The Apostle John records (John 19:30):
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
“It is finished.” To understand what exactly is finished, you have to step-back and look at the entire arc of the Scriptures, beginning in Genesis.
In the very beginning, prior to the intrusion of sin into the world, God had walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. He had created Adam from the dust of the earth and then the woman, Eve, from the side of Adam. Then, he gave them a way to respond to His love through worship. For He gave them dominion over all the earth and allowed them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, but instructed them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The forbidden tree was called such because if God’s people disobeyed him and ate from it, they would be sinning against Him, the “Supreme Good,” and then know evil; evil has no existence in itself, it is always opposed to the good. So, through their respect for, and compliance with, God’s Word and will, Adam and Eve worshipped Him as their Creator and as the source of everything.
Ultimately, though, Adam and Eve were not content to dwell in God’s presence and to receive all good things from Him; and Satan was not content to let that happen either. Satan, in the form of a serpent, enticed Adam and Eve into thinking that God was hiding something from them; he offered them the chance to gain knowledge and “freedom” apart from God by eating from the forbidden tree. And, actually, this is what they got, for by disobeying God’s revealed will and neglecting God’s revealed Word, they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and now knew evil, where before they had known only the good that God had revealed to them. They gained for themselves the knowledge of evil and the death that came with it.
As their descendants, we are all partakers in this sin; even when we first come into the world, we are held captive by it. We have to be taught and admonished to do good, but the evil comes easy.
Due to the sin of Adam and Eve, God could no longer commune with His people directly in the Garden as He once did. But He still loved them and provided for them. He clothed them with the skins of the first sacrifice and drove them from the garden so that they could not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in sin. For their sin alienated them from God, from each other, and from creation itself, as evidenced by the toil with which they would then live and their own eventual bodily decay and death.
However, God promised to undo the consequence of separation and death that sin brought into the world. He told Satan, that old serpent, who had lured Adam and Eve into sin:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
God promised one who would come from the seed of the woman to defeat sin, death, and the devil. It is worth noting that throughout the rest of the Old Testament, genealogy is traced through the man, but here in God’s first promise of a Savior, it’s traced through a woman. Having given this promise, God then gathered together a people around this promise, the Church who looked forward to the coming Savior, the Christ or Messiah (the “anointed one”), for salvation. This is the Church of which we are a part, and it began with Adam and Eve.
This promise of the coming Christ was carried throughout the Old Testament through the promises of God and the hearts of the faithful who believed. From Adam and Eve, to Seth, and then eventually to Noah.
At the time of Noah, the earth had become so wicked until finally, as it says in Genesis:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).
God decided to destroy His creation, but graciously continued to carry along his promise of salvation through Noah. He saved Noah and his family, instructing Noah to build an ark to survive the flood that God would send on the earth. God poured out His wrath and gave mankind what its sins deserved – death – but, He graciously preserved a remnant through whom He would continue His promise of salvation through the coming Christ. Thus, life on earth was preserved through the ark of the Church as well as for her sake and the sake of God’s promise of the coming Christ.
Following the flood, Noah and his family left the ark, having just seen both the wrath and mercy of God. But sin was still in the world and mankind soon began to wallow further and further in it. Yet, God continued to be gracious by continuing his promise of salvation, through Noah’s son Shem, and through his descendants up to Abram.
God promised Abram that He would bless him and make him the father of many nations, renaming him Abraham, a name that referred to that promise.
God promised him, “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” and sealed this promise with a covenant ceremony (Genesis 12:3).
In the ancient Near East, people would “cut a covenant” by slaughtering animals, laying each half of the animals on opposite sides of a path, and then walking together through the path – with the animals on either side – reciting the terms of the covenant. This ceremony “cut” the covenant and made it binding through the blood of the sacrifice.
However, when God cut His covenant with Abraham, only God passed through the path of animals. Genesis 15 tells us that “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Genesis 15:17). This was the glory of the Lord passing through and sealing the covenant; it was unconditional, because the vow rested on God’s grace; God would send the “seed of the woman” through Abraham’s descendants to be a blessing to all nations and thus fulfill His promise.
And God continued to keep His promise alive through Abraham’s son Isaac and through Isaac’s son Jacob, later named Israel by God, because He had “contended with God,” wrestling with Him. Jacob, like us, wrestled with God, and yet was overpowered at a touch. Through Jacob, through Judah, and up to king David and his descendants, the promise lived on. Despite their many sins and unfaithfulness, God was faithful to His promise and gracious.
God carried His promise through the patriarchs of the Old Testament up to the time of Christ, where it found its fulfillment in Him. The Old Testament prophets foresaw and foretold this. Isaiah saw it in particular clarity as we read from Isaiah chapter 52 and 53. Isaiah foretold the Messiah, the Christ, who would take mankind’s sins upon himself, die for our sins, and yet “he shall see his offspring,” because he will live again. And the offspring of Christ are those whom his Bride, the Church, give him – children of faith.
Thus it is that after many thousands of years, the promised salvation of God was fulfilled in Jesus the Christ, “the seed of the woman.” Born of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Spirit, descended from King David, Abraham, and Adam, Christ is both true God and true man, the one foretold by God long ago, beginning in Genesis. And just as the first woman was taken from out of Adam, so now this promised Christ, the new and perfect Adam, came from the woman (cf. the “woman” verses in John 2:4 and John 19:26).
Jesus suffered the toils of all stages of life, sanctifying them and fulfilling all righteousness on our behalf (cf. Matthew 3:15). He entered into Jerusalem for his final week last Sunday. Then, having been betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, and taking the cup of suffering given to him by His Father on Friday, he suffered and died on our behalf, atoning for our sins on the cross of his death. He finished his work on the sixth day, just as it was in the beginning, and then rested in the tomb on the Sabbath.
All our sins were up there on that wooden tree of the cross on which his hands and feet were nailed, undoing the sin of Adam and Eve through the tree and prefigured by the sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac so long ago who carried the wood of his own sacrifice up the mountain of Moriah. Yet, God intervened at the end to provide a lamb for the sacrifice in place of Isaac, fulfilled now on this day on the same mountain by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin and all the way forward until the end of the age. And then in three days, Christ will rise from his Garden tomb on the eighth day of the week to defeat sin and death and its hold over us, so that although we too will die some day, we will also be raised up to live with Him in the presence of the Lord for all eternity. He came to usher in something new by reconciling us with the Father, with each other, and with creation itself as evidenced by his own bodily resurrection and our future resurrections.
All history led up to this point. The Old Testament prophets pointed to it, and they continued to point to it through thousands of years of human history, even when the Church was just eight humble souls as in the days of Noah, until finally in “the fullness of time,” Christ came to “fulfill all righteousness” and to adopt us as God’s children (cf. Galatians 4:4-5). God planned this from the beginning and He saw to it that His plan was accomplished.
The New Testament points to the completion of God’s plan for our salvation, just as the Old Testament points to its coming. The cross of Christ is the focal point of the entire Scriptures. The Old Testament prophets told us, “Christ is coming, God is sending one to save you from your sins,” and gave us signs and types of the Christ to come. Now, the New Testament Church shouts, “Here he is, Christ has come for you!” And they both likewise look forward to his return in glory at the end of the age.
On the cross on that first Good Friday afternoon, Jesus accomplished everything needful for our salvation. “It is finished!” His cry on the cross reflects the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation; God cut a covenant with us using the blood of his only-begotten Son. This is the new testament in his blood, a testament of which we are heirs due to the death of the one testifying; we have been willed eternal salvation due to the death of Christ.
So, on the last day, when Christ returns for the resurrection of the dead, his words on the cross will ascend to their final, ultimate conclusion, for on that day we will be joined together, in person, body and soul, with all believers of all times and all places and rejoice that “it is finished.” God’s will has been done as we have been gathered to Him as His people for eternity in the Garden of paradise.
(Image: Émile Bernard : Portement de croix (1906, église paroissiale Saint-Joseph de Pont-Aven). By Moreau.henri – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46264916)