In this section, I want to reiterate that this book is worth getting for its historical value. Varner is also an experienced exegete, and I praise God that he has challenged his readers to think about the Passion Week, and the atonement. But when too much emphasis is placed upon a particular aspect of Christ’s work (in this case, his ascended and heavenly ministry), we can end up unknowingly (or knowingly) diminishing (or denying) other aspects of work through imbalanced language. With that said, I leave you with parting thoughts.
When Is It Technically Finished?
When we look in the Scriptures, it chock full of already/not yet language that pertains to the atoning work, as well as references that show the multifaceted way in which redemption is accomplished for us.
Romans 5:10 reveals that it was Christ’s death that reconciles us to God, but also his resurrection further saves us. We are both justified by his blood (Rom. 5:9), and his resurrection (Rom. 4:25). We have eternal life now in knowing Christ (John 17:3), and we shall receive it in the future (John 6:39-40). Christ’s death redeems us (Heb. 9:15), but his entrance into heaven does as well (Heb. 9:12) We are regenerated (Titus 3:5), and shall be regenerated (Matt. 9:28). We have not yet been glorified, but it is as good as done (Rom. 8:30). We have yet to be exalted with Christ, but it is as though it is already finished (Eph. 2:6).
But let’s try another angle. We know that atonement for our sins has been fully and finally completed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Whether we believe his offering was on earth, or in heaven, we know that the offering of himself is what gives our atonement the eternal and precious value. But for now, is it really complete? I say this not with conviction, but to play with an overemphasis. Isn’t the main point of Christ’s atonement so that we can be a people that dwell with God? And so that God can dwell among his people without corruption and sin? Has that finally happened? Has that been fully realized yet? No. We still eagerly await his return to be saved in this regard (Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28). So could we argue that it isn’t still finished if we wanted to toy with this kind of emphasis?
The above might sound a bit trite, but this is why we need to treat the whole work of Christ as distinctive parts of a whole. We know that Christ was predestined from foundation of the world to die and atone for our sins (Acts. 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). When Christ was born, it was not a matter of if he would atone, but when (Matt. 1:21). So as Christ lived a perfect, sinless life (Heb. 4:15), he fulfilled the law and its requirements (Col. 2:14), and humbled himself unto death (Phil. 4:8), satisfying the demands of justice and retribution against us, becoming a curse (Gal. 3:3), in order to redeem us and atone for our sins (Heb. 9:15). And we know that that sacrifice was vicarious and efficacious because Christ rose from the dead (Rom. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:16), conquering death (Heb. 2:14), and triumphing over the powers of darkness (Col. 2:15). But he needed to ascend and enter into the heavens (Acts 3:21), present himself before God (Dan. 7:13; Heb. 9:24), and sit at his right hand to demonstrate his eternal Sonship (Heb. 1:8), Kingship (Heb. 10:12-13), and Priesthood (Heb. 8:1). And though he sits, he is still putting all things under his feet through the Spirit, the preaching, and his church (Matt. 28:18-20), until the day he returns.
In all the above, do we see how each successive work is both final of itself, as well as “completes” the previous work? Do we see how the virgin birth is sufficient in one sense to fulfill what is required to atone for our sins, since a body was required to be sacrificed? But in another sense, do we see why Christ needed to live a sinless and perfect life to fulfill all that was written concerning himself? Furthermore, can we accept Jesus’ life as sufficient to fulfill what Adam failed to do, meanwhile, needing to finish the work his Father gave him by dying on a cross? Jesus himself even spoke of having finished the work the Father gave him (John 17:4), even before he said “It is Finished” on the cross. Does that mean there was nothing else to be done from that moment he spoke those words? Of course not. But the language is as such that it is as good as done. And the same goes with τετέλεσται. In other words, on the cross, nothing from that point forward was going to stop the inevitability of what was to come, as well can undo what has been already done.
It Is Truly Finished
In some sense, the perfect life of Christ vindicates, fulfills, and completes his virgin birth with regard to our atonement. Furthermore, his death accomplishes the same concerning his perfect life. After all: no sinless Messiah, no efficacious sacrifice. Moreover, his resurrection operates in the same way in relation to his death — no resurrection, no salvation. But the same could be said for his Ascension. It was necessary for him to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of God to vindicate, fulfill, and complete what he had accomplished on earth for our atonement. But he must also return. So does that make Christ’s heavenly offering incomplete or unfinished somehow because there is still more to do?
Let’s look at this another way. Could we technically say that the perfect life of Christ was for naught unless he died? Is his crucifixion incomplete in some way unless he rose from the dead? And if Christ rose again, and never ascended, would that make his resurrection incomplete and un-atoning as well? Of course, in some sense, we could say sure. But in another sense, each aspect of Christ’s life and work represents a complete fulfillment of the progressive and unfolding plan of atonement/redemption. With each being just as sufficient, just as complete, and just as final as the previous, meanwhile looking forward to the next. So when it comes to “It is Finished,” it is unreasonable to assume that Jesus doesn’t mean final and complete atonement, even when there was more to come.
I pray that this review was helpful and edifying. And I still look up to and have respect for William Varner, and the continued work he accomplishes for the kingdom of God. I just pray that no one will interpret his language as permission to reject penal substitution and all the necessary components that make “It is Finished!” the glorious, atoning declaration that it truly is.
-Until we go home
Varner, William. Passionate about the Passion Week: A Fresh Look at Jesus’ Last Days. Dallas: Fontes Press, 2020.