Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Christians refer to this day as Good Friday. It is the day Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion. Although there is much about this day that would rightly be considered bad, for Christians, because of what it means, it is not only considered good, it is truly good. Jesus death (and resurrection!) is the only means by which sinners are, by faith, enabled to be made right with God. It is referred to as the great exchange, or imputation (double imputation): my sins are placed on Christ and Christ’s righteousness is given to us (2 Cor. 5:21). Referring to this day as Good Friday is a theological statement/truth.
Another fitting way this day could be described is as dark Friday. From 12:00 noon until 3:00 PM (according to the Jewish reckoning, these hours were known as the time between the 6th and 9th hours, since the day began at 6:00 AM), there was darkness over the whole land: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mk. 15:33; cf. Matt. 27:45; Lk. 23:44). These three hours of darkness ended with Jesus’ death. Referring to this day as dark Friday is a historical statement.
Before focusing on the final words of Jesus from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), it is important to recount the events of the day (these events are compiled through the reading of the synoptic gospels along with the Gospel of John, and they are included in a number of different published sources):
Immediately prior to his death, John records Jesus’ final words and his final voluntary and obedient act: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 1It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn. 19:28-30). Everything about this dark/good Friday, and everything about Jesus’ death is important for us to grasp, with the implications of Christ’s death (and resurrection!) vital for us to experience for new life. Of these many truths and implications, I focus upon five.
First, Jesus is aware he is here for a divine purpose, a purpose arrived at through one divine will. This is not the Father against the Son. This is the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – willing from eternity past (immanent Trinity) to redeem a people for himself, and this is the means by which that redemption becomes real in time (economic Trinity).
Second, Jesus is aware he is fulfilling the divine plan and purpose that had been prophesied earlier. His statement of “I thirst” is a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. Ps. 69:21; one concludes, “the hermeneutical assumption is that David and his experience constitute a prophetic model, a ‘type’, of ‘great David’s greater son’.”). This “jar full of sour wine” is not to be confused with the “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mk. 15:23), which Jesus was offered on the way to the cross. That was used as a sedative intended to alleviate the pain, to dull the senses, so that one would not feel the pain of the suffering. This Jesus refused. He was committed to obey his Father to the end, voluntarily and obediently to drink the full cup of suffering assigned to him in his role as the God-man. Being the opposite of dulling the pain, this “sour wine” would prolong life and therefore prolong pain (cf. Mk. 15:36).
Third, John records that the “sour wine” Jesus requested was given to him “on a hyssop branch.” This is only mentioned by John, and this little plant, of which a sprig is ideal for sprinkling, was regularly used in the Old Testament for this purpose. In one connection to God’s divine will, and the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures, and the fulfillment of the types foreshadowing Christ, this is the plant used to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts and lintel at Passover (Ex. 22:22). For those homes who engaged in this obedient act commanded by God, the promised response was “the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Ex. 22:23). Jesus is the “lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29, 36).
Fourth, Jesus utters his final words from the cross: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This not only refers to the end of Jesus’ earthly life, a time at which he dies, but, more importantly, the fulfillment and completion of the work he came to do. It is not merely a chronological reference, pointing to the end-point of a period of time. Significantly, it is also a theological reference, the completion of his work of addressing sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21), so that we might have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Jesus came to propitiate God’s wrath and to forgive sins (Rom. 3:21-26; 1 Jn. 4:10), to remove the fear of death (Heb. 2:14), to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8), and to triumph over the principalities and the powers (Col. 2:14-15). D. A. Carson writes,
In the Greek text, the cry itself is one word, tetelestai. As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion. Jesus’ work was done. But this is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death (though it is not less than that). The verb teleō from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiōsas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos—not only ‘to the end’ but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished!
Another gloriously concludes, what is most important about Jesus’ last works is the truth that “Jesus work was finished. He came to work God’s work, and this meant dying on the cross for the world salvation. This mighty work of redemption has now reached its culmination. . . . Jesus died with the cry of the Victor on his lips. This is not the moan of the defeated, nor the sigh of patient resignation. It is the triumphant recognition that He has now fully accomplished the work that He came to do.”
Finally, Jesus final earthly act voluntarily and obediently experienced is that after confessing “it is finished,” he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn. 19:30; cf. Matt. 27:50; Mk. 15:37; Lk. 23:46). He is the sovereign one over life and death, and although many are humanly responsible for Christ’s death, no one ultimately took his life. He is the one who had authority to lay it down of his own accord (Jn. 10:18), which is the final filial act of obedience to his the will of his Father (Jn. 8:29; 14:31). Jesus' final utterance of "it is finished" (Jn. 19:30) reveals the truth Jesus stated earlier, "he loved them to the end" (Jn. 13:1). The end of his love was his death on the cross. This love of the Son is also reflected by God the Father who loved, and his love was the ground and basis for the propitiatory sacrifice (1 Jn. 4:9-10).
This “giving up” or “handed over” is the last one in a series of uses of this verb (note the different ways the word is translated). The devil through Judas Iscariot “betrayed” Jesus to Caiaphas (18:2), and Caiaphas “delivered” Jesus to Pilate (Jn. 18:30), and Pilate “delivered him” to the Jews for crucifixion” (Jn. 19:16). But ultimately and absolutely, Jesus was in control of it all, in that he is the one who “gave up his spirit” to the Father (Jn. 19:30; cf. Matt. 27:50; Lk. 23:46).
I conclude in this way. Jesus’ “it is finished” refers to the fulfillment and completion of the work he as the God-man came to accomplish. Part of his completion and fulfillment is as the second Adam. Where the first Adam failed, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, faithfully and fully fulfilled, captured in his last earthly words on the cross: “it is finished.” Here is how one summarizes this wonderfully amazing truth:
The first Adam yielded to temptation in a garden. The Last Adam beat temptation in a garden. The first man, Adam, sought to become like God. The Last Adam was God who became a man. The first Adam was naked and received clothes. The Last Adam had clothes but was stripped. The first Adam tasted death from a tree. The Last Adam tasted death on a tree. The first Adam hid from the face of God, while the Last Adam begged God not to hide His face.
The first Adam blamed his bride, while the Last Adam took the blame for His bride. The first Adam earned thorns. The Last Adam wore thorns. The first Adam gained a wife when God opened man’s side, but the Last Adam gained a wife when man opened God’s side. The first Adam brought a curse. The Last Adam became a curse. While the first Adam fell by listening when the Serpent said “take and eat,” the Last Adam told His followers, “take and eat, this is my body.”