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18 April 2014

Jesus on the cross: Reflection 6

They put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished;" and he bowed his head and handed over the spirit. John 19:29-30 

by Jennie Pollock

I wonder what the onlookers at the foot of the cross thought when they heard Jesus utter those words.

His enemies must have gloated – it is finished, it’s over, we’ve finally got rid of this trouble-maker, this man who claimed to be God, this carpenter’s son who challenged the authority of Rome. It is finished – he is finished – we can dust off our hands, turn our backs and walk away.

His followers must have despaired. It is finished? It’s over? That’s it? After all the hope, the expectation, the promises, it has ended like this? How can it be? We thought he was the Messiah, the chosen one, our hope for the future. Yet now he says it is all over?

The words Jesus spoke were most likely in Aramaic, but by the time they reach us they have been translated first into Greek, then into English. In John’s Greek rendering, the word translated “It is finished” is τετέλεσται (tetelestai).  According to some sources this word was “written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show that a bill had been paid in full” (see more evidence for that, and an interesting grammatical point).

Whether or not the Aramaic words Jesus actually uttered conveyed this point to the crowds at the time, when John came to write his Gospel, knowing what happened next, the implication was clear in his mind: the work had been completed; the debt had been paid in full.

Jesus’ life wasn’t finished. He hasn’t stopped working. But the task he was put on earth to fulfil was finished – is finished. Our debt has been paid, and the barrier between us and God has been destroyed. Hallelujah! What a Saviour.

jennie pollock
Jennie Pollock is a freelance writer and editor

Words of Jesus on the cross Holy Week reflections series