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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 17

Verses 1-26

WE NEED TO have in our minds the five words that close the previous chapter as we read the opening words of this chapter. He who had overcome the world “lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father.” In the knowledge of the Father and in the light of heaven, what is the world worth? And what are its threats or persecutions? Here was the Son of God Himself in the absolute fulness of both, and hence the world was, so to speak, beneath His feet. He is now going to present Himself before the Father, and to present His disciples also; so that they, begotten of God, and knowing Himself as the Son of God, and the Father revealed in Him, might be kept from the world through which they were to pass. When Bunyan in his allegory pictured a man with a crown of glory “before his eyes,” he very rightly placed the world “behind his back.”

In the fourth verse of the next chapter we have the Evangelist’s testimony that Jesus knew “all things that should come upon Him.” Here He addresses the Father in the consciousness that the hour, for which He specially came into the world, was come. In this matchless chapter we are permitted to hear the Son communing with the Father, and lifted thus into this Divine region, we view His great work as a completed whole and pass in spirit beyond the Cross. Here are words that defy all human powers of analysis and submerge all human powers of thought. Yet we may consider them. Let us do so, as we pass through the verses, by noting the things for which He made request of the Father, and also His emphatic statements as to what He had already accomplished.

His first request is, “Glorify Thy Son.” The Son had been here as the Servant of the Father’s pleasure and glory, to which fact this Gospel has borne special and abundant witness. So, in keeping with this, His first request is, that no longer in humiliation on earth but amid the splendours of heaven He may still serve and glorify the Father by exerting the power over all flesh conferred upon Him in a way of peculiar wonder and blessedness. By-and-by He will exert that power over all flesh in the execution of judgment: at present He exerts it in the bestowal of eternal life to all that have been given to Him of the Father. Of that life He is the Source and Fountain for men. We have life and we have the Spirit from the glorified One, and the Father is glorified in this in a way that surpasses the solemn glory that will be His in the hour of judgment.

Now all life takes character from the conditions that surround it—from its environment. Eternal life can only be lived in the knowledge of the only true God as Father, and of Jesus Christ the Sent One of the Father. This it is doubtless that accounts for the fact that life of an eternal sort is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, and then simply as hinting prophetically at that which will be enjoyed in the millennial age to come. It was promise rather than known and enjoyed blessing. The law offered life on earth. The age of life eternal began when the Son of God appeared, and having finished His work on earth He was glorified in heaven.

Ten times over in this chapter does Jesus utter the words, “I have,” in declaring the fulness of all that He had accomplished. The first two occurrences are in verse John 17:4, where He urges the completeness of His work in support of His request for glory. He had glorified the Father, be it noted on the earth—that particular corner of the wide universe where He had been most signally dishonoured by the sin and breakdown of the first man and his race. That great work had been entrusted to Him, together with the parallel work of making propitiation for sin, so that there might be redemption for sinners. Passing in spirit beyond the Cross, He declared the completeness and perfection of His own work. No mere man could utter words like this. The work of the most eminent servants of God has been but fragmentary and incomplete. And had it been otherwise not one of them would have dared to approach God, the Searcher of hearts and ways, and pronounce on their own work, declaring its finished perfection, for it would have betokened impertinent presumption of the worst kind. But here the Son is speaking, and it was no presumption for Him.

Yet He was truly Man; and that is what strikes us as we read verse John 17:5, where He repeats His request for glory—that particular glory which He had along with the Father before the world came into being. He is to be re-invested with that glory, only now as the Son in Manhood—risen Manhood. Here is a fact of greatest wonder and weightiest moment: a Risen Man, Christ Jesus, is invested with the uncreated glory of Deity. In that glory is the church’s Head, the Leader of the chosen race to which we belong. Who can measure the consequences that are going to flow from this great fact?

The chosen race come into view in the next verse. They are designated, “the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world.” So at the outset they are sharply differentiated from the world, as taken out of it by the Father and given to the Son. They were the Father’s according to His counsel before time was, but they were given to the Son that He might bring them to the knowledge of the Father by manifesting His Name to them. At the end of His prayer Jesus speaks of declaring the Father’s Name, which lays the stress upon His words. Here however it is manifesting, and that was accomplished more in His life and works; as He had said previously, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Of these men He says, “They have kept Thy word.”

This was very touching, for think what these men had been, how slow, how obtuse, how unresponsive! And think what they were on the point of showing themselves to be. What cowardice, what denials, in a few hours time! But the Son viewed them in the light of the Divine purpose, and He knew that the Father had power ultimately to effect in them all that He had purposed. So He credited them with the possession in fulness of that which they as yet only realized in a very feeble measure. And does He not treat His saints today, and intercede for them, in just the same way? He credits them also, in the next verse, with tracing up to the Father all that they had seen displayed in Him. All through this Gospel we find Him attributing everything to the Father. His words and His works were the Father’s. He neither spoke nor acted as from Himself, though He was the Word and the Son. So real was the Humanity that He took: so real the place of subjection He assumed that He might manifest the Father’s Name and glory.

In verse John 17:8 He speaks not of “the word” but of “the words” that had been given to Him and handed on to the disciples. The one is the revelation, considered as one whole; the other the many and varied sayings in which He had communicated the word to them. These sayings they had received, and thereby had been directed to the Father Himself. They had indeed received them, but had they really grasped the tiniest fraction of their meaning? How much have we grasped—we who have the Spirit? Yet it is no small thing if we implicitly receive and believe what He says because He says it. All that He has said will put us into touch with the Father who has sent Him.

Thus far we have heard the Son making His first and greatest request; that He should be glorified in His risen Manhood, in order that He might glorify the Father in a new way. We have also heard Him state four things which He had perfectly accomplished. He had glorified the Father on the earth. He had finished the work given Him to do. He had manifested the Father’s name to the disciples; and given them the words which the Father had given to Him. In verse John 17:9 we meet with His second request, not for Himself but for His disciples. He begins by dissociating them from the world in the most decisive fashion.

The old line of cleavage had been between Jew and Gentile, but that, though it had been sharp enough up to this point, was now disappearing, and was being replaced by the cleavage between the disciples who received Him and the world that rejected Him. If a Jew rejected Him, his place of privilege disappeared, and he was just one of the units of which the world was composed. Note how the Lord characterizes His disciples here. They were the Father’s by His purpose and choice, and then given by Him to the Son. As thus given they were held as belonging jointly to the Father and the Son. But they were peculiarly the vessel or vehicle in which the Son is to be glorified.

“All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine.” Ponder these words. A mere man may say, “All mine are Thine,” but no mere man could say, “All Thine are mine,” or he would be guilty of unpardonable and blasphemous presumption. But the Son could so speak with seemliness and truth; for He is One with the Father.

Having placed the disciples before the Father as the objects of His second request, Jesus mentioned as the occasion of it that He was leaving the world and coming to the Father, while they were to be left in it. They had very little conception of what the world was, with its dangers and snares; He knew it perfectly. Nothing but the keeping power of the Father, according to His own holiness, would be sufficient to preserve them. They were not merely to be preserved but kept in a unity after the pattern of the Father and the Son. The Son had revealed that holy name of Father, and in it there was binding power and grace, as also there was in the life eternal which the Son gives, coupled with the gift of the Spirit, soon to be. These men moreover were left to be witnesses to their Lord who was going, and it was essential that their witness should be marked by unity, in order to be effectual. The Acts and the Epistles show us how fully this unity of witness was preserved.

Hitherto they had been kept by the Son in the Father’s name, and the only one missing was no true disciple at all but the son of perdition, and even this sad happening was in fulfilment of Scripture. As to all those really given to Him of the Father, Jesus could say, “I have kept;” the fifth occurrence of “I have” in the chapter. Now as going out of the world He puts the disciples in His own place, as verse John 17:13 shows. He had been here in His Father’s name, finding His joy in serving His interests. They were henceforward to be here in His Name and have that same joy fulfilled in themselves as they served the Father in representing the Son.

But for this they would need to be in the knowledge of the Father’s mind and purpose; hence the Son had given to them the Father’s word. For the sixth time we have the words, “I have,” and this time concerning not “the words” but “the word;” that is, the whole revelation which He had brought. They had as yet but little entered into its fulness, but thereby they had been separated from the world as to their knowledge, just as they were separated also in their origin, for they were not OF the world even as He was not. Yet as to place they were IN the world, and the Lord did not desire that they should be taken out of it, but rather kept from the evil.

Here we have very explicitly a thing for which the Lord did NOT make a request. Yet the thing, with strange perversity, has been sought by earnest souls—and many true believers among them—through the centuries, as embodied in the monastic idea. That idea may be pursued by the aid of walls of thick masonry, or it may be pursued without them. The result, however, is the same. If we turn Divinely-ordained separation into monastic isolation, we shall always end by generating within the area of our seclusion the very evils we are supposed to be avoiding. The world indeed presents us with a deadly peril. But why? Because of what we are in ourselves. A holy angel would neither court its favours nor fear its frowns: it would leave him wholly unmoved. The world does present, so to speak, the infectious germs from without; but the main trouble lies in ourselves—the susceptibility of the flesh within. No monastic isolation affects that.

What the Lord did request was, “Sanctify them through thy truth,” for the truth separates by building up that spiritual immunity which preserves from spiritual disease. The root idea of sanctification is setting apart. The Son has given the Father’s word, which introduces us to all His love, His thoughts, His purposes, His glory. All this is truth; that is, reality of the Divinest sort. The world lives so largely in a region of unreality and make-believe, striving to establish its systems which have no solid basis and which eventually must pass away. If we know Divine realities we must of necessity be set apart from the world’s unrealities. This will expose us to the world’s hatred, but it will build up strong spiritual resistance to its snares. It will immunize us against its germs. This is the kind of separation that endures, because effected by the Father’s word and truth.

The seventh “I have,” is found in verse John 17:18. As the holy and perfect One, Jesus had been sent into the world by the Father, that He might represent Him and make Him known. Now He sends His disciples into the world in similar manner. They were to represent Him and make Him known. What qualified them for this was the sanctification of which the previous verse had spoken. Had it been His plan to place them in monastic isolation, no such mission would have been possible, and it would not have been possible had they not been sanctified by the truth. But with the spiritual immunity which the truth confers it was possible.

But a further thing was needed as indicated in verse John 17:19. The Lord Jesus must Himself be set apart in the glory of heaven, that He might shed upon them His Spirit, that He might become the attractive Object for their hearts, and the Pattern to whom they are to be conformed in due time. Being intrinsically and Divinely holy, the only sanctification possible for Him was such a setting apart as this; and let us notice that, according to this verse, He does it Himself. Another tribute to His Deity, for no mere man could set himself apart in the glory of heaven!

Verse John 17:17, then, gives us the sanctifying power of truth, reaching us through the Father’s word, which had been ministered by the Son, as verse John 17:14 has stated. Verse John 17:19 adds the sanctifying power of Christ’s glory, to be ministered by the Spirit, who was to come to the disciples as the consequence of His glorification. To state the matter more briefly: it is the revelation of the Father by the Son, and the knowledge of the glory of the Son in risen Manhood by the Spirit, that sanctifies the believer today.

Verse John 17:20 should touch all our hearts. The Lord Jesus had been praying for the little band of disciples that surrounded Him at that moment: He now enlarged His requests to embrace even ourselves. Though nineteen centuries have passed since the first disciples went forth with the word, we have believed on Him as the result of it. Their spoken word has long since died away, but their word in the shape of inspired New Testament writings abides, and it has been the authoritative basis of all Gospel preaching through the years, and it is still that today. It should also touch our hearts that the first of the two requests, which He made for us, was for our unification.

The oneness He desired is of a fundamental nature. We are to be one as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. Between the Father and the Son there is the unity of essential being, and consequently of life and nature and manifestation. We so truly derive life and nature from the Son and the Father that the Lord Jesus could say, “One in Us”—this very expression showing the equality which exists between Them—and without oneness of this sort nothing of a more outward kind would have been of value. Ecclesiastical union without this would have been only the binding together of a mass of heterogeneous material. This request being granted, the Divine nature would characterize all saints; and the formation of such an underlying unity in those who on the surface were so different (Jews and Gentiles; as had been intimated in John 10:16) was a satisfying proof of the Divine mission of Christ. He does not say that the world would believe, but there was sufficient proof so that they might.

The oneness for which the Lord prayed, is to be perfected in glory, though first established in grace. Again we find the words “I have” and this time connected with glory. To His disciples, ourselves amongst them, He has donated the glory given to Him of the Father. Questions of time do not enter into the intercourse of the Divine Persons, so He does not say, “I will give,” but, “I have given.” When things are viewed from the standpoint of God’s counsel and purpose we find similar statements of an absolute kind—Romans 8:30 and Ephesians 2:6, for instance. It is indeed a marvellous fact that the glory given to Him as Man by the Father is now irrevocably ours by His gift to us; and this with a view to the perfection of our oneness in Him. In verse John 17:23, then, we have the unity displayed: the Father displayed in the Son; the Son displayed in the glorified saints. This will be a perfected unity indeed! The world of that day will know that the Father sent the Son, and has loved the saints even as He loved Him. The glory will declare the love.

This leads to the second request of the Lord which was framed to embrace all the saints of this present period. He had given His glory to them, and now He asks the Father to place them in association and company with Himself. Glory with Himself above is His desire, yet the crowning point of it for us will be to behold the supreme glory which shall be His. Earlier in His prayer He had asked to be glorified along with the Father with the glory that He had with Him before the world was. That uncreated glory had been His from eternity as being in the unity of the Godhead: He has now been re-invested with it, but in a new way; receiving it as a gift from the Father in His risen Manhood. As glorified with Him we are to behold His glory, which will witness to us for ever, not only the perfection of all that He wrought in Manhood, but also of the Father’s love, of which He had been the Object from all eternity.

The world was sunk in ignorance of the Father. When Jesus prayed for the preservation of His disciples in the world, He addressed the Father as

“Holy” (verse John 17:11), for their separation from it was to be governed by His holiness. In verse John 17:25 He contemplates the world itself in its sin and blindness, so He addresses the Father as “Righteous.” Thus the Divine righteousness is set over against the world’s sin, as before it had been—John 16:9, John 16:10. He had come as the Sent One, bringing the knowledge of the Father, and the disciples had received it in receiving Him, for He had declared to them the Father’s Name. Here are the closing occurrences of, “I have”— “I have known Thee... I have declared unto them Thy name.”

He had spoken, in verse John 17:6, of the manifestation of the Father’s name, and this was accomplished in the life He had lived and needed no addition. But He also had made a declaration of His name by lip and word, and this He would supplement in the future, when risen from the dead. We are permitted to hear of it in this Gospel: John 20:17. And all this was to the end that the Father’s love, which supremely centred in Him, might be “in them;” that is, their consciously realized portion. As the Father’s love thus dwelt in them, they would be qualified to be an expression of Christ: He would be “in them” in display.

This wonderful prayer—the out-breathings of the Son in communion with the Father—must of necessity be beyond all our thoughts, yet it is effective beyond all else in bringing the warmth of Divine love into our hearts. It is a joy to notice that just as it begins with the Son glorified by the Father, it ends with the Son manifested and thus glorified in the saints.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 17". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.