Tetelestai CANNOT mean "it is finished" in the context as it is commonly perceived. Although there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING we can do to add to the finished Salvific works of Jesus Christ, John 19:30 needs to be understood in its proper context. For starters, on the day before His crucifixion, Jesus proclaimed that He had already finished the work He was sent to do (John 17:4). Furthermore, Paul stated that Jesus was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25) and clarified that had He not been raised from the dead, we would still be in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). Paul also explained that we are renewed in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7) which is the seal that guarantees our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14) that would be made possible only after the Cross (John 16:7 & 7:38-39). With all this still having to be done, that would mean after He cried out "Tetelestai" there were things Jesus still had to do for us to be Justified, renewed, and sealed by the Holy Spirit in order for us to to be Saved and to receive the guarantee of our inheritance. Therefore, the perspective of the word "tetelestai" meaning "it is finished" needs to be reevaluated...since He wasn't finished.
The Bible and the Catholic Church do teach Christians can be said to be saved/justified by grace alone in the sense that it is God alone, and therefore, God’s grace alone, that is the first cause of our salvation (cf. Titus 3:5-7; Eph. 2:8-9). So, in that sense, we can say ‘Jesus did it all for us’ though not just on the cross, but by his entire life, death, burial, resurrection, and priestly ministry at the right hand of the Father (cf. CCC 517).
So then…how are we to understand - tetelestai in John 19:30?
There are a few layers of understanding with what is going on the Cross of which consists part of the finished works of Christ. Most of the layers are very well understood. However, I would like to present two aspects that are not very well known in contemporary Christianity but were understood in the early Church. Before I begin, there are Jewish perspectives that are necessary for me to present in order to better understand what's going on.
On the evening before the Crucifixion, Jesus instructed Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal (Luke 22:8). According to the rubrics of how the Jews were to celebrate the Passover meal during the days of Jesus (which continues to this day), there were four cups of wine celebrants were required to drink. Each one had a significant meaning. Of the four, the third cup serves as the cup of blessing after the meal containing bread has been blessed. This is the cup Jesus blessed during the Last Supper (Matthew 26-27) and the cup of blessing Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:16. See Mishnah Pesachim 10 for more details on the Seder meal (Passover meal).
As Christians who are unfamiliar with the particularities of the Seder meal, it is easy for us to overlook one important aspect in the formalities of the meal. According to the Mishnah, the rubrics of the Seder meal could not be interrupted. However, this is exactly what Jesus does when He skipped the fourth cup of “Praise and Thanksgiving” (the Hallel). Here's something overlooked by many that occurred during the Passover meal…Jesus singing (Matthew 26:30). How cool is that! Matthew says, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Therefore, Jesus sang. And what did He sing? The Hallel which was simply a recitation of Psalms 113–118. Remember the Psalms are actually songs.
Jesus explained why He was withholding the fourth cup when He explained that He will not drink "the fruit of the vine" until that day when He drinks it new with you in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26-29). We even see Jesus rejecting the "fruit of the vine" when it was offered to Him when they arrived at Golgotha just moments before He was Crucified (Mark 15:23). Not drinking the fruit of the vine until He drinks it new with you in His Father’s kingdom, has sparked many interesting commentaries that reflect an understanding of an escatological event. However, Jesus does indeed drink "the fruit of the vine" after He is Crucified. Recall that Jesus interrupted the rubrics of the Seder meal by refraining to drink the fourth cup that was necessary in order to complete the Passover meal. The mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is well understood as the fulfillment of the old Passover lamb where now Jesus has become the New Passover Lamb by which death now passes over us. But in the manner that the Passover celebration was not complete until the fourth cup was consummated, the New Passover Sacrifice of Lamb of God was not complete until Jesus drank from "the fruit of the vine" as well. It wasn't until Jesus consumed the sour wine (vinegar) that He cried out, "Consummatum est" as it is read in the Latin Vulgate of John 19:30.
But there is another layer of understanding that is incorporated when Jesus said, It is finished:
The members of the Body of Christ, as a whole, are regarded as the Church as well as the Bride of Christ. As it is well understood in ancient Judaism, a marriage consisted of a betrothal period where the groom would have to prepare a place (home) for his new bride. Being mindful of the view of the Church as the body of Christ, John 14:2-3 is put into a better perspective when Jesus explains that He is going away to prepare a place for you. Who is the “you” that Jesus is referring to? His Bride.
Although a couple were considered legally married during the betrothal period, the marriage was finalized when the marriage was consummated. Therefore, a reasonable question one could ask is, "When was the marriage between Christ and His Bride consummated?"
Because the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the Church in 382 AD wanted to make it more readily available to the common people by writing it in their language - Latin. The word for "common people" in Latin is translated as "vulgus". Therefore, the very first translation of the Bible was written in Latin and was given the name "The Latin Vulgate" because it was for the "Latin common people".
So as we marinate in our minds the question I posed (regarding when was the marriage between Jesus and His Bride consummated) while reading John 16:30 where Jesus says, “It is finished”...in the Latin Vulgate it is written as, "Consummatum est!" which actually translates to, "It has been consummated!".
I know there are people hating me right now but I didn't make this up. I'm just in the marketing department... I'm not in management, lol. 😄
To fully grasp the Bible is to understand it as a whole. The Bible is a long beautiful love story about a marriage. It begins with a marriage (Genesis 2:21-24), reaches its height with a marriage (Genesis 2:21-24), and ends with a marriage and wedding celebration (Revelation 19:6-9, 21:1-2).
St. Augustine (354 - 430 AD), in his Sermon Suppositus, 120:3, he states, "Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his nuptial chamber… He came even to the marriage-bed of the cross, and there, ascending it, he consummated a marriage. And when he sensed the creature sighing in her breath, he surrendered himself to torment for his bride in a communication of love."
The Protestant theology of "It is finished" is a more recent development that's not on par with the teaching of the early Church. But allow me to better explain the marriage-bed of the cross.
To better understand the New Testament is to view it in light of the Old Testament since the New Testament is hidden in the Old while the Old is revealed in the New. That being said, when Adam was asleep - from his side came his bride. While Jesus "slept", from His side came His Bride - the Church. There's more to be said but I want to finish with the quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the official teaching compendium listed by numbered paragraphs:
(CCC 796, quoting St. Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms 74:4)
The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the
distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride… He has joined her with himself in an everlasting
covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body. (Eph 5:29).
Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of the “wedding-feast of the Lamb.”
God who created man out of love also calls him to love—the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man.
The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and
giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus
preparing for “the wedding-feast of the Lamb.”
The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.
Already Baptism, the entry into the people of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak
the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.
There's a whole lot more to say…but I'll just leave it at that. I'm not sure this will be well received but I am hoping that it'll give you something to think about.
Your Brother In Christ,
Marky D. “ In the House”
P.S. I'm sorry for the super long paragraph. When I was writing this, the field where this post was written kept rejecting my paragraphs so I had to write this as one long paragraph.