The Last Word on the Cross and the First Word after the Resurrection

The first and last words that anyone says tend to be regarded as important markers as to defines a person’s life. When you read a book (either fact or fiction), the first and last words tend to define what the book is about.

It is equally so when you consider the last triumphant words that Jesus shouted on the cross and the first one that He uttered to His disciples after He rose from the dead.

The Bible records that, in John 19: 30, that Jesus said: ‘It is finished.’ (The only other words He spoke after this was: ’Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23: 46) When we read the words that it was finished, we can read into them the aura of defeat and desperation, that all did not go to plan and that the situation was the last roll of the dice.

However, that is not the case as is evidenced by the Greek word tetelestai that used by the writer both in this verse and in verse 28. It is the word that is used in the marketplace for it would have been inscribed on business contracts or receipts to show that the business transaction had been completed. It means that the time had come for the plan of action to be completed.

It was the plan that had been set out before creation and would come to fulfilment on that one moment on the cross. God had looked down the corridors of time and knew that it would take the momentous sacrifice of Himself on the cross to bring rebellious, sinful people back into relationship with Him.

The words are explicit; ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.’ (Galatians 4: 4 – 5)

We can also find this sentiment in the what is often called the High Priestly Prayer before Jesus was arrested. He prayed to the Father: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world was begun.’ (John 17: 4 – 5)

The means of the glorification was explained by Jesus to Nicodemus earlier in the same gospel: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man  must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’ (John 3: 14 – 15)
However, Jesus did not converse in the Greek language whilst He was on earth, but in Aramaic. The actual words He would have spoken are mashelem.

The word shelemcomes from the more familiar word shalom, which we recognise as being translated as ‘peace’ in our English versions of the Bible.

The memat the commencement of the word shelem indicates a piel infinitive, that is that there is flexible wording. Unlike the Hebrew language, there is no infinitive construction or infinitive in the Aramaic. However, similar to its sister language, the object can come before or after the word. So, in this instance, the objective of the infinitive is the word it.

The word shelemis used 84 times in the Old Testament, particularly where voluntary sacrifices are to be offered (e.g. Exodus 20: 24, Leviticus 7: 27).

In looking the word up, I found that it could mean a) to be in a covenant of peace, to be at peace; and b) to be complete, to be sound.

In its piel format, it can further mean a) to complete, finish; b) to make safe; c) to make whole or good, restore, make restoration; d) to make good, pay; and e) to requite, recompense, reward.

It is only when all of these nuances are taken into consideration that you can understand the completeness of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus knew what He was doing and that it was finished, showing His oneness with the Father in seeking to bring glory to Himself.

In completing His sacrificial work, He was bringing those people who would trust in Him into full relationship with Him, making them eternally safe as John wrote in a letter: ‘the one who is born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.’ (1 John 5: 18) Jesus commented Himself: ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ (John 10: 29 – 30)

In Jesus’ work at Calvary, we have been saved (through our redemption by His blood), are being saved (through the ongoing work of sanctification) and will be saved (through His work of glorification). In Christ, the work of Adam and Eve by rebelling against God has been undone so, as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, we will be welcomed into the heavenly city. His work of restoration has been completed and its full effects will be seen when we spend eternity with Him.

It is to be noted that the word shelem comes from the same root as the more familiar shalom. It is the first word that Jesus proclaims to His disciples (John 20: 19). However, it is more than just peace that He is bringing to them.

It was the confirmation of what Jesus had previous assured them. In the upper room, He had comforted them by saying: ‘Do not let your hearts be trouble. Trust in God; trust also in me.’ (John 14: 1)

The word comes from three Hebrew letters – shin, lamed and men. It means completeness and wellbeing.

Perry Yoder, the author of ‘Shalom: the Bible’s word for Salvation, Justice and Peace’) has argued that for shalom to be present in a person, family, community or country, there has to be the threefold combination of personal integrity, material wellbeing and social justice. 
When these three are in evidence together, there will be a society of wholeness and wellbeing.

It has been further argued that these three strands of shalom are interconnected and inter-related. The argument runs that, in order to be pursuing shalom, we need to be upholding and advocating social justice and equality in our communities, the material needs of all people to be met, to be working toward these objectives with honesty and integrity.

The point has to be made, however, is that none of these goals will be reached when there is no shalom for individuals and, after all, it was to the individual disciples that Jesus addressed.

Furthermore, there would be no shalom apart from Jesus for He announced that the completeness, the human prosperity had been accomplished on the cross. Our wholeness can only be fulfilled in in and be satisfied in Him.

We have seen it in the Church as the prosperity ‘gospel’ has been propagated and in society at large as materialism and consumerism has swept across our world like a plague of locusts.

Even in the Old Testament, this lack of shalom was evident: ‘From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it was not serious. ‘Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace.’ (Jeremiah 6: 13 – 14 cf. Ezekiel 13: 10)

It can only be granted through relationship with the Almighty as David found: ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’ (Psalm 4: 8)

We have the great announcement by the angels that we are reminded of in the Christmas  period that the purpose of Christ’s coming was to bring us that shalom: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.’ (Luke 2: 14)

It is through His sacrifice on the cross and our relationship with Him that true shalomcan be experienced as seen in Romans 8: 6; 14: 17; Galatians 1: 3; 5: 22 – 23. The faith that we can have in the One who gave His all for us is evident: ‘You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.’ (Isaiah 26: 3) Indeed, we are living in tumultuous times and yet still know that wholeness that only God can provide.

In Isaiah chapter 32, the prophet outlined the terrible things that were going to happen in that country and still he can affirm: ‘My people will live in peaceful dwelling-places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.’ (32: 18)

I have known times of terrorism on our streets that have impacted personally, disturbance in the neighbourhood, as well as times of personal conflict. Yet, I have known that completeness within me that only Jesus Christ can give. He has gone through the time of suffering and dying so He can proclaim that the time of wholeness, completeness, peace can be given to those people who trust in Him for His glory’s sake.

There is the assurance in the Bible that, just as Jesus Christ pronounced shalom had arrived on the cross and then proclaimed it to His disciples after the resurrection,  we will know it in fullest sense when we arrive in heaven to be with Him physically for ever – forever whole, forever complete and forever at peace.