In part 1 of this series, we said that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” “it” refers to Jesus’s death as a perfect sacrifice for sin. “It [the sacrifice once-and-for-all for sin] is finished.” We know this because the Holy Spirit reveals this through the New Testament (Rom 3:25; Heb 10; Jn 1:29; 1 Cor 15:3; Eph 1:7; 1 Jn 2:2, etc.)
But how did the New Testament authors arrive at the conclusion that Jesus’ death restores us to God (makes “atonement” for sin)? The answer: the Old Testament. The Old Testament sacrificial system established the structures and categories for Israel (and the rest of the world through Israel) to understand what is happening on the cross as Jesus offered his life as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Without the event of the Passover in Exodus (Ex 12), rituals of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), and the prophets (Is 52:13–53:12), the New Testament writers could not fully understand all that was happening when Jesus offered himself to his enemies like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is. 53:7). Furthermore, we could never understand what John the Baptist meant when he announced the arrival of Christ saying, “Behold, the lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) if it weren’t for the story of Israel in the OT, and particularly Isaiah 53:5, which predicts, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5).
All that God revealed in and through Israel in the OT was a preparation for this moment of Jesus’ death.
This leads us to a second interpretation of “it” in the phrase “It is finished” (Jn 19:30): Jesus death is the fulfillment of the first covenant. The Old Testament, as a whole, was preparing for and pointing to Jesus and his death. The Old Testament anticipates one who is to come who will fulfill Israel’s calling (that is an extension of God’s promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2-3) to be a kingdom of priests who will reconcile the world to God. There is a work that Israel was called to do, and now that work is finished in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus.
Understanding the phrase this way, Jesus is saying, “The mission of Israel is finished.” In extension, this also means, “God’s promises to Abraham have been fulfilled.”
As we will see in the next installment in the series, in fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament, Jesus puts to death the reign of sin and death over humanity.