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Bible Commentaries
John 17

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


Christ prays the Father to glorify him, 1.

In what eternal life consists, 2-3.

Shows that he has glorified his Father, by fulfilling his will

upon earth, and revealing him to the disciples, 4-8.

Prays for them, that they may be preserved in unity and kept

from evil, 9-16.

Prays for their sanctification, 17-19.

Prays also for those who should believe on him through their

preaching, that they all might be brought into a state of

unity, and finally brought to eternal glory, 20-26.


Verse John 17:1. These words spake Jesus — That is, what is related in the preceding chapters. We may consider our Lord as still moving on towards Gethsemane, not having yet passed the brook Cedron, John 18:1.

Our Lord, who was now going to act as high priest for the whole human race, imitates in his conduct that of the Jewish high priest on the great day of expiation; who, in order to offer up the grand atonement for the sins of the people:-

1. Washed himself, and put on clean linen garments. This Christ appears to have imitated, John 13:4. He laid aside his garments, girded himself with a towel, c. There is no room to doubt that he and his disciples had been at the bath before: see John 13:10.

2. The high priest addressed a solemn prayer to God:

1. For himself this Christ imitates, John 17:1-5.

2. For the sons of Aaron: our Lord imitates this in praying for his disciples, John 17:9-19.

3. For all the people: our Lord appears to imitate this also in praying for his Church, all who should believe on him through the preaching of the apostles and their successors, John 17:20-24. After which he returns again to his disciples, John 17:25; John 17:26. See CALMET'S Dict. under Expiation and see La Grande Bible de M. MARTIN, in loc.

I. Our Lord's prayer for himself, John 17:1-5.

Father — Here our Lord addresses the whole Divine nature, as he is now performing his last acts in his state of humiliation.

Glorify thy Son — Cause him to be acknowledged as the promised Messiah by the Jewish people, and as the universal Saviour by the Gentile world; and let such proofs of his Godhead be given as shall serve to convince and instruct mankind.

That thy son also may glorify thee — That by dying be may magnify thy law and make it honourable, respected among men-show the strictness of thy justice, and the immaculate purity of thy nature.

Verse 2

Verse John 17:2. As thou hast given him power — As the Messiah, Jesus Christ received from the Father universal dominion. All flesh, i.e. all the human race, was given unto him, that by one sacrifice of himself, he might reconcile them all to God; having by his grace tasted death for every man, Hebrews 2:9. And this was according to the promise of the universal inheritance made to Christ, Psalms 2:8, which was to be made up of the heathen, and the uttermost parts of the land, all the Jewish people. So that he got all from God, that he might give his life a ransom for the whole. See 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 5:21; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 2:6.

That he should have eternal life, c.] As all were delivered into his power, and he poured out his blood to redeem all, then the design of God is that all should have eternal life, because all are given for this purpose to Christ and, that this end might be accomplished, he has become their sacrifice and atonement.

Verse 3

Verse John 17:3. This is life eternal — The salvation purchased by Christ, and given to them who believe, is called life:

1. Because the life of man was forfeited to Divine justice; and the sacrifice of Christ redeemed him from that death to which he was exposed.

2. Because the souls of men were dead in trespasses and sins; and Christ quickens them by his word and Spirit.

3. Because men who are not saved by the grace of Christ do not live, they only exist, no good purpose of life being answered by them. But when they receive this salvation they live - answer all the Divine purposes, are happy in themselves, useful to each other, and bring glory to God.

4. It is called eternal life to show that it reaches beyond the limits of time, and that it necessarily implies -

1. The immortality of the soul;

2. the resurrection of the body; and

3. that it is never to end, hence called αιωνιος ζωη, a life ever living; from αει, always, and ων, being or existence. And indeed no words can more forcibly convey the idea of eternity than these. It is called η αιωνιος ζωη, THAT eternal life, by way of eminence. There may be an eternal existence without blessedness; but this is that eternal life with which infinite happiness is inseparably connected.

The only true God — The way to attain this eternal life is to acknowledge, worship, and obey, the one only true God, and to accept as teacher, sacrifice, and Saviour, the Lord Jesus, the one and only true Messiah. Bishop Pearce's remark here is well worthy the reader's attention: -

"What is said here of the only true God seems said in opposition to the gods whom the heathens worshipped; not in opposition to Jesus Christ himself, who is called the true God by John, in 1 John 5:20."

The words in this verse have been variously translated:

1. That they might acknowledge thee, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent, to be the only true God.

2. That they might acknowledge thee, the only true God, and Jesus, whom thou hast sent, to be the Christ or Messiah.

3. That they might acknowledge thee to be the only true God, and Jesus Christ to be him whom thou hast sent. And all these translations the original will bear.

From all this we learn that the only way in which eternal life is to be attained is by acknowledging the true God, and the Divine mission of Jesus Christ, he being sent of God to redeem men by his blood, being the author of eternal salvation to all them that thus believe, and conscientiously keep his commandments.

A saying similar to this is found in the Institutes of Menu. Brigoo, the first emanated being who was produced from the mind of the supreme God, and who revealed the knowledge of his will to mankind, is represented as addressing the human race and saying: "Of all duties, the principal is to acquire from the Upanishads (their sacred writings) a true knowledge of one supreme God; that is the most exalted of sciences, because it ensures eternal life. For in the knowledge and adoration of one God all the rules of good conduct are fully comprised." See Institutes of Menu, chap. xii. Inst. 85, 87.

Verse 4

Verse John 17:4. I have glorified thee — Our Lord, considering himself as already sacrificed for the sin of the world, speaks of having completed the work which God had given him to do: and he looks forward to that time when, through the preaching of his Gospel, his sacrifice should be acknowledged, and the true God should be known and worshipped by the whole world.

Verse 5

Verse John 17:5. Before the world was. — That is, from eternity, before there was any creation-so the phrase, and others similar to it, are taken in the sacred writings; see John 17:24; Psalms 90:2; Ephesians 1:4. See John 1:1. Let the glory of my eternal divinity surround and penetrate my humanity, in its resurrection, ascension, and in the place which it is to occupy at thy right hand, far above all creatures, Philippians 2:6; Philippians 2:9.

Verse 6

II. Our Lord's prayer for his disciples, John 17:6-19.

Verse John 17:6. I have manifested thy name — εφανερωσα, I have brought it into light, and caused it to shine in itself, and to illuminate others. A little of the Divine nature was known by the works of creation; a little more was known by the Mosaic revelation: but the full manifestation of God, his nature, and his attributes, came only through the revelation of Christ.

The men which thou gavest me — That is, the apostles, who, having received this knowledge from Christ, were, by their preaching and writings, to spread it through the whole world.

Out of the world — From among the Jewish people; for in this sense is the word κοσμος to be understood in various parts of our Lord's last discourses.

Thine they were — Objects of thy choice; and thou gavest them to me from among this very unbelieving people, that they might be my disciples and the heralds of my salvation.

And they have kept thy word. — Though their countrymen have rejected it; and they have received me as thy well beloved Son in whom thou delightest.

Verse 8

Verse John 17:8. I have given - them the words — I have delivered thy doctrine to them, so that they have had a pure teaching immediately from heaven: neither Jewish fables nor fictions of men have been mingled with it.

And have known surely — Are fully convinced and acknowledge that I am the promised Messiah, and that they are to look for none other; and that my mission and doctrine are all Divine, John 17:7-8.

Verse 9

Verse John 17:9. I pray not for the world — I am not yet come to that part of my intercession: see John 17:20. I am now wholly employed for my disciples, that they may be properly qualified to preach my salvation to the ends of the earth. Jesus here imitates the high priest, the second part of whose prayer, on the day of expiation, was for the priests, the sons of Aaron: John 17:1; John 17:1. These words may also be understood as applying to the rebellious Jews. God's wrath was about to descend upon them, and Christ prays that his own followers might be kept from the evil, John 17:15. But he does not thus pray for the world, the rebellious Jews, because the cup of their iniquity was full, and their judgment slumbered not.

Verse 10

Verse John 17:10. I am glorified in them. — Christ speaks of the things which were not, but which should be, as though they were. He anticipates the glorifying of his name by the successful preaching of the apostles.

Verse 11

Verse John 17:11. I am no more in the world — I am just going to leave the world, and therefore they shall stand in need of peculiar assistance and support. They have need of all the influence of my intercession, that they may be preserved in thy truth.

Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me — Instead of ους δεδωκας μοι, THOSE whom thou hast given me, ABCEHLMS, Mt. BHV, and nearly one hundred others, read ω, which refers to the τω ονοματι σου, thy name, immediately preceding. The whole passage should be read thus: Holy Father, keep them through thy own name WHICH thou hast given me, that they may be one, c. By the name, here, it is evident that the doctrine or knowledge of the true God is intended as if our Lord had said, Keep them in that doctrine WHICH thou hast given me, that they may be one, &c. This reading is supported by the most ample evidence and indisputable authority. Griesbach has admitted it into the text, and Professor White in his CRISEΩS says of it, Lectio indubie genuina, "It is, without doubt, the genuine reading."

That they may be ONE — That they, and all that believe through their word, (the doctrine which I have given them,) may be one body, united by one Spirit to me their living head. The union which Christ recommends here, and prays for, is so complete and glorious as to be fitly represented by that union which subsists between the Father and the Son.

Verse 12

Verse John 17:12. I kept them in thy name — In thy doctrine and truth.

But the son of perdition — So we find that Judas, whom all account to have been lost, and whose case at best is extremely dubious, was first given by God to Christ? But why was he lost? Because, says St. Augustin, he would not be saved: and he farther adds, After the commission of his crime, he might have returned to God and have found mercy. Aug. Serm. 125; n. 5; Psalms 146:0 n. 20; Ser. 352, n. 8; and in Psalms 108:0 See Calmet, who remarks: Judas only became the son of perdition because of his wilful malice, his abuse of the grace and instructions of Christ, and was condemned through his own avarice, perfidy, insensibility, and despair. In behalf of the mere possibility of the salvation of Judas, see the observations at the end of Acts 1:0. Acts 1:0- :

Perdition or destruction is personified; and Judas is represented as being her son, i.e. one of the worst of men-one whose crime appears to have been an attempt to destroy, not only the Saviour of the world, but also the whole human race. And all this he was capable of through the love of money! How many of those who are termed creditable persons in the world have acted his crime over a thousand times! To Judas and to all his brethren, who sell God and their souls for money, and who frequently go out of this world by a violent voluntary death, we may apply those burning words of Mr. Blair, with very little alteration:

"O cursed lust of gold! when for thy sake

The wretch throws up his interest in both worlds,

First hanged in this, then damned in that to come."

That the scripture might be fulfilled. — Or, Thus the scripture is fulfilled: see Psalms 41:9; Psalms 109:8; compared with Acts 1:20. Thus the traitorous conduct of Judas has been represented and illustrated by that of Ahitophel, and the rebellion of Absalom against his father David. Thus what was spoken concerning them was also fulfilled in Judas: to him therefore these scriptures are properly applied, though they were originally spoken concerning other traitors. Hence we plainly see that the treachery of Judas was not the effect of the prediction, for that related to a different case; but, as his was of the same nature with that of the others, to it the same scriptures were applicable.

Verse 13

Verse John 17:13. My joy fulfilled in themselves.John 15:11; John 15:11.

Verse 14

Verse John 17:14. I have given them thy word — Or, thy doctrine - του λογον σου. In this sense the word λογος is often used by St. John.

And the world hath hated them — The Jewish rulers, &c., have hated them. - Why? Because they received the doctrine of God, the science of salvation, and taught it to others. They knew Jesus to be the Messiah, and as such they proclaimed him: our Lord speaks prophetically of what was about to take place. How terrible is the perversion of human nature! Men despise that which they should esteem, and endeavour to destroy that without which they must be destroyed themselves!

Verse 15

Verse John 17:15. That thou shouldest take them out of the world — They must not yet leave the land of Judea: they had not as yet borne their testimony there, concerning Christ crucified and risen again from the dead. To take them away before this work was finished would not answer the gracious design of God. -

1. Christ does not desire that his faithful apostles should soon die, and be taken to God. No: but that they may live long, labour long, and bring forth much fruit.

2. He does not intimate that they should seclude themselves from the world by going to the desert, or to the cloisters; but that they should continue in and among the world, that they may have the opportunity of recommending the salvation of God.

3. Christ only prays that while they are in the world, employed in the work of the ministry, they may be preserved from the influence, του πονηρου, of the evil one, the devil, who had lately entered into Judas, John 13:27, and who would endeavour to enter into them, ruin their souls, and destroy their work. A devil without can do no harm; but a devil within ruins all.

Verse 17

Verse John 17:17. Sanctify them — αγιασον, from α, negative, and γη, the earth. This word has two meanings:

1. It signifies to consecrate, to separate from earth and common use, and to devote or dedicate to God and his service.

2. It signifies to make holy or pure. The prayer of Christ may be understood in both these senses. He prayed -

1. That they might be fully consecrated to the work of the ministry, and separated from all worldly concerns.

2. That they might be holy, and patterns of all holiness to those to whom they announced the salvation of God. A minister who engages himself in worldly concerns is a reproach to the Gospel; and he who is not saved from his own sins can with a bad grace recommend salvation to others.

Through thy truth — It is not only according to the truth of God that ministers are to be set apart to the sacred work; but it is from that truth, and according to it, that they must preach to others. That doctrine which is not drawn from the truth of God can never save souls. God blesses no word but his own; because none is truth, without mixture of error, but that which has proceeded from himself. Our Lord still acts here in reference to the conduct of the high priest, to whom it belonged to sanctify the priests, the sons of Aaron: John 17:1.

Verse 18

Verse John 17:18. As thou hast sent me - so have I also sent them — The apostles had the same commission which Christ had, considered as man - they were endued with the same Spirit, so that they could not err, and their word was accompanied with the same success.

Verse 19

Verse John 17:19. I sanctify myself — I consecrate and devote myself to death-that I may thereby purchase eternal salvation for them. There seems to be here an allusion to the entering of the high priest into the holy of holies, when, having offered the sacrifice, he sprinkled the blood before the ark of the covenant. So Jesus entered into the holiest of all by his own blood, in order to obtain everlasting redemption for men: see Hebrews 9:11-13. The word, αγιαζω, to consecrate or sanctify, is used in the sense of devoting to death, in Jeremiah 12:3, both in the Hebrew and in the Septuagint: the Hebrew קדש signifies also to sacrifice.

Verse 20

III. Our Lord's prayer for his Church, and for all who would believe on his name, through the preaching of the apostles and their successors: John 17:20-26. John 17:1; John 17:1.

Verse John 17:20. Neither pray I for these alone — This prayer extends itself through all ages, and takes in every soul that believes in the Lord Jesus.

And what is it that Christ asks in behalf of his followers? The greatest of blessings: unity, peace, love, and eternal glory.

Verse 21

Verse John 17:21. That they all may be one — This prayer was literally answered to the first believers, who were all of one heart and of one soul: Acts 4:32. And why is it that believers are not in the same spirit now? Because they neither attend to the example nor to the truth of Christ.

That the world may believe — are have already seen that the word, κοσμος, world, is used in several parts of this last discourse of our Lord to signify the Jewish people only.

Christ will have all his members to be one in spirit-one in rights and privileges, and one in the blessedness of the future world.

Verse 22

Verse 22. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them — That is, the power to work miracles, and to preach unadulterated truth, say some; but as our Lord is not here praying for the disciples, but for all those who should believe on him through their word, John 17:20, it is more natural to understand the passage thus. As Christ, according to his human nature, is termed the Son of God, he may be understood as saying: "I have communicated to all those who believe, or shall believe in me, the glorious privilege of becoming sons of God; that, being all adopted children of the same Father, they may abide in peace, love, and unity." For this reason it is said, Hebrews 2:11, Christ is not ashamed to call them brethren. However, our Lord may here, as in several other places, be using the past for the future; and the words may therefore be understood of the glory which they were to share with him in heaven.

Verse 23

Verse 23. That the world may know — That the Jewish people first, and secondly the Gentiles, may acknowledge me as the true Messiah, and be saved unto life eternal.

Verse 24

Verse 24. That they may behold my glory — That they may enjoy eternal felicity with me in thy kingdom. So the word is used, John 3:3; Matthew 5:8. The design of Christ is, that all who believe should love and obey, persevere unto the end, and be eternally united to himself, and the ever blessed God, in the kingdom of glory.

Verse 25

Verse John 17:25. The world hath not known thee — Has not acknowledged me. See on John 1:11-12.

And these have known — Here our Lord, returning to the disciples, speaks: 1st. Of their having received him as the Messiah; 2dly. Of his making the Father known unto them; 3dly. Of his purpose to continue to influence them by the Spirit of truth, that they might be perfectly united to God, by an indwelling Saviour for ever.

Verse 26

Verse John 17:26. I have declared unto them thy name, c.] I have taught them the true doctrine.

And will declare it — This he did:

1st. By the conversations he had with his disciples after his resurrection, during the space of forty days.

2dly. By the Holy Spirit which was poured out upon them on the day of pentecost. And all these declarations Jesus Christ made, that the love of God, and Christ Jesus himself, might dwell in them and thus they were to become a habitation for God through the eternal Spirit.

OUR Lord's sermon, which he concluded by the prayer recorded in this chapter, begins at John 13:13, and is one of the most excellent than can be conceived. His sermon on the mount shows men what they should do, so as to please God: this sermon shows them how they are to do the things prescribed in the other. In the former the reader sees a strict morality which he fears he shall never be able to perform: in this, he sees all things are possible to him who believes; for that very God who made him shall dwell in his heart, and enable him to do all that He pleases to employ him in. No man can properly understand the nature and design of the religion of Christ who does not enter into the spirit of the preceding discourse. Perhaps no part of our Lord's words has been less understood, or more perverted, than the seventeenth chapter of St. John. I have done what I could, in so small a compass, to make every thing plain, and to apply these words in that way in which I am satisfied he used them.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/john-17.html. 1832.
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