significant. They identify the good news of Christ’s saving mission: the Creator of the universe has entered into a personal union with His people, and through Jesus we can share in His covenant love.
Easter is understood by way of Good Friday, and significant aspects of Good Friday can be understood by way of the meal celebrated on the previous Thursday.
“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast” (1 Cor. 5:7-8)!
Register Now for The Witherspoon Fellowship: "Leadership through the Liberal Arts"
Do you know a Year 10-12 student who would benefit from a different approach to leadership? The Millis Institute is now accepting registrations for the Witherspoon Fellowship 2017. Held at CHC on 23-24 June, this unique 2-day gathering focuses on "leadership through the liberal arts"--we don't offer slick tips and techniques but instead ground students in the foundational skills that good leaders require.
Participants learn to ask good questions as they engage in Socratic discussions around selected readings. They cultivate critical thinking through a creative round of "Speed Debating." They hone their persuasive speaking skills through a fun rhetoric competition. And they engage in ballroom dancing and an Oxford-style formal hall.
If you're in Year 10-12, the Witherspoon Fellowship is a great way to meet and interact with like-minded leaders your age. Find out more and register here.
Dr Messmore to Speak about His New Book in Sydney and Melbourne
Dr Messmore will be discussing his new book, In Love: The Larger Story of Sex and Marriage at the following events:
April 26th - Western Sydney - 7:30pm: Our Lady of the Angels Church, 1 Wellgate Avenue, Kellyville
April 27th - Sydney CBD - 8:00am: With Herald Sun columnist Mrs Miranda Devine at Polding Centre, 133 Liverpool Street; learn more and register here
May 1 - Melbourne - 7:30pm: Theology @ The Pub, European Bier Cafe, 120 Exhibition Street