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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

John 17

Verses 1-99

Chap. 17. The Prayer of the Great High Priest

“The prayer which follows the last discourse as its fit crown and conclusion has been designated by an old tradition the Prayer of the High Priest , now about to take upon Him His office, and to offer atonement for the sins of the people.” S. p. 235. It is unique in the Gospels. The other Evangelists, especially S. Luke, mention the fact of Christ praying (Matthew 14:23 ; Mark 1:35 ; Luke 3:21 , Luke 3:5 :16, Luke 3:6 :12, Luke 3:9 :18, &c.), and give some words of His prayer at Gethsemane; but here the substance of a long act of devotion is preserved. S. John never mentions the fact of Christ praying, but in 12:27 he perhaps gives us a few words of prayer, and in 11:41 a thanksgiving which implies previous prayer. There is an approach to the first portion of this prayer in the thanksgiving in Matthew 11:25 , Matthew 11:26 .

This Oratio Summi Sacerdotis falls naturally into three portions; 1. for Himself (1 5); 2. for the disciples (6 19); 3. for the whole Church (20 26), the last two verses forming a summary, in which the relations of Christ to the Father and to His own, and of His own to both Father and Son are gathered up.

The prayer was spoken aloud ( v . 1), and thus was not only a prayer, but a source of comfort to those who heard it ( v . 13), and by its preservation a means of faith and life to all (20:31). No doubt it was spoken in Aramaic, and we have here also, as in the discourses, no means of determining how far the Greek version preserves the very words, how far only the substance of what was spoken. We must take it reverently as it has been given to us, and we shall find abundant reason for believing that on the one hand it quite transcends even the beloved disciple’s powers of invention; on the other that there is nothing in it to make us doubt that this report of it is from his pen. “It is urged that the triumphant elevation of this prayer is inconsistent with the Synoptic account of the Agony. But the liability to fluctuations of feeling and emotion is inherent in humanity, and was assumed with His manhood by Him Who was perfect man.” S. p. 238. “All human experience bears witness in common life to the naturalness of abrupt transitions from joy to sadness in the contemplation of a supreme trial. The absolute insight and foresight of Christ makes such an alternation even more intelligible. He could see, as man cannot do, both the completeness of His triumph and the suffering through which it was to be gained.” W. p. 237. The three characteristics of the Gospel, simplicity, subtlety, and sublimity, reach a climax here. Bengel calls this chapter the simplest in language, the profoundest in meaning, in the whole Bible.

The place where these words were spoken is not stated. If the view taken above (14:31) is correct, they were spoken in the upper room, after the company had risen from supper, in the pause before starting for the Mount of Olives (18:1). Westcott thinks that “the upper chamber was certainly left after 14:31,” and that as “it is inconceivable that chap. 17. should have been spoken anywhere except under circumstances suited to its unapproachable solemnity,” these would best be found in the Temple Courts. Here was the great Golden Vine, to suggest the allegory of the Vine (16:1 11), and “nowhere could the outlines of the future spiritual Church be more fitly drawn than in the sanctuary of the old Church.” It is perhaps slightly against this attractive suggestion, that surroundings so rich in meaning would probably have been pointed out by a writer so full of feeling for dramatic contrasts and harmonies as the writer of this Divine Epic (comp. 3:2, 4:6, 13:30, 18:3, 5, 28, 40, 19:23 27, 31 42).

1 5. The Prayer for Himself

The Son was sent to give to men eternal life, which consists in the knowledge of God. This work the Son has completed to the glory of the Father, and therefore prays to be glorified by the Father.

1. These words ] More exactly, these things , as in 16:1, 4, 6, 25, 33.

lifted up his eyes ] in calm confidence and in the assurance of victory (16:33). The attitude is in marked contrast to His falling on His face in the garden (Matthew 26:39 ). ‘To heaven’ does not prove that He was in the open air: comp. Acts 7:55 ; Luke 18:13 .

Father ] This is His claim to be heard. Comp. ‘Abba, Father’ in Mark 14:36 , and see Lightfoot on Galatians 4:6 .

the hour ] See on 2:4 and 12:27. S. John loves to mark each great crisis in Christ’s life; this is the last.

glorify thy Son ] By His return to glory ( v . 5) through suffering and death. Comp. Philippians 2:9-11 .

that thy Son also may glorify ] By making known the glory of God, through the Son. To make God known is to glorify Him. ‘Also’ must be omitted, and for ‘ Thy Son’ we ought perhaps to read ‘ the Son.’

2. As thou hast given him power ] Better, Even as Thou gavest Him authority . The authority was given once for all, and is the reason for the petition in v . 1. Comp. 5:27.

all flesh ] A Hebraism not used elsewhere in this Gospel. Comp. Matthew 24:22 ; Luke 3:6 ; Acts 2:17 ; Romans 3:20 , &c. Fallen man, man in his frailty, is specially meant; but the Second Adam has dominion also over ‘all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.’ Psalms 8:7 , Psalms 8:8 . In the following texts ‘all flesh’ includes the brute creation; Genesis 6:19 , Genesis 6:7 :15, Genesis 6:16 , Genesis 6:21 , Genesis 6:8 :17, Genesis 6:9 :11, Genesis 6:15 , Genesis 6:16 , Genesis 6:17 ; Psalms 136:25 ; Jeremiah 32:27 , Jeremiah 45:5 . Once more, therefore, Jewish enclusiveness is condemned. The Messiah is King of ‘all flesh,’ not of the Jews only.

that he should give , &c.] Literally, in order that all that Thou hast given Him, He should give to them eternal life . ‘All that’ is neuter singular; ‘to them’ is masculine plural. Believers are given to Christ as a united whole; they earn eternal life as individuals. Comp. 1:11, 6:37.

3. And this is life eternal ] More exactly, But the life eternal is this . ‘ The life eternal’ means that which has just been mentioned; and ‘is this’ means ‘this is what it consists in:’ comp. 3:19, 15:12.

that they might know ] Literally, in order that they may recognise ; comp. 6:29, 15:12; 1 John 3:11 , 1 John 3:23 , 1 John 3:5 :3; 2 John 1:6 . The eternal life is spoken of as already present (see on 3:36, 5:24, 6:47, 54); hence ‘may,’ not ‘might.’ Moreover it is the appropriation of the knowledge that is specially emphasized; hence ‘recognise’ rather than simply ‘know.’ Comp. Wisdom 15:3.

thee the only true God ] i.e. ‘Thee as the only true God.’ For ‘true’ see note on 1:9 and comp. 4:23, 6:32, 15:1: ‘the only true God’ is directed against the many false, spurious gods of the heathen. This portion of the truth was what the Gentiles so signally failed to recognise.

Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent ] Better, Him whom Thou didst send Jesus Christ ; or, Jesus as Christ . This portion of the truth the Jews failed to recognise. But the words are not without difficulty, even when, we insert the ‘as;’ and the run of the Greek words is rather against the insertion of ‘as.’ If ‘Christ’ were a predicate and not part of the proper name we should expect ‘Jesus, whom Thou didst send, as Christ.’ Probably in this verse we have the substance and not the exact words of Christ’s utterance. That He should use the name ‘Jesus’ here is perhaps improbable; that He should anticipate the use of ‘Jesus Christ’ as a proper name is very improbable; and the expression ‘the true God’ is not used elsewhere by Christ and is used by S. John (1 John 5:20 ), We conclude, therefore, that the wording here is the Evangelist’s, perhaps abbreviated from the actual words.

4. I have glorified ] Better, I glorified . In confident anticipation Christ looks backs from the point when all shall be accomplished, and speaks of the whole work of redemption as one act. Our translators have been very capricious throughout this chapter, rendering aorists as perfects and perfects as aorists. Comp. vv . 6, 8, 18, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26.

I have finished ] According to the right reading, having finished or perfected . This is the way in which God is glorified, the completion of the work of revelation.

gavest me ] Better, hast given Me . Christ did not choose for Himself.

to do ] Literally, in order that I may do it: this was God’s purpose in giving it. It is S. John’s favourite particle; comp. 5:36 and see on v . 3.

5. And now ] When the ministry is completed.

glorify thou me ] The pronouns are placed side by side for emphasis, as in v . 4, where the Greek runs, ‘I Thee glorified.’ The two verses are parallels; ‘I Thee glorified on earth; glorify Me Thou in heaven.’

with thine own self ] In fellowship with Thee. The following great truths are contained in these two verses; (1) that the Son is in Person distinct from the Father; (2) that the Son, existing in glory with the Father from all eternity, working in obedience to the Father on earth, existing in glory with the Father now, is in Person one and the same.

I had ] Imperfect tense, implying continual possession.

6 19. The Prayer for His Disciples

6 8. The basis of the intercession; they have received the revelation given to them. The intercession itself begins v . 9.

6. I have manifested ] Better, I manifested : see on v . 4 and 1:31.

which thou gavest ] Better, whom Thou hast given: in the next clause ‘gavest’ is right. Sometimes the Father is said to ‘give’ or ‘draw’ men to Christ ( v . 24, 6:37, 44, 65, 10:29, 18:9); sometimes Christ is said to ‘choose’ them (6:70, 15:16): but it is always in their power to refuse; there is no compulsion (1:11, 12, 3:18, 19, 12:47, 48).

kept thy word ] S. John’s favourite phrase (see on 8:51): the notion is that of intent watching. Christ’s revelation of Himself and of the Father is the Father’s word (7:16, 12:49); His doctrine as a whole.

7. they have known ] Rather, they know : literally, ‘they have recognised, come to know.’ Comp. 5:42, 6:69, 8:52, 55, 14:9.

whatsoever thou hast given ] Both His doctrine and His mission, as the next verse explains. The whole of Christ’s work of redemption in word and act was in its origin and still is (present tense) of God.

8. the words ] Or, the sayings (see on 5:47). This is not the plural of ‘word’ ( logos ) in v . 6; but the other noun ( rhemata ), the singular of which is not used by S. John. It means the separate utterances as distinct from the doctrine as a whole.

they have received … have known … have believed ] Better, they received … recognised … believed . See on v . 4.

came out from ] Better, came forth from (see on 16:28). They recognised that His mission was Divine: they believed that He was sent as the Messiah. They had proof of the first point; the second was a matter of faith.

9 19. The intercession for the disciples based on their need.

9. I pray for them , &c.] Literally, I am praying concerning them; concerning the world I am not praying, but concerning them whom , &c. ‘I,’ ‘them,’ and ‘the world’ are emphatic. ‘For them who have believed I in turn am praying; for the world I am not praying.’ On the word here used for ‘pray’ see on 14:16. Of course this verse does not mean that Christ never prays for unbelievers; v . 23 and Luke 23:34 prove the contrary; but it is for the chosen few, in return for their allegiance, that He is praying now.

they are thine ] Although they have been given to the Son.

10. all mine are thine ] Better, all things that are Mine are Thine . The statement does not refer to persons only, but continues and amplifies the reason with which v . 9 concludes; ‘Because they are Thine, and all My things are Thine.’ There should be no full stop at the end of v . 9.

thine are mine ] Or, the things that are Thine are Mine . The statement is made conversely to insist on the perfect union between the Father and the Son.

I am glorified ] Better, I have been glorified ; have been and still am.

in them ] As the vine is glorified in its branches and fruit. They are the vehicles and monuments of the glory. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:20 .

11 16. In vv . 6 8 the disciples’ acceptance of Christ is given as the basis of intercession for them: here another reason is added, their need of help during Christ’s absence. This plea is first stated in all simplicity, and then repeated at intervals in the petition.

11. but these ] Rather, and these . The coupling of the sentences is solemnly simple; ‘And now … and these … and I.’

Holy Father ] The expression occurs nowhere else; but comp. Revelation 6:10 ; 1 John 2:20 ; and ‘Righteous Father,’ v . 25. The epithet agrees with the prayer that God would preserve the disciples from the unholiness of the world ( v . 15) in the holiness which Christ had revealed to them and prays the Father to give them ( v . 17).

keep … given ] The true reading gives us, keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me . In any case the Greek here rendered ‘ through Thy name,’ and in v . 12 ‘ in Thy name,’ is the same, and should be translated in the same manner in both verses. Comp. Revelation 2:17 , Revelation 19:12 , Revelation 22:4 . God has given His name to Christ to reveal to the disciples; and Christ prays that they may be kept true to that revelation. On the meaning of ‘name’ see on 1:12.

may be one ] They had just received a new bond of union. For long there had been oneness of belief. Now they had been made one by union with Jesus; they were one bread and one body, for they had all partaken of the one Bread (1 Corinthians 10:17 ).

as we are ] Or, even as we are (comp. v . 2): in perfect spiritual union conforming to the essential union between the Father and the Son.

12. in the world ] These words are omitted by the best authorities.

I kept ] Literally, I was keeping: Christ’s continual watching over His disciples is expressed. ‘I’ is emphatic, implying ‘now that I am leaving them, do Thou keep them.’

I have kept ] Rather, I guarded : both verb and tense are changed. This expresses the protection which is the result of the watching. Moreover the reading must be changed as in v . 11; I kept them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them .

none of them is lost ] Better, not one of them perished .

the son of perdition ] The phrase is used twice only in N.T.; here of Judas, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of the ‘man of sin.’ Comp. ‘children of light,’ ‘children of darkness.’ Such expressions are common in Hebrew (see on 12:36). ‘Children of perdition’ occurs Isaiah 57:4 , ‘people of perdition’ Ecclus. 16:9, and ‘son of death’ 2 Samuel 12:5 . We cannot here preserve the full force of the original, in which ‘perish’ and ‘perdition’ are represented by cognate words; ‘none perished but the son of perishing.’

that the scripture ] Psalms 41:9 : see on 10:35 and 13:18 and comp. 12:38.

13. And now come I ] Better, But now I come . The conjunction introduces a contrast. Hitherto Christ has been with them watching over them; ‘but now’ it is so no longer.

that they might ] Better, that they may . Christ is praying aloud in order that His words may comfort them when they remember that He Himself consigned them to His Father’s keeping. Comp. 11:42.

my joy ] Literally, the joy that is Mine: see on 14:27 and 15:11.

14. I have given ] ‘I’ in emphatic opposition to the world.

thy word ] The revelation of God as a whole (see on v . 16 and 5:47).

hath hated ] Rather, hated ; the aorist expresses the single act of hate in contrast to the perfect, ‘I have given’ a gift which they continue to possess. These are the two results of discipleship; on the one side, Christ’s protection ( v . 12) and the gift of God’s word; on the other, the hatred of the world.

15. I pray not ] See on 14:16. The nature of the protection is made clear to the listening disciples; not exemption from attack and temptation, but freedom from the permanent influence of the enemy.

from the evil ] Rather, from the evil one ; comp. 1 John 2:13 , 1 John 3:12 , and especially 5:18. ‘From’ = ‘out of:’ just as Christ is that in which His disciples live and move, so the evil one, ‘the ruler of this world’ (12:31, 16:11), is that out of which He prays that they may be kept. Thus “the relation of man to good and evil is a personal relation:” comp. 1 John 4:4 .

16. They are not … world ] What was stated in v . 14 as the reason for the world’s hatred is repeated here as the introduction to a new and more definite petition; not merely protection, but sanctification. There is a slight change from the order of the words in v . 14; ‘Of the world they are not, even as I am not of the world.’ In both verses ‘I’ is emphatic.

17. Sanctify ] Or, consecrate . The word expresses God’s destination of them for their work and His endowment of them with the powers necessary for their work. The word is used of God’s consecration of Jeremiah, Moses, and the chosen people (Jeremiah 1:5 ; Ecclus. 49:7, 45:4; 2 Mac. 1:25). This prayer has been called “the Prayer of Consecration.”

through thy truth ] Rather, in the truth . ‘Thy’ is a gloss, rightly explaining the text, but wanting in all the best MSS. The Truth is the whole Christian revelation, the new environment in which believers are placed, and which helps to work their sanctification; just as a sickly wild plant is strengthened and changed by transplanting it to a garden.

thy word ] Literally, the word that is Thine , a mode of expression which gives prominence to the adjective. Comp. ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me,’ 7:16. The Greek for ‘word’ is logos , God’s revelation as a whole, not any single utterance or collection of utterances. See on 5:47.

18. As thou hast sent ] Better, Even as Thou didst send . Comp. 10:36.

even so have I also sent ] Better, I also did send . Comp. 20:21, 15:9. The Apostles had already received their commission (Matthew 10:5-15 ; Mark 6:7 ; Luke 9:2-5 ), which is about to be renewed.

19. sanctify ] Or, consecrate, as in v . 17. Christ does for Himself that which He prays the Father to do for His disciples. In 10:36 He speaks of Himself as consecrated by the Father; set apart for a sacred purpose. But only thus far is the consecration of Christ and of His disciples the same. In them it also implied redemption and cleansing from sin; and in this sense the word is frequently connected with ‘purify’ (2 Corinthians 7:1 ; Ephesians 5:26 ; 2 Timothy 2:21 ; Hebrews 9:13 ). The radical meaning of the word is not separation, as is sometimes stated, but holiness, which involves separation, viz. the being set apart for God .

might be sanctified through the truth ] Rather, may be sanctified or consecrated in truth . ‘ In truth’ = in reality and not merely in name or appearance; the expression is quite distinct from ‘in the truth’ in v . 17. As a Priest consecrated by the Father (10:36) He consecrates Himself as a Sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2 ), and thereby obtains a real internal consecration for them through the Paraclete (16:7).

20 26. The Prayer for the whole Church

20. Neither pray I for these alone ] More accurately, But not concerning these only do I pray (see on 14:16). The limitation stated in v . 9 is at an end: through the Church He prays for the world ( v . 21).

which shall believe ] The true reading gives, who believe . The future body of believers is regarded by anticipation as already in existence: the Apostles are a guarantee and earnest of the Church that is to be.

on me through their word ] Perhaps through their word on Me would be better. The order of the Greek insists on the fact that those who believe believe through the Apostles’ word.

21. That they all may be one ] This is the purpose rather than the purport of the prayer: Christ prays for blessings for His Church with this end in view, that all may be one.

as ] Or, even as . The unity of believers is like the unity of the Father with the Son (10:30), not a merely moral unity of disposition and purpose, but a vital unity, in which the members share the life of one and the same organism (see on Romans 12:4 , Romans 12:5 ). A mere agreement in opinion and aim would not convince the world. See on v . 11. Omit ‘art,’ which is an insertion of our translators.

may be one in us ] The balance of authority is against ‘one,’ which may be an explanatory gloss. In 6:56 and 15:4, 5 Christ’s followers are said to abide in Him: this is to abide in His Father also.

hast sent ] Better, didst send (comp. v . 18). The eternal unity of believers with one another will produce such external results (‘see how these Christians love one another’), that the world will be induced to believe. Christian unity and love (Matthew 7:12 ; Luke 6:31 ; 1 Corinthians 13:0 ) is a moral miracle, a conquest of the resisting will of man, and therefore more convincing than a physical miracle, which is a conquest of unresisting nature. Hence the divisions and animosities of Christians are a perpetual stumbling-block to the world.

22. Having prayed for them with a view to their unity, He states what He Himself has done for them with the same end in view.

gavest ] Better, hast given (see on v . 4). The meaning of this gift of ‘glory’ seems evident from v . 24; the glory of the ascended and glorified Christ in which believers are ‘joint-heirs’ with Him (see on Romans 8:17 ). Looking forward with confidence to the issue of the conflict, Christ speaks of this glory as already given back to him ( v . 5) and shared with His followers. Comp. 16:33.

23. I in them, and thou in me ] And therefore, ‘Thou in them and they in Thee.’

made perfect in one ] Literally, perfected into one ; i.e. completed and made one. In the unity the completeness consists. The expression ‘into one’ occurs elsewhere only 11:52 (comp. 1 John 5:8 ). For ‘perfected’ comp. 1 John 2:5 ; 1 John 4:12 , 1 John 4:17 , 1 John 4:18 .

may know ] Or, come to know, recognise ( v . 3) gradually and in time. This is the second effect of the unity of Christians, more perfect than the first. The first ( v . 21) was that the world is induced to believe that God sent Christ; the second is that the world comes to know that God sent Christ, and moreover that He loved the world even as He loved Christ. ‘Hast sent’ and ‘hast loved’ in both places are literally didst send and didst love; but in the case of the second of the two verbs the English perfect is perhaps the best representative of the Greek aorist. The second ‘Thou’ in the verse and the last ‘Me’ are emphatic.

24. Father ] Comp. vv . 1, 5, 11, 11:41, 12:27. The relationship is the ground of the appeal; He knows that His ‘will’ is one with His Father’s.

I will ] Comp. 21:22; Matthew 8:3 , Matthew 8:23 :37, Matthew 8:26 :39; Luke 12:49 . He has already granted this by anticipation ( v . 22); He wills that this anticipation may be realised.

they whom ] Literally, that which; the faithful as a body. See on v . 2.

where I am ] Comp. 14:3.

behold ] In the sense of sharing and enjoying it; for the faithful ‘shall also reign with Him.’ 2 Timothy 2:12 . This glory they behold with unveiled face, on which it is reflected as on the face of Moses. See on 2 Corinthians 3:18 and comp. 1 John 3:2 .

my glory ] Literally, the glory which is Mine , a stronger expression than that in v . 22: see on 14:27.

which thou hast given me ] Not the glory of the Word, the Eternal Son, which was His in His equality with the Father, but the glory of Christ, the Incarnate Son, with which the risen and ascended Jesus was endowed. In sure confidence Christ speaks of this as already given, and wills that all believers may behold and share it. Thus two gifts of the Father to the Son meet and complete one another: those whom He has given behold the glory that He has given.

for ] Better, because .

the foundation of the world ] Our Lord thrice uses this expression, here, Luke 11:50 , and Matthew 25:34 . Two of those who heard it reproduce it (1 Peter 1:20 ; Revelation 13:8 , Revelation 17:8 ): comp. Ephesians 1:4 ; Hebrews 4:3 , Hebrews 9:26 , Hebrews 11:11 .

25, 26. Summary

25. righteous Father ] The epithet (comp. v . 11) harmonizes with the appeal to the justice of God which follows, which is based on a simple statement of the facts. The world knew not God; Christ knew Him; the disciples knew that Christ was sent by Him. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’

hath not known ] Better, knew not . So also ‘have known’ should in both cases be knew , and ‘hast sent’ should be didst send . The verbs are all aorists. The conjunction kai before ‘the world’ may be rendered ‘indeed,’ meaning ‘it is true the world knew Thee not, but yet &c.’ Translate; the world Indeed knew Thee not, but I knew Thee .

26. have declared … will declare ] Better, made known will make known . The verb is cognate with that rendered ‘know’ in v . 25, and here as there the aorist is used, not the perfect. Christ knows the Father and makes known His name, i.e. His attributes and will (see on 1:12), to the disciples. This imparting of knowledge is already accomplished in part, ‘I made known’ (comp. 15:15); but the knowledge and the love which imparts it being alike inexhaustible, there is room for perpetual instruction throughout all time, especially after the Paraclete has been given, ‘I will make known’ (comp. 14:26, 16:13).

wherewith thou hast loved me ] In the Greek we have a double accusative, as in Ephesians 2:4 . ‘Hast loved’ should be didst love (see on v . 4): but possibly this is a case where the English present might be admitted as the best equivalent of the Greek aorist (see on 15:8).

may be in them ] May rule in their hearts as a guiding principle, without which they cannot receive the knowledge here promised; for ‘he that loveth not, knoweth not God’ (1 John 4:8 ).

I in them ] These last words of Christ’s Mediatorial Prayer sum up its purpose. They are the thread which runs through all these farewell discourses. He is going away, and yet abides with them. His bodily presence passes away, His spiritual presence remains for ever; not seen with the eye without, but felt as life and strength within. Having known Christ after the flesh, now they know Him so no more: they are in Christ, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16 , 2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 17". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-17.html. 1896.