The agony Jesus Christ suffered is almost unimaginable. But He endured it all to complete the work of salvation so that we can rest in His perfect, completed work, not trust in our own futile efforts to find acceptance with God.
In our study of the Gospels chronologically, combining and coordinating eyewitness accounts, we have learned that Jesus was on the cross from 9:00 a.m. until noon, and then darkness enveloped the earth for three hours. Prior to this period of darkness, Jesus spoke on three occasions. Now, as the darkness nears the end—around 3:00 p.m.—Jesus speaks again.
In Matthew 27:46, Jesus cries out from the darkness, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Jesus, as fully man, is experiencing a loss of fellowship with the Father—something He has never known before. He is actually quoting here the words of the psalmist in Psalm 22:1 to express the horrible feeling of forsakenness and separation.
Why has God the Father forsaken God the Son? Because on the cross Jesus is suffering the wrath of God the Father, as our iniquities are laid upon Him (Isaiah 53:4-6). At this moment Jesus is saturated with the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) and therefore forsaken by God the Father.
Think about that: Jesus was forsaken by the Father so that you might never be forsaken by the Father. Jesus experienced isolation so that you will never be alone. Jesus battled through the darkness so that you might live in the kingdom of light.
With that, the Lord’s next statement is recorded in John 19:28: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
Earlier, Jesus had refused a drink of wine mixed with myrrh because that was an anesthetic, designed as a narcotic to dull the pain, and it would have dulled His mind. But now, in verse 29, a sponge filled with sour wine is offered to Him, and He accepts it. This quenches His thirst temporarily and allows Him to speak his final statements.
I cannot help but think that this is the one who said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37) and “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14). And now He is thirsty.
Here is something else to contemplate: Jesus Christ began His ministry hungry—after fasting in the wilderness and defeating Satan’s temptations. Now Jesus ends His ministry thirsty—as He defeats Satan’s power.
Through faith in Christ, you and I are headed for an eternal place where no thirst, spiritual or physical, will exist. At the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:17, we find these words: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”
Now back in John chapter 19, verse 30, we read: “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!” is one Greek word, tetelestai. Jesus shouts this from the cross, and it literally means, “Paid in full!”
Tetelstai was a common word in Christ’s day. When a Greek artist completed a painting of sculpture, he would step back and say, “Tetelestai.” “The masterpiece is completed!”
If you went to the market in these days and purchased something, you would get a receipt with the word tetelestai written on it, meaning you had paid for the product—you own it. And if you stole from that marketplace and got put in jail for six months, the jailer would write your crime on a little piece of parchment, along with the dates of your sentence, and then tack it to the door of your cell. Six months later, when your sentence was complete, he would write on that parchment this word tetelestai and hand it to you as you are set free. You had paid in full the penalty for your crime.
The Bible tells us that as sinners we are in debt to God because we have broken His law, and the law we have broken demands payment. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages for sin, the payment for sin, is death. Here at the cross, as Jesus bears our sin, He is paying the price for it by dying on our behalf.
And Jesus does not cry out, “I am finished” but “It is finished.” What is finished? The masterpiece of salvation. The debt that demanded payment, the crime that demanded punishment—that is now paid in full, and salvation can be offered to you and me as a free gift from God.
Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’ final words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (23:46). In other words, there is no lapse in time between His death and the Father’s presence. Jesus did not go to hell for three days and suffer down there. He immediately entered and enjoyed the Father’s presence.
John’s Gospel says He then “gave up his spirit” (19:30). Get this right, beloved; Jesus voluntarily surrendered His life at the right time—after the payment for sin was completed. As one author put it, “Jesus was Master even in his death.”
What happens next? Let me tell you, some pretty wild things take place. First, Matthew 27:51 says, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
That thick curtain, or veil, separated the Holy of Holies, which represented God’s unapproachable presence, from the place where priests ministered daily. But some invisible hand reaches up to the top of this thirty-foot curtain and rips it straight down to the ground. This symbolizes that through Jesus, we now have access into God’s presence.
Matthew then says there is an earthquake that splits rocks and opens up some tombs—and for a reason—verses 52-53:
The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who [had died] were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Can you imagine this? Tombs are opened, and then three days later, after the Lord’s resurrection, these deceased Old Testament believers are raised to life. Their bodies are put back together in a picture of the coming resurrection, and they go into Jerusalem testifying to Christ’s power over death. Most scholars believe they will ascend back to heaven when the Lord does in a few weeks.
We are not told who these believers were. What if this miracle included Boaz and Ruth, who were buried nearby in Bethlehem? What if one of them was John the Baptist, who had been executed perhaps a year and a half earlier? We do not know who they were, but you can imagine the impact they made for the gospel.
Then back on Mount Calvary, as the earth begins to shake and as Jesus dies, the Roman centurion in charge of this execution says in verse 54, “Truly this was the Son of God!” He is wiser than all the religious leaders out there who are going to sew that curtain back up and keep trying to earn their way to heaven.
The religions of this world will tell you that if you want to see God, you have to do something, join something, give something, become something. Jesus effectively says to the believer, “Access is now granted; the work is now finished.”
Years ago, a man sarcastically said to evangelist Alexander Wooten, “Tell me what I have to do to become a Christian.” Alexander replied, “It’s too late.” The man was shocked and said, “What do you mean, it’s too late? Tell me what I have to do to become a Christian.” The old evangelist replied, “It’s too late, because everything has already been done, by Christ.”
That is the message of this cross. The work of salvation is completed. It is finished.
 Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary, vol. 24 (Broadman, 1992), 596.