By Spencer D Gear
Was Jesus’ work on the cross to accomplish salvation completed then or not? Or does it have do be done over and over in some sort of way?
A person wrote on a Christian forum, ‘I believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished.” He was referring to his work of paying the penalty for our sins. That means, everything has been paid. It’s up to us to accept the free gift of salvation by faith’.
A Roman Catholic responds
This response confirmed that a Roman Catholic has a very different view of the finished work of Christ on the cross than a Protestant. His response to the above was:
And you would be wrong, sir.
What happened at the exact instant that Jesus expired? The veil of the Temple was torn in two, exposing the Holiest of All. That was the place that the Old Covenant was renewed every year by the presentation of the Yom Kippur sacrifice by the high priest (Lev. 16).
When the veil of the Temple was ripped apart, it exposed the Holiest of All, making it unfit to ever use again for Yom Kippur. “It is finished” has to do with the Old Covenant. THAT is what Jesus was talking about, not your personal sins.
Yes, as the Lamb of God, Jesus is the Sacrifice for our sins. But the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him. He has not paid for all your sins in advance of you committing them, and certainly they are not paid for if you refuse to repent and find sin so attractive that you stay in it.
Three evangelical exegetes disagree with the Roman Catholic
My response was that three leading evangelical commentators disagree with him.
John 19:30 states, ‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ ESV).
This is how three evangelical scholars respond to the meaning of ‘It is finished’ in their commentaries:
Leon Morris stated:
‘In the Greek this is one word, ?????????? [tetelestai], which is another of John’s ambiguous terms. It could mean that Jesus’ life was finished. This is part of the meaning, but it is highly improbable that it is the whole meaning. More important is the truth that Jesus’ work was finished. He came to do God’s work, and this meant dying on the cross for the world’s salvation. This mighty work of redemption has now reached its consummation. It is finished’ (Morris 1971:815, n. 73).
D. A. Carson‘s understanding was:
In the Greek text, the cry itself is one word, tetelestai (cf. notes on v. 28). As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion. Jesus’ work was done. But this is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death… The verb teleo from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiosas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos‘—not only ‘to the end’ but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished! (Carson 1991:621, emphasis in original).
R. C. H. Lenski wrote:
‘It is finished!’ tetelestai, exactly as in v. 28, the perfect [tense] of a completed state, denotes an action brought to its termination, it is like a line that ends in a point ———————• Jesus speaks this word to his Father. He makes his report to the father who sent him. Uttered with a loud voice, it is also intended for all men to hear. Recorded now in Scripture, it still rings out to all the world. Since the whole passion and death of Jesus were intended for us, why set up the contention that this conclusion is intended only for him and not also for us? The verb has no subject. What is it that is here brought to an end? Some think that Jesus has in mind his suffering, which, of course, in a way is true and quite obvious. But this cry cannot mean that Jesus is thinking only of himself and is glad that his pain now ceases. Some think of the ancient prophecies and their fulfillment, which, of course, in a way is also true (v. 28). This is better than the previous view, yet it still is indefinite, and other prophecies are still unfulfilled, namely the resurrection and the exaltation. Many are satisfied to say that the work or task of Jesus is concluded, or even that no further duty holds Jesus to life; this is equally indefinite. A word so important cannot be explained by so general an interpretation. The death of Jesus finishes His redemptive work, the work of reconciliation and atonement. This specific work is now brought to a close. The Lamb of God has made His great sacrifice for the world. It is this that is now done. Our great Substitute has paid the great price of ransom, paid it to the uttermost farthing. ‘It is finished’ indeed! Others will yet preach and teach, and Jesus will work through them; as the Kong on David’s throne his regal work will continue forever; but the redemptive shedding of His blood, done once for all, is finished and stands as finished forever. Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; Rom. 6:10 (Lenski 1943:1309).
Jesus’ death as ‘once for all’ a heresy
As indicated above, the Roman Catholic stated that ‘the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him’.
Let’s check out a couple of Scriptures to see if the RC is on target or is simply perpetrating his own human-made theology. Two verses come to mind:
24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (ESV).
This is extremely clear:
- Christ appeared in the presence of God himself;
- Jesus did not offer himself repeatedly as the high priest did when he entered the high places every year with blood other than his own;
- Jesus did not suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world;
- Jesus’ sacrifice at the end of the ages was to put away sin by His own sacrifice;
- Christ has been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many;
- When Jesus appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin.
But there is more in 1 Peter 3:18, ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’ (ESV).
So the idea that Jesus paid for sin, ‘once and forever’, is not heresy, but it is orthodox, biblical Christianity. Scripture affirms it.
(courtesy public domain)
Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned by Augsburg Fortress).
Morris, L 1971. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 biblestudyresources#51, 23 July 2014, Christian Forums, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-6/ (Accessed 23 July 2014).
 Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.
 Ibid., OzSpen#56.
 Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.
 Some manuscripts have ‘died’.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.