It is the cry of the grace movement and its repetition is the bane of its critics. Each side stakes its claim on the Word and entrenches into a posture of proclaiming their position to the other. The grace folks see the declaration of Jesus from the cross as its mantra, while the critics say that there is still wrath and judgment ahead and this mushy-sissy grace God doesn't exist. In this article I want to navigate through a few scriptures that show both sides are wrong, and both are right. The solution is understanding the significance of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and how our salvation wasn't truly "finished" until that time.
More than One "It Is Finished"
First of all, the meaning that is infused into the phrase "it is finished" creates more confusion than revelation. Which "it is finished" is being referred to? Notice what Jesus said in John 17:4,
"I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do."
Jesus said it was finished before he got to the cross. It isn't a prophetic word. It is a past tense statement. What it reveals to us is that Jesus had different tasks to finish at different stages until it was completely done. No one believes that it was all accomplished here. He still had to go to the cross. But this declaration of Jesus to the Father tells us that his mission was done for his earthly ministry of healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching the gospel. Up next? The cross where he would cry out "it is finished" regarding his sacrifice, the next stage in the process of salvation.
But wait! That still isn't the last "it is finished". In Revelation 15:1, "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is FINISHED THE WRATH OF GOD." (ASV) It's not over till it’s over!
If we identify the book of Revelation as a still future event, then regarding the wrath of God we still cannot truly say, "It is finished!" Wrath is still dangling out in the future. Even more, if we place this event in our future we have yet to truly experience the "it is finished" of our salvation.
Let me explain. The confusion for both the "hyper-grace" camp and the critics is because of a veiled eschatology. Or to say it another way, our New Covenant theology is inadequate until we understand the big picture of how this idea of atonement works in relation to the end of the Jewish age.
When was It Finished in Exodus?
In the Exodus story we see that Israel came out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, but then wandered in the wilderness for 40 years of testing before entering into the Promised Land. The Apostle Paul draws on that imagery and says:
1 Cor. 10:6-11, "Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."
The end of that Mosaic age was still in the process of ending in Paul's day and did not end until the temple, priesthood, sacrificial system, and city was destroyed by Rome!
Jesus described the end of the age in Matthew 23-24. In 23:35-36, "…that on YOU (unbelieving apostate Jews) may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon THIS GENERATION."
24:3, “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the END OF THE AGE?’”
24:32-34"'Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when YOU see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, THIS GENERATION WILL BY NO MEANS PASS AWAY TILL ALL THESE THINGS TAKE PLACE."
From the crucifixion (AD 30) to the destruction of the temple and the city (AD 70) was one transitional generation. It was 40 years just as in the Exodus transition typology into the "Promised Land". Therefore, it wasn't finished/complete until AD 70. Let's explore this further:
When was It Finished in Leviticus?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was the culmination of the 40 days season of Teshuvah. According to tradition the 40 days represent Moses’ ascension and stay on the mountain before his return from receiving the Law. Later this became a time, that Israel would seek God in repentance to confirm their names in the Book of Life. It was also believed that if they did not "return to the Lord" (teshuvah) under the Old Covenant during this time, their names would be blotted out of the Book of Life, i.e. no atonement that year. This blotting out idea is a distinctively Jewish Old Covenant concept and language never intended to be applied to us today.
Here is David's cry against his enemies: Psalm 69:28, "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living and the book of life and not be enrolled among the [uncompromisingly] righteous (those upright and in right standing with God)." (AMP)
Philippians 4:3, "And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life."
Revelation 3:5, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."
So Teshuvah is associated with the 40 day period of Moses ascending to the mountain with God, and then coming back down. Then he found them worshiping the golden calf and smashed the Ten Commandments as a sign that they had already broken the covenant. He then dealt with them by separating those who worship Baal from those who worshiped God.
That was a type of Jesus ascending to the Father on the Mountain of the Lord in the New Covenant and subsequently coming on the clouds with judgment at the end of a 40 year transitional generation (Mt. 16:27-28, Mt. 24). That Jewish generation was to trust Christ's words by fleeing to the mountains when they saw the Roman armies approaching. Or by not trusting him in this New Covenant, the apostate Jews would remain in the city and be destroyed by Rome. Those who did not believe, despite Jesus' extraordinary efforts to convince them, were blotted out. Or to use Jesus' other analogy, He separated the wheat from the tares.
When was the Wrath of the Law Finished?
Romans 4:15, "For the law produces wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation." (NABRE) Notice this is present tense "produces".
John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Romans 2:5-6, "But by your callous stubbornness and impenitence of heart you are STORING UP WRATH and indignation for yourself on the day of wrath and indignation, when God’s righteous judgment (just doom) will be revealed. For He will render to every man according to his works [justly, as his deeds deserve]." Amplified Bible (AMP) Written after the cross it says that people were storing up wrath for themselves from God in the future at an event of the Day of the Lord (see Matthew 16:27-28 to confirm this was in their lifetime).
Luke 21:19-23, "But when you see JERUSALEM surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the DAYS OF VENGEANCE, that ALL things which are WRITTEN may be fulfilled. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and WRATH AGAINST THIS PEOPLE."
Jesus indicates that wrath was coming against THESE Jewish people through the Gentiles. These days of vengeance were in their near future (AD 70). Notice he isn't speaking to our future generation, but to "you", the disciples in that setting.
So when did the Law cease to be? Clearly these passages tell us that the Law and its wrath was still in effect after the New Covenant began. Here is just one example. The author of Hebrews applies the Law to his audience with two quotes directly from the last days passage of Deuteronomy 32 saying,
Hebrews 10:30-31, "For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The LORD will judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
We also see in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law TILL ALL IS FULFILLED."
Again, Luke 21:21, "For these are the DAYS OF VENGEANCE, that ALL things which are WRITTEN may be fulfilled."
According to Jesus in both of these passages, the Law could not be removed until everything in the Law and the Prophets was fulfilled. So either the Law is still applicable to ALL OF US today, or the Law and everything in it was completely fulfilled in AD 70. We know everything wasn't fulfilled at the cross because the Law was still being applied to that transitional generation of Jews. It was not "finished" until AD 70.
When was the Day of Atonement Finished?
Jesus fulfilled the Passover at his death, then fulfilled Pentecost 50 days later by the outpouring of the Spirit. But when was the Day of Atonement fulfilled in the earth like the others? This is a question that needs an answer!
The imagery of the priest going into the tabernacle or the temple, was that though the priest entered into the Holy of Holies and placed the blood on the mercy seat, it wasn't until the priest came back out and pronounced the blessing that the PROCESS OF ATONEMENT was "finished". Of course they were forgiven, accepted, loved, etc before he came "out". But pay attention to what wasn't finished in the rest of this article.
So far, Jesus said it was finished regarding his earthly apostolic "sent" mission. Then he cried that it was finished at the cross as he died. Yet, it still wasn't finished because he had not yet applied his blood to the mercy seat of heaven, and he had not come back out of heaven separated from sin, to announce the clean slate on the Day of Atonement.
This is what the author of Hebrews is alluding to in 9:6-10,
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the FIRST PART of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the SECOND PART the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was SYMBOLIC for the PRESENT TIME in which both gifts and sacrifices ARE offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed UNTIL THE TIME OF REFORMATION.
Clearly, in the days preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the author of Hebrews says that the symbolism of a still standing system indicated that the way into the Holy of Holies was not yet made AT THEIR PRESENT TIME. The first part was opened (the altar), but the second part, only Jesus, the Great High Priest had passed through... until the time of reformation (the destruction of the entire religious Jewish system). We know this because he says the old covenant was fading away and was about to be removed (Heb. 8:13).
So while it is true that Jesus finished his sacrifice as the Lamb, and it is true that he applied his blood on the mercy seat of heaven as the Great High Priest, the New Covenant wasn't "complete" until Jesus came out of heaven spiritually to destroy the temple. Forgiveness was real and present. The Spirit, too, had come (Eph. 1:14). They were accepted in the Beloved. They were holy to the Lord. All that was true, but the covenant itself was incomplete.
Here in the same chapter/context regarding the time of reformation when the Holy of Holies would be accessible he continues by saying in 9:26-28:
"He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end (consummation) of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will APPEAR a second time, apart from sin, FOR SALVATION."
Notice that the fullness of the meaning of salvation doesn't happen until he appears. That word “appear” according to Helps Word Studies is #3708 horáō – properly, see, often with metaphorical meaning: "to see with the mind" (i.e. spiritually see), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception). So this is not about a physical appearing, but it meant how they would perceive him in that day.
According to Leviticus 9:22-24, it was only AFTER the atonement was made within the Holy of Holies that the High Priest CAME OUT and blessed the people. Leviticus 9:22-24 (AMP)
Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them, and came down [from the altar] after offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offerings.
Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord [the Shekinah cloud] appeared to all the people [as promised]. Then there came a fire out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
The New Covenant began at the cross, when he "cut a new covenant" but wasn't complete until Jesus appeared spiritually in AD 70 as the High Priest, cleansing the land through judgment, removing the Old Covenant system, and finishing the process of the atonement by pronouncing the blessing of the New Covenant world.
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 16:27-28,
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
This coming in the glory of the Father with judgment would take place in a very near time when some of them were still living. This wasn't the Mt. of Transfiguration because that was only a few days later and no one had died. It wasn't the cross because he did not call angels to rescue him. It wasn't Pentecost because there was no judgment or angels. Rather, it was 70 AD at the destruction of the temple by the Romans. It was the finishing of what he began and it was his appearing... that was perceived spiritually.
The Finishing of the Wrath of God
The Scriptures remind us that atonement for the bloodshed which had taken place in the land itself would happen in a prophesied time called their last days:
Deut. 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
The Mishnah (the written form of the oral law) says: "For the sins between man and God, the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for the sins between man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement will effect atonement only if he has appeased his fellow" (Yoma 8:9).
This is reflected in at least two passages:
Genesis 9:5-6, "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God, He made man."
Numbers 35:33, “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” (NIV)
Connect this with Jesus’ words of why judgment was coming on the city—Matthew 23:32-36,
“Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of [Gehenna]? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous bloodshed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."
So do you see the connection? The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was connected with both the fulfillment of the Jewish Day of Atonement process, and the atoning for the land through judgment. (Isaiah 4:4)
When was It Finished in Revelation?
Let's look quickly at this in Revelation. There isn't space here to give every proof that it was fulfilled in AD 70, but let me just point this out. In Revelation 11:8 we are told that Babylon, about to be destroyed, is actually Jerusalem, "the place where our Lord was crucified". Then a few verses later in Revelation 11:19, "Then the temple of God WAS OPENED in heaven, and the ark of His Covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake and great hail." Revelation 15:8 tells us, "The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and NO ONE WAS ABLE TO ENTER THE TEMPLE TILL the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed."
No one could enter the Holy of Holies in heaven until AFTER the seven plagues. God's wrath would not be completed until the seventh vial (Rev. 15:8; 16:7f). But God's wrath would be finished AFTER Armageddon (the war against Jerusalem). If one places Armageddon in the future, it means that no one actually goes to heaven until the end of a future tribulation!!
Revelation 15:1, "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is FINISHED THE WRATH OF GOD." (ASV)
Only then, when the wrath of God was finished and the temple destroyed, could the dead in Christ enter the Holy of Holies at their death (In Rev. 6:9 - they were still in the outer courts). They were forgiven and accepted before this. Christ represented them in the Holy of Holies before this. But until AD 70's wrath was finished the dead could not literally enter in.
His mission was finished before the cross. His sacrifice was finished at the cross. His blood applied on the mercy seat was finished at his ascension. By AD 70 all the Jewish remnant who would be saved out of the Great Tribulation by faith would secure their names in the Book of Life. The wrath of God was finished at the destruction of Babylon (Jerusalem in AD 70). Jesus came forth out of heaven spiritually "appearing" in removing the Old Covenant System and fulfilling the Day of Atonement process by declaring the blessing of the New Covenant world.
So yes, Jesus ascended to the Father, taking humanity with him, providing atonement for our sins. Yes, he represents us all there.
Yes, they were unequivocally saved, righteous, holy, forgiven, and redeemed!
But it is also true that the Old had to be removed in every dimension. The New Covenant was not complete until the High Priest came out to establish the kingdom, the New Heavens and New Earth. Only then could the souls who were in the outer court officially enter the Holy of Holies at their death.
What can we say now? Truly, IT IS FINISHED
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