"It is finished!" What is finished?

I have always been told—and have always believed—that when Jesus cried, "It is finished!" he meant that his work in bearing the sins of the world was completed.

But it struck me about ten minutes ago that there is a problem with this: when Jesus uttered those words he was not dead (obviously). But the church affirms that Christ died for our sins. So it cannot literally be true that his cross-work was completed when he said those words. That was not finished—at least not in every respect.

This has some bearing on what we say about Christ's descent into Hades. This ancient belief has received a range of interpretations over the centuries, but the most basic division in the interpretations is between (a) the views in which Christ was thought to be among the dead as the victor proclaiming his triumph and (b) those in which he was among the deceased as one who "stood" in solidarity with the dead, suffering death's humiliation and Godforsakenness. Now one argument against the latter range of views is that Christ's humiliation ended on the cross—after all, he said that it was finished. So the descent could only be a victorious descent.

But if the words "It is finished!" do not mean that Christ has no more sin-bearing then the way is opened up to see the descent as an integral part of Christ's humiliation—his being dead.

That said, I see no reason why we need to play off (a) and (b) against each other. I think that the descent is a pivot element in the story and can be seen both in terms of humiliation and exaltation, cross and resurrection. That's for another time.

Anyway, here is my question: what is finished?


Caleb said…
Could it be related to the last line of Psalm 22: " For he has done it?"
Anonymous said…
Check out John Behr. He notes in detail that what is finished is the.creation of the first human. In the death of Jesus, God shows us both what God is like and what it takes to be man.
Anonymous said…
John Behr

Robin Parry said…

I don't know. Could be. Worth pondering.


Robin Parry said…

Ah. I have that book. I must re-read it and check that out.

Many thanks

Robin Parry said…
I am now thinking that my blog post was probably a bit silly. After all, Jesus uttered those words literally just before he died. So presumably at very least he means that the sufferings of the cross are completed.

But redemption was not completed—he was not dead, let alone raised from the dead.

Perhaps I am over-reading it. Perhaps it is hyperbolic and means "almost finished."
Terry Wright said…
No blog post is silly if you're seeking understanding, Robin.
David said…
I'll give this a try and say that what is finished is the creation. We are made complete in Christ, his death paves the way to God...when Jesus died he had done all he could do. Perhaps when God raised Christ, God said, "It is finished" and thus God had done all that he needed to do. Thanks to the combined work of the Father and Son, all of creation can and will be made new and complete in Jesus. And of course there is more to this that is beyond us. God bless.
Anonymous said…
Quick summary of John Behr's thesis:

James Goetz said…
Good question that I never thought about before. He was medically terminal, so perhaps he proclaimed the inevitable. Peace, Jim
Jon Hassey said…
We know for sure that one thing that was finished for Jesus was his walk on this earth as "normal" man, albeit, messiah. When next he appears on earth to his disciples (and others) Jesus is the risen man. He then goes to sit at the throne of God. Edward Fudge probably would say that this was the beginning of a new era, "almost, but not yet." Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection for this in-between-time we live in.
Anonymous said…
It's a not a silly blog post RBJ....it's a fair point, one which I have not really considered very much until now. Have always accepted that that act of atonement was nearing completion or that Jesus took on him the sins of the world, then died. No thoughts are 'silly' Rob, apart from ones which I have frequently which have no theological bearing on anything.
As is says in the apocryphal book of Cyril: " Never trust a man, who when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on"
Robin Parry said…

I must read this book of Cyril. It sounds so wise!


Anonymous said…
I think if you are thinking in terms of transactions, then this blog post makes sense. He gave his life and that is what bought our freedom. He wasn't dead, so the transaction couldn't be finished. But if you think in terms of God's character then it makes sense. His suffering wasn't technically complete, but his expression of love on this earth was completed. The cross is the "I love you" of God. It is his way of revealing the way he truly is. That revelation was completed on the cross, and just cause he wasn't technically dead doesn't mean that the revelation of his love hadn't been given.

In other words, it wasn't like people were standing their scratching their heads until he died. And then all of a sudden they say: "Oh! So God loves us now!"

Robin Parry said…

That is true enough. Thanks


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