The Certificate of Debt

In Colossians chapter two, the Apostle Paul was discussing our relationship with the Lord Jesus and what He had done for us, and Paul gives us a wonderful summary:

He has made (you) alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.
And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
– Colossians 2:13-14 (New King James Version)

Other translations define “the handwriting of requirements that was against us” as “the record of the charges against us” (New Living Translation) and “the certificate of debt . . . against us” (New American Standard Bible).

In the times when Rome ruled over the Land of Israel, a “Certificate of Debt” was used by the Roman government in criminal cases. When someone was convicted of a crime, a sign with the list of crimes was nailed to the cell door where the prisoner was kept. When the prisoner’s sentence was completed, tetelestai was written across the list of crimes to indicate that the punishment had been satisfied. It was a common word that was used every day. It meant, “Paid in Full.” When a business contract was completed, tetelestai was written across the bill of sale.

When Jesus was executed by the Roman government, the “Certificate of Debt” said, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The Jewish leaders charged Jesus with insurrection; of posing as a king in opposition to Caesar. It appears that Pilate did not consider this a capital offense, but the Jews insisted on His execution.

Isaiah the Prophet told us what Jesus would achieve 700 years before Jesus walked on this earth:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
– Isaiah 53:4-6

Jesus paid our debt, a fact that we know and yet cannot fully comprehend its complete significance. When Jesus died, He cried out “It is finished.” (John 19:30) The connotation of this phrase has a meaning to us today that is different than the meaning in the time of Jesus. We think it means “It is over.”

But when Jesus said it, it meant something else. The Greek word for “It is finished” is tetelestaiPaid In Full. Jesus was declaring that He had paid our Certificate of Debt.

Paul tells us that our Certificate of Debt was nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:13-14), and Jesus paid it all. We cannot possibly thank Him or praise His name enough.

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