Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

234. "It is finished" (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:28-30)*

"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled saith, I thirst" (Jn.19:28).

There is no hint who the rough ignorant son of Israel was who responded to the Lord's cry, but-as will be seen-he not only quenched thirst but also enabled Jesus to spend the last minutes of his earthly life precisely as he would wish to use them.

The man ran to get a sponge (specially provided for the crucifixion?) saturated it with "vinegar" (the cheap wine provided for the Roman soldiers?), pushed the end of a reed of hyssop into it, and held it up to Jesus' mouth Was he, one wonders, kind enough to do thp same for the other two?


There is so much of symbolism in the gospels' crucifixion narratives, and especially in John's, that one is constrained to look again at this mention of hyssop. It was to be used with the blood of the Lamb at the first Passover (Ex.12 :8,22). It was prescribed for the cleansing ceremony of a man suffering from leprosy, the sin disease (Lev.14 :4,6,49-52). It was an integral part of the ordinance of the red heifer which provided a limitless water of purification outside all the other sacrificial appointments (Num.19 :6,18). None of these is without relevance to this solemn occasion. (See also Study 236).

It is because John wrote: "that the scripture might be fulfilled," that the strange assumption is sometimes made that Jesus deliberately said. "I thirst" in order to fulfil the one remaining prophecy which he had not yet fulfilled. Such an explanation is only to be received if there is no alternative available. It was not the Lord 's habit to go through life fulfilling Old Testament prophecies just for the sake of fulfilling them. And, m any case, if this were the right idea, then it would not be correct to say that "all things were now accomplished." What of the prophecies associated with his burial, resurrection and ascension —to say nothing or all that stands written concerning his priesthood and kingship?

There must be something else behind this simple incident. The word "fulfilled' provides the key, for it is not the word normally used in the New Testament to intimate the fulfilment or prophecy, it is not, for example, the same word as is used only a few verses later: ". . .that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken" (Jn.19 :36; cp.v.24 and scores of other places). In fad, in no passage is this word "fulfilled" (v.28) used about the fulfilment of prophecy. Its more exact meaning is: "completed, finished" (e.g. Lk.2 :43) and in the light of Study 232 the scripture referred to may well be Psalm 22.

A psalm recited

It is known for certain that Jesus quoted the words of verse 1 of that Psalm (with a certain deliberate modification). Reason has also been found (Study 232) for believing that he may also have used verse 8: "He trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him." And at verse 15 this agonizing thirst of Jesus is also included in the details of the prophecy: "My strength Is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws."

Yet it is hardly likely that one who had already refused to be drugged against the first excruciation of pain and the long drawn-out torture of crucifixion would be likely all at once to seek relief from this lesser phase of torture.

It is not unreasonable, then, to believe that Jesus was actually reciting the entire psalm on the cross, and that when he came to this place in it his dry throat and parching thirst would allow him to proceed no further. So in order that "the scripture might be completed" (that is, his reciting of it), he asked that his thirst might be quenched.

Further, there is some indication that Jesus did recite psalm to its very end. Scholars as different in character as Bullinger and W. A. Wordsworth have separately pointed out that Christ's "It is finished" (read as Greek middle voice, and not passive) is the exact equivalent of the last phrase of Psalm 22: "he hath done this.''

Thus no less than four verbal contacts can be found between the words of Jesus on the cross and the inspired prophecy concerning his sufferings. When, in addition to this, the marvellous accuracy of the prophecy and the wide sweep and power of its thought are contemplated, it would be an ever, bigger marvel if Jesus had hung all day on the cross without resorting to its words for help anc solace in his loneliness.

Exact detail

It is a psalm or one who reckoned God as his Father: "Thou art he that took me out of the womb," one who was despised and rejected of men : "All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him." The manner of his death is foretold: "They pierced my hands and my feet" (the Hebrew text here-"like a lion"-is clearly wrong; a very slight correction, supported by LXX, gives: "they dug"; (s.w. 40 :6; 57 :6). The dividing of garments and the casting of lots for his vesture is explicitly anticipated. This suffering and death is brought about only through a confederacy of Gentile and Jewish enemies: "Dogs (Gentiles) have compassed me: the assembly (Sanhedrin) of the wicked have enclosed me."

Yet this unique picture of loneliness and suffering inflicted by implacable enemies merges into a confident expectation of achievement and glory. No longer loneliness, but fellowship: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee . . . My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him." The sufferings of this Son of God shall yet send forth a message of godliness to both Jews and Gentiles: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." Through this Man who dies, crucified, a scorned King of the Jews, "the kingdom shall be the Lord's: and he shall be the governor among the nations."

A yet more glorious outcome of his tribulation and rejection is this: a new Family of God is called into being: "A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation." And a people new-born through his righteousness are to celebrate with gladness that this is the work of God which they could in no wise do for themselves: "He hath done this."

A shout of triumph

If these concluding words of the psalm were indeed used by Jesus on the cross, then his "It is finished" was no gasp of thankfulness that at last the ordeal was ended. It was a shout of triumph. John's narrative implies as much by its sequel: "And he bowed his head" (on this, compare Ps.3 :l-5). But the head of a crucified man naturally sags forward. So this consideration establishes that Jesus uttered these words in a loud shout (Mt.27 :46,50) and with head uplifted. It was a shout of triumph. God's redeeming work in His Christ was accomplished, and the concluding words of Psalm 22 were the crucified's filial tribute of praise to "a just God and a Saviour."

The sudden collapse and death of Jesus so soon after giving voice to a great shout has been seen as a difficulty of some consequence amounting almost to a discrepancy. But if he actually had set himself to recite the whole of Psalm 22, as he proceeded he would find it necessary to summon all his failing physical powers to carry through to the end. Now pain and torment were lost as he found himself carried away by the majestic theme of the words on his lips. Self and suffering were obscured and altogether forgotten as the inspired scripture led him on to a matchless climax of praise and gladness that the Father had wrought through him the great redemption that was to save a stricken creation from utter ruin.

The ground rocked in a mighty earthquake beneath him, the cross on which he hung shuddered with the shock of it, yet on he went. Regardless now of all around, he gave himself in a supreme act of devotion to the Almighty who had made him strong for Himself.

Nothing could be more fitting than that the Son of God should concentrate all his remaining physical and mental energies in a final act of public consecration to his Father in Heaven. The swaddling bands of mortality had been with him from manger to cross, yet through all the years, and now supremely in their close, there was "Glory to God in the highest."

The hymn of praise ended. "He bowed his head, and gave up the spirit." This may be a simple Bible equivalent for "he breathed his last," but it is also possible that John intended a deeper meaning . "He bowed his head (towards his disciples), and handed over the Spirit (to them)." The symbolism of the action would only be understood in later days, when it may have been linked in the minds of the early believers with the symbolic action of the risen Jesus: "He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit."

It was with yet another word of Scripture (quoted, remarkably, from LXX) that Jesus passed into the darkness: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." (Peter alludes to this, very appropriately, in 1 Pet.4 :19). The words are from Psalm 31 :5: and it may surely be assumed that the rest of that verse: "Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth", was on his lips when divine power restored him to life on the third day.

Luke's emphasis

Even though Luke's record of the crucifixion does not mention the Lord's quotation from Psalm 22, certain parts of his account correspond remarkably with parts of the Psalm:

Psalm 22

Luke 23
Dogs (Gentiles) have compassed me.
The soldiers mocking him.

The assembly (Sanhedrin) of the wicked have inclosed me.
The rulers derided him.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
They parted his raiment, and cast lots

They look and stare upon me.
The people stood beholding.
Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns (the cherubim).
The veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
Ye that fear the Lord.
The centurion glorified God.

All ye seed of Jacob..
All the people smote their breasts.

All ye the seed of Israel
All his acquaintance and the women.

Luke's account also brings out some remarkable antitheses.

  1. the repentant malefactor and the one who cursed (v. 39,40).
  2. The centurion who later glorified God, and the soldiers who earlier mocked (v.47,36).
  3. The great men of the nation-Joseph of Arimathea confessing faith, and the men of the Sanhedrin deriding (v.50,35).
  4. The common people beating their breasts, and those standing and staring (v.48,35).
  5. The women with Christ to the last, and those lamenting him on the way to crucifixion (v.55,27).
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