"Tetelestai" doesn’t translate simply, we have to make a phrase out of it - "It is finished." But still some of its power is lost in the translation. In the Greek it implies that something has come to an end, it has been completed, perfected, accomplished in the full and that something has consequences that will endure on and on.
"Tetelestai." The most powerful single word of all of Jesus ministry. It was also his last word. It was the word that turned this apparent tragedy into a scene of Victory that shook the earth, split rocks, changed history, raised saints from the dead and tore away the temple curtain that kept people out of the Holy of Holies.
"Tetelestai" the most powerful word in history. Even more powerful than the words of creation in Genesis chapter 1 where God spoke and the universe came into existence. This word could not simply be spoken. The son of God had to die to speak it.
Rev Bill Versteeg
Question: What does the Greek word ‘tetelestai’ mean?
Answer: Literally translated the word tetelestai means, “It is finished.”
The word occurs in John 19:28 and 19:30 and these are the only two places in the New Testament where it occurs. In 19:28 it is translated, “After this, when Jesus knew that all things were now completed, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, he said, ‘I thirst.’” Two verses later, he utters the word himself: “Then when he received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
The word tetelestai was also written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show indicating that a bill had been paid in full. The Greek-English lexicon by Moulton and Milligan says this: “Receipts are often introduced by the phrase [sic] tetelestai, usually written in an abbreviated manner…” (p. 630).
The connection between receipts and what Christ accomplished would have been quite clear to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins.
Seven times our Lord spoke from the Cross, three before the darkness and four after. There was no voice heard during the darkness. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, had silenced hell. The fourth word is a cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” The fifth word shows us His humanity, “I thirst.” The encounter with evil had taken its toll on His human frame. The sixth word is one of triumph, “It is finished!”
In the Greek, it is the word tetelestai. It’s an artist’s word. It is the word an artist uses when she stands before one of her creations and says, “Tetelestai, it is finished; I cannot add anything more to it. It is complete.” It is a builder’s word. It is the word he uses when he hands over the keys to a new building and says, “Tetelestai, it is finished; I have done everything according to the plan. It is complete.”
Preachers Magazine – Lent/Easter 2006
Just three of the many hundreds of references to tetelestai on the internet. Does any contributor to OST have any thoughts on the significance of the word? Are there any clues from within scripture which develop its meaning? Echoes from other usages? (eg God ‘finished’ creation on the sixth day etc). Have we been getting it wrong all these years?
I’m interested to know!