HIS MINISTRY OF INTERCESSION
In chapters 13 to 16 the Lord has completed what He had to tell His disciples, ending with the empowering ministry of chapter 16. He has made every provision for them. But in chapter 17 He adds to this His own faithful intercession on their behalf before the Father's face, His speaking to the Father for them. How marvelous it is that we should be privileged to hear this precious prayer, the communing of the Son with the Father on behalf of His beloved people. He speaks as being co-equal with the Father, so that the calm, sublime dignity of His Godhead glory shines out beautifully in all the prayer.
Observe too that this prayer was spoken before He went into the garden, where, prostrate in agony, He anticipated the dread sufferings of the cross (c. John 18:1; Luke 22:3-44). His spotless, holy Manhood is most evident in Luke 22:1-71, but in John 17:1-26 He lifts up His eyes to heaven (v.1), as the One Himself in pure fellowship with the Father and in perfect control of every circumstance that was to meet Him. There could be no question as to His supreme victory before ever we see Him in agonizing prayer in the garden.
COMMUNION, AS EQUAL WITH THE FATHER
He begins, not with entreaty, but telling the Father that the hour had come and that now the Father was to glorify His Son, that His Son might glorify Him. How beautifully here is seen the pure equality and unity of the Father and Son. He passes over His imminent sufferings, for the end in view is what occupies His thoughts. In His return to glory, both He and His Father would be glorified.
His glorification would demonstrate too that the Father had given Him authority over all flesh. He says nothing of what that authority involves in reference to the ungodly, but it does involve His giving eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. Giving life is a prerogative only of God.
What is eternal life? Verse 3 tells us, not by giving a definition of it, but by directing us to its blessed fountain, the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the sent One of God. We can only know it as it is expressed in persons. In measure we see glimpses of it in every believer, but only in the Father and the Son do we see it in fullness and perfection.
No other could be able or be entitled to declare before God that he had glorified Him on earth, for neither had any done so, nor is any other able to pronounce as to this, nor as to whether he has really completed what he was sent for. Verse 4 therefore indicates His perfect divine intelligence, as well as His work of divine perfection.
In verse 5 therefore His being glorified involves no less than full sharing of the glory of the Father, and He speaks here of the same glory He had shared with the Father before the world was. He had come to earth in voluntary humiliation, veiling the glory that is rightly His. Now He was to return to that place of ineffable, eternal bliss which is known only by the Father; Son and Holy Spirit.
In verse 4 He has said, "I have glorified Thee," and "I have finished the work." Following this he uses the expression "I have" eight times, in each of these cases elucidating on His first words. He had manifested the Father's name to those in whom the Father had worked, to present them as a gift to His Son. They understood, while the world did not, for they were chosen out of the world. Though they had been the Father's possession, yet only the Son had made the Father known to them, and He says, "they have kept Thy word." He is not speaking of how fully they have kept it, but of the fact, which is true of every believer.
Verse 7 is lovely in showing that everything seen in the Person of the Son is a direct communication from the Father. Believers have known this, and no doubt should know it in a more conscious and consistent way.
All the words the Father had given Him (no less and no more) He had given to His own. They had received them, not without perplexity and questioning in some cases, yet in vital reality of faith they had done so; and this gave them absolute confidence that Christ had come out from the Father (v.8). Notice that this expression shows the Son's personal energy and initiative in coming forth; while it is added, "they have believed that You sent Me," and this indicates the Father's initiative. Both are true, for Father and Son are One.
PRAYER FOR HIS DISCIPLES
"I pray for them." How wonderful to hear His intercession before His Father's face! Yet He does not pray for the world. In fact, for the world as a system away from God there is no hope: it is appointed to judgment (Acts 17:31), But the true disciples are the Father's gift to His Son; and since He is leaving them for the time, He especially commends them to the Father's tender care, for they remain just as really the Father's as the Son's.
So that verse 10 confirms that all that is the Father's He shares in common with the Son, and all that is the Son's He shares in common with the Father. Moreover, the Son is glorified in them. In them is wondrous proof of the greatness of His work, though He has been here in lowliest humiliation, seeking no glory for Himself.
But He was leaving the world and leaving His own in it while He Himself was returning to His Father; whom He addresses as "Holy Father" because of the relationship of a Father with His children. He is sanctified, apart from all that is evil, loving what is good, and He deals with believers in such holiness, not simply in righteousness, as with the world (v.15), in which case He is judge. He asks the Father to keep in His own name those who are given to the Son. The Son had kept them while He was with them, and this care would not be discontinued because of His absence. None of His own were lost: if Judas seemed an exception, it was because he was "the son of perdition," never a true disciple at all (v.12). Scripture had foreseen the treachery of Judas and his sad end in judgment: if he seemed to be a true disciple, this was due only to his deceit in covering his falsehood. But the word of God would triumph. Verse 13 is clear that this prayer of the Lord is spoken and recorded for the sake of His true disciples, that His own joy might be fulfilled in them; that is, the joy of direct communion with the Father.
As to this, the Father's word was vital, and the Son had given them this full communication of the mind of the Father. It was this that drew out the world's hatred toward them, because it separated them from the world. In fact, in the same measure that Christ is not of the world, so are His disciples not of the world (v.14). His word clearly draws the line.
But the reality of their sanctification is to be proven by their being left in the world for the time. The Lord prays that they might be kept out of the evil that so permeates the world, while they pass through the midst of it. In this connection He repeats His words at the end of verse 14. While He was in the world He had been morally apart from it in purest reality: He was both their Object and their Example.
They required the truth, the word of God, to accomplish this practical sanctification. He asks the Father to apply this, for without such sovereign power we should be helpless. The Father Himself gives effect to His word.
As the Son had been sent by the Father into the world, so the Son sends His disciples into the world, not to be part of it, but as His own representatives. Wonderful dignity indeed! For their sakes He was about to sanctify Himself in a complete way, that is, through leaving the world entirely, returning to His Father, in order that His disciples might be sanctified in truth. How beautifully this is seen later in the book of Acts: Christ, set apart in glory, becomes such an Object that His disciples' eyes are so turned toward heaven that the world loses all appeal to them: theirs becomes a vital, real sanctification, the truth of the word holding living power over their souls. If sanctified from the world, it is because of the positive power of sanctification to Christ in glory.
PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS
But not only did He pray for His disciples of that day: He adds to them all who would believe on Him through their word, which of course includes every believer following that time, for they have been brought in by the word of the Lord communicated to His disciples and recorded in scripture. He prays for the unity of practical life among them as based on that unity of eternal life that is implied in verse 11. Thus, the unity in nature is spoken of first (v.11), then the unity of practice (v.21), then the unity of future glory (v.23). In verse 21 the desired result of unity in practice is that the world may believe that Christ has been sent by the Father. Though our practice in this is feeble indeed, yet it is seen in measure by the world. May we increase that measure!
Now the Lord speaks of glory which the Father has given Him, in contrast to the glory He had with the Father before the world was, for this latter glory is exclusively that of deity. It cannot be shared with man. But what the Father has given Him in virtue of His great work in Manhood, His voluntary humiliation and sacrifice, He delights to share with those for whom He has died. This glory is now given to believers, but will only be displayed when we are with Him, we being brought into a oneness with Himself that is measured by His own oneness with the Father.
Verse 17 speaks of the perfection of unity that we shall fully realize at the coming of the Lord Jesus, and in this case it is said, not only that the world may believe, but that it may know that the Father has sent the Son and has loved believers as He has loved His Son. All will be fully manifest then. But to be loved by the Father as He loves His own beloved Son is a matter that surely fills our hearts with wondering appreciation. It is true, absolutely, and intended to give calm, firm confidence before His face. The world will know it then: we are to know it now.
Further, how sweetly that love is seen in His expressed desire of verse 24. For love cannot be satisfied apart from having its objects near. He prays for this, which we know will be accomplished at His coming, as He has said in chapter 14:3. We may be sure He desires this more than we do. Then we shall actually see the glory the Father has given Him; though we share in it even now, yet we little realize the precious fullness of that which He has acquired through His lowly path of suffering on earth and His blessed work of redeeming grace.
Notice that the infinite distinction of dignity in Himself as far above us is carefully maintained; for though we share His glory and are loved by the Father with the same love, yet it is His glory we are to behold, and it is He Himself whom the Father has loved before the foundation of the world.
Verse 25. Because the world is so ignorant of righteousness, it is also ignorant of the "righteous Father." One must face the truth of His righteousness, as in the epistle to the Romans, if the Father Himself is ever to be known. But the Son, the righteous One (1 John 2:1), has intimately known the father; and divine grace has so worked in the hearts of true disciples as to give them the vital knowledge that the Father has sent the Son.
In verse 26 He had said that He has manifested the Father's name to believers: now He adds to this His declartion of the Father's name. The first has to do with His character and actions: the latter with His words. Both were in perfect accord. But in resurrection also He would still declare the Father's name, as He did to Mary Magdalene (ch.20:17), and as He does now by the Spirit of God and the written word given to the Church of God. By this He shares with them the love of the Father toward Himself, and they are blessed with His own presence "in them." Apart from His own declaration, how could we ever know these things to be true? Wonderful then is the value of this prayer for our own encouragement!
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 17". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany