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Bible Commentaries
John 17

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-26

John 17:1 . Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son. By Father the divinity is understood, the Father being the fountain of deity. The hour of my passion being come, glorify thy Son by speedily raising him from the dead, that thy Son may also glorify thee by publishing abroad thy wisdom and love in the redemption of man.

John 17:2 . Thou hast given him power over all flesh, to call the gentile world to the faith, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. “I suspect,” says Erasmus, “that this form of speaking is taken from the Hebrews, by which the sense is rendered rather than the words.” Grotius coinciding with the above opinion adds, “This passage shows how the Father is glorified by the gospel, which never promises eternal life, except to those who sincerely worship God.” This passage asserts the divinity of Christ, as having eternal life in himself: or as John says in his epistle, This is the true God and eternal life.

We must not omit to mark that this prayer of Christ, before he went into the garden, consists of four parts. First, for himself, as mediator to be glorified of the Father. Secondly, he prays in this verse and down to the twentieth, in particular for the eleven apostles, then present with him in the upper chamber: and for them he asked particular blessings which he did not ask for the world. He then prays for all who should believe through their word. He fourthly prays for the world, as in John 17:21, “that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”

How liberal, how appropriate, how full of grace is this prayer. How strange then that men should build upon it their systems of personal and eternal election and reprobation. Some who held such notions towards the close of the fifth century, had their opinions condemned by the council of Chalons, as having made a wrong use of St. Augustine’s doctrines of grace. The depths belong to God.

John 17:3 . This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God. The knowledge of the only true God is here justly connected with eternal life, and with an abhorrence of all idolatry. The light is the life of men, and all our knowledge should be turned to piety and divine communion.

Erasmus paraphrases this text in the following manner. “It being expedient for the salvation of mankind that the world by the Son should know thee the Father; for which thou hast given thy Son power over all flesh; and for no other design hast thou given him that power, but that all men should be saved; and that being delivered from death, they might attain everlasting life. And further, that we mutually declaring each other’s honour and name, that men by faith might know us both. For no man can with approbation honour the Father, if he despise the Son; not yet he who honours the Son, if he shall neglect to honour the Father, for the praise and glory of the one is the praise and glory of the other.”

Erasmus in this passage, and he has the whole weight of antiquity on his side, understands the mission of Christ in a liberal sense, as opening the knowledge of the only true God to all mankind. To him the notion that Christ was sent to save a certain elect number of men, perhaps not exceeding one tenth, and damn the rest more deeply by superior light and privileges, was insupportable. The holy apostles are all liberal in their ideas of the election and calling of the saints. St. Paul affirms, Romans 5:15-19, that the words many and all are of similar import. They magnify the Lord as the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe. They declare that the grace of God, of the gospel, which brings salvation to all, hath appeared; that this gospel is the power of God to the salvation of every one that believeth. Why then presume to meddle with the secrets of providence, which belong to God? He hates nothing that he has made.

And Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. Let us hear the elegant Tertullian on this subject, in his book against Praxeas, who had accused the christians of tritheism, written before the close of the second century. “There is then one God the Father, and besides him no other; by which he does not mean to deny the Son, but the existence of another god. Meanwhile the Son is not another distinct from the Father. Do but, in fine, inspect the design of these forms of speech, and you will find that they almost exclusively respect the makers and worshippers of idols, that the unity of the divinity may supersede the multitude of false gods, while it includes the Son, who is undivided, and inseparable from the Father, and understood, though not named, to be in the Father. Had he, for instance, named him, it would have been that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”

The Nicene fathers, three hundred and eighteen in number, may be regarded as the great grandchildren of the holy apostle. They comprised piety, wisdom, learning, and fidelity beyond any other council: that council, with the exception of five, have given a creed, and taught us to believe “In one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.” In this faith the noble army of martyrs have died; and if we cast it away for vain philosophy, we cast away life for death.

Augustine and Chrysostom read this text, “that they may know thee, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent, the only true God.” Without a doubt, this phrase, the only true God, is to distinguish the Deity from the gods of the gentiles. If otherwise, all our scriptures are distorted and destroyed. If the Father be put as the only Potentate, says Gregory Nazianzen, “the King of kings, who only hath immortality, dwelling in light to which no man can approach, then Christ is set aside as no king, as dwelling in darkness, and neither wise nor invisible.” Christ is no Christ; he is neither the way, nor the truth, nor the life. We must understand this text in unison with John 1:1-4.

John 17:5 . Glorify thou me with the g lory which I had with thee before the world was. These words are to be understood in the sense of St. Paul in Philippians 2:6, that Christ who existed from everlasting in the form of God, having made himself of no reputation, now asks the exaltation of his humanity to a session at the Father’s right hand, having finished his mission for our redemption. Psalms 110:1.

John 17:6 . I have manifested thy name to them. I have made them acquainted with all the mysteries and glories of man’s redemption.

John 17:9 . I pray for them. I pray not for the world. I pray for those peculiar endowments, and that special protection which their arduous mission will require. For the world I pray, that thou wouldst give them repentance and remission of sins, for in rejecting me they know not what they do. Luke 23:34.

John 17:12 . None of them is lost, but the son of perdition. The Hebrews had many like phrases, as son of disobedience, son of Belial, &c.

John 17:17 . Sanctify them through thy truth, which truth regards all the leading principles of the gospel, in regeneration and purity of heart. Thy truth, the wisdom from above, requiring peculiar holiness in ministers; sanctify them by dedication to their ministry, which they must not leave for trades, unless some peculiar dispensation should so require. Men so called and commissioned, should be looking for their Lord’s return.

John 17:19 . For their sakes I sanctify myself, like a spotless lamb and victim for the high altar of the cross, to take away the sin of the world.

John 17:21 . That they all may be one. United in one spirit to Christ our living head, however divided by continents, languages, and some variations of creed; for real saints cannot shake hands with the bloody tyrannies and idolatries of Rome, how much soever we may love and honour many characters within her pale. Our unity consists in a catholic spirit, and in brotherly love.

John 17:24 . Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am. For θελω , volo, I will, Grotius reads velim, I would: and according to the philosophy of grammar he must be right, because no one in prayer must speak otherwise. Thus David, oh that one would give me to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem; and Isaiah, oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down.


How great was the glory displayed in this upper chamber, and hidden from the eyes of men. What consummate wisdom, propriety, and love were discovered in the Saviour’s farewel discourse to his disciples. While they were all weeping around their Lord, he opened all his richest stores of comfort and hope. Magnifying also his offices of mediator and prophet, he prayed for them in a most holy and enlightened manner. But here heresy compels a pause Jesus in his humanity, and in his office is not only less, but infinitely less than the Father; and yet in these offices he is the Lord of glory, the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Yea, he is head of angels also; for which of the angels was ever obedient unto death. Which of the angels ever equalled Christ in personal merit and worth. Because therefore he thus became a man, because he was sent of the Father, and as a minister, ascribed the glory of his mission to God, his enemies have availed themselves of these appropriate words to rob him of his divinity, and because in John 17:3, the only true God and Jesus Christ are distinctly named, and in 2 Timothy 4:1, where Paul expressly charges Timothy before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

From these and various other passages some have taken occasion to assert, in the face of the whole new testament, that Jesus is a mere man, or only called God by office. On the subject of this appellative, Origen very properly remarks, that magistrates are called theos in a few places, but that in all places where the supreme being himself is meant, he is called o Theos, as in John 1:1. And even here, the Father, which means the godhead, is called the only true God in opposition to idols, as is exemplified in 1 John 5:20, where Christ, as well as the Father, is called the true God, and the eternal life. But the subtilty of those heretics is so acute, and their plausible caveats are so numerous, that it is proper for all men to fortify themselves by reading Abraham Taylor on the Trinity. Bishop Pearson, and Dr. Barrow on the Creed. Dr. Waterland’s vindication of our Saviour’s Divinity; and above all, bishop Bull’s defence of the faith. No man in this age should be unarmed.

Now we learn hence, that Christ as mediator and king, received power over all flesh. He was made Lord both of the living and the dead. He is the Adam from above. Rom 5:17 . 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:45. When told that Elijah had raised the dead, he denied the assertion, the work being done by the Father; and he answered, so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

All believers are given to the Son by an evangelical call, by justification, by faith in Christ, by sanctification, or by being glorified. Romans 8:30. 2 Thessalonians 2:13. They are from the beginning chosen to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. God calls the things that are not, as though they were. He said to Abraham, I have made thee a father of many nations, when Abraham had no child. Why then make so much to do about giving them to the Son? God gave the apostles to Jesus in the fair course of his ministry, by the preaching of the word, and the sanctification of the Spirit. The conditions of their salvation are not mentioned here, nor in John 10:0., to which reflections the reader is referred. But they are abundantly mentioned elsewhere, and are always understood.

The essence of eternal life consists in the knowledge of God, and of the mediator Jesus Christ. When the heart honestly believes in God and his Christ, notwithstanding trouble of conscience for past sins, unutterable peace and joy, and love presently descend in constant emanations from God into the believing soul.

The Godhead of Christ is absolutely asserted. Father glorify me with thine own numerical, essential, and eternal glory. This glory is explained in Revelation 3:21, by the admission of our Saviour’s humanity to the Father’s throne; and consequently, to the glory which Christ had before all worlds. If these words do not imply the Godhead of Christ, language has no meaning, and all disputes subside into the confusion of Babel. Jesus kept all those whom the Father gave him, and none of them was lost, save the son of perdition. Judas was given to Christ in the ministry. Judas belonged to God; thine they were, and thou gavest them me. What a blessing that eleven out of twelve stood fast, and endured to the end.

Jesus prayed for them in particular as ministers, asking favours which did not belong to the world, nor even to common christians. When he prayed for the world, it was that they might be spared a little longer, as the barren figtree, for repentance, and for pardon, as on the cross, because they knew not what they did. He prayed also for all who should believe through their ministry, that they might become one spirit, and one family with heaven and earth. Thus Jesus conferred his ministry in full power on the apostles, praying that they might be kept from the persecutions and sins of the world, and persevere till they beheld his glory in heaven.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 17". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/john-17.html. 1835.
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