Our Certificates of Debt

Author Melinda Penner Published on 03/29/2013

On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses by satisfying the demands of it. By doing that, He paid our certificates of debt we each earned.

The certificate of debt is a concept that lies behind Paul’s comments about the certificate of debt in Colossians 2:13–14:

And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

In Roman times, this certificate was a list of crimes committed against the state that required “payment,” much like an indictment in our legal system today. The Romans gave Jesus a certificate of debt when He was sentenced to die; it was nailed to the cross: “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). When the crimes were paid for, the certificate was canceled and was stamped with the word tetelestai, meaning “paid in full.”

Paul says that Jesus “canceled out” (paid) our certificate of debt (v14).

Jesus’ last words, His victory cry on the cross was “It is finished!”—literally, in Greek, “tetelestai!” “He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30). “Paid in full.” What was finished? His work of redemption paying for our certificates of debt against God.