I’ve recently had the pleasure of listening to Jimmy Needham’s newest album, The Hymn Sessions, Vol. 1. This album is ridiculously off the charts good, and if you haven’t ever listened to Jimmy then you are really missing out.
His latest album is his own “spin” on classic hymns, such as “Come thou Fount”, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and a new one for me called “It is Finished.” This last song might be an original track since I can’t find any precedent of it, which all-the-more speaks to Needham’s brilliance and gift.
The opening line to this song has given me much pause over the last week, and for multiple reasons. It goes like this:
It is finished, it is finished
The beauty of the double-meaning phrase!
Most of you are probably thinking that the second line looks like jibberish. Rightly-so. It took me a few listens to understand what was going on, but when it hit me it was right between the eyes: it’s the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John written in Greek! This may not seem like a huge deal to some, but I’m hoping with a brief explanation this expression will come to mean much more to you than just the words “It is finished.”
This particular passage comes from John 19:30, and they are the last words spoken by Christ before dying on the cross. We often look back to these words of Christ and come to the conclusion that Jesus was acknowledging that after all of his suffering, his purpose was complete. The once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins had been completed. This is absolutely accurate. But with a little bit of exegetical analysis, this phrase will become even more beautiful to our ears than it already is.
The word “tetelestai” comes from the Greek τελέω. The simple translation of this word is “to finish” – hence our translation. However, this word carries some extra weight. Properly understood in its religious context, “bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations” (Carson, PNTC). This is where we get our understanding that Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice for sin was accomplished and carried out on Calvary. Jesus came to Earth with a mission – to purchase us with his blood. And it was certainly finished.
But I want us to dig a little bit deeper. I want to take a look at the usage of the word in particular. In the Koine Greek language, which is the language of the New Testament, verbs could carry one of any number of tenses to communicate varying nuances. There is a particular tense in the Greek that denotes a finite, one time action. It has happened once, and that is it – there are no lasting consequences.
However, this tense is not the tense John uses to communicate his point in his gospel. He could’ve used the other tense, which might be what we would actually expect for a historical event. Instead, he uses a tense that communicates an action that occurred in the past with present and ongoing consequence.
What does this mean for us? This means that Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was, and continues to be into this day, and will always be, accomplished. Done. There is nothing we can add, and there is nothing we can take away from Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing more for us to do! He has done it all.
Perhaps this idea could best be communicated by the lyrics of the second-half of verse 1:
He has ceased from His labor
And so have I!
Now Resting only in His grace
What grace! Thanks for the opportunity to reflect, Jimmy.