What did JESUS mean when HE said “It is finished!”? After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)
The above passage details the final moments of Jesus Christ as He was hanging on the cross awaiting His death. The words of Jesus on the cross are significant and during His final moments Jesus uttered seven cries from the cross out of which two are recorded only in the Gospel of John. His fifth cry was “I thirst!” (v. 28; Ps. 69:21) where the ‘giver of the living water’ became thirsty, and indicates the extent to which Jesus went to procure salvation for everyone. His cry, “I thirst!” indicated real, physical thirst, which was intensified by crucifixion. But it also reminds us that greater than His physical thirst was His spiritual thirst for the salvation of human souls.
Just prior to His arrest by the Romans, Jesus had prayed His last public prayer, asking His Father to glorify Him, just as He had glorified His Father on earth, having “finished the work you have given me to do” (John 17:4). The work Jesus was sent to do was to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10), to provide atonement for the sins of all who would ever believe in Him (Rom. 3:23-25), and to reconcile sinful people to a holy God (2 Cor. 5:18-19). None other but Jesus could accomplish such an enormous task!
Jesus had always said that He came not to do His own will but that of His Father (see John 4:34). He had a mission and work to do, which led Him directly to His death on the cross just like a corn of wheat that He had illustrated in John 12:24-27. Thus, the sixth cry of Jesus “It is finished!” carries a lot of significance and purpose in the light of the Old Testament prophecies and God’s ultimate redemption plan for humankind. The statement “It is finished!” referred to the completion of His task of obeying the Father and paying the full price for sin. Everything foretold concerning the earthly life of Jesus had been accomplished and Christ had finished His active ministry on earth.
The cry of Jesus “It is finished!” is found only in the Gospel of John. The Greek work from which “It is finished!” is translated is ‘tetelestai’, which is an accounting term that means “paid in full.” When Jesus uttered those words, He was declaring the debt owed to His Father was wiped away completely and forever. Thus, through His ultimate sacrifice Jesus had completely eliminated the debt of sin owed by humankind. The finished work of Jesus on the cross was the beginning of new life for all who were once “dead in trespasses and sins” but who are now made “alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:1, 5).