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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

John 17

 

 

Verse 1

This whole chapter records the prayer that Jesus offered on the betrayal night in contemplation of the cross. There is the prayer for himself (John 17:1-5), for the apostles (John 17:6-19), and for those of all generations who would believe on him through the apostles' word (John 17:20-26). Hester said:

John 17 is the real Lord's prayer. In this deeply moving experience he prays: first for himself, for his disciples, and for the whole world - all believers in all ages.[1]

Dummelow called it "Christ's high priestly prayer, because in it he solemnly consecrates himself to be priest and victim in the approaching sacrifice."[2] Barnes commented that "It is the longest prayer recorded in the New Testament."[3] Westcott called it "The Prayer of Consecration."[4] Robertson called it "Christ's Intercessory Prayer."[5] Some have called it "The Prayer for Unity." As Morgan said:

I would ever be careful lest I should appear to differentiate between the value of one part of the Holy Scripture and another, but no one will deny that when we come to this chapter we are at the center of all the sanctities.[6]

The hypothesis that John merely imagined this prayer and put the words in Jesus' mouth retrospectively fails to take into account the prayer itself which is utterly beyond the power of any man to have conceived it. Here, "Jesus seemed to sweep away the last physical barrier that separated him from the world above ... He was as one in intimate conversation with God."[7]

Our exegesis on this chapter does not pretend to be exhaustive, the chapter being, in fact, inexhaustible. As Gaebelein said:

No complete exposition can be given. Three of the Puritan preachers expounded this chapter: Manton's sermons on it make a volume of 400 pages; Newton's exposition nearly 600 pages; and Burgess' sermons comprise 700 large pages![8]

We shall content ourselves with picking up a truth here and there!

[1] H. L. Hester, The Heart of the New Testament (Liberty, Missouri: Quality Press, 1963), p. 199.

[2] J. R. Dummelow. Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 803.

[3] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 352.

[4] B .F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 336.

[5] A. T. Robertson, Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), p. 151.

[6] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel according to John (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company), p. 266.

[7] Daniel A. Poling, The Romance of Jesus (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), p. 180.

[8] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of John (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 311.

These things spake Jesus; and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, Father glorify thy Son, that the Son may glorify thee. (John 17:1)

These things ... refers to the discourse just finished.

Glorify thy Son ... The word John used to express Jesus' desire in this prayer does not actually mean "pray" in the usual sense. Jesus' petitions should therefore be understood as the expressed desire of a soul in complete harmony with God.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven ... This has led some to suppose the prayer was offered outdoors after they had left the upper room, but this is not certain.

The hour is come ... What hour? It was the hour for which Jesus had come into the world, the hour of fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, the hour when the true passover would be sacrificed, the hour when the Son of God would bruise the head of Satan and accomplish God's purpose of achieving salvation for mankind.

If this prayer is searched for implications bearing upon the prayers offered by Christians, the thing that stands out is the priority of God's glory. Before any earthly desire, the desire for the glory of God comes first. In this, it corresponds with Matthew 6:9.

Verse 2
Even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life.

Authority over all flesh ... Jesus' use of the third person accounts for some strange expressions in the prayer (John 17:3), the reason for this being found in the Lord's mental and spiritual condition during the prayer. Here the God-man was caught up into a union with the Father so complete and intimate that, for the moment, his whole human nature was thought of by Christ as if it were apart from himself. Also, the third person was a vehicle of further instructing the apostles.

Over all flesh ... To Jesus alone, God committed the judgment of humanity.

That to all whom thou hast given him ... All men belong to God, but not all are given to Christ. This clause shows that God gave Christ a special kind of authority over those given to him, the authority to give them eternal life. Thus, the gift of eternal life is conditional and available to them alone who are Christ's. Shank said:

All mankind rightfully belongs to God, as sovereign Creator; but those who seek to know and do his will are his in a special sense, and in them will be fulfilled God's real purpose in creation.[9]

ENDNOTE:

[9] Robert Shank, Jesus, His Story (Springfield, Massachusetts: Westcott Publishers, 1962), p. 206.

Verse 3
And this is life eternal, that they know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.

Here is stated the fundamental condition of receiving eternal life. Men must know God and Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

Jesus Christ ... Jesus' third person reference to himself in this compound title is the basis of all kinds of wild speculations to the effect that these are John's words, not those of our Lord; but without doubt these are the true words of Jesus (see under John 17:2). From what other source could the almost universal use of "Jesus Christ" have derived? Christ would declare himself "Christ" that very night (Mark 14:62), a title purposely avoided until then. What better way was there of instructing the apostles than in this prayer uttered in the third person (partially), and in which the expression "Jesus Christ" was used for the first time on earth?

Westcott paid respect to this alleged difficulty by making this verse a parenthesis, saying, "St. John has given parenthetically ... the substance of what the Lord said."[10] Saunders thought this prayer includes "Both the direct words of the Saviour ... (and) the writer's own reflections."[11] We feel, however, that all such interpretations should be rejected, not merely because of the good sense in receiving them as Jesus' actual words, but also because many great scholars regard the grounds for taking them thus as totally adequate. To quote only one of them, Hovey said:

He was referring to himself in the third person, as being, along with the Father, the object of that knowledge which is eternal life. In this solemn hour, it is by no means inconceivable that he should have applied to himself, once for all, the great compound name, which the apostles were to use so often ... We adhere, therefore, to the view that this is the language of Christ himself.[12]

That they know thee, the only true God ... The saving knowledge of God includes also the knowledge of Jesus Christ as God's revelation to men and is a far different thing from merely believing that there is a creator. This knowing God and Christ is not a casual thing, but something extensive and profound. Hallock said:

I sometimes wince at the careless way the question is asked, "Do you know Jesus?" ... Let us use a great word greatly and settle with ourselves that this word "know" is marvelously deep, and no man has ever touched bottom.[13]

WHAT IT MEANS TO KNOW GOD

I. "He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). Thus, without obedience, one may have a few ideas about God; but he does not know God.

II. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8). Without love one cannot know either the Father or the Son. It would be as reasonable to suppose that a mole can see the stars as to think that one who does not love knows God.

III. To know God is to be "in Christ." "God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:12). No one can know God except by knowing him "in Christ." This means to be united with Christ, to bear his name, to confess him as Lord, and to accept all the obligations entailed by being baptized "into Christ."

IV. Knowing God means receiving God's Spirit. Until that Spirit is known and received as an earnest of the soul's inheritance, there can be no saving knowledge of God and Christ (Romans 8:9). "Hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us because he hath given us his Spirit" (1 John 4:13).

To know God ... is therefore a concise reference to believing and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[10] B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 240.

[11] Ernest W. Saunders, John Celebrates the Gospel (New York: Abingdon, 1965), p. 136.

[12] Alvah Hovey, Commentary on John (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1885), p. 337.

[13] G. B. F. Hallock, Minister's Manual (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1938), p. 117.

Verse 4
I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do. And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

I glorified thee ... refers to Jesus' life of perfect trust and obedience, including his sufferings and death, here prophetically regarded as already accomplished.

Glorify thou me ... refers to the receiving of Jesus back into the bosom of the Father where he had resided eternally. This necessarily included Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.

Before the world was ... In such a statement as this, Jesus affirmed his eternal existence, his oneness with the Father, and his equality with God (see John 1:1-11). In the beautiful words of Lipscomb:

Jesus here goes back of history, back of creation itself, and speaks of the glory which he then had with the Father. This can be understood only in the light of the opening verses of the first chapter.[14]

The implications of this passage are profound. Christ was here praying for the Father to glorify him with the glory that he had possessed from before all time; but it was as a HUMAN BEING that Christ would ascend to the Father and be endowed with everlasting glory; thus, man himself, in the person of Christ, is now seated on the Throne! It is OUR NATURE that has been glorified in Christ.

ENDNOTE:

[14] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the Gospel of John (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 263.

Verse 6
I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word.

I manifested thy name ... Jesus did this by referring all honor and glory to God throughout his entire ministry. He was ever careful to explain that the words he spoke, the miracles he wrought, and the teachings he gave were the Father's.

And they kept thy word ... Keeping the word of God, in the sense of believing it and obeying it, was the means by which Jesus' disciples had become his and were continued in that blessed relationship; and it is impossible that any other means exists which could enable men to be Christ's disciples (see under John 17:14).

Verse 7
Now they know that all things whatsoever thou has given me are from thee.

This is a summation of the preceding thought and shows that Christ came to reveal God, his work, his love, his power, and his teaching. It is this identification of Christ with God himself that is all-important.

Verse 8
For the words which thou gavest me I have given them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came forth from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me.

The words that thou gavest me ... The revelation brought to men by Christ was a revelation of "words," not of thoughts or ideas. This consideration is of the most extensive importance in understanding the inspiration of the Scriptures. Everything in the Bible points to the verbal nature of holy revelation. Jesus made an argument for immortality to rest on a single two-letter word, the verb "AM" in Exodus 3:14, and the mere tense of a verb at that! (Matthew 23:32). Paul likewise trusted the number of the noun "seed" (Galatians 3:16), as the definitive argument for the calling of all the saved in Christ. Jesus brought God's words to men. Therefore, let men heed the words, for they shall judge all creation at the last day (John 12:48-50).

I have given unto them ... This made the apostles custodians of the sacred revelation from God, thus endowing the New Testament with plenary authority for determining God's will for mankind. This is true because only in the New Testament does one have the actual teachings of the apostles of Christ. Men need to learn how "not to go beyond the things which are written" (1 Corinthians 4:6).

And they believed that thou didst send me ... The use of the past tense here is prophetic and refers to the ultimate fidelity of the apostles to their divine commission, passing over the little season that very night when the Shepherd would be smitten and the sheep scattered.

Verse 9
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given me; for they are thine.

I pray not for the world ... This shift back to the present tense denotes that at that time Christ was not praying for the world but for his disciples. That Christ could not pray for his enemies in the same terms as for his own is natural; and, as Hovey said, "The blessings which he would ask for his enemies must be different in some respects from those which he would ask for his friends."[15] Lipscomb concurred, saying, "Jesus does not mean to say that the world is excluded from his sympathy; he was dying to save the world."[16] Later, Jesus prayed that the "world might believe" (John 17:20,21).

For they are thine ... The apostles were not merely Christ's any longer but were God's chosen representatives to deliver the saving gospel to humanity. It was that new status with which they were shortly to be endowed that required this special prayer to be uttered in their hearing. It has all the effect of the great commission. In this part of his prayer, Jesus prayed not for the world but for those men upon whom the salvation of the world depended.

[15] Alvah Hovey, op. cit., p. 340.

[16] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 264.

Verse 10
And all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine: and I am glorified in them.

God in Christ, Christ in Christians, Christians in Christ, and Christ in God this (mutual unity and identification) is another summary of how men are saved.

Verse 11
And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.

No more in the world ... refers to the physical absence of Jesus after the resurrection and ascension. Spiritually, the Lord continues to be with his disciples (Matthew 18:20).

And these are in the world ... refers to the mortal state of the apostles who would continue to be the object of Satan's bitterest hatred and opposition. Jesus' physical departure would make them even more the object of Satan's attack and their status even more precarious. These considerations prompted the fervent prayer on their behalf.

Holy Father ... is one of three terms of address directed to God in this prayer, the others being "Father" (John 17:1,4, and John 17:11), and "O Righteous Father" (John 17:25).

Keep them in thy name ... There is no way to avoid respect of the importance attached to the sacred name of "Jesus Christ," and it is likely that here is a reference to that compound title introduced in John 17:3. Let men face it, salvation is accomplished in an all-powerful name, a fact which the apostles strongly emphasized. "Neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Immediately after that statement, Peter pronounced that sacred name, and, significantly, it was the compound title found in this prayer, "Jesus Christ."

That they may be one ... was a plea for unity, primarily of the apostles, but, by extension, applicable to all Christians. See under John 17:22 where this admonition is repeated.

Verse 12
While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.

Thy name which thou hast given me ... Again, the compound title of John 17:3 is suggested.

I guarded them ... Jesus Christ successfully accomplished the work God gave him to do, choosing, instructing, guarding, correcting, and encouraging the Twelve; and he was then praying for them with all of his heart, adding prophetically that not one of them would be lost except Judas.

But the son of perdition ... This reference to Judas sheds light on the identity of "the man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), indicating that he will be another pretender ascribing to himself apostolic authority and power. Any self-styled "apostle" today must be judged in the light of these Scriptures.

That the Scriptures might be fulfilled ... refers to Psalms 41:9. See under John 13:2 and John 13:18.

Verse 13
But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves.

But now I come to thee ... This clause (repeated from John 17:11) contrasts sharply with Jesus' being "in the world" only a few more hours. Consciousness of the dramatic change about to occur added drama and tension to this remarkable prayer.

That they may have my joy, etc. ... Two factors involved in the projected joy of the apostles were: (1) Christ's necessary departure to be with the Father, and (2) this prayer upon their behalf.

My joy ... Barnes referred this to "The joy of the apostles respecting the Saviour which would result from his resurrection."[17]

ENDNOTE:

[17] Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 356.

Verse 14
I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Thy word ... The frequent use of the singular noun where the divine word is concerned is significant. Though consisting of many words (John 17:8), the word of God is nevertheless one. It is one in that it is a single composite corpus of teaching. It is one in authority, trustworthiness, and saving efficacy, it is the one word delivered by God to Christ, by Christ to the apostles, and by the apostles to all mankind by means of their book, the New Testament. It is one word in the sense that no human teaching may be mixed with it or added to it. It is one word in the sense that "every word" of it is a necessary part of the whole, making it imperative that nothing be added to or taken from the teaching of God (Revelation 22:18,19).

The world hated them ... Jesus' heart is moved by the bitter trials he foresees falling upon the beloved apostles. Their task will not be easy. "The world hated them" is prophetic. Jesus had already warned them; but it was still a matter of acute concern to Jesus who poured out his heart for them in this prayer.

Because they are not of the world ... Jesus added the words "even as" he was not of the world; but, of course, there was a difference. Jesus was not of the world in the sense of his having been before the world was. The disciples were not of the world in the sense of their having accepted Christ's teachings which required the rejection of the world's value-judgments, the repudiation of its standards, and the denial of lordship to the world's prince, Satan. This was more than enough to justify Jesus' statement that the apostles were not of this world.

Verse 15
I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.

From ... is from the Greek term meaning "out of," and the obvious reason Jesus did not wish the disciples to be taken out of the world was that such a thing would have made impossible the conversion of the world. That the disciples should be kept "out of" the devil was the important thing. The whole concept underlying asceticism which arose in post-apostolic times was based on a failure to appreciate the meaning of these words. It was Christ's desire that the apostles should remain in the world, in contact with its populations, exposed to its culture, and in direct confrontation with its evil. Only this could enable them to convert the world. In this verse also appears the Saviour's concern for the whole of humanity, the only hope of which was dependent on the apostles' proclamation of the truth.

Verse 16
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

See under John 17:14, above.

Verse 17
Sanctify them in thy truth; thy word is truth.

As Reynolds noted:

A long controversy has prevailed in the church as to whether the Spirit's gracious operations are or are not limited by the operation of truth on the mind. Numerous assurances of the New Testament seem thus to limit the grace of God, or to measure it by the ordinary effect produced on the understanding by divine truth.[18]

Reynolds disagreed that such a "limitation" exists, but he was correct in his mention of "numerous assurances" of the New Testament which prove that it does exist. The proximity of this teaching of Jesus to his promise of the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all truth, together with the specific mention here of the truth as the instrument, or means, of their sanctification positively shows that whatever the Spirit accomplishes the means of it is sacred truth itself.

Regarding alien sinners, it is certain that the only power capable of producing faith in them is the word of God. As J. D. Thomas said:

We insist that the only power used to produce faith in the alien sinner is the word of God. Although denominationalists are slow to see this (perhaps due to inherited Calvinism), the teaching of the New Testament is very clear about the place of the gospel in producing faith. "The gospel is the power unto salvation" (Romans 1:16), and "faith comes by hearing the word" (Romans 10:17).[19]

Regarding the work of the Spirit in the hearts of Christians, however, the above limitation does not seem to be so complete. Again from Thomas:

The Spirit is not the word and is not limited to the use of the written word in all that he does (for instance, help our weakness, or intercede). "The Spirit also helps our weaknesses; for we know not how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).[20]

Despite the exceptions cited by Thomas, Jesus here clearly indicated that the divine truth would sanctify the apostles themselves, and this is grounds enough for denying that the Holy Spirit sanctifies Christians in some manner different from that. Perhaps a part of the difficulty lies in the failure to recognize the word itself as a living and abiding entity in the soul of the believer. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16) is exactly the equivalent of the Holy Spirit's indwelling; and many of the things said to be done by the Spirit are also said to be done by the word of God. It is not the purpose here to thresh all of the old arguments pro and con on this question; but we shall venture one dogmatic conclusion, namely, that the Holy Spirit never performs any kind of work in the human soul that is contrary to, or out of harmony with, the Scriptures. The notion, and it is merely that, of the Spirit's entering the soul and making it independent of the word of God, is not found in the Scriptures. There are no instances, not even in the case of the apostles, of persons going on unto a more perfect state of sanctification without the constant necessity of their remaining under the tutelage of the revealed will of God; and that seems to be the very point of this verse.

Thy word is truth ... is but another way of saying the Bible is truth. It is uniquely the word of God.

[18] H. R. Reynolds. The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), II, p. 349.

[19] J. D. Thomas, The Spirit and Spirituality (Abilene, Texas: Biblical Research Press, 1966), p. 10.

[20] Ibid., p. 15.

Verse 18
As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world.

Just as Christ delivered God's word, the apostles were instructed to deliver, not their word, but Christ's. This respect to the pattern of teaching illuminates the promise of Jesus that whatever the apostles bound on earth would be bound in heaven, etc. (Matthew 18:18). Not even the apostles had authority to set up an organization and teach whatever they might have conceived to be expedient or appropriate. They were to use the same fidelity in teaching what Christ commanded that Christ had used in declaring what God had said.

Even so sent I them ... This is prophetic tense, viewing the future sending of the apostles as already accomplished.

Verse 19
And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

Sanctify ... here does not refer to being made more holy, because such a meaning could not have pertained to Jesus. Thus, another meaning of "sanctify," which is "to consecrate," is intended (English Revised Version margin). Jesus was in the act of consecrating himself as the one great sacrifice for sin. "The truth," the evident means of Jesus' consecration, was the word of God, which was the source of motivation and power for Jesus as he moved toward the cross. By opening up, through his death, the way of salvation for all, Jesus made it possible for the apostles also to be sanctified in truth, that is, by the same word of God.

Verse 20
Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word.

Here the prayer reached out toward the saved of all generations. Significantly, all who would believe on Jesus would do so "through their word," that is, through the word of the apostles, there being no other way that faith can be produced. Such being the case for conversion, why should it be thought strange that the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, after they are converted, should follow exactly the same pattern?

Through their word ... is not a merely incidental thought. Peter wrote: "Remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles" (2 Peter 3:2). These words are equivalent to saying that there is no other way of bringing men to God except through the word of the apostles.

Verse 21
That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me.

That they may all be one ... is a prayer for Christian unity, the great reason for Christ's desire for such unity being immediately stated, "that the world may believe that thou didst send me."

In answering the question of how the believers' unity could effect the conversion of the world, Milligan said, "This would be to all thoughtful persons a moral demonstration that the Christian religion is not of men, but of God."[21]

It is in disunity that God's church is most helpless in the present times. Nothing is more productive of infidelity and unrighteousness than the conflicting doctrines of professed followers of Christ. By multiplying divisions, Satan has hindered numberless millions from obeying the gospel. No greater need could be imagined than that of the unity of the church of the living God; but alas, only a certain kind of unity will avail anything; and that is the kind of unity Jesus identified in this prayer, a unity like that between the Father and the Son.

Satan has ever been busy advocating his own kind of unity, such as: (1) the unity of authoritarianism, in which all blindly obey the ecclesiastics elevated above them; (2) the kind of unity proposed by the snake to the frog, in which one entity is swallowed up in another; (3) the unity in which each group of believers accepts his status under some system of allocation, and in which, like in the cemetery, everyone lies as complacently as possible and does not infringe on his neighbors; (4) the unity in which many groups are submerged in a super-organization, thus containing every degree of contradiction and aberration under one pretentious banner, such unity being very similar to that exhibited by a barrel of scorpions.

Therefore,

Believers should always yearn for peace, but never for peace at the expense of truth; for "unity" which has been gained by means of such a sacrifice is not worthy of the name.[22]

Thou Father art in me, and I in thee ... and they in us ... This threefold unity is the only kind of unity that can avail. For notes on the profound implications of being "in Christ," see under John 14:20. To be "in Christ" is also to be "in God."

[21] Robert Milligan, Analysis of the New Testament (Cincinnati, Ohio: Bosworth, Chase, and Hall, 1874), p. 268.

[22] William Hendriksen, op. cit., II, p. 365.

Verse 22
And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are.

Not the apostles only, but all Christians, partake of the glory of God from Christ. They are partakers of his holiness (Hebrews 12:10), "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and have received the reconciliation (Romans 5:11).

Verse 23
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.

I in them, and thou in me ... See under preceding verse (John 17:22) and under John 14:20. The perfect unity flows out of perfect submission to the total will of God in Christ, resulting in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc." (Ephesians 4:4f). God's love of Christ means God's love of Christ's body, which is his church.

Verse 24
Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

Where I am ... Prophetically, Jesus was already at home with the Father when this prayer was uttered. See under John 14:1-3 where the same thought prevails. "Before the foundation of the world ..." See under John 17:5 and John 1:1-11. The eternal existence of Christ, his deity, incarnation, and visit to humanity as "the Dayspring from on high" (Luke 1:78) - these are all in view here. The ministry of Christ was but an interlude in the eternal life of that great "I AM" who was before Abraham was born and before all creation.

Verse 25
O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee; and these knew that thou didst send me.

This is reminiscent of John 1:10 and the whole prologue. Jesus' identification of the apostles before the throne of God as persons who "knew that thou didst send me" is proof of the importance of such knowledge. Really to know the origin of Christ in God is to find salvation possible. This is not, actually, such a knowledge as can be objectively proved and demonstrated; but it is the kind of knowledge that follows obedient faith in Christ, as when Peter said, "We believe and know" (John 6:69).

Verse 26
And I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.

Made known unto them thy name ... The threefold employment of this clause, here and in John 17:11-12, raises the question of what, exactly, is that name. "Jesus Christ" is the great compound name of the Lord, used here for the first time on earth; and it is impossible to separate repeated references to "the name which thou hast given me" from that very compound title of the world's only Saviour. (See under John 17:3 and John 17:11.) This alone can adequately explain the apostolic preference for "Jesus Christ," as used so many times in the New Testament. It is simply unbelievable that the apostles themselves contrived this name, made it their favorite designation of the Lord, and that one of them (John) erroneously ascribed it to Jesus near the end of the first century. No. Christ spoke in John 17:3, as John quoted him.

Love ... in them, and I in them ... There persists to the very end of this sacred prayer the concept of all spiritual blessings being "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Thus John joins the apostle Paul in the superlative importance attributed to being "in Christ." Paul used the expression "in Christ," or its equivalent (in him, in whom, etc.) no less than 169 times in his epistles.[23] To be "in Christ" is everything with regard to salvation. Thus it is clear that the revelation of the plan of salvation formed a part of Christ's purpose in this prayer. Anderson said:

This great prayer of Christ is similar to a final report of work accomplished, the most important of which was to reveal the Father's love and his plan of salvation for all men. That Christ's work was successful is indicated in John 17:8.[24]

It was the accurate memory of the apostle John, aided by the Holy Spirit, that produced the record of this amazing prayer, and not his philosophical imagination that did it. It is a passage which "surpasses all literature in its setting forth the identity of being, power, and love, in the twofold personality of the God-Man."[25]

As Reynolds said:

The supposition that some unknown writer of the second century excogitated such a prayer out of the synoptic narratives, the Pauline epistles, and the Alexandrian philosophy, refutes itself.[26]

The conviction of every devoted Christian who studies this prayer resolves into this: that none but Jesus Christ our Lord could have prayed it, and even he, only in the torture of those pressure-events leading up to the cross. That a person who lived long afterward, and did not even know the Lord, could have composed such a prayer and then have ascribed it to Jesus is only a ridiculous imagination.

Having followed our Lord's thoughts through this sublime prayer, we may exclaim with Peter who, upon another occasion, said, "Lord ... we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God."

[23] John Mackay, God's Order (New York: Macmillan Company, 1953), p. 67.

[24] Stanley F. Anderson, Our Dependable Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 157.

[25] H. R. Reynolds, op. cit., II, p. 340.

[26] Ibid., p. 353.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 17:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=joh&chapter=017". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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