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Bible Commentaries
John 17

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

These words - The words addressed to them in the preceding chapters. They were proceeding to the garden of Gethsemane. It adds much to the interest of this prayer that it was offered in the stillness of the night, in the open air, and in the especially tender circumstances in which Jesus and his apostles were. It is the longest prayer recorded in the New Testament. It was offered on the most tender and solemn occasion that has ever occurred in our world, and it is perhaps the most sublime composition to be found anywhere. Jesus was about to die. Having expressed his love to his disciples, and made known to them his last desires, he now commends them to the protection and blessing of the God of grace. This prayer is moreover a specimen of the manner of his intercession, and evinces the interest which he felt in behalf of all who should become his followers in all ages of the world.

Lifted up his eyes - This was the common attitude of prayer. Compare Luke 18:13.

The hour is come - That is, the appointed time for his sufferings and death. Compare the notes at John 12:27.

Glorify thy Son - Honor thy Son. See John 11:4. Give to the world demonstration that I am thy Son. So sustain me, and so manifest thy power in my death, resurrection, and ascension, as to afford indubitable evidence that I am the Son of God.

That thy Son also may glorify thee - This refers clearly to the manifestation of the honor of God which would be made by the spread of the gospel among men, John 17:2. Jesus prayed that God would so honor him in his death that striking proof might be furnished that he was the Messiah, and men thus be brought to honor God. By his death the law, the truth, and the mercy of God were honored. By the spread of his gospel and the conversion of sinners; by all that Christ will do, now that he is glorified, to spread his gospel, God will be honored. The conversion of a single sinner honors God; a revival of religion is an eminent means of promoting his honor; and the spread of the gospel among all nations shall yet do more than all other things to promote the honor of God among men. Whatever honors the Saviour honors God. Just as he is exalted in view of the mind, so will God be honored and obeyed.

Verse 2

As thou hast given him power - It was on the ground of this power given to Christ that the apostles were commanded to go and teach all nations. See the notes at Matthew 28:18-19.

All flesh - All men, Matthew 24:22; Luke 3:6.

That he should give eternal life - See the notes at John 5:24.

To as many as thou hast given him - See the notes at John 10:16; John 6:37. To all on whom the Father has purposed to bestow the blessings of redemption through his Son. God has a plan in all he does, extending to men as well as to other objects. One part of his plan was that the atonement of Christ should not be in vain. Hence he promised him that he should see of the travail of his soul and should be satisfied Isaiah 53:11; and hence the Saviour had the assurance that the Father had given him a portion of the human family, and would apply this great work to them. It is to be observed here that the Saviour in this prayer makes an important distinction between “all flesh” and those who were “given to him.” He has power over all. He can control, direct, restrain them. Wicked men are so far under his universal dominion, and so far restrained by his power, that they will not be able to prevent his bestowing redemption on those were given him that is, all who will believe on him. Long ago, if they had been able, they would have banished religion from the world; but they are under the power of Christ, and it is his purpose that there shall be “a seed to serve him,” and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against his church. Men who oppose the gospel should therefore feel that they cannot prevent the salvation of Christians, and should be alarmed lest they be found “fighting against God.”

Verse 3

This is life eternal - This is the source of eternal life; or it is in this manner that it is to be obtained. The knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ is itself a source of unspeakable and eternal joy. Compare John 11:25; John 6:63; John 12:50.

Might know thee - The word “know” here, as in other places, expresses more than a mere speculative acquaintance with the character and perfections of God. “It includes all the impressions on the mind and life which a just view of God and of the Saviour is fitted to produce.” It includes, of course, love, reverence, obedience, honor, gratitude, supreme affection. “To know God as he is” is to know and regard him as a lawgiver, a sovereign, a parent, a friend. It is to yield the whole soul to him, and strive to obey his law.

The only true God - The only God, in opposition to all false gods. What is said here is in opposition to idols, not to Jesus himself, who, in 1 John 5:20, is called “the true God and eternal life.”

And Jesus Christ - To know Jesus Christ is to have a practical impression of him as he is - that is, to suffer his character and work to make their due impression on the heart and life. Simply to have heard that there is a Saviour is not to know it. To have been taught in childhood and trained up in the belief of it is not to know it. To know him is to have a just, practical view of him in all his perfections as God and man; as a mediator; as a prophet, a priest, and a king. It is to feel our need of such a Saviour, to see that we are sinners, and to yield the whole soul to him, knowing that he is a Saviour suited to our needs, and that in his hands our souls are safe. Compare Ephesians 3:19; Titus 1:16; Philippians 3:10; 1 John 5:20. In this verse is contained the sum and essence of the Christian religion, as it is distinguished from all the schemes of idolatry and philosophy, and all the false plans on which men have sought to obtain eternal life. The Gentiles worshipped many gods; the Christian worships one - the living and the true God; the Jew, the Deist, the Muslim, the Socinian, profess to acknowledge one God, without any atoning sacrifice and Mediator; the true Christian approaches him through the great Mediator, equal with the Father, who for us became incarnate, and died that he might reconcile us to God.

Verse 4

Have glorified thee - In my instructions and life. See his discourses everywhere, the whole tendency of which is to put honor on God.

I have finished the work - Compare John 19:30. When he says “I have finished,” he probably means to include also his death. All the preparations for that death were made. He had preached to the Jews; he had given them full proof that he was the Messiah; he had collected his disciples; he had taught them the nature of his religion; he had given them his parting counsel, and there was nothing remaining to be done but to return to God. We see here that Jesus was careful that his great and important work should be done before his dying hour. He did not postpone it to be performed just as he was leaving the world. So completely had he done his work, that even before his death he could I say, “I have finished the work.” How happy would it be if men would imitate his example, and not leave their great work of life to be done on a dying bed? Christians should have their work accomplished, and when that hour approaches, have nothing to do but to die, and return to their Father in heaven.

Verse 5

With thine own self - In heaven, granting me a participation of the same honor which the Father has. He had just said that he had glorified God on the earth, he now prays that God would glorify him in heaven.

With the glory - With the honor. This word also includes the notion of happiness, or everything which could render the condition blessed.

Before the world was - There could not be a more distinct and clear declaration of the pre-existence of Christ than this. It means before the creation of the world; before there was any world. Of course, the speaker here must have existed then, and this is equivalent to saying that he existed from eternity. See John 1:1-2; John 6:62; John 3:13; John 16:28. The glory which he had then was that which was proper to the Son of God, represented by the expression “being in the bosom of the Father” John 1:18, denoting intimacy, friendship, united felicity. The Son of God, by becoming incarnate, is represented as “humbling himself” (Greek: he “emptied himself”), Philippians 2:8. He laid aside for a time the external aspect of honor, and consented to become despised, and to assume the form of a servant. He now prays that God would raise him up to the dignity and honor which he had before his incarnation. This is the state to which he is now exalted, with the additional honor of having made atonement for sin, and having opened the way to save a race of rebels from eternal death. The lowest condition on earth is frequently connected with the highest honors of heaven. Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks to him that is humble and of a contrite spirit.

Verse 6

Have manifested thy name - The word “name” here includes the attributes or character of God. Jesus had made known his character, his law, his will, his plan of mercy - or, in other words, he had revealed God to them. The word “name” is often used to designate the person, John 15:21; Matthew 10:22; Romans 2:24; 1 Timothy 6:1.

Which thou gavest me - God gave them to him in his purpose. He gave them by his providence. He so ordered affairs that they heard him preach and saw his miracles; and he gave them by disposing them to follow him when he called them.

Thine they were - All men are God’s by creation and by preservation, and he has a right to do with them as seemeth good in his sight. These men he chose to designate to be the apostles of the Saviour; and he committed them to him to be taught, and then commissioned them to carry his gospel, though amid persecutions, to the ends of the world. God has a right to the services of all; and he has a right to appoint us to any labor, however humble, or hazardous, or wearisome, where we may promote his glory and honor his name.

Verse 7

They have known - They have been taught that and have believed it.

Hast given me - This refers, doubtless, to the doctrine of Christ, John 17:8. They are assured that all my instructions are of God.

Verse 8

The words - The doctrines. Christ often represented himself as instructed and sent to teach certain great truths to men. Those he taught, and no others. See the notes at John 5:30.

Verses 9-10

I pray for them - In view of their dangers and trials, he sought the protection and blessing of God on them. His prayer was always answered.

Not for the world - The term world here, as elsewhere, refers to wicked, rebellious, vicious men. The meaning of this expression here seems to be this: Jesus is praying for his disciples. As a reason why God should bless them, he says that they were not of the world; that they had been taken out of the world; that they belonged unto God. The petition was not offered for wicked, perverse, rebellious men, but for those who were the friends of God and were disposed to receive his favors. This passage, then, settles nothing about the question whether Christ prayed for sinners. He then prayed for his disciples, who were not those who hated him and disregarded his favors. He afterward extended the prayer for all who should become Christians, John 17:20. When on the cross he prayed for his crucifiers and murderers, Luke 23:34.

For they are thine - This is urged as a reason why God should protect and guide them. His honor was concerned in keeping them; and we may always “fill our mouths with” such “arguments” when we come before God, and plead that his honor will be advanced by keeping us from evil, and granting us all needful grace.

I am glorified in them - I am honored by their preaching and lives. The sense of this passage is, “Those who are my disciples are thine. That which promotes my honor will also promote thine. I pray, therefore, that they may have needful grace to honor my gospel, and to proclaim it among men.”

Verse 11

I am no more in the world - I have finished my work among men, and am about to leave the world. See John 17:4.

These are in the world - They will be among wicked men and malignant foes. They will be subject to trials and persecutions. They will need the same protection which I could give them if I were with them.

Keep - Preserve, defend, sustain them in trials, and save them from apostasy.

Through thine own name - Our translators seem to have understood this expression as meaning “keep by thy power,” but this probably is not its meaning. It is literally “keep in thy name.” And if the term name be taken to denote God himself and his perfections (see the note at John 17:6), it means “keep in the knowledge of thyself. Preserve them in obedience to thee and to thy cause. Suffer them not to fall away from thee and to become apostates.”

That they may be one - That they may be united.

As we are - This refers not to a union of nature, but of feeling, plan, purpose. Any other union between Christians is impossible; but a union of affection is what the Saviour sought, and this he desired might be so strong as to be an illustration of the unchanging love between the Father and the Son. See John 17:21-23.

Verse 12

While I was with them in the world - While I was engaged with them among other men - surrounded by the people and the temptations of the world. Jesus had now finished his work among the men of the world, and was performing his last offices with his disciples.

I kept them - By my example, instructions, and miracles. I preserved them from apostasy.

In thy name - In the knowledge and worship of thee. See John 17:6-11.

Those that thou gavest me ... - The word “gavest” is evidently used by the Saviour to denote not only to give to him to be his real followers, but also as apostles. It is used here, probably, in the sense of giving as apostles. God had so ordered it by his providence that they had been given to him to be his apostles and followers; but the terms “thou gavest me” do not of necessity prove that they were true believers. Of Judas Jesus knew that he was a deceiver and a devil, John 6:70; “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Judas is there represented as having been chosen by the Saviour to the apostleship, and this is equivalent to saying that he was given to him for this work; yet at the same time he knew his character, and understood that he had never been renewed.

None of them - None of those chosen to the apostolic office.

But the son of perdition - See the notes at Matthew 1:1. The term son was given by the Hebrews to those who possessed the character described by the word or name following. Thus, sons of Belial - those who possessed his character; children of wisdom those who were wise, Matthew 11:19. Thus Judas is called a son of perdition because he had the character of a destroyer. He was a traitor and a murderer. And this shows that he who knew the heart regarded his character as that of a wicked man one whose appropriate name was that of a son of perdition.

That the scripture ... - See the notes at John 13:18. Compare Psa 12:9.

Verse 13

My joy fulfilled ... - See the notes at John 15:11. The expression “my joy here probably refers to the joy of the apostles respecting the Saviour - the joy which would result from his resurrection, ascension, and intercession in heaven.

Verse 14

I have given them ... - See John 17:8.

The world hath hated them ... - John 15:18-21.

Verse 15

That thou shouldest take them out of the world - Though they were going into trials and persecutions, yet Jesus did not pray that they might be removed soon from them. It was better that they should endure them, and thus spread abroad the knowledge of his name. It would be easy for God to remove his people at once to heaven, but it is better for them to remain, and show the power of religion in supporting the soul in the midst of trial, and to spread his gospel among men.

Shouldest keep them from the evil - This may mean either from the evil one that is, the devil, or from evil in general that is, from apostasy, from sinking in temptation. Preserve them from that evil, or give them such grace that they may endure all trials and be sustained amid them. See the notes at Matthew 6:13. It matters little how long we are in this world if we are kept in this manner.

Verse 16

See John 15:19.

Verse 17

Sanctify them - This word means to render pure, or to cleanse from sins, 1Th 5:23; 1 Corinthians 6:11. Sanctification in the heart of a Christian is progressive. It consists in his becoming more like God and less attached to the world; in his getting the ascendency over evil thoughts, and passions, and impure desires; and in his becoming more and more weaned from earthly objects, and attached to those things which are unseen and eternal. The word also means “to consecrate, to set apart to a holy office or purpose.” See John 17:19; also the notes at John 10:36. When Jesus prayed here that God would sanctify them, he probably included both these ideas, that they might be made personally more holy, and might be truly consecrated to God as the ministers of his religion. Ministers of the gospel will be really devoted to the service of God just in proportion as they are personally pure.

Through thy truth - Truth is a representation of things as they are. The Saviour prayed that through those just views of God and of themselves they might be made holy. To see things as they are is to see God to be infinitely lovely and pure; his commands to be reasonable and just; heaven to be holy and desirable; his service to be easy, and religion pleasant, and sin odious; to see that life is short, that death is near; that the pride, pomp, pleasures, wealth, and honors of this world are of little value, and that it is of infinite importance to be prepared to enter on the eternal state of being. He that sees all this, or that looks on things as they are, will desire to be holy. He will make it his great object to live near to God and to glorify his name. In the sanctification of the soul God makes use of all truth, or of everything fitted to make a representation of things as they are to the mind. His Word states that and no more; His Spirit and His Providence do it. The earth and the heavens, the seasons, the sunshine and the rain, are all fitted to teach us his goodness and power, and lead us to him. His daily mercies tend to the same end, and afflictions have the same design. Our own sickness teaches us that we are soon to die. The death of a friend teaches us the instability of all earthly comforts, and the necessity of seeking better joys. All these things are fitted to make just representations to the mind, and thus to sanctify the soul. As the Christian is constantly amid these objects, so he should be constantly growing in grace, and daily and hourly gaining new and deeper impressions of the great truths of religion.

Thy word is truth - All that thou hast spoken - that is, all that is contained in the Bible. All the commands and promises of God; His representations of His own character and that of man; His account of the mission and death of His Son; of the grave, the resurrection, judgment, and eternity, all tend to represent things as they are, and are thus fitted to sanctify the soul. We have here also the testimony of the Saviour that the revelation which God has given is true. All that God has spoken is true, and the Christian should rejoice and the sinner should tremble. See Psalms 19:7-14.

Verse 19

I sanctify myself - I consecrate myself exclusively to the service of God. The word “sanctify” does not refer here to personal sanctification, for he had no sin, but to setting himself apart entirely to the work of redemption.

That they also ... -

1. That they might have an example of the proper manner of laboring in the ministry, and might learn of me how to discharge its duties. Ministers will understand their work best when they most faithfully study the example of their great model, the Son of God.

2. That they might be made pure by the effect of my sanctifying myself - that is, that they might be made pure by the shedding of that blood which cleanses from all sin. By this only can men be made holy; and it was because the Saviour so sanctified himself, or set himself to this work so unreservedly as to shed his own blood, that any soul can be made pure and fit for the kingdom of God.

Verses 20-21

Neither pray I for these alone ... - Not for the apostles only, but for all who shall be converted under the preaching of the gospel. They will all need similar grace and be exposed to similar trials. It is a matter of unspeakable joy that each Christian, however humble or unknown to men however poor, unlearned, or despised, can reflect that he was remembered in prayer by “him whom God heareth always.” We value the prayers of pious friends. How much more should we value this petition of the Son of God! To that single prayer we who are Christians owe infinitely more real benefits than the world can ever bestow; and in the midst of any trials we may remember that the Son of God prayed for us, and that the prayer was assuredly heard, and will be answered in reference to all who truly believe.

All may be one - May be united as brethren. Christians are all redeemed by the same blood, and are going to the same heaven. They have the same wants, the same enemies, the same joys. Though they are divided into different denominations, yet they will meet at last in the same homes of glory. Hence they should feel that they belong to the same family, and are children of the same God and Father. There are no ties so tender as those which bind us in the gospel. There is no friendship so pure and enduring as that which results from having the same attachment to the Lord Jesus. Hence, Christians, in the New Testament, are represented as being indissolubly united - parts of the same body, and members of the same family, Acts 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Ephesians 2:20-22; Romans 12:5. On the ground of this union they are exhorted to love one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to study the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another, Ephesians 4:3; Romans 12:5-16.

As thou, Father, art in me - See John 14:10. This does not affirm that the union between Christians should be in all respects like that between the Father and the Son, but only in the points in which they are capable of being compared. It is not the union of nature which is referred to, but the union of plan, of counsel, of purpose seeking the same objects, and manifesting attachment to the same things, and a desire to promote the same ends.

That they also may be one in us - To be in God and in Christ is to be united to God and Christ. The expression is common in the New Testament. The phrase used here denotes a union among all Christians founded on and resulting from a union to the same God and Saviour.

That the world may believe ... - That the world, so full of animosities and fightings, may see the power of Christian principle in overcoming the sources of contention and producing love, and may thus see that a religion that could produce this must be from heaven. See the notes at John 13:34. This was done. Such was the attachment of the early Christians to each other, that a pagan was constrained to say, “See how these Christians love one another!”

Verse 22

And the glory ... - The honor which thou hast conferred on me by admitting me to union with thee, the same honor I have conferred on them by admitting them to like union with me.

May be one, even as we are one - Not in nature, or in the mode of existence - for this was not the subject of discourse, and would be impossible - but in feeling, in principle, in purpose. Evincing, as the Father and the Son had always done, the same great aim and plan; not pursuing different interests, or counteracting each other’s purposes, or forming parties, but seeking the same ends by the same means. This is the union between the Father and the Son. Always, in the creation, preservation, and redemption of the world, the Father and the Son have sought the same object, and this is to be the model on which Christians should act.

Verse 23

May be made perfect in one - That their union may be complete. That there may be no jars, discords, or contentions. A machine is perfect or complete when it has all its parts and is in good order when there is no portion of it wanting. So the union of Christians, for which the Saviour prayed, would be complete or perfect if there were no controversies, no envyings, no contentions, and no heart-burnings and jealousies. It is worthy of remark here how entirely the union of his people occupied the mind of Jesus as he drew near to death. He saw the danger of strifes and contentions in the church. He knew the imperfections of even the best of men. He saw how prone they would be to passion and ambition; how ready to mistake love of sect or party for zeal for pure religion; how selfish and worldly men in the church might divide his followers, and produce unholy feeling and contention; and he saw, also, how much this would do to dishonor religion.

Hence, he took occasion, when he was about to die, to impress the importance of union on his disciples. By solemn admonition, and by most tender and affecting appeals to God in supplication, he showed his sense of the value of this union. He used the most sublime and impressive illustration; he adverted to the eternal union between the Father and himself; he reminded them of his love, and of the effect that their union would have on the world, to fix it more deeply in their hearts. The effect has shown the infinite wisdom of the Saviour. The contentions and strifes of Christians have shown his knowledge in foreseeing it. The effect of all this on religion has shown that he understood the value of union. Christians have contended long enough. It is time that they should hear the parting admonitions of their Redeemer, and go unitedly against their common foe. The world still lies in wickedness; and the friends of Jesus, bound by the cords of eternal love, should advance together against the common enemy, and spread the triumphs of the gospel around the globe. All that is needful now, under the blessing of God, to convince the world” that God sent the Lord Jesus, is that very union among all Christians for which he prayed;” and when that union of feeling, and purpose, and action shall take place, the task of sending the gospel to all nations will be soon accomplished, and the morning of the millennial glory will dawn upon the world.

Verse 24

I will - This expression, though it commonly denotes command, is here only expressive of desire. It is used in prayer, and it was not the custom of the Saviour to use language of command when addressing God. It is often used to express strong and earnest desire, or a pressing and importunate wish, such as we are exceedingly anxious should not be denied, Mark 6:25; Mark 10:35; Matthew 12:38; Matthew 15:28.

Where I am - In heaven. The Son of God was still in the bosom of the Father, John 1:18. See the notes at John 7:34. Probably the expression here means where I shall be.

My glory - My honor and dignity when exalted to the right hand of God. The word “behold” implies more than simply seeing; it means also to participate, to enjoy. See the John 3:3 note; Matthew 5:8 note.

Thou lovedst me ... - This is another of the numerous passages which prove that the Lord Jesus existed before the creation of the world. It is not possible to explain it on any other supposition.

Verse 25

Hath not known thee - See the notes at John 17:3.

Verse 26

Thy name - See the notes at John 17:6.

And will declare it - After my resurrection, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit, Luke 24:45; Acts 1:3.

I in them - By my doctrines and the influences of my Spirit. That my religion may show its power, and produce its proper fruits in their minds, Galatians 4:19.

The discourse in John 14:0; John 15:0; John 16:0 is the most tender and sublime that was ever pronounced in our world. No composition can be found anywhere so fitted to sustain the soul in trial or to support it in death. This sublime and beautiful discourse is appropriately closed by a solemn and most affecting prayer - a prayer at once expressive of the profoundest reverence for God and the tenderest love for men - simple, grave, tender, sublime, and full of consolation. It is the model for our prayers, and with like reverence, faith, and love we should come before God. This prayer for the church will yet be fully answered; and he who loves the church and the world cannot but cast his eyes onward to that time when all believers shall be one; when contentions, bigotry, strife, and anger shall cease; and when, in perpetual union and love, Christians shall show forth the power and purity of that holy gospel with which the Saviour came to bless mankind. Soon may that happy day arise!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/john-17.html. 1870.
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