Tetelestai: One word says it all!


“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” John 19:28-30

It is sometimes said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that may very well be true. But sometimes a single word can also express a truth better than a thousand; and in one particular case, that is most certainly true.

Before He yielded up His spirit and died on the cross, Jesus uttered what is rendered as a single word in the Greek New Testament: “Tetelestai.” This single Greek word is translated with three English words: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Jesus was hanging in agony during those final moments upon the cross, his mouth dry from gasping for every breath as he lifted Himself yet another time to breathe. He asked for a drink, and after receiving vinegar on a sponge, He proclaimed what is expressed in that single Greek word, “tetelestai” — all was finished and our salvation was won.

And it is likely that Jesus uttered this in Aramaic or Hebrew rather than Greek and, though we don’t know His exact choice of a word or words, He may have used a form of the Aramaic word “shelim” which is related to the Hebrew “shalom” and would indicate that atonement had been made and peace with God was won.

And, indeed, it was! Jesus Christ, God the Son made man, had fulfilled all that was written of Him in the Scriptures and had paid in full for the sins of the whole world! Atonement had been made. He had accomplished the redemption of all mankind. God’s just wrath against sin had been satisfied, and God’s pardon had been won!

What does this single word of Jesus mean for you and for me? It means our sins — indeed the sins of the whole world — are paid for in full! Full atonement was made! It means that God’s favor is won! He now reaches out to us in grace and mercy for the sake of His Son and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross in our stead! It means that, no matter what we have done, Jesus paid the price for our sins that we might receive through faith in Christ Jesus God’s mercy and forgiveness and a place in His everlasting kingdom!

This single word assures us that all is done and the salvation of all who trust in Jesus is sure! There is nothing we need to do or add to Jesus’ completed work! “Tetelestai!” “It is finished!” And Jesus’ resurrection on the third day proves the truthfulness of His single, dying word (cf. Rom. 4:23 — 5:2).

The Gospel tells us that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures … that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). It tells us that “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2). It tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

O dearest Jesus, thank you for bearing in full the punishment for my sins when You suffered and died on the cross — for finishing all that I might through faith in Your name be acceptable in Your sight, have forgiveness for all my sins, and live with You forever in heaven. Tetelestai! It is finished! Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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