Some years ago a popular film about the life of Christ showed him on the cross whispering the words ‘it is finished’ in a sense of utter relief that his sufferings were at an end. Somehow that doesn’t do justice to what actually was a moment of supreme triumph.
The word he used was a single one: ‘Tetelestai’ – ‘accomplished’. Surely, he lifted his thorn-crowned head, summoned all his remaining strength, and cried in a voice parched with suffering but exultant in a mighty victory, “I have done what I came to do.”
Calvary was not the tragic end of a brave man but a massive moral and spiritual earthquake of cosmic proportions which changed the course of the river of human history forever and reverberated with devastating power in the corridors of hell. Only then, when all had been accomplished, did Jesus with absolute authority ‘dismiss his spirit’ and commit his earthly being into the Father’s waiting arms!
Matthew’s account of the crucifixion (27:50-53) records that great shout of triumph and act of committal into the Father’s care and then follows with what may be described as a series of ‘after shocks’ to the great Calvary event. Imagine yourself as a priest performing your duties in the Holy Place on that Good Friday. You gaze in wonder at the great veil, 60 feet high and, according to Josephus, four inches thick, its blue, red, white and purple fabric adorned with the figures of golden cherubim, and suddenly you hear a tearing sound as the vast curtain is ripped apart from top to bottom by an unseen hand! Horrified, you find yourself gazing into the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest, once a year, was allowed to go, and in utter terror you run for your life. But what you don’t know yet is that you have just been made redundant!
No doubt they replaced the veil and continued their priestly functions, but the rending of the veil, as the book of Hebrews reminds us, signified the end of animal sacrifices and priestly ministry. From now on ‘the way into the holiest’ was open to all who draw near through faith in Christ. The fingers of the hand that at Sinai had inscribed the Law on tablets of stone now took hold of the veil and ripped it apart because the demands of that Law had been met in the life and death of his beloved Son.
Imagine yourself, ‘far from the madding crowd in its ignoble strife’ which throngs Skull Hill to gawp at Christ’s hideous death, taking a walk in a quiet Jerusalem suburb when, without warning, the earth trembles and great fissures open up at your feet.
Already mystified by the mid-afternoon darkness, you are aghast at what is happening to nature. Actually, you are experiencing an after-effect of the cross. The natural world suffered (and still does) the consequences of mankind’s sinfulness – as Paul says in Romans 8:19-22, creation is ‘in bondage to corruption’ – but the atoning death of Jesus has geological as well as theological implications! It breaks that bondage, reverses the cycle of decay and promises the birth of a new heaven and earth.
The earthquake is a sign of God’s intentions for the universe.
Imagine yourself walking down your street when coming towards you is a man whose funeral you attended 15 years before! Who the resurrected ‘saints’ were and what exactly happened to them we are not told, but what we do know is that this ‘after shock’ of Calvary was a ‘pilot run’ of something which will happen on a massive scale when Jesus comes again.
It is an assurance that in his death Jesus wrested the keys of hell from the grip of Satan and in the power of his resurrection became the author of eternal life to all who believe.