April 14, 2017

What Did the Crucified Christ Mean When He Said "It Is Finished"?

By St. Cyril of Jerusalem

(Commentary on John)

John 19:30 - "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, 'It is finished,' and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit."

When this indignity [the giving of vinegar] had been added to the rest, the Savior exclaimed, "It is finished," meaning that the measure of the iniquity of the Jews, and of their furious rage against Him, was completed. For what had the Jews left untried, and what extremity of atrocity had they not practiced against Him? For what kind of insult was omitted, and what crowning act of outrage do they seem to have left undone? Therefore rightly did He exclaim, "It is finished," the hour already summoning Him to preach to the spirits in hades.*


* The Greek word "tetelestai" can be translated as "it is finished" or "it is completed" or "it is fulfilled". All fall in line with this patristic interpretation of St. Cyril, whose interpretation reflects the patristic reading of the Gospels, in which the Jewish leaders and those who blindly followed them are said to have added one iniquity on another upon themselves, until they finished or completed or fulfilled all that the prophets said about them, by reaching a fullness of iniquity in the giving of vinegar to Christ as He thirst on the Cross, at which Jesus breathed His last. Many later interpreters saw this passage as a completion of the saving work of Christ, but this is not accurate from a patristic point of view, as death had not yet been defeated, which was brought about by the Resurrection. This is why in much of the theology of the West, the value of the Resurrection is none other that apologetic, proving the acceptance of the finished work of Christ on the Cross; this is not so in the Fathers or the Christian East.