“It is finished (John 19:30).”
I have a confession. Without Donna Keller, I would not have gotten through my Seventh Grade English class. She reluctantly helped me, and many more times I looked over her shoulder to copy her answers. Wherever you are, thanks Donna! I’m in your debt.
As a writer, this is a humbling admission. I still don’t get nominative or objective personal pronouns. Grammar is not my strength, but those rules do matter. Why? Our home serves as a perfect example of why rules are so important (and debt has a penalty).
In Greek, the New Testament’s language, tetelestai means, “It is finished.” But this verb is in the “perfect tense,” which means not only is it done in the past, but also that the result is still ongoing. This past action is continuous. A “past tense” verb is over and done, but the perfect tense continues…like our home is paid off now, and tomorrow too.
On Tuesday, we paid off our mortgage early. It’s a great feeling to be debt-free! When I spoke with the woman at the bank she said we’d get a satisfaction letter confirming that “it is finished.” I immediately thought of Jesus’ last words on the cross. Tetelestai.https://www.ciu.edu/content/it-finished-look-greek
Digging Deeper on Tense
But His dying words seem off, maybe even bad grammar. “I am finished” makes more sense, unless…He’s paid off a debt too, and that’s precisely what Jesus did. In New Testament times, tetelestai was used on documents to show that a bill had been paid in full. So what did God-in-the-flesh pay off if He’s holy and has no sin? He paid our debt.
Nobody’s perfect (Romans 3:23). We’ve all sinned, but this sin-debt is lethal; it makes all of us spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), separates us from a holy God (Isaiah 59:2), and results in physical death (Ezekiel 18:20). We don’t like death talk, but it’s inescapable. My brother died a few weeks ago and it was so very final. The key, however, is not to die with your sin-debt outstanding or the penalty is eternal death (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
But is God fair to judge us with His holy standards if nobody’s perfect? Yes, a good judge punishes lawbreakers, but a loving judge would be heartbroken. God solved this problem when He said, “It is finished.” Debt paid in full, in love. Done deal? Not quite.
God’s gift will erase your past, present, and future sin-debts, but like a Christmas gift under the tree it can only be opened if you receive it (John 1:12). Since it’s a gift you can’t earn it (Ephesians 2:4-9). It’s free, but knowing it’s there is not receiving it. It’s not yours until you take it out from under the Christmas tree and open it. That’s the rule.
Grammar also functions on rules, and so does God. If you break His Law, He must be righteous and deal with it. Thankfully, He loved us enough to take our penalty Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). He acted on His love (Romans 5:8). Now you must act too. Just confess, a humble “Donna Keller” admission, and the free gift is yours (Romans 10:9).