When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
According to the popular view in Christianity, Jesus’ work was finished on the cross and now we simply need to believe in Him to get to heaven. If you’re a really good Christian, you tell other people about Christ’s finished work and help them get to heaven too. It is truly noble to try and keep the gospel as simple and pure as possible, but that doesn’t mean we need to sink into a shallow, watered-down message that neglects the majority of the New Testament. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to pin down exactly what was finished on the cross and what else there is to do afterwards.
Not as Simple as You Think
This isn’t the only instance where God was finished with something but not everything. Recall Genesis 2:
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
You may think this is pretty clear and that the Lord’s work was finished after Genesis 2. But we see later on that the Lord was very active and didn’t rest from everything:
But Jesus answered them, “To this very day My Father is at His work, and I too am working.”
God rested from His work in creation, not in His work with mankind. In the same way, Jesus finished something on the cross, but it wasn’t everything that needed to be done:
But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound the trumpet, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he hath declared by his servants the prophets.
After Christ’s death on the cross, a mystery began to unfold. I’ll get to what this mystery is a little later, but you can notice here that it isn’t finished until the trumpet sounds at the beginning of the tribulation!
So What Exactly was Finished?
For this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
On the cross, redemption was accomplished. Sins may now be freely forgiven. This is not it though! On the cross, all sins, sin, Satan, ordinances, the world, the flesh, and the law were dealt with (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:15; Matt. 5:17; Rm. 6:6; 8:3; Gal. 6:14; Heb. 2:14). The Lord dealt with all the problems in the Universe!
You can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ…that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body and fellow partakers of the promise through the gospel
Although all problems in the Universe were solved on the cross, this was not the end goal of God’s incarnation and crucifixion. He died on the cross to remove everything that hindered His heart’s desire, which is to have a Church on the earth with God’s image and dominion (Gen. 1:26; Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:11).
The mystery of Christ is the Church, which is Christ’s Body. The Lord’s accomplishments on the cross pave the way to begin the building up of the Church. Now that our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb, the Spirit may come in and beget us, making us God’s children and members of the Body of Christ (Jn. 1:12; 1 Cor. 12:12).
So What Else Needs to be Done?
I now rejoice in my suffering on your behalf and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body, which is the church;
For those who believe the cross was enough for all of God’s desire, why would Paul say that there is a lack in the afflictions of Christ? Surely there is no lack regarding the efficaciousness of the blood for our sins. There is a lack though when it comes to the building up of the Body.
While it only takes faith in Christ’s finished work to become a member of the Body of Christ, we also must realize we have a responsibility to labor with the Lord to be sanctified and built up with other members of the Body:
Christ, out from whom all the Body, being joined together and being knit together through every joint of the rich supply and through the operation in the measure of each one part, causes the growth of the Body unto the building up of itself in love.
There is a lack in the afflictions of Christ that must be filled up on our part for the building up of the Body. We need to labor with the Lord as the “each one part” and cause the growth of the Body of which we are members. This requires ministering the grace of Christ to others, which we all have received according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Eph. 4:7).
The Need of the Epistles
If everything was finished on the cross in God’s economy, there would be no need of the epistles. The 4 gospels would be enough to communicate everything to humanity (actually, you would only really need one!). The epistles are needed to reveal the mystery hidden in ages past, which is Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32).
Christ accomplished everything for God in His economy during His earthly ministry. Now He is doing much more for God in His heavenly ministry. He is dispensing His grace to all His believers, conforming them to His image and filling them unto all the fullness of God (Rm. 8:29; Eph. 3:19). We should not be those who are circling around the altar in the outer court. We need to press on into the Holy of Holies and be built into the House of God:
Therefore leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us be brought on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith in God, of the teaching of baptisms and of the laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgement.
Let us therefore come forward with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for timely help.
Hebrews 6:14; 4:16