When Jesus died on the cross he uttered several statements. According to John’s Gospel the last of his words were “it is finished” (John 19:30). In the Greek text this is only one word! That is, τετέλεσται (tetelestai). This is a perfect passive indicative in form. What it denotes is completion. Nothing is left uncertain, all is accomplished. Does this “grammar of the Cross” help us with understanding of the nature of the atonement? I believe it does.
Of course, as Christians that affirm the historic creeds of Christendom, Jesus “for us and our salvation came down and was crucified under Pontius Pilate” is a non-negotiable axiom. But if the redemptive purpose of the cross is the reason Jesus endured it, then that redemptive goal must be achieved given the way Jesus said, “it is finished.” The completion of redemption is not found when a sinner does something in his life to “activate,” “make effective,” “apply” or otherwise make the Atonement work. No. No. Did I say, “no?” Yes, a thousand times “NO!”
The cross itself guarantees the salvation for those Christ came to save otherwise his statement on the cross is evacuated of its meaning. Indeed, that is the goal of some Bible readers. They would much rather that Jesus uttered: “it is started,” or “it is begun.” Then we could cry tetelestai when we, ever so smugly, believe, repent, get baptized, confess, submit or whatever else, or all the above we think that we contribute to the synergism of our redemption. Oh, how much “fairer” that would be clamors the sound of the majority evangelical voice in the land: Jesus did his part and we must do ours! But I will continue to listen to the cry of a derelict man, the man of sorrows, who for us and our salvation died and in the second before he expired re-assured us once and for all that everything necessary for the salvation of God’s people is finished. It’s completed. He only uttered one word before he died; But what a word? It is a simple word yet has the backing of Heaven and the power of the Almighty guaranteeing the efficacy of its claim. One word, the grammar of the cross: τετέλεσται.