The Most Important Word in World History: Part 1

Stephan Beitze

Our Lord’s shout on the cross, Tetelestai! or, “It is finished!” is the most important word in world history. But what does it actually mean?

Several aspects are recognizable in the cry, “It is finished!” The Law had been fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled the entire Law, without ever having sinned Himself—from His obedience to His earthly parents, up to and including the last moment of His life. In Galatians 4:4, the Apostle says that Jesus had been “born under the law.” Although He was above it as the Giver of the Law, he placed Himself under it. Although He was the only one who fulfilled the whole Law, He had to bear the punishment of the Law—that is, death—because He took our guilt upon Himself. The innocent One was judged as one who was guilty, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v. 5).

The only just One bore the guilt of all the others who could never fulfill the Law and stand under God’s judgment. The Law’s demands are fulfilled through Jesus. And because of this, the righteousness He blankets us in is complete. We are justified before God because the debt is paid. Nobody needs to be far from God any longer, because the debt of all people has been paid, once and for all. If a person accepts this in faith, he becomes a child of God because, “It is finished!”

Christ also fulfilled Old Testament prophecy on the Cross. John 19 even says, “to fulfill the Scripture” (vv. 24, 28) twice. Fulfillment of Scripture was accomplished in the life and death of the Lord. Over 300 prophecies have been fulfilled through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. There is nothing remotely like it in all of secular literature or other religions. The Bible is unique, and continually speaks of the One who is unique. The Lord’s mandate and will from the beginning was the fulfillment of the Word. In His last days before His death, the Lord said to His disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Luke 18:31-33).

The Lord Jesus was always concerned with fulfilling the Scriptures. Just consider Psalms 22—69 and Isaiah 53, and we can see how—and how many—Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. Even indecisive Pilate didn’t allow himself to be dissuaded from naming Jesus as “King of the Jews,” so that various Scriptures would be fulfilled that said the Messiah would come as King.

With His statement, “I thirst,” the Lord fulfilled Psalm 69:21, where it is written, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” One would think that this was just a minor detail. After everything that had already been fulfilled, would it even matter if such a small (and perhaps unclear) prophecy went unfulfilled? Of course, the Lord was extremely thirsty, but just before His death He was still fulfilling prophecy with the last of His strength.

When He appeared to the disciples on the way to Emmaus after His resurrection, He said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). In Acts 13:29, Paul says, “And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.”

When you see how precisely the statements were fulfilled in Jesus, hundreds and sometimes thousands of years after they were made, you can’t help but believe in the God of Scripture and in Him of whom these prophecies speak. The Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus because, “It is finished!”

Not only were the direct prophecies fulfilled, but also prophetic images (so-called typologies of the Old Testament) which pointed to Jesus’ death. The lamb, the serpent raised up in the desert, sacrifices, Jonah, and more are all examples. The Passover festival offers a special preview of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross, down to the last detail (for example, the use of hyssop). When Jesus said, “I thirst,” a sponge with vinegar was attached to hyssop and held to His lips. We can find this idea earlier in Exodus 12:22. In order to be protected from the plague of the death of the firstborn, carried out by the angel of judgment, the Israelites had to spread the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorframe with a “bunch of hyssop.” This was the only way that judgment would pass them by. The parallel to the Passover lamb is obvious: judgment will pass by anyone who applies the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to his life by believing in Jesus’ work of redemption on the Cross. Such a person is saved.

All typological sacrifices found their fulfillment in Jesus’ death, and since then have no longer been necessary.

We find this foreshadowing of Jesus’ work at the very beginning of humanity. For the Lord to clothe Adam and Eve, an animal had to die. This is a symbol of the garment of righteousness that we are able to receive through Jesus; or, if we are believers, have already received.

Abel’s sacrifice was a fragrance before God, like that of the Lord Jesus.

On the basis of a sacrifice, there was an eternal covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants. Jesus’ death is the eternal promise that everyone who enters into the covenant with Him will be God’s possession for all eternity.

The Passover lamb alone should suffice for us to understand salvation. Just as the Israelites under the protection of the lamb’s blood, were the only ones saved from the judgment of death, so today only those who identify with Jesus’ sacrifice are actually saved from the judgment of death and will live forever.

Since the time of Moses, countless thousands of innocent animals have died. Every day the priests had to slaughter all kinds of animals. Imagine this situation: An Israelite comes into the tabernacle (or later, the temple) dejected, and the priest asks, “What’s wrong?” The Israelite replies, “I have sinned, and I’ve brought this lamb so that God may forgive me of this sin.” While the Israelite places his hands on the animal’s head as a sign of identification, the priest draws out the knife and the blood flows…The Israelite goes on his way relieved. An innocent animal died for his guilt. But it may not even be a few days before the same Israelite is back, leading another animal. He has sinned again. The priest may be asking himself, “Will this killing never end?”

These sacrifices were ordained by God Himself, because only blood could atone for sin. The Israelites saw how seriously God takes sin, and how the guilt of sin could only be lifted by the death of an innocent creature, whose blood was shed. Rivers of blood have flowed since then.

The Day of Atonement was very special. The high priest had to slaughter a male goat for the sins of the entire people, and sprinkle the blood into the Holy of Holies before God on the Mercy Seat, the lid of the Ark. The people were reconciled to God in this way, but it had to be repeated over and over, year after year. The bloodshed never stopped. It was monstrous.

The prophet Isaiah references Jesus as the Lamb of God. The familiar passage in the book of Isaiah reads: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we [you and I] have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:4-7).

Centuries later, when John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus, he exclaimed twice in admiration: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36).

Do we recognize how seriously God takes sin? Do we see how necessary it was for the Lord to shed His blood? The Apostle John writes, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Then we can understand the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, who repeats the words, “once for all” with relief. For example, in Hebrews 9:12-14: “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Bearing this in mind, we can understand the Apostle Peter so much better when he shows us the great value of Jesus’ blood: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19). The bloodshed has come to an end because, “It is finished!” The Lamb of God bore our guilt. Jesus had to be separated from the Father so that we could have fellowship with Him. He had to die so that we could have eternal life. John 19:30 clearly testifies to His death: “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Through His death we can have life, and life abundantly because, “It is finished!”

But the Lord Jesus did not just fulfill the Word of God; He Himself is the Word (John 1:1), and He gave it to us. He is the incarnate Word of God, through whom the world was created and salvation accomplished. This Word is God’s last revelation to mankind: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:1-2).

One might think that this isn’t entirely true, since after Jesus’ life, speeches, and work on this earth, the apostles came, who gave us the New Testament. But they too received what they wrote from the Lord. Jesus Himself foretold this: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

This also includes the Book of Revelation. We often think that Revelation’s main theme is prophecy of what will happen in the future. Although this is partly true, we are told right at the beginning of the book: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:1-2).

Midnight Call - 07/2021

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