“It is finished!” The cry from the cross rings out across the years. In the Greek New Testament it is only one word (tetelestai -- teh TEL es tie), but that word is packed with meaning. A brief look at the many ways the word was used in those days will greatly enlarge our appreciation for what Jesus meant in that earnest cry. Here is a collection of the ways in which various secular writers were using the word tetelestai.
- One wrote of a task which was accomplished.
- Another, of a dangerous feat that was performed.
- A plan was put into effect.
- Someone's will was carried out.
- A promise was fulfilled.
- Orders to a soldier were executed.
- An oath was made effective.
- A legal document was formally executed.
- A prayer was brought to pass (i.e., the request was granted).
- A given time period came to an end.
- A sickness reached its end.
- A debt was paid. (In fact, as the papyrus scraps of ancient legal documents were found and studied, the word tetelestai was repeatedly found at the top of receipts or bills of sale. It was the everyday way of saying “PAID IN FULL”!)
Each of these uses can be applied to what Jesus did on the cross. He obediently carried out his Father's will, putting into effect the plan of salvation. The time of the Old Testament reached its end, and the New Covenant became effective. Most of all, the legal debt we had incurred by our sins was paid -- paid in full. Because of all this we can repeat the words of Jesus as a cry of victory: “It is finished!”