John 19: 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
If you have competed in an endurance race, you can probably relate to some common pre-race emotions. They are usually some strange combination of excitement and dread. Excitement because, along with throngs of others, you’re about to participate in an exciting challenge for which you’ve trained long and hard. Dread, because you have a very keen understanding of the pain that you are going to put your body through. Whether a few hours or a few days, one thing these races had in common for me was the finish line. When I crossed that line, it was usually a feeling of utter relief. It was finally over. Apparently when ancient Greek runners crossed the finish line of a marathon they would scream “teleō”, the Greek word that means: “finished”. They completed the course. They conquered the task.
These words were uttered by another man over 2,000 years ago, but they had far greater significance. John 19 details the heart wrenching story of Jesus’ final hours where he was beaten, mocked and crucified. And with his final breath, we hear Jesus’ concluding statement. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (vs. 30).
Bible translators do their best to capture the full meaning of words, but it is a challenge when equivalents do not exist in modern languages. For example, translators are left using the English word “love” when there are at least six different ancient Greek words, each significantly different (e.g. eros, phili, agape etc.). The same is apparently true of Jesus’ last cry from the cross. He screamed: “tetelestai”, which we have interpreted as “It is finished”. However, New Testament scholars tell us that much is lost in the translation.
This may sound like a grammar class that you slept through, but you may want to stay awake for this short session. A Columbia International University (CIU) article addresses the importance of the Greek tense of the word Jesus used. Apparently, verb tenses are a particularly important method of communication in the Greek language. The author tells us that, in this case, Jesus uses the perfect tense, which is apparently rare in the New Testament and has no English equivalent. “The perfect tense is a combination of two Greek tenses: the Present tense, and the Aorist tense. The Aorist tense is punctiliar: meaning something that happens at a specific point in time; a moment. The Present tense is linear: meaning something that continues on into the future and has ongoing results/implications.”
The first part, the Aorist tense, is important because it meant that in one specific point in time, all the Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled, the ceremonial law was abolished, and Christ’s death brought an end to our transgressions and brought us everlasting righteousness. The Present tense of tetelestai is also important because it speaks to the ongoing nature of our salvation. It is our new condition, our new state.
“In Jesus’ statement ‘It is finished’ we have a declaration of salvation that is both momentary and eternal, Aorist and Present, linear and punctiliar. We are saved at a specific point in time, ‘it is finished’, our debt is paid, we are ransomed from the kingdom of darkness, and then we confidently rest in the reality that ‘it will continue to be finished’ because we are in a position of grace and stand justified for all time before God.”