“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 (NIV)
The last word Jesus said before He died on the cross was “tetelestai”, which is the Koine Greek term meaning “it is finished.” Koine Greek was the common Greek language used at the time Jesus was on earth. With that in mind, I want to break down for you three different ways the word “tetelestai” was used during that time period in hopes of giving you some context around why Jesus proclaimed this as His final word.
1. The word was used by a servant.
When a servant was given a responsibility, he was expected to perform the task with great quality, great effort, and great skill. Once he had completed the test, the servant would come to the master and say, “I have finished the task you have given me, tetelestai,” or “it is finished, and it was with great joy.”
2. The word was used by an artist.
An artist would painstakingly work on a painting for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years, making sure all of the colors were correct, all of the picture was in full view, and every last stroke was complete. Then, as he would put their signature on the painting, he would take a step back and say, “Tetelestai, the picture is complete?
3. The word was used by a merchant.
Credit was offered for someone to purchase something during Jesus’ time period just like it is today. Sometimes the merchant would carry a note stating the credit given and the payment owed. Then, when the owed amount was finally paid, the merchant would stamp the note with the words, “Tetelestai, paid in full.”
I want you to see how the different uses of the word “tetelestai” all tie in to the way Jesus used the word with His final breath. Just like the servant, Jesus completed the task He was sent to earth to do – showing the love of God and dying so that we could have a relationship with Him. So with His last word, He was saying, “It is finished, and it was with great joy.”
Then like the artist, Jesus worked a long time to complete the story that had begun so many years before. The entire picture of our faith pointed toward the cross on which Jesus died. Hundreds of years of history and prophecy led up to that very moment. And proclaiming “tetelestai” before he died for us was His final signature, letting everyone know the picture was now complete.
Finally, like the merchant, Jesus stamped each of our records with “paid in full.” No longer do we have to try to make up for our mistakes or atone for our sins. He took care of all of that when He died for us. Our debts were no longer ours to worry about, and He made that clear, once again, by saying “it is finished.”
My hope and prayer for you today, friend, is that you understand more clearly the importance of Jesus’ final word, and that you embrace the comfort and freedom that it gives to each of us.