Our church recently benefited from a sermon by Paul Haines on John 19.30. Specifically, he unpacked some of what Jesus meant by “It is finished” (tetelesthai). Jesus did not mean “Whew! I’m glad that’s over. I’ve had it with all this so I’m done!” That would require “I’m finished” (tetelemai?).
He meant what a king means when he’s taken an enemy stronghold. He raises the flag and announces not that the battle is simply over, but that it is won. Therefore, by “finished” (teleo) Jesus did not mean “over,” but “completed” or “accomplished.” And that completeness–the “finished-ness“–remains so until this day and for eternity (hence, the perfect tense rather than aorist).
The it that was completed is the substance of Scripture and the source of our deepest worship. I won’t belabor all that it could mean (because I don’t know). But Jesus summarized it in Jn 17.4 as “the work You have given Me to do.” John’s Gospel is about that work.
I was woken up early this morning by our daughter’s cough. I was kept up by this verse. Specifically, I wondered if Jesus’ announcement that he’d completed his work had any correlation to the same announcement in Genesis 2.1-2. If someone has already written on this connection then please let me know. If not, then consider what follows to be a silly attempt by a proud man trying to matter.
God created all things in six days and on the seventh day rested from all his work (LXX: ergon). God did not announce that his creative work was simply over, but completed (LXX: suntelesen). He did not clock out on the sixth day saying, “Well, that should do for now. I’ll take tomorrow off.” God’s goal in creation was accomplished. Whatever he intended by the previous six days work was done. There was no need to go further. He had put all things in place to accomplish his will.
When Jesus announced his finished work in Jn 19.30 I wonder if he was echoing God’s creative work. Was he providing the substance/fulfillment of God’s sacramental creation? Was Jesus giving us the hermeneutic by which we interpret Genesis 1-2? Was God’s goal in creation more than just biology, ecology and sociology? Might it be that the created order in nature foreshadowed his re-created order in Christ? If so, then Genesis 1-2 are not merely about creationism, but re-creationism. And what Genesis 1-2 are to creation, John’s Gospel is to re-creation.
Let’s note some interesting elements of John’s Gospel. John began “in the beginning” where Christ (the Logos) existed as God and through whom God created the world (1.1-3). Where did God begin his creative activity in Genesis 1.3? With light shining in darkness. Where did John go from his beginning? With Light shining in darkness (1.4-5).
From there John takes us through Jesus’ famous “seven signs” that demonstrate he is the “Sent One.” Each sign grows in intensity and relative impossibility. They all contribute some piece to redemption’s puzzle, all point to some aspect of Jesus’ work. They culminate in the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11.1-46), which is the final piece to the work Jesus was sent to complete.
Might these signs mirror the seven days of creation that end in God’s rest? John masterfully began “in the beginning” and marched through seven signs: Jesus’ work (ergon) of redemption that culminate in his eternal rest from that work (resurrection life). Therefore, John 19.30 is to John 1.1 what Genesis 2.1-2 are to Genesis 1.1. This makes Jesus’ statement in Jn 17.4 all the more amazing. Anticipating his death and resurrection, He declared the completion of re-creation. What God had declared at creation–my work (ergon) is complete–is now what Jesus declared at re-creation.
Every day the sun rises is of a piece of God’s creative activity. The sunrise is not a new work of God, but part of the completed work of God. And because of Christ we now see the purpose of the sunrise: to declare that light always overcomes darkness. The Light always overcomes The Darkness (see Rev 21.23-24). It is finished. And now every day a person repents and believes is of a piece of God’s completed re-creative activity.
What’s the upshot of all this? The cross was not God’s best effort at creating new life. This assumes he’s put all the pieces in place, but it’s not done until someone completes the work by repenting and believing. He’s made new life possible, but not actual. Is that what we saw at creation? When God rested on the seventh day did he say, “Well, I’ve put all the pieces in place. Now, I hope the sun rises. I hope Adam chooses to breathe now that I’ve given him life”? Certainly not.
With his last God-forsaken breath Jesus declared God’s work finished, not mostly finished or finished insofar as God held up his end of the bargain. He declared it finished so that every child God gave him will indeed come (i.e. will behold the Son and believe in him, Jn 6.39-40). And every child who comes will be forever secure (Jn 6.37; 10.28-29). There’s not one more ounce of effort God must expend to see all his children come to him. It is finished. Jesus has now “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1.3; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2). Whereas earthly high priests got in and out of the Holy of Holies as quick as possible, Jesus has sat down in The Holy of Holies (Heb 8-9). Whereas earthly high priests had to secure their anchor outside the veil, Jesus is our anchor inside the veil (Heb 6.19-20).
God’s creative work is not complete because the sun rises. The sun rises because God’s creative work is accomplished. Likewise, God’s redemptive work is not finished because a person repents and believes. A person repents and believes because God’s work is finished. That’s what Jesus announced and could finally rest from his anguish, pain and toil. He could now rest and so gave up his spirit. Now, the Spirit could finally come and dwell in God’s people, not merely with them. Regeneration, repentance and faith are not things left undone at the cross. He made sure they will now in fact happen because of the cross. Now, we never have to worry if there is some salvific loose end that we’ll miss. Rather, we trust confidently and hope assuredly that all God needs to save us has been accomplished. We now rest because Jesus has rested (Heb 4).
I welcome any help, elaboration, correction and chastisement you could offer. Is this connection between John’s Gospel (specifically 19.30) and Genesis 1-2 legitimate? Or, has this already been settled and I’ve merely proven my ignorance once again? Or, should I have taken some NyQuil and gone back to sleep?
2 thoughts on “Creation and the Cross”
I don’t have an answer as to whether the parallel has been drawn before. One would think that it has. Especially for those who take a systematic approach to the scriptures and look for Jesus in the Old Testament. With that being said, I don’t recall ever hearing that parallel drawn, but that is not saying much.
Thanks for taking the time to write it. I benefited from it. I may post a link to it on my site if I have your permission.
Have a good day BJ. If you don’t mind, tell Preston I send my greetings.
Permission granted, unless it’s ridiculously wrong. In that case this conversation never happened.
I will joyfully pass along your greetings to Preston.