The Unfinished Work of Christ

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“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

Four other times in Scripture we find this phrase or fact of finality.

It Is Finished: Creation

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Gen. 2:1-2). And God pronounced it all “very good.”

Creation was finished, but of course in another sense it was just beginning. Now we read of “seed,” generations, multiplying life, exploding fruitfulness.

It Is Finished: Tabernacle

Moses “set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work” (Ex. 40:33).

The echo of Genesis 2:1 here seems intentional.

For Moses was “faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later” (Heb. 3:5). The tabernacle was finished, according to the pattern Moses was shown on the mountain.

But of course this was just the beginning of a new chapter: God’s liberated people being formed into a holy redemptive people in the wilderness so God could get on with fulfilling his covenant promises.

It Is Finished: Temple

“Thus all the work of Solomon was accomplished from the day the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid until the house of the Lord was finished completely” (2 Chron. 8:16).

This ending was of course a beginning. The kingdom of God was now established on earth (or so it seemed). The people of God had a place and form for worshipping God authentically, faithfully, shapingly.

We know all that quickly went wrong, and we note that immediately God’s prophets begin to speak of a much greater king and kingdom to come.

And so it was. In perfect, remarkable fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, God himself became king in Jesus Christ.

On the cross God’s atoning work was done. Jesus hour had come. So Jesus gasped, or rather shouted, his last: “It is finished!” Atonement finished, yes; but a new chapter and history is beginning.

It Is Finished: New Creation

Nearly at the end of the Bible in the great capstone book of Revelation Jesus shouts:  “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6).

Jesus is not only the end but also the beginning. In how many senses and dimension, we don’t fully know.

The water is flowing; the river is surging.

Today we live between the “It is finished!” of the cross and “It is done!” of creation healed. By the Spirit we live out the atonement as Jesus’ discipling body in the world.

It seems that with the Lord God, Holy Trinity, every ending is a beginning.

There is no end to what God together with his willing, loving creatures can do in the continuously unfolding glory of God’s creative design and history.

Charles Wesley famously wrote: “Love’s redeeming work is done!” But—yes and no. Jesus finished his atoning work on the cross; he has not yet finished his redeeming work. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, is still at work in the world. Jesus is still working to bring the kingdom of God in fulness, the New Creation, all creation healed, in which God’s will is done perfectly on earth as, echoing and reverberating and uniting, it is in heaven.

Salvation is still an unfinished painting, an unfinished symphony, uncompleted history.

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Lawson, you are touching on a very important question within the Church’s self-understanding of its relationship to the Canon. No doubt, you are aware of the long and rigorous conversation throughout her history and the various ways that Scripture’s role in the life of the Church has been construed. You describe Scripture in heliocentric terms which subjectively, seems quite appropriate. Scripture guides in the sense that we apprehend its meaning and that meaning “acts” upon us by shaping our identity accordingly. But the determinate object of our faith is the Gospel which strictly speaking cannot be made into a one-to-one correspondence with Scripture. To what does Scripture appeal or in what way is its own “aliveness” eccentric and second-order? I would plead the Gospel, which historically, found its actuality (as “good news”) in the testimony of the Apostles and the confession of the Creeds (i.e. not in Scripture, to the consternation of many Protestants). I mean simply by this that Scripture is not a codification of the Gospel, but a witness like the rest. The biblical text is a creation of historical accidence, which, if it holds authority for faith, is a derivative authority. To say that Scripture is a first-order reality doesn’t make sense metaphysically, unless you mean “Scripture” as a shorthand way of referring to the antecedent reality to which it is an authoritative witness and our only means of retrieving the Gospel. Scripture does not have a mind, and so it seems to me, that one is required for it to have its effect–whether ours or God’s. I can’t get around the Lutheran emphasis on proclamation as a key idea here for how the Gospel interacts with the Church. We may not be able to make the Bible “come alive” but we certainly can make the Gospel come alive (that is, instantiate its essence as “good news”) precisely by speaking it. While I’ve said these things ‘knowingly’, I mean this very much in an exploratory fashion. I’m interested in your response.
    Kind Regards.

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