Tetelestai, it is finished: Not a last-gasp cry of defeat, but a shout of victory

Jesus died and rose again so we may have abundant life right now. This Holy Week, leading to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, Salt&Light invites you to find out more about Jesus.

Dr Ang Chin Sim // April 4, 2023, 12:05 pm


Photo by CRISTIANO DE ASSUNÇÃO on Unsplash.

The first time I heard this Greek word – tetelestai – I was intrigued. The ancient Greeks boast of being able to say much in very little. To engender a sea of matter in a drop of language was deemed as the perfection of oratorical skills.

Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish”. It signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. This was what Jesus declared on the cross before He gave up His Spirit. Here are some examples of the usage of the word tetelestai.


After completing a task set by a master, the servant would go back to the master and say “tetelestai”, meaning “ I have finished what you told me to do”. Jesus said: “I have come to do the will of my father and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

The task that God gave Jesus, the sacrificial lamb of God, would culminate in and be completed at the cross. By submitting to the Father’s will, Jesus displayed ultimate servanthood.


Before a lamb was sacrificed, the priest would inspect it to make sure that it was without spot or blemish. If it was so, the priest would pronounce “tetelestai”, that is, it is without blemish.

Peter would say that Jesus is the Lamb without spot or blemish, the perfect sacrifice. As Peter testifies, “we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Battle victory

Soldiers who were victorious over their enemies would declare “tetelesai”. This is a victory cry.

On the cross, when Jesus cried out “tetelestai”, He was not giving the last gasp of a worn-out life in defeat. He was declaring victory over Satan, sin and death.

His divine accomplishment as the Redeemer of sinners had now been completed.


When an artist created a work of art, for instance, a painting or sculpture, he would inspect it at the end and say “tetelestai”.

The prophecies in the Old Testament were not often understood until events had come to pass. For us who now have access to both the Old and New Testament, we can see how God’s plan throughout the ages unfolded beautifully.

The promised seed of a woman that would crush the serpent’s head, as recorded in Genesis 3:15, was fulfilled in Jesus. It’s an intricately woven story with God superintending every twist and turn, and it’s God’s artistic masterpiece that we can recognise as “tetelestai”.

Freed prisoner

When a Roman citizen was convicted of a crime, he would be thrown into prison.

Soldiers who were victorious over their enemies would declare “tetelesai”. This is a victory cry.

A certificate of debt would be nailed in front of his prison cell listing all the crimes he had committed.

When that prisoner had served his time, the judge who put him in prison would write on the certificate of debt: Tetelestai. 

The freed prisoner would keep the certificate in case he was ever questioned about why he was no longer a prisoner. This enabled the ex-prisoner to feel safe and secure that he wouldn’t be put back into prison for the same crimes that he had committed.

We, too, are freed prisoners. The only difference is that we could never pay the price. Jesus paid the price on our behalf and freed us from the prison of our sins. (Romans 8:2)

Full payment

The merchants used the term tetelestai when a transaction was completed with full payment. This word would be written on receipts.

Jesus has paid the price for our sins. It is a complete, full and perfect payment, a once-and-for-all transaction. 

In the words of the hymn by Elvina Hall, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left its crimson stain, He washed me white as snow.” 

The one and only perfect sacrificial Lamb of God ensured that the price of our sins was paid in full. No one can add to or subtract from this transaction. It is a complete, full and perfect payment, a once-and-for-all transaction. 

Interestingly tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. The past tense looks back to an event and says: “ This happened.” By comparison, the perfect tense speaks of an action that has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present.

Jesus didn’t say: “I am finished”, because that would imply he died spent in exhaustion and defeat. When He cried out: “It is finished”, He meant that “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present and it will remain finished in the future.”

Good news, today and always

As we meditate on what Easter means, we are so grateful that a single word – “tetelestai” – is good news to us.

Even before the foundations of the earth and the existence of mankind, the Godhead had a purpose and plan to redeem us by the precious blood of Christ.

The servanthood Christ displayed through the act of submitting Himself as the perfect sacrifice, meant that He paid the full price to release us prisoners from the curse of sin and death.

Tetelestai! is the Saviour’s victory cry, and we can say “Amen!” to the finished Masterpiece that endures throughout the ages!


It is finished: Do tough times challenge the “good” in Good Friday?

Whisper in the dark: “Jesus is risen”

Connecting the dots on Good Friday


About the author

Dr Ang Chin Sim

Dr Ang Chin Sim is a Consultant Ophthalmologist at ACS Eye Specialists in Malaysia. She enjoys being creative, finds much joy in God's creation and dabbles in poetry, music, dance and writing. She was part of Overseas Christian Fellowship Adelaide as a student and has been serving in Malaysia since she graduated.