“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”John 19:30
As noted in previous parts of this series, there are several ways to interpret what Jesus means when he says from the cross, “It is finished.” Thus far, we have noted that it can mean:
- The once-and-for-all sacrifice that atones for all sin has been made;
- The work of Israel to reconcile the world to God and God to the world is complete;
There’s yet a third possible interpretation of the phrase. Jesus’ saving work on the cross, as it anticipates his resurrection, ends the reign of sin and death in the world. In other words: “It [the power of sin and death] is finished.”
Paul tells us that sin and death came into the world through the one man (Adam; Rom 5:12), and that righteousness is made available to all through the one man (Jesus). He writes, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:18-19).
Paul understood that there were two eras of human history: (1) the era of the flesh, in which sin and death reigned in the world, and (2) the era of the Spirit, in which God’s faithful worshippers would be free from the guilt of sin, the power of sinning, and eventually the power of death. It is out of this mindset that Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus has rescued them from “the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Jesus’ death and resurrection ushers in the new age of the spirit marked by freedom from sinning, and ultimately, death. That old age of the flesh, says Jesus, is finished.
This means that when we look on the cross, we not only see God’s self-giving, merciful, and compassionate love on display for the world. In addition to these things, we see Jesus ending the reign of sin. In sum, Jesus’ death (together with the resurrection and Pentecost) means that sin no longer enslaves us and that death no longer has the final word.
Paul sums it up perfectly with this in Colossians 2:9b-15:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.Colossians 2:9b-15
It is finished. We no longer have the license to say, “I’ll always be a sinner…” By taking the guilt of sin into himself, Christ made every provision necessary for us to be united with God and live in perfect righteousness. As for sin, it is finished.