Never were such words uttered with such finality! While on the cross, Jesus did NOT say, “It MAY be finished” OR “I HOPE it is finished.” Rather, He said declaratively, “It IS finished!” (John 19:30)
Never were such depth of words spoken as our Lord spake while on the cross. Never was there so much meaning in one word. Yes, one word, τετέλεσται, translated “It is finished.”
As Arthur W. Pink wrote in his book, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross
“The ancient Greeks boasted of being able to say much in little – “to give a sea of matter in a drop of language” was regarded as the perfection of oratory. What they sought is here found. “It is finished” is but one word in the original, yet in that word is wrapped up the Gospel of God; in that word is contained the ground of the believer’s assurance; in that word is discovered the sum of all joy and the very spirit of all divine consolation.”
τετέλεσται means to bring to a close or to execute or to accomplish.
So my question is: When Christ said “It is finished!”, what exactly was finished? What was Christ referring to? What was executed or accomplished? The answer can only be found in the testimony of Scripture.
PROPITIATION – THE WRATH OF THE FATHER SATISFIED
In his book Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, John Murray wrote
“But what does propitiation mean? In the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is expressed by a word which means to “cover” (1) It is a reference to sin that the covering takes place; (2) the effect of this covering is cleansing and forgiveness; (3) it is before the Lord that both the covering and its effect take place. … It is that sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin. And the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes.”
The important question is how can God remain just and at the same time justify(declare righteous) the ungodly? Paul’s answer: propitiation.
“whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
As the modern hymn In Christ Alone says
“Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live”
So, when Christ said, “It is finished!”, he meant that propitiation was accomplished because the wrath of the Father was satisfied by the substitutionary death of the Son.