I didn’t take Greek in Bible school. It was offered my last year, but I was so busy with other classes and my new boyfriend, I didn’t think I should add Greek on top of it. Now I kind of wish I’d taken the extra plunge and gotten some Greek under my belt.
However, since the Greek professor was one of our main professors, we got a lot of Greek in class – which I loved. I’ll never forget his explanation of the word “Tetelestai.” [At one point, I was going to get it tattooed on my shoulder, but I chickened out after seeing the price tag and thinking about the pain. Still, that would’ve been a cool tattoo.]
Back in Jesus’ day, when the Romans were in charge, they had a system for paying bills. You would take your note in and get it stamped that you paid it or that you owed still. It was a rigid system, which we can also gather from Jesus’ parables of being thrown in prison indefinitely for debt (parables, of course, were based on real-life events that happened daily around them).
However, sometimes, a debt would get so high that no matter what, the person could never pay it. At this point, the officers had a choice. Throw them in prison… or cancel the debt. If they chose to completely cancel the debt, they had a stamp they used with one word on it: Tetelestai. This one word means, “Paid in Full.” Even though the debt had in reality not been paid, when the government looked at the bill, they would see that it had been paid in full and no charges would be held against the person. This always only used on a debt that could never be paid off.
When Jesus died on the cross, His last words in our English translation are, “It is finished.” In Greek, the language He would’ve yelled from the cross, His last word was one word. Tetelestai. Paid in full.
Our debt has been completely canceled out. No, we didn’t pay. No, we could never pay it. Jesus paid it. In full. All at once. So when God looks at our bill, all He sees is the stamp, in blood, “Paid in full.”