It is accomplished!
At the most significant time of Jesus’ life on earth—as He hung upon a cross for three hours with a crowd of people listening carefully to everything He said—Jesus kept His words to a minimum. It’s not that Jesus ran out of things to say or that He became too disillusioned to spread His message any longer. It’s that it is extremely difficult for a person to speak while suffering the agony of crucifixion. Dr. Cahleen Shrier, associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Azusa Pacific University explains, “Normally, to breathe in, the diaphragm (the large muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity) must move down. This enlarges the chest cavity and air automatically moves into the lungs (inhalation). To exhale, the diaphragm rises up, which compresses the air in the lungs and forces the air out (exhalation). As Jesus hangs on the cross, the weight of His body pulls down on the diaphragm and the air moves into His lungs and remains there. Jesus must push up on His nailed feet (causing more pain) to exhale. In order to speak, air must pass over the vocal cords during exhalation. The Gospels note that Jesus spoke seven times from the cross. It is amazing that despite His pain, He pushes up to say ‘Forgive them’ (Luke 23:34).” (APU Life, Spring, 2002, p. 7)
Because of the difficulty in speaking, Jesus chose His words. He uttered only seven brief statements—the last only one word in length in Greek. The last two things He said—at least according to John’s record of the event—were “I am thirsty,” and “It is finished” (Tetelestai in the Greek).
“I am thirsty.” This is the very human reaction to the trauma of crucifixion. Cahleen Shrier comments, “By this point, He has lost a great volume of blood which causes His blood pressure to fall and puts Him into shock. The human body attempts to remedy imbalances such as decreased blood volume, so Jesus’ thirst is His body’s natural response to His suffering.”
Later she adds, “I am struck every time with the stunning realization that as a flesh and blood human, Jesus felt every ounce of this execution.”
That brief sentence, “I am thirsty,” reveals Jesus’ complete humanness—perhaps more than any other sentence in Scripture. If He was not completely human—if He was not fully of the same substance as you and me—He would not be able to resolve the very human problems of sin and guilt and death.
But because He is more than just human, He can also say, “It is finished.”
It is important to note that Jesus’ last words on the cross were not, “I am finished,” as though He were sighing in despair, ‘I give up,’ or ‘I am done for.’ Nor is the impact of His words that time has run out on Him, as though He were saying, ‘It is over.’ The Greek word tetelestai has to do with the satisfactory completion of something. Jesus was declaring that what He had come to do has been accomplished. He came to die for the forgiveness of our sins, and with His death that has been accomplished. He came to set us right with God, and through His death that has been accomplished.
Brennan Manning remarks, “Through His passion and death Jesus carried away the essential sickness of the human heart and broke forever the deadly grip of hypocrisy on our souls. He has robbed our loneliness of its fatal power by traveling Himself to the far reaches of loneliness (‘My God, my God, why have You deserted Me?’). He has understood our ignorance, weakness and foolishness and granted pardon to us all (‘Forgive them, Father, they do not know what they are doing’). He has made His pierced heart a safe place for every defeated cynic, hopeless sinner, and self-loathing derelict across the bands of time. God reconciled all things, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when He made peace by His death on the cross.” (Abba’s Child, p. 155)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer adds, “God himself takes the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby sets the world free. God wants to be guilty of our guilt and takes upon himself the punishment and suffering that this guilt brought to us. God stands in for godlessness, love stands in for hate, the Holy One for the sinner. Now there is no longer any godlessness, any hate, any sin that God has not taken upon himself, suffered, and atoned for. Now there is no more reality and no more world that is not reconciled with God and in peace. That is what God did in his beloved Son Jesus Christ.”
Jesus ended His agony on the cross in triumph and announced to the world the good news, “It is accomplished!”