28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)
This is one of the sections of Scripture that I have been looking forward to in John’s gospel narrative for some time. The richness of the biblical imagery that John continues increases our understanding of the death of Christ, and ought to spur us on in our love and worship of the Triune God. Seeing the death of Christ with eyes of faith, as John records it here is such that it will bring us great joy and happiness. It is a strange and wonderful thing that the recorded moments of death of someone could do such a thing as bring us joy. Indeed it is in the final word recorded by John that such joy is brought to us that could not be brought to us by the death of any other – “it is finished.” The wealth that these words contain for our souls I will only be able to scratch the surface of in communicating its truth to you this Lord’s Day. I pray that your spirits would be greatly encouraged by the Word of Christ.
Fulfillment of Scripture: “I Thirst”
We begin first in verse 28. John tells us that Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” One of the things John has shown us time and again is how Jesus often talked about how He had come to do all the works that His Father gave Him to do. And John has shown us time and again how so many things happened and were said in order to fulfill the Scripture. And now Jesus is here, hanging on the cross, having suffered and suffering much, and it says that He knows all is now finished. Then He says, “I thirst,” to fulfill the Scripture. Now I find it fascinating that we have in close connection Jesus knowing all is finished and Him saying “I thirst,” to fulfill the Scripture. You see, how did Jesus know that all was now finished, and it was now time for Him to give up His spirit unto death? How did He know His work was finished? We often think, “Well, Jesus is God, so of course He knew.” Certainly it is true, this is the God-man we are speaking of here. But I would propose to you that Jesus knew that all was finished because He knew the Scripture, which is the Word of God, which is all about the person and work of the Christ. Jesus knew all the Father gave Him to do not only because He is the God-man and He had communion with the Father while on earth, but He also knew it through reading, knowing, and understanding the Scriptures. We see this several times in the gospels in the fact that Jesus will say phrases like, “Have you not read?” or “As it is written,” to refer to something about the Messiah. And this would make sense with the dual theme of Jesus knowing, doing, finishing the will of the Father and that of the Scripture being fulfilled in John’s gospel.
So of course the next question we would ask is “What Scripture is being fulfilled here?” Well what would we expect other than the great crucifixion Psalm, Psalm 22? So much of Jesus’ prayers, thoughts, and experiences of His time on the cross is here in this incredible Psalm. Here is Psalm 22:14-15, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” Particularly there in verse 15, we see the thirst of Christ on the cross when it says, “my tongue sticks to my jaws…” But while we see the thirst of Christ on the cross in Psalm 22, we have an even more obvious passage that is being fulfilled. I want to read a few verses in front of the particular verse so you can hear the lead up. Psalm 69:19-21, “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” So particularly verse 21 there, “…for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”
Think for just a moment about the fact that Christ voluntarily subjected Himself to extreme thirst. This is the same One who caused water to flow from the rock and who turned water into wine. He has all things at His disposal and could quench His thirst with a word, yet He does not, other than to get a bit of sour wine. The only reason He now thirsts is because He submitted Himself to do so that He might suffer in our stead. The only reason He now thirsts is because it was foretold in the Scriptures that He would and He is submitted to do and accomplish the Father’s will, to suffer and to thirst for His people.
He thirsted so that we might never thirst again, that we might drink and be satisfied. He thirsted so that we might come to the Living Waters, the River of Life, and never thirst again.
Not only did He suffer extreme thirst in our stead, but He also was given the sponge of sour wine on our behalf. Psalm 69:21, “…for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” John 19:29, “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” Not only was His extreme thirst a fulfillment of Scripture, but so also is the sour wine given to Him in said state of extreme thirst.
Herein we see how our Lord drank the “bitter cup” for us. It was His cup to bear from the Father that He endure the suffering and shame that He did. It was His bitter cup to drink to be despised and rejected by men. And even greater, was it His bitter cup to become our sin, to bear the curse of sin, and to suffer and endure the justice and punishment for our sin from God. This He drank in our stead, so that we might drink of the sweet wine of grace, and that we might drink freely of the refreshing and all satisfying Living Water and River of Life that is Christ. It is as if all the bitterness and sour wine was drunk down by Christ, that if we are in Him, what comes through Him to us is only sweet and satisfying.
Full Jar and Sponge
We see this in the significance of what verse 29 tells us – that there was a full jar of sour wine and the filled a sponge full of sour wine to give to Him. The fullness of the bitter cross and the sour cup was given to Christ, which He drank for us. This is why there is no sour wine or bitter cup left for us – Christ drank it all. None was reserved from Him.
Though God certainly disciplines and chastens His children, those whom He loves, there is no more punishment or wrath of God left that we must endure. Christ has taken and drank it all.
The soldiers took the sponge full of sour wine and put it on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. Why does John give us this detail of a hyssop branch? Once again I just want to encourage you all as you are reading your bibles and you come across little details like this, not to dismiss them as insignificant or unimportant details, but mark them down, remember them, and notice connections throughout your bible as you read. Because the significance we find with the hyssop branch being lifted to Christ’s mouth with sour wine is truly amazing. It is one of those details that when we discover it, it causes our love for Christ to be stirred up, and causes us to really love our bibles. So, why the detail of the hyssop branch, John? Well, how else do we see it being used in the bible?
Exodus 12:21-23 says this, “Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.’” So in the exodus, Israel was instructed to take this hyssop plant, dip it in the blood of the slain Passover lamb and to use that to put the blood on their doorposts that the angel of death would pass over their home.
But that’s not all. Consider Leviticus 14:1-8:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live[a] clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh[b] water. 6 He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. 8 And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days.
So here in the Levitical laws for cleansing a leper, a hyssop branch was used again to be dipped in blood for purification and cleansing. Certainly this Levitical law would’ve reminded the Israelites about the exodus and how God saved them there and purified them by bringing them out of Egypt, so also that is what He does with the leper.
But that’s not all. Consider Numbers 19:1-10:
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. 3 And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. 4 And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 5 And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. 6 And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. 7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. 9 And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.
So again, a hyssop is used in a purification law for Israel.
But there is one more Scripture I want to mention. Psalm 51, this is the Psalm of David when his sin with Bathsheeba is confronted by the prophet Nathan. Psalm 51:7 says this, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Now why does David ask God to purge him with hyssop? It is because he knew the way that God used hyssop, as a reminder of God’s salvation from death and a continual use of purifying the unclean, that they may be cleansed.
And then we get to the cross of Christ where John now explicitly connects the hyssop branch to Christ, in His sufferings for sin and the redemption and salvation of His people. He shows us that hyssop in Israel’s purification laws were not simply to remind them of the Exodus, but to prepare them for Christ. Any Jew in John’s day who read his gospel would’ve been struck by his use of the hyssop branch and understood the significance. All of those purification laws with hyssop? That was about Christ. It is not the ceremonial law, but it is Christ that cleanses us and purifies us from all sin and unrighteousness and brings us into His camp, and brings us near to God and gives us access to Him. That hyssop for cleansing you’ve been singing about in Psalm 51? That’s about Christ. It is only in Him that we are cleansed and made whiter than snow. It is only in them that the most heinous of sins are completely forgiven and forgotten, as He bore them in His body on the cross.
And the exodus, where the hyssop was dipped into the blood of the slain Passover lamb? Here is Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, the ultimate and true Passover Lamb of God – remember, this was Passover week that Christ was crucified – the hyssop branch was dipped in sour wine and put to His mouth that He might cry out those ultimate words of final cleansing, purification, and salvation, “It is finished!” In those words, we are declared clean. We are pronounced pure.
At the Passover the hyssop was dipped in the blood of the slain Passover lamb and it was painted on the doorposts that the destroyer would pass over them. And so the hyssop dipped in sour wine was touched to the face of Christ, who is our door and only shelter from death. It is only by entering into union with Him, that death, judgment, and hell passes over us, and we are spared, and live in Him.
It is Finished
John 19:30, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished…’”
Jesus had talked much about doing all the works His Father gave Him to do. Now He says, “It is finished,” as He breathes His last and gives up His spirit on the cross, dying in our stead. “It is finished” is one word in the original language, tetelestai. He receives the sour wine and speaks one word, tetelestai. Never has a more blessed word been uttered. Never a more powerful word. Never a word of greater comfort and joy. Never a word so world altering and life changing. Never a word of such power and grace. Never a more important and meaningful last word. Never a word of greater impact and significance.
I love what A. W. Pink says, “‘It is finished’ – a single word in the original [tetelestai]. It was the briefest and yet the fullest of His seven cross-utterances.” The briefest and yet the fullest. Simple and yet profound. A short word and yet an everlasting declaration it was. Spoken in a brief second over two thousand years ago on the other side of the planet, yet still echoing down through history throughout the world, to this day.
“It is finished” doesn’t quite capture the full depth of meaning of the word tetelestai. Certainly it is finished, it is made an end of, it is paid, it is performed, it is accomplished are all in view here. The work His Father gave Him to do is finished. The work of redemption necessary for the salvation of His people has been accomplished. Our justification before God is complete, there is no more work to be done, there is nothing left to do there is nothing more to add, it is finished. The condemning power of our sin is made an end of. It is no more. There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The price of our redemption, and the penalty of our sin has been paid. There is nothing more to pay. There is nothing more to suffer for our redemption. There is no price we can offer, but to receive it free of charge. Without money, without cost, without price, without charge, paid in full! His suffering is accomplished. No more to endure as He gives up spirit unto death. He has endured and drank it all.
Certainly also implied in the precious word here spoken by Christ is the fulfillment, completion, and the end of all the Old Covenant ceremonies, types, shadows, figures, and sacrifices. No more sacrifices are needed or necessary or called for. No more typical ceremonial laws remain. No more blood is required to be shed, or to be added to His blood. All is complete and finished. He has suffered and bled as the sacrificial lamb once and for all. No more Passover lambs are to be slaughtered. No more use of hyssop for cleansing.
In this one word we are taught the great doctrines of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. Since all is finished and accomplished in Him, He is to be the only object of our faith. No where else are we to look for our redemption. Nothing else is to be added or is to assist the work of Christ that He has accomplished. And herein we see the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. We need no other. To look to another or to look to the works of our hands is to deny the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in His finishing of the work which He declared to be done. To deny that the work is done is to call Christ a liar, for He declared it to be finished.
Calvin says, “If we give our assent to this word which Christ pronounced, we ought to be satisfied with his death alone for our salvation…” Since Christ said it is finished, then we ought to believe it, live like it, rejoice in it, be content in it, and so rest in His finished work.
This completed work of Christ on our behalf ought to give us such peace, comfort, and assurance. No other false religion in the world has a finished work and assurance of salvation. To know by faith that Christ has done all that is necessary to save us, that His work of redemption is complete, and He accomplished all that the Father gave Him is great assurance for His people. What more do we have to add? What more do we have to do? What more do we have to contribute? The answer is nothing. We certainly are to live unto God and obey Christ in every way, but those are results and fruits of the work of Christ for us.
The finished work of Christ not only shows us there is nothing more we have to add, but it also shows us that there is nothing we can do to unfinish it. It is done never to be undone. If we are in Christ our sin and our failures cannot undo what has already been done. The finished work of Christ cannot be shaken by us or by our enemies. And that is comforting. We look not to ourselves, but Christ.
Again I like what Calvin says, “It was chiefly for the purpose of giving peace and tranquility to our consciences that he pronounced this word, It is finished. Let us stop here, therefore, if we do not choose to be deprived of the salvation which he has procured for us.”
Notice as well that John here shows this to be His final word. His final word is tetelestai. His final word is salvation. His final word is justification. His final word is forgiven. His final word is life. His final word is free. Not a word of condemnation, or judgment, or death, but a word of life and rest.
The enemy would tempt us to hear other words as the final word. We would be tempted to hear our sin and the guilt therein to have the last word. But John shows us that this is the last word: it is finished.
He Gave up His Spirit
John 19:30, “When Jesus had received the sour wine he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Here we see what is written of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 that “he poured out his soul to death…”
But here, even in His dying, we see His dignity in bowing His head, and His authority giving up His spirit. Even here John emphasizes Christ’s authority in His death in that it is He who gives up His spirit. He gave up His life of His own accord in obedience to the Father. It was not taken from Him, but He gave it. What grace He overflows with even in His dying, that He gave, and He gives, and we are only to receive.
Hear again from Calvin, “All the Evangelists take great care to mention the death of Christ, and most properly; for we obtain from it our confident hope of life, and we likewise obtain from it a fearless triumph over death, because the Son of God has endured it in our room, and, in his contest with it, has been victorious.”
His dying and giving up of His spirit was not a defeat. It was victory, for His dying breath has brought us life. It was inevitable that He would rise from the dead. And it was impossible for Him not to resurrect. That He would rise again from the dead and resurrect from the grave was the only possible conclusion for this God-man whose dying breath and dying words were the words and breath of life for the world. Praise be to God!