These are the greatest and most momentous words that were ever spoken upon earth, since the beginning of the world. Who does not find in them a cry of victory? It is a shout of triumph, which announces to the kingdom of darkness its complete overthrow and to the kingdom of heaven upon earth its eternal establishment. How wonderful! At the very moment when, for the Hero of Judah, all seems lost, his words declare that all is won and accomplished! Our Lord's exclamation is like the sound of a heavenly jubilee-trumpet, and announces to the race of Adam, which was under the curse, the commencement of a free and sabbatic year, which will ever more extensively display its blessing, but never come to an end. Listen, and it will appear to you as if in the words, "It is finished!" you heard fetters burst, and prison-walls fall down. At these words, barriers as high as heaven are overthrown, and gates which had been closed for thousands of years, again move on their hinges.
F.W. Krummacher, The Suffering Savior 49: “It is Finished!”
Today is Good Friday, but the day we celebrate did not seem so good when the exhausted, torn, naked, blood-soaked body of the Son of Man hung from a cross. He had hung there for about six hours1 after what has to go down as the worst Friday anybody has ever had when he uttered “the greatest and most momentous words that were ever spoken upon the earth.”
The night before had been a sleepless night. Jesus chose to spend the night in prayer rather than sleep and had been so filled with anguish that He began to sweat blood.2 He was betrayed by one of His closest followers into the hands of the Sanhedrin.3 The supreme council of the Jewish people condemned Him to death.4 They spat on Him, blindfolded Him, beat Him, and mocked Him before handing Him over to the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, to have Him crucified.5
Pilate sent Him to Herod Antipas who questioned Him but found no grounds to charge Him.6 That didn’t stop him and his soldiers from mocking Jesus and handing Him back over to Pilate.7 Pilate knew the Sanhedrin had wrongfully condemned Jesus out of envy8 and that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death.9 So, he tried to appease the crowds by having Jesus whipped.10 But, it didn’t work and the crowds of Jews in the streets screamed for Jesus to be crucified, choosing a murderer to be freed instead.11
Pilate’s soldiers continued to mock and torture Jesus, beating Him with a staff and forcing a crown of thorns on His head.12 They gave Him wine mixed with “χολή” (the Greek word for bile or gall, which indicates something poisonous or very bitter such as wormwood or myrrh)13. When they arrived at Golgotha14, the soldiers took His clothes.15
They drove nails through His hands to hang Him there.16 About three hours in, darkness covered the land.17 Another three hours later, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”18 He said He was thirsty and those near Him held a sponge full of sour wine19 up to His mouth on a hyssop branch.20 That’s when Jesus said, “It is finished,”21 and, before breathing His last, called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.”22
The Greek word recorded by John in his account of Jesus’s final words which we have translated as “it is finished” is τετέλεσται.23 This is the perfect tense of the verb which means to bring to an end, complete, or fulfill, and is sometimes used to mean finish, accomplish, or pay.24 The perfect tense in Greek is used to describe a completed action that produced results still in effect all the way up to the present.25
Jesus was saying that He has brought something to an end, that He has completed, fulfilled, finished, accomplished, or paid something and that this carries ongoing ramifications. But what did He bring to an end? His suffering? His life? No. Through His suffering, Jesus accomplished God’s redemption plan which has led to our ongoing justification before God. That is what makes this a Good Friday.
How is all this suffering related to our sin? Why did blood have to be shed in the first place? To answer that, we have to step back and look at the bigger picture of scripture. And, we have to start at the very beginning.
Sin’s Price Can Only Be Paid with Blood
According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. - Hebrews 9:22
When God created Adam, He told him exactly what would happen if he sinned: “You will certainly die.”26 This is because sin is a crime against God which caries the penalty of death.27 But, when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they do not die (at least not immediately). Rather, God decrees curses to the serpent who deceived them and to both Adam and Eve. His curse of the serpent includes an interesting prophecy:
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel. - Genesis 3:15
This verse carries with it a double meaning. Of course, there is a the literal hostility between men and snakes. However, I believe this is also a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate redemption plan: Jesus, the Son of Man, and the seed of a woman would strike at the heel of Satan and bring an end to the sin and death that Satan introduced into God’s creation through his temptation of Adam and Eve.28
But, God is a just God. So, how could He delay the justice coming to Adam and Eve for their sin? After all, “justice delayed is justice denied,” right?
Well, have you ever noticed the first thing God does after decreeing these curses? He “made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.”29 Where do skins come from? A dead animal, right? This is the first indication in scripture of any death for any animal.30 An animal had to die to cover the consequences of sin.
This is the start of a long line of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. These sacrifices seem so foreign to us today that it is often hard to grapple with what to do with all of the Old Testament scripture referencing them. But, you can’t understand Jesus’s sacrifice without grappling with God’s demand for the blood of animals throughout the Old Testament.
After mankind is sent away from the garden of Eden, we see animal sacrifices again when Abel “presented an offering - some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.”31 God was pleased with this offering, but not Cain’s offering of produce from the land.32 This is what led to Cain’s jealousy and murder of Abel.33 But why was Abel’s gift better than Cain’s? What’s the difference between an animal sacrifice and an offering of produce? It’s all in the blood.34
God tells us that the blood of an animal is its life.35 That’s why God forbid people from eating animals with their lifeblood in it.36 Over and over again in the Old Testament, we see that God is pleased with offerings of animals.
After the flood, Noah built an alter to the Lord and sacrificed some of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird and scripture records that this was a “pleasing aroma” to the Lord and that He then decided to “never again strike down every living thing.”37
When God promised Abraham that He would give him a son and this offspring would be as numerous as the stars, Abraham believed Him38, but asked God for some kind of assurance.39 What follows in scripture is incredible. God engages in a blood covenant with Abraham.40
In a blood covenant, a greater party and a lesser party entered into an agreement. The lesser party would contribute sacrificial animals as a sign of that agreement; the blood from the animals they provided was a symbol of their own commitment to keep their end of the bargain. They would slaughter their animals, cut them in half, and arrange them on either side of the path formed by the flowing blood. Next, both of the participants would walk through that path of blood as a symbol that they were contributing their own blood to the agreement. The greater party walked through it first and the lesser party followed, surrounded by the slaughtered animals, which served as a visible statement of their commitment to their agreement.s In essence, they were saying, “If I do not hold up my end of the bargain, make me like these animals.”41
However, in this case, Abraham was in a tough position. God’s end of the bargain was to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and he could uphold it because He is God.42 What was Abraham’s end of the bargain? It was to be sinless.43 Allowing Abraham to move forward with this commitment, then, would be condemning him to death. So, what does God do? He puts Abraham into a deep sleep44 and two symbols for God passed between the animals: a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.45 The significance is clear, God agreed to be solely responsible for keeping both sides of the agreement.46 If Abraham (or his descendants after him) failed to be sinless, God agreed to assume the price and have His own blood spilt like those animals.
After God blessed Abraham with a son, God tested Abraham by asking him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering at Mt. Moriah.47 Of course there are many significant elements of this story, but one that may go a little under the radar is that when Abraham unloaded the donkey and began to make his way toward the spot for the sacrifice, Isaac asked his father, “[W]here is the lamb for the bunt offering?”48 This shows us that they had already developed the routine of sacrificing lambs even before God ordained the Levitical sacrificial system. And, of course, as Abraham raised his knife to slaughter his only son, God provided a ram as a substitute offering.49
Later, when Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites leave Egypt peacefully, we see the tenth and final plague yet again involves the death of firstborn sons.50 However, here, we see that God does not provide a ram as a substitute. Instead, He gives the Israelites very specific instructions for sacrificing animals and spreading the blood on their doorposts with hyssop as a “distinguishing mark” so that God would “pass over” their households and spare their firstborns.51
God ordained that this event would be permanently commemorated through an annual Passover feast and specifically required that they continue this ritual of brushing blood around their doors.52 Additionally, God told the Israelites that every firstborn male, both man and livestock, belonged to Him.53 Every firstborn male of the livestock had to be sacrificed to the Lord (except for donkeys, which were ceremonially unclean, and could be redeemed through the sacrifice of a lamb).54 Every firstborn son had to be redeemed through animal sacrifice.55
This is by no means the only ritualistic sacrifice God would require of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. Indeed, the first seven chapters of Leviticus are dedicated to establishing an elaborate sacrificial system consisting of five types of offerings.
In addition to these individual offerings, God commanded the Israelites to present many collective offerings as a nation. Every single day, in remembrance of Abraham’s covenant with God56, Jewish priests sacrificed two year-old lambs, one in the morning and the other at twilight.57 These sacrifices, called the perpetual sacrifices, took place at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. every day according to Jewish historians.58 There were also special offerings made on the Sabbath day each week59, at the beginning of each month60, and special offerings to be made at the various feasts and festivals throughout the year61.
One of those special offerings came on the Day of Atonement. While the Day of Atonement involved burnt offerings and sin offerings, it also included a strange ceremony involving a goat. In it, the chief priest would lay his hands on the head of a goat (the “scapegoat”), confess the sins for all of Israel in order to “put them on the goat’s head,” and send it away into the wilderness where it would “carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land.”62 The Day of Atonement was a yearly reminder that all of Israel's daily, weekly, and monthly ritual sacrifices and offerings were not sufficient to permanently atone for sin.63
Over time, God made it clear that all of these offerings and sacrifices were woefully insufficient:
“What are all your sacrifices to me?” asks the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires this from you— this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies— I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.64
Indeed, the writer of Hebrews would say that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”65
The sacrificial provisions in Leviticus taught the Israelites that God can be approached with the blood of a worthy substitute.
Nancy Guthrie, The Provision of Sacrifice in the Old Testament
Jesus Paid the Price
Now, let’s look at Jesus’s crucifixion again in the context of these Old Testament sacrifices.
Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s blood covenant with Abraham. He allowed his blood to be spilt as penalty for our failure to uphold our end of the covenant. He was nailed to the cross at 9:00 a.m.66 and died at 3:00 p.m.67 These times correspond to when the priests were carrying out the perpetual sacrifices, blowing the ram’s horn to remind the people of God’s covenant with Abraham.
Jesus was the ram of God offered as substitution for us. Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed onto Mt. Moriah, which is in Jerusalem at the site of temple68, very near where Jesus was crucified.
Jesus was the first-born son of God sacrificed to redeem our lives. His blood, spilled on the ground as He was beaten, whipped, and crucified, is available to spread across our lives as a distinguishing mark so that God will pass over us in His divine judgment. Jesus was crucified at Passover. He was offered sour wine at the end of a hyssop branch, the same thing used to spread the blood over the doorposts of the Israelites at Passover. And, it is no coincidence that the blood was to be painted up and down the doorposts and side to side across the lintel at the top of the door. These motions are reminiscent of making the shape of a cross.
He permanently fulfilled all of the Levitical sacrifices:
By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.69
This is the good news of Good Friday. It was the culmination of God’s ultimate plan of redemption centuries in the making. And, when the exhausted, torn, naked, blood-soaked body of the Son of Man hung from that cross and he exclaimed, “It is finished,” He had brought an end to shedding of blood. All of the sacrifices and offerings had pointed to this moment. For those of us who place our faith in Jesus, He has once and for all paid the penalty for our sin. It is settled. We are free.
Matthew 27:45-51; Luke 23:44-47; Mark 15:25
Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:48; John 18:2-5
Mark 14:65; 15:1
Mark 15:15; Luke 23:16
Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20;
Aramaic for “Place of the Skull", also referred to as Calvary
Matthew 27:35; John 19:23
Far from a simple cry of despair and hopelessness, Jesus was citing Psalm 22, a beautiful psalm of David entitled, “From Suffering to Praise.” David began with this line and talks about how God had always been there for his fathers but that he was “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by people.” Nevertheless, the psalm continues with hope in the salvation of God and praise for Him because “He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.” It also says that “those who seek the Lord will praise him” and asks that their “hearts live forever” and predicts that their “descendants will serve him” and “the next generation will be told about the Lord”; that "they will “come and declare his righteousness.”
This word could also be translated as vinegar and typically refers to a wine of sharp flavor, posca, which was an ordinary beverage, and was often mixed with bitter herbs and given to the condemned criminals in order to stupefy them, and lessen their sufferings. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/oxos
See Romans 6:23
See Romans 5:12
It is possible that there is another explanation for God’s preference for Abel’s sacrifice, but other explanations require a lot of “reading between the lines” because it is not really spelled out in scripture. Some point to the fact that Abel offered some of the “fat portion” of “the firstborn” of his flock while Cain just offered “some of the land’s produce.” It’s possible that Abel’s offering was pleasing because it was the best he had to offer while Cain held back. But, scripture doesn’t spell that out. And, we know that for the rest of the Old Testament, while God does ordain certain grain offerings, sin and guilt offerings always require the spilling of blood from animals.
“People typically employed four kinds of covenants in the acitnet world to bind themselves to an agreement: a salt covenant (2 Chronicles 13:5), a shoe covenant (Ruth 4:7), a hand covenant, and a blood covenant. The most serious of the four was the blood covenant, which is what we will see God committing himself to in Genesis 15.” Robby Gallaty, The Forgotten Jesus (p. 41).
Id. at 42.
Id. (citing Ray Vander Laan, Faith Lessons, “Prophets and Kings,” Film (Israel: Ray Vander Laan, 1996; Ray Vander Laan, God With Us, “ That the World May Know”).
Genesis 15:17; see also Gallaty at p. 43 (“Throughout scripture, God is constantly associated with smoke from a fire…. Like the smoke from the pot, fire is an image frequently associated with God.”)
Gallaty at p. 44.
Exodus 12:1-13, 22-23
Exodus 12:2-20; Leviticus 23:5
Yes, the same covenant that was commemorated with a blood covenant in which God assumed responsibility for both sides of the agreement.
Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8
Gallaty at p. 45
Numbers 28:9-10 (two unblemished year-old male lambs)
Numbers 28:11-15 (two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs a year old - all unblemished)
2 Chronicles 3:1