The Death of Jesus
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”
John 19:28 (NLT)
Our Lord knew what was going on; He was fully in control as He obeyed the Father’s will. He had refused to drink the pain-deadening wine that was always offered to those about to be crucified (Matt. 27:34).In order to fulfill the Scriptures (Ps. 69:21), He said, “I thirst.” He was enduring real physical suffering, for He had a real human body. He had just emerged from three hours of darkness when He felt the wrath of God and separation from God (Matt. 27:45-49).
When you combine darkness, thirst, and isolation, you have—hell!
One of the soldiers took pity on Jesus and moistened His lips with the cheap vinegar wine the soldiers drank.
A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.
John 19:29-30 (NLT)
We must not imagine Jesus hanging many feet up in the air, almost inaccessible. His feet were perhaps three or four feet from the ground, so it would be easy for the man to put a sponge at the end of a reed and give Jesus a drink. You and I today can “give Jesus a drink” by sharing what we have with those in need (Matt. 25:34-40).
Psalm 69 has strong messianic overtones. Note Psalm 69:3, “My throat is parched.” Psalm 69:4 is referred to by Jesus in John 15:25, and Psalm 69:8 should be connected with John 7:3-5. Psalm 69:9 is quoted in John 2:17, and Psalm 69:21 is referred to in John 19:28-29. Note the emphasis on “reproach” (Ps. 69:7-10, 19-20) and the image of the “deep waters” (Ps. 69:14-15, and see Luke 12:50).
Our Lord made seven statements while He was on the cross; they are known as “the seven words from the cross.”
- First, He thought of others: those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34),
- The believing thief (Luke 23:39-43), and
- His mother (John 19:25-27).
- The central word had to do with His relationship to the Father (Matthew 27:45-49); and the last three statements focused on Himself:
- His body (John 19:28-29),
- His soul (John 19:30; and see Isaiah 53:10), and
- His spirit (Luke 23:46).
The drink of vinegar did not fully quench His thirst, but it did enable Him to utter that shout of triumph, in a loud voice, “It is finished!” In the Greek text, it is tetelestai; and it means, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!” While it is true that our Lord’s sufferings were now finished, there is much more included in this dramatic word. Many of the Old Testament types and prophecies were now fulfilled, and the once-for-all sacrifice for sin had now been completed.
The word tetelestai is unfamiliar to us, but various people in everyday life used it in those days. A servant would use it when reporting to his or her master, “I have completed the work assigned to me” (see John 17:4). When a priest examined an animal sacrifice and found it faultless, this word would apply. Jesus, of course, is the perfect Lamb of God, without spot or blemish. When an artist completed a picture, or a writer a manuscript, he or she might say, “It is finished!” The death of Jesus on the cross “completes the picture” that God had been painting, the story that He had been writing, for centuries. Because of the cross, we understand the ceremonies and prophecies in the Old Testament.
Perhaps the most meaningful meaning of tetelstia was that used by the merchants: “The debt is paid in full!” When He gave Himself on the cross, Jesus fully met the righteous demands of a holy law; He paid our debt in full. None of the Old Testament sacrifices could take away sins; their blood only covered sin. But the Lamb of God shed His blood, and that blood can take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Heb. 9:24-28).
There was once a rather eccentric evangelist named Alexander Wooten, who was approached by a flippant young man who asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
“It’s too late!” Wooten replied, and went about his work.
The young man became alarmed. “Do you mean that it’s too late for me to be saved?” he asked. “Is there nothing I can do?”
“Too late!” said Wooten. “It’s already been done! The only thing you can do is believe.”
The death of Jesus Christ is a major theme in the Gospel of John. It was announced by John the Baptist even before Jesus had officially begun His ministry John 1:29, 35-36). Our Lord’s first mention is in John 3:14, where the image is certainly that of crucifixion (and see John 8:28; 12:32). Jesus often spoke of “taking up the cross” (Matt. 10:38; 16:24). After Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus clearly announced that He would be killed (Matt. 16:21), and later He told the disciples that He would be crucified (Matt. 20:17-19).
In John’s Gospel, you find a number of pictures of our Lord’s death:
- The slaying of the lamb (John 1:29);
- The destroying of the temple (John 2:19);
- The lifting up of the serpent (John 3:14);
- The shepherd laying down his life for the sheep (John 10:11-18); and
- The planting of the seed in the ground (John 12:20-25).
These pictures make it clear that Jesus’ death was not an accident; it was a divine appointment. He was not murdered in the strictest sense: He willingly gave His life for us. His death was an atonement, not just an example. He actually accomplished the work of redemption on the cross.
Some unbelievers have invented the idea that Jesus did not really die, that He only “swooned” on the cross and was then revived in the “cool tomb.” But there are too many witnesses that Jesus Christ actually died:
- The centurion (Mark 15:44-45);
- All the Gospel writers;
- The angels (Matt. 28:5, 7);
- The Jews (Acts 5:28);
- Christ Himself (Luke 24:46; Rev. 1:18); and
- Even the worshiping hosts in heaven (Rev. 5:9, 12). Of course, Paul, Peter, and John mention the death of Christ in their letters.
His death was voluntary: He willingly dismissed His spirit (John 19:30; and note 10:17-18). He “gave Himself” (Gal. 2:20). He offered Himself as a ransom (Mark 10:45), as a sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2), and as a propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2). In Luke 9:31, His death is called a “decease,” which in the Greek is “exodus,” suggesting the Passover lamb and the deliverance from bondage. It will take eternity to reveal all that happened when Jesus Christ died on the cross.