March 2012 - Vol. 58

Jesus' Crucifixion: “It is finished”
by Jeanne Kun
On the Cross the name of the Father is supremely “hallowed,” and his Kingdom irrevocably comes; in the “consummatum est” his will is definitively done.
  Pope John Paul II, Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday 1999
The evangelist John was an eyewitness to the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, and so we have a record of Jesus’ last words: “It is finished” (John 19:30). On a literal level, these words signify the end of Jesus’ life as he gave up his spirit to the Father. But they also express satisfactioneven triumph. In colloquial speech today, Jesus might have said, “Mission accomplished!” 

God sent his Son into the world to heal the separation between God and humanity caused by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Christ’s crucifixion was not a failure of his mission or a meaningless waste of a good man’s life cut off too soon, but God’s chosen means for our redemption: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16). And so by his death, Jesus’ mission was completed. As Scripture scholar Jean-Pierre Prévost notes: 

The Greek verb tetelestai means “brought to its accomplishment.” Like he has done so many times, John uses here double entendre. The word “finished” refers to the physical and temporal end limit of Jesus’ life. But it also tells, at the same time, about the total accomplishment of the mission entrusted to him by the Father.
After this declaration of his achievement, Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). This “giving up” or “delivering over”in Greek, paradidomiis the same word used by St. Paul when he says that God “did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32, emphasis added). Paul uses a similar phrase when referring to Christ: Jesus “gave himself up” (Ephesians 5:2, 25; see also Galatians 2:20), indicating that Jesus purposely delivered himself up to death for our sake.

When Jesus breathed his last, he both handed his spirit back to the Father and handed on the Holy Spirit to the Church. The water that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side symbolizes the Spirit made available to humanity because Jesus had now been glorified in the “lifting up” on the cross (John 19:34; 7:39; 12:32). His blood is a symbol of the redeeming work of the cross. Moreover in this water and blood, the early Fathers of the Church saw allusions to the life-giving Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. 

Also symbolic are Jesus’ words to John, the “beloved disciple,” who stood with Mary near enough to the cross to hear his dying master speak: “Woman, here is your son. . . . Here is your mother” (John 19:25-27). With these words Jesus created a new family: Mary received from Jesus a son in the beloved disciplewho represents each of usand thus became the spiritual mother of all the faithful. 

It is noteworthy that in Jesus’ crucifixion we see the fulfillment of an important Jewish ritual, the annual Day of Atonement. On that day each year, the high priest entered into the inner tabernacle with an offering to atone for Israel’s sins. On Golgotha Jesus was both the victim and the great high priest. The atoning sacrifice was no longer the blood of an animal but Jesus’ own blood. No longer was it necessary for the high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, which was a symbol of the heavenly tabernacle. Now Jesus offered himself directly to his Father in heaven. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews points to Jesus’ dual role as victim and priest: 

[I]t was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:26-27)
The twentieth-century Catholic apologist Frank Sheed explained the meaning and effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death this way:
What [Jesus] had become man to do was now done: expiation had been made, sufficient and overflowing for the first sin which had made the breach between God and the human race, and for all the sins by which the breach had been widened. This was atonement. Disguised by our pronunciation, the meaning of the word is at-one-ment. God and the human race had been at-two: now, and forever, they would be at one. Individual men might still separate themselves from God, but no one could separate the race of man. (To Know Christ Jesus)


1. Read Genesis 22:1-19. As the commentary in The Navarre Bible states, 

The sacrifice of Isaac has features which make it a figure of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Thus, there is the father giving up his son; the son who surrenders himself to his father’s will; and the tools of sacrifice such as the wood, the knife and the altar. The account reaches its climax by showing that through Abraham’s obedience and Isaac’s non-resistance, God’s blessing will reach all the nations of the earth (cf. v. 18). So, it is not surprising that Jewish tradition should attribute a certain redemptive value to Isaac’s submissiveness, and that the Fathers should see this episode as prefiguring the passion of Christ, the only Son of the Father. 
 What does this mysterious and painful story add to your understanding of God, the Father “who did not withhold [spare, RSV] his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32)?

2. Reflect on the following passages to enhance your understanding of the cross as an expression of the depth of Christ’s love for you and as a fulfillment of the Father’s plan for your salvation:

[H]e had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
 nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 
He was despised and rejected by others;
 a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
 he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
 and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
 struck down by God, and afflicted. 
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
 crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
 and by his bruises we are healed. 
All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
 the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:2-6)

[Jesus said:] “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

[T]hough he was in the form of God,
 [Christ Jesus] did not regard equality with God
 as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
 taking the form of a slave,
 being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
 and became obedient to the point of death – 
 even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25)

In the Spotlight
The Place of the Skull

Golgotha is the Greek transcription given by Matthew (27:33), Mark (15:22), and John (19:17) of the Aramaic word presumed to be Gûlgaltâ and explained by them to mean “skull.” Luke simply calls the place in Greek Kranion (cranium), without giving the Aramaic form. The familiar English name “Calvary” comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Scripture by St. Jerome, which gives the Latin for skull, calvaria.

The site used by the Romans for the public crucifixion of criminals is thought to have been an abandoned limestone quarry outside the western wall of Jerusalem, where a mound of unquarried rock jutted up twenty to thirty feet from the quarry floor. The place’s name may have been derived from the physical contour of the rock, which possibly resembled a skull. Or, as some scholars propose, the site may have been called Golgotha because it was strewn with the skulls of those who had been executed there (this would have been contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not Roman ones) or in reference to a nearby cemetery (an idea consistent with the numerous tombs that have been found in the area by modern archaeologists). Later legendsinfluenced by the place-name and by Christian typology that recognizes Jesus as the “new Adam” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45)imaginatively consider the place of Christ’s crucifixion to also be the burial place of Adam’s skull.

Gospel accounts indicate that the site of Jesus’ crucifixion was outside the walls of Jerusalem. Most likely it was near a road where it would have been easily seen by those entering and leaving the city through the gate of Ephraim, because pubic execution was intended to be not only a punishment of criminals but a warning to others to avoid the same fate by avoiding their crimes. In A.D. 326 the Roman emperor Constantine had a large basilica built over this site, and today what remains of the rock of Golgotha is venerated under an altar in the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Modern archaeological excavations have established that this site was indeed outside the so-called second north wall of Jerusalem and the gate of Ephraim in the first century.

> Next:Contemplating Christ's Passion, by Jeanne Kun
> See also:Freedom from Sin and Death: "A New Creation

Excerpted from The Life-Giving Power of the Cross: Sharing in Christ's Victory, by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2011). Used with permission. This book can be ordered online.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

John 19:17-37
17 Carrying the cross by himself, [Jesus] went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25And that is what the soldiers did.

 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

1. How well do you think Jesus’ final words from the cross as recorded by John (19:30) summarize the purpose of his life – and death? Read Romans 3:23-25 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 to help you understand what Jesus “accomplished” on the cross, and then describe it in your own words. 

2. Several times St. John refers to Scripture being “fulfilled” in the events on Golgotha: the casting of lots for Jesus’ garments (John 19:23-25 and Exodus 28:32; Psalm 22:18); the fact that none of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19:36, and Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20); observing the piercing of Jesus’ side (John 19:37 and Zechariah 12:10). Why is it significant that these Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled? Why was it so important to John to preserve these details in his gospel?

3. What significance do you see in Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary and John? What do these words, spoken even while he was suffering, reveal about Jesus’ character? About his relationship with his mother and his disciple? 

4. John wrote, “He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth” (John 19:35). Why did John stress so strongly that he was an eyewitness to the events surrounding Jesus’ passion and death (see also 15:27 and 21:24)? 

5. Explain in your own words Jesus’ dual role as victim and priest and how his death is an “atonement.” (You can look up the definition of  “atonement” in a dictionary to enhance your understanding.) 

In the Spotlight
Cry of Joy, Song of Triumph

“It is accomplished.” John 19:30 

It was not an utterance of thanksgiving that his suffering was over and finished, though the humiliation of the Son of Man was now at an end. It was rather that his life from the time of his birth to the time of his death had faithfully achieved what the Heavenly Father sent him to do.

Three times God used that same word in history: first, in Genesis, to describe the achievement or completion of creation; second, in the Apocalypse, when all creation would be done away with and a new heaven and earth would be made. Between these two extremes of the beginning and the accomplished end, there was the link of the sixth utterance from the Cross. Our Divine Lord in the state of His greatest humiliation, seeing all prophecies fulfilled, all foreshadowings realized, and all things done which were for the Redemption of man, uttered a cry of joy: “It is achieved.”

The life of the Spirit could now begin the work of sanctification, for the work of Redemption was completed. In creation, on the seventh day, after the heavens and the earth were finished, God rested from all the work that he had done; now the Savior on the Cross having taught as Teacher, governed as King, and sanctified as Priest, could enter into His rest. There would be no second Savior; no new way of salvation; no other name under heaven by which men might be saved. Man had been bought and paid for. A new David arose to slay the Goliath of evil, not with five stones but with five wounds – hideous scars on hands, feet, and side; and the battle was fought not with armor glistening under a noonday sun, but with flesh torn away so the bones could be numbered. The Artist had put the last touch on his masterpiece, and with the joy of the strong he uttered the song of triumph that his work was completed.

– Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ


1. What is your response to the physical and emotional sufferings of Jesus? Which of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion or which of his words spoken from the cross makes the deepest impression on you? Why?

2. In your own words, paraphrase Jesus’ final declaration, “It is finished.” Describe a mission or task entrusted to you by God that you feel you have faithfully carried out or accomplished. What enabled you to do this?

3. In what ways has Jesus’ accomplishment of his mission on the cross made a difference to you personally in restoring or healing your relationship with God? In what ways does this mission still need completion in your life?

4. In willingly giving himself over to death, Jesus paid an incredible price for our salvation. What does this reveal about his love for you? What could you do to concretely express your love for Jesus? To show your gratitude to him?

5. After Jesus’ death, the beloved disciple “took [Mary] into his own home” (John 19:27). How have you made a place for Mary in your life and in your home? In what way(s) do you honor Mary as your spiritual mother? As the “Mother of the Church”?

In the Spotlight
In the words of the saints

Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.
– Bernard of Clairvaux
Yes, my sweet Savior, I see you all covered with wounds. I look into your beautiful face but, O my God, it no longer wears its beautiful appearance. It is disfigured and blackened with blood and bruises, and shameful spittings: He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). But the more I see you so disfigured, O my Lord, the more beautiful and lovely you appear to me. And what are these disfigurements but signs of the tenderness of that love you have for me?
– Alphonsus Liguori
Look at the Cross and you will see Jesus’ head bent to kiss you, his arms extended to embrace you, his heart opened to receive you, to enclose you within his love.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta


St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known in her Carmelite monastery as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, once wrote to her sister Céline about the crucified Lord: “Jesus is on fire with love for us . . . look at his adorable face! . . . Look at his eyes lifeless and lowered! Look at his wounds. . . . Look at Jesus in his face. . . . There you will see how he loves us” (Letter 87).

Kneel before a cross or crucifix or sit quietly before an image of the suffering Christ and follow Thérèse’s exhortation to look at Jesus’ face and at his wounds. Meditate on Jesus’ great love for you and then express to him your love and your gratitude that he died for your sake and for the sake of all humankind.

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