This is the Greek word for the phrase “It is Finished” that Jesus uttered at the cross. In looking into the meaning for this word I did find that the meaning was it is completed. However I never really thought about what the phrase meant fully.
In New Testament times, when an employee had completed a day’s work or finished a project, he would tell his boss “tetelestai.” This was to signal that whatever it was that he was assigned to do was now completed. Similarly, when an artist would complete a piece of art, he would have a moment of unveiling where he would declare “tetelestai.” This too was to signal that his masterpiece was complete. No more touch-ups or adjustments are necessary, the work is done. When Jesus came to this world, he told us what his job was: to provide salvation to a lost and broken world.
So in his last words, Jesus was communicating that the work he came for was accomplished. The task of earning the salvation of the world was completed in his work on the cross. No more additions or adjustments were necessary – salvation was completed.
So as humans we do not need to work to be good enough, holy enough or earn our way to a relationship with God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross he fully completed the payment for our punishment. He restored the covenant with man that God originally extended to us in the Garden of Eden.
Eden was designed to be a place where God could fellowship with man. Genesis 3 tells us that Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. This means that they recognized His presence. God never intended for it to be hard for us to relate to Him. Sadly, we did that all on our own. Judgement and the penalty of Hell was not intended for man. It was intended for satan and the angels who rebelled against God. However God is holy and just and His laws are irrevocable. When Adam and Eve chose to rebel they fell under that same law. In my understanding it’s no different than if you speed on the highway and get pulled over. You are subject to the speed limit. Because mankind chose to sin we were subject to that same judgment.
But the good news and the reason we celebrate the cross and the resurrection is that God loves us and was so moved by that love that He set in place a process that would pay the penalty of all mankind’s sin forever.
If an artist completes a painting but no one looks at it, hangs it for it to be shared what good does it do? Its whole purpose is to be shared. So it is with God, He longs to share a relationship with us. He has painted the picture all we have to do is engage with it, look at it, and see what He has created for us.
So when Jesus spoke the word Tetelestai he was not just saying I am done He was saying I have accomplished all that I set out to do. He restored the breach in the covenant between God and man that was originally extended in the garden and all the blessings from it. We can once again enjoy the sound of the presence of God as He walks with us in the cool of the day if we just accept His gift of salvation.