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I’m looking for a historical source on any Jewish sacrificial ritual (e.g., Passover, Day of Atonement) in which the high priest would cry something like, “It is finished.” I’ve seen a number of blogs saying that such a thing happened, but I cannot find anything like it on Sefaria.org or in more reliable Bible commentaries. I also have seen a few online discussions on what the Hebrew equivalent of τετελεσται would be, and all the answers seems somewhat speculative. With that in mind, I’m beginning to believe that there is no well known tradition of a priest saying “it is finished” at the end of a ceremony.

Part of the reason why I am asking is because I am wondering if Jesus said “I thirst” (John 19:28) because His tongue was cleaving to the top of his mouth (Psalm 22:15), and Jesus needed some water to better enunciate “it is finished.” When He said “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani” those standing at the base of the cross could not understand what He was saying (Matthew 27:46).

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    I've read stories that are trying to correlate the timing of Christ's death on the cross with the Priest saying "It is Finished" but I could find no credible source for such Jewish ritual. In fact one source admitted he had related that when younger but later learned that he had only been repeating what someone else told him, and that he could not justify that from any real source. He concluded it was a myth.
    – Gina
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 1:03
  • The entire assembly worshiped, as the singers sang and the trumpeters played. They continued until the burnt sacrifice was completed. 2 Chronicles 29:28 NET
    – Betho's
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 2:01
  • @Roberto וּכְכַלֹּ֖ות is a different word with different meaning in 2 Chr. 29:28.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 1:16
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3 Answers 3

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I am still looking for an actual for the Passover Priest making the statement. This is not in the Old Testament. Thus, we would need other sources. I don't know that it is a valid statement. Here is related background. By the way, the family's father would be the priest for the Passover lamb.

Because sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., this is unlikely to be found in a Jewish source. Maybe the only reliable possibility of a source is the early church fathers, unless a source is before the 1st century.

I searched through the Works of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. I searched through Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Longmans, Green, and Co. and found no reference to this. It is unlikely considering the verse.

 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect [τετελειωμένον NA28, הֻשְׁלַם BSI, הַמֻּשְׁלָם Delitzsch ] forever. (Heb. 7:27–28, ESV)

In the Mosaic Law passages in the Pentateuch, the verb שָׁלֵם in the piel has the meaning of make restitution. It means to be complete, finished, ended and is the verb Jesus most likely used when he said "it is finished."

See Tetelestai - What did Jesus really say in John 19:30 assuming he spoke Aramaic or Hebrew?

[שָׁלֵם ... vb. be complete, sound ... Pi. complete, requite, ... 1. be complete, finished, ended: temple ... 2. make safe, c. acc. Jb 8:6. 3. make whole or good, restore thing lost... 4. make good, i.e. pay, vows, c. acc.... 5. requite, recompense, reward, good -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). In Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 1022). Clarendon Press.

See also Word Study: It is Finished

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The scriptures teach that a major event happened when Christ died--which was just after his declaration that "It is finished" (that was his last breath). So roughly simultaneous to this declaration, was what occurred in the temple in that moment.

45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. 46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:45-46, KJV)

Other versions of the story give similar evidence, along with additional detail.

37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. (Mark 15:37-38, KJV)

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:50-53, KJV)

So the priest who was officiating in the temple at that hour might have been horrified to see the veil between the holy place and the most holy place torn apart, such that he, and all others peering through the opening, could look into the most holy place--the place that traditionally the high priest had entered only once a year, on the day of atonement, with great soul-searching and reverence lest he be struck down by a holy God for having profaned His sanctuary. No common citizen, or even most of the priests, had ever before been permitted to look into the most holy place, and now, not only can the priest see inside, but anyone can.

The most holy place did not at this time house the ark of the covenant. To preserve it in a time of peril, centuries earlier, the priests had hidden it away in a secluded location--where it presumably remains to this day, not yet having been discovered (though many have tried to claim they've found it). So the Shekinah glory had long since been absent from the sanctuary, and there was no danger of a recurrence of the slaughter of Bethshemesh (see 1 Samuel 6:19).

Still, the ritual of entering the most holy place but once a year, and only by the high priest, had been preserved until the time of Jesus' death. And when the priest witnessed the veil being torn, from top to bottom--obviously not by human hands, he would have been astonished. The shock would have been too much for words. In place of saying "it is finished," the priest would have stood dumbfounded, unable to continue his normal service. The lamb he is about to slay, escapes from his hand, and he has no strength, nor mind, to prevent it.

There is no record of the priest saying anything at this moment. The horrific desecration of the sanctuary by the supernatural rending of the veil would have caused all who stood by to tremble--as also the earth did, the earthquake being recorded in Matthew's account of these scenes. In times of such astonishment and shock, people's voices fall silent.

Conclusion

There is no record of the officiating priest uttering anything at the time of Jesus' death; nor should such an utterance be expected. The major event which occurred at the temple, witnessed by all present, was the rending of the veil, permitting all to see into the most holy place. This was accompanied by an earthquake. No words are on record as being spoken by anyone there present at the temple at that moment.

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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). (CCC 1602) 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.” (CCC 1604) 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. (CCC 1612) 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.” (CCC 1617) 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.

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