This post was first published in March, 2015. —ed.
As the authoritative, inerrant, and sufficient Word of God, we know Scripture tells us everything we need to know about Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. But there is a sense in which we miss the full weight of His sacrifice with just a simple reading of the text. His hours and hours of agony simply cannot be encapsulated in a few short passages.
To help understand the pain He endured on our behalf, we’ve been examining His final statements from the cross. Today we’ll look at two more that illustrate both the extent of His suffering and the purpose for which He was willing to endure it.
A Plea for Relief
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (John 19:28). This was Christ’s fifth utterance from the cross. As the end neared, Christ uttered a final plea for physical relief. Earlier He had spat out the vinegar mixed with painkiller that had been offered Him. Now, when He asked for relief from the horrible thirst of dehydration, He was given only a sponge saturated with pure vinegar. John writes, “A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth” (John 19:29).
In His thirst we see the true humanity of Christ. Although He was God incarnate, in His physical body, He experienced all the normal human limitations of real human flesh. And none was more vivid than this moment of agonizing thirst after hours of hanging on the cross. He suffered bodily to an extent few have ever suffered. And—again, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled—all He was given to salve His fiery thirst was vinegar. “They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).
A Proclamation of Victory
John’s account of the crucifixion continues: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’” (John 19:30). In the Greek text, this sixth utterance of Jesus from the cross is a single word: Tetelestai! Luke 23:46 indicates He made this cry “with a loud voice.”
It was a triumphant outcry, full of rich meaning. He did not mean merely that His earthly life was over. He meant that the work the Father had given Him to do was now complete. As He hung there, looking every bit like a pathetic, wasted victim, He nonetheless celebrated the greatest triumph in the history of the universe. Christ’s atoning work was finished; redemption for sinners was complete; and He was triumphant.
Christ had fulfilled on behalf of sinners everything the law of God required of them. Full atonement had been made. Everything the ceremonial law foreshadowed had been accomplished. God’s justice was satisfied. The ransom for sin was paid in full. The wages of sin were settled forever. All that remained was for Christ to die so that He might rise again.
That is why nothing can be added to the work of Christ for salvation. No religious ritual—neither baptism, nor penance, nor any other human work—needs to be added to make His work effectual. No supplemental human works could ever augment or improve the atonement He purchased on the cross. The sinner is required to contribute nothing to earn forgiveness or a right standing with God; the merit of Christ alone is sufficient for our full salvation.
Tetelestai! His atoning work is done. All of it. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
(Adapted from The Murder of Jesus.)