Lectionary Calendar
Friday, May 17th, 2024
the Seventh Week after Easter
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Bible Commentaries
John 17

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Verse 1

‘Jesus spoke these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven he said, “Father, the hour is come. Glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you”.’

‘Lifting up his eyes to heaven’. The main purpose of these words is to stress where the response will come from, but it also illustrates how Jesus prayed at this moment (compare John 11:41). It contrasts with Gethsemane where ‘He fell on the ground’ (Mark 14:35) or ‘on His face’ (Matthew 26:39). This was a prayer of hope and expectancy, whereas that would be a cry from the heart for help in His hour of need.

‘Father, the hour is come.’ These words bring home His expectancy of death. He knows that on the morrow He will die. They can be likened to the words spoken by the condemned man before he walks out to execution. He was ready to face His fate.

This ‘hour’ had been mentioned by Jesus before (John 7:30; John 12:23; John 13:1). It referred to the hour of His going from the world to His Father (John 7:33; John 13:1), by way of the cross (John 12:23; John 12:32-33). It was the last final period of His life from the moment when He knew that the end was coming (John 13:1). It was the hour of unbearable suffering. But in the end it was through the cross and resurrection that Jesus would be glorified and vindicated and would bring great glory on the Father, for there on the cross, and through His resurrection, would be carried out the plan which had been laid in eternity for the redemption of His people (Ephesians 1:4-8; 2 Timothy 1:9).

This is a reminder that Jesus’ life followed a carefully planned divine pattern (see John 2:4; John 7:6; John 7:8), a pattern of which chapters 13-20, describing as they do His final hours, are the culmination. It is not therefore surprising to discover that they were a carefully laid foundation for the future, containing the promise of the Spirit of truth who would safeguard His message together with warnings of what was to come (chapters 14 - 16), His patriarchal prayer which would guarantee the safeguarding of His disciples (chapter 17) and His commissioning of His disciples to safeguard on His behalf the purity of the infant church, by bestowing on them ‘Holy Spirit’ (John 20:20-22).

Note that in chapter 17 He does not pray to the Spirit, but to the Father. Nor does He directly mention the Spirit. The Spirit’s work is always at the Father’s behest, and subject to the Father’s will, and is directed towards glorifying the Father and the Son and fulfilling Their purpose. Jesus does not therefore have to refer to the Spirit when speaking with His Father. His activity, having been described earlier, is assumed. Thus in John 17:0 Jesus prays to the Father for the carrying out of His will, and makes His arrangements for the disciples in terms of personal commitment to and response from the Father. It is the Father with whom they have to deal. By this He reveals something of God’s deep-seated love and concern for those who have been chosen for the task of taking His truth to the world..

The passage can be divided into three sections. In the first He prays for the fulfilment of the Father’s purposes as regards Himself (John 17:1-5), in the second He prays for the possibility of the fulfilment of the Father’s purposes through the Apostles (John 17:6-19), and in the third He prays for the fulfilment of those purposes in all true believers (John 17:20-26). The distinction is very clear and emphasises that Jesus does make this specific distinction between the Apostles on the one hand and all who followed them on the other, a distinction we have already observed in chapters 14-16.

‘Glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you.’ These are like the last words that a royal warrior son might make to a kingly father before going out to battle. Jesus is here conscious that He is about to face a battle of huge dimensions which will result in great glory. In Daniel 7:13-14, when the son of man comes into the presence of the Ancient of Days, He comes out of suffering (John 17:25 - for the son of man is both people and prince) to receive ‘dominion and glory and a kingdom’. Here the Son of Man goes forward to receive the same. But that glory must come through a cross (John 12:23-25 with 32-33) before He receives the crown. He must be glorified through suffering.

In His ministry He has continually revealed His glory (John 1:14; John 2:11; John 11:4 see also Mark 9:1-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), but this is leading to greater glory, for it is a glory achieved through the final fulfilment of God’s plan of deliverance in which the power of the Enemy is broken through the self-giving of Christ, whilst He Himself is raised to supreme authority. Yet in the end it is seen to be but the restoration of His former glory (John 17:5), the glory of the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14), the glory of the One seated on the eternal throne (Revelation 3:21), the glory which He had with Him before the world was (John 17:5).

‘In order that your Son may glorify you.’ The result of His receiving His glory will be that He brings great glory on the Father, for His glorious work is at the behest of His Father, and reveals the wonder of God’s being. Above all it reveals His outstanding and all pervasive love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10; Romans 5:8). What greater glory could there be than the glory revealed when a holy but merciful God surrenders His own Son to die in awful suffering, a suffering in which He Himself will take part, for undeserving and sinful men, in order to finally redeem them and bring them with Him into His glory?.

Verses 1-5

Jesus’ Dedication of Himself (John 17:1-5 ).

In opening His final discourse in John 13:31 Jesus had said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. And God will glorify Him in Himself and will immediately glorify Him’ (John 13:31-32). We note first that Jesus is to be glorified as ‘the Son of Man’. This ‘glorification of the Son of Man’ is described in Daniel 7:13-14. ‘I saw in the night visions and behold there came with the clouds of Heaven (out of a period of suffering) One like to a Son of Man, and He came even to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him, and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingship, that all the peoples nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away, and His kingship that which will not be destroyed.’ Thus Jesus had very much in mind here His entering out of suffering into the presence of the Father to receive His eternal glory and kingship.

But His words in John 13:31-32 went even further than Daniel, for they included the thought of God ‘glorifying Him in Himself’, something expanded on in this prayer where He prays that He will be glorified ‘in the Father’s own self, with the glory which He had with Him before the world was’ (John 17:5). Thus He was not only to receive the kingship on behalf of redeemed mankind (Acts 2:36) and in His glorified manhood take His place at the right hand of God, but He was also to be glorified with the Father’s essential glory, and to take His place upon the Father’s throne (see Revelation 3:21; Revelation 5:6).

Verses 1-26

Jesus’ Final Words To His Apostles (John 13:31 to John 17:26 ).

This next section, from John 13:31 to John 17:26, can be seen as the equivalent of the dying words of Jesus. Words spoken on approaching death, and especially on a deathbed, were considered to be particularly potent. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, like the blessings of Jacob to his sons in Genesis 47:29 to Genesis 49:33, Moses’ farewell words in Deuteronomy 33:0, the farewell of Joshua to the nation of Israel in Joshua 22-24, and David's farewell speech in 1 Chronicles 28-29. Thus we must see these chapters as essentially spoken to the disciples, although of course we may apply much of what was said more generally as having wider implications. Within them, however, Jesus gives special promises of unique gifts and blessings which were only for His Apostles in their task of establishing the new people of God, the new Israel growing out of the old (John 15:1-6).

It is noteworthy that they were not spoken until Judas had left the company. They did not apply to him. He had gone out into the night. These instructions and promises were for those who walked in the light of day.

Verse 2

“Even as you gave him authority over all flesh that to all whom you have given him he may give eternal life.”

‘Even as You gave Him authority over all flesh.’ The idea is that this One Who goes to His death is primarily the Judge of all the earth (John 5:27 compare Genesis 18:25; Acts 17:31), and has authority over all men. In consequence He has the authority to do whatever He will, and as a result He has also the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). He came to the world from the Father and the world was under His feet. Thus He could have done what He would, for He had authority over all. He could have taken power and ruled as Satan tempted Him to do (Matthew 4:8-9). But this would not have achieved the object of redemption. So He willingly and tenaciously chose a different path, the path that God had laid down, giving eternal life to those given to Him by the Father in full awareness of the consequences of His choice. Notice the contrast between ‘being given authority over’ and ‘receiving as a gift from the Father’, the one authoritarian and judgmental the other personal and redeeming. The idea of His being given authority over all flesh is monumental. All things had been committed into His hands. He was sole arbiter of the destinies of all men (compare Matthew 7:21-23).

“All whom you have given Him.” The people of God are here described as God’s gift to Christ. This gift of the Father to His Son has been mentioned earlier in passages where Jesus has made plain that men respond to God because He has chosen them and drawn them. All those whom the Father gives Him will come to Him (John 6:37; John 6:39), for they put their trust in Him (John 6:40). Indeed no man can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). So that no man comes fully to Christ unless it is given to him of the Father (John 6:65). The Judaisers did not respond to Him because they were ‘not of His sheep’ (John 10:26), while those who did follow were those given to Him by the Father (John 10:29). These verses stress that God is positively active in redeeming men, playing a full part in the bringing of men to Jesus Christ, and that those who are so redeemed are His gift to His Son.

‘He may give eternal life.’ By virtue of His projected offering of Himself He was able to bestow ‘the life of the age to come’ (John 17:2-3 compare John 3:14-16; John 6:52-58), that life which consists of new life in the Spirit (John 3:1-16), to all those given to Him (John 6:37; John 6:39 compare John 6:65; John 10:26-28). It is a life of wonderful quality whereby they know God through personal experience and have the certainty of being raised at the last day.

Verse 3

“And this is life eternal, that they should know you the only true God and him whom you did send, even Jesus Messiah.”

This life, we now learn, consists of men entering a plane whereby they “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent”. They enter into a deep and personal experience of God. They ‘know Him’, that is, they ‘see’ and enter under the personal rule of God (John 3:3-5) and receive a new spiritual awareness. To them God is no longer far off, but is real in their experience. But this will then lead on to them knowing Him in eternity in the fullness of His being and glory (Revelation 22:4-5).

It is significant that here Jesus alters His description from ‘Father’ to ‘only true God’, for here He is including Himself within the Godhead as the One member of the Triune Godhead sent from the only God in all His fullness. Being sent by God does not necessarily signify that He Himself was not God, any more than being sent by a Committee would necessarily involve not being a member of that Committee. Note also the exaltation of His own status as ‘Jesus Messiah (the anointed One)’. This is the first use of a term which will later become a regular one on the lips of His followers, and explains why they so easily took it up. He is the anointed representative of the one true God.

The combination of ‘the only true God’ and ‘the One sent from God, the anointed One’ is Heaven’s view of Jesus’ earthly life. We may liken the words to those of a committee member sent from his committee to act on their behalf. In communicating with the committee he would say to them ‘you sent me’, distinguishing himself as the one sent, without intending to exclude himself from being a member of the committee. In the same way here Jesus Messiah was sent from the Godhead, as a member of the Godhead, but with His own unique task to fulfil as the unique representative of the Godhead, while not excluding Himself from the Godhead.

‘Even Jesus Messiah’. This is the first use of the combined term. No one today can fully appreciate the wonder, the awe, the excitement raised in those days by the idea of the Messiah. He was God’s coming and expected deliverer! The beginnings of the title are found in Daniel 9:26 (compare also Isaiah 61:1), and in all previous references to the coming of a Saviour and Redeemer (often spoken of in terms of God or YHWH). It had been taken up by Jewish writers who tended to interpret him as a military figure, although others saw him as a great teacher. But all saw him as someone supremely sent from God. Jesus had previously only revealed Himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman, and there it was in terms of the Samaritan expectation of ‘the Restorer’. Martha too had confessed Him as Messiah (John 11:27) and as we know from the other Gospels, so had Peter (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16), but in the latter case He forbade the disciples to make it known (Matthew 16:20) and reinterpreted it in terms of ‘the Son of Man’ (Mark 8:31). Evil spirits also testified to Him as the Messiah (Christ) and He forbade them too (Luke 4:41). The only other direct references are in Matthew 23:8; Matthew 23:10 and Mark 9:41. But now that the danger of misinterpretation has passed He takes the title openly.

‘Even Jesus Messiah.’ Some see this as a comment added by John, but if it was so it would be unique. While he does elsewhere add explanatory comments it is always as a sentence or more in order to explain things that Gentiles may not understand or as an expansion of a previous dissertation. There is hardly need for either here. It is therefore unlikely that this is an explanatory comment.

So this life is to be given to “as many as You have given him” (John 17:2 compare John 6:37; John 6:39; John 6:65; John 10:26-28). This is a reminder of God’s sovereignty in the work of salvation, a sovereignty which He has put in Jesus’ hands (v. 2). As we are told elsewhere, the Spirit works where He wills (John 3:8).

Verses 4-5

“I glorified you on the earth having accomplished the work which you have given me to do, and now, Oh Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.”

Jesus claims that He has faithfully fulfilled the task given to Him by the Father. He has accomplished the work which the Father had given Him to do, and has brought glory to God by what He has done and what He will do, for both His life, teaching and miracles, and the final work on the cross, are part of that task. (Compare how John tells us that ‘we beheld His glory --’ - John 1:14). Now He prays that He might be fully restored to His former eternal glory and intimate relationship with the Father. Notice the prayer to be glorified ‘with the Father’s own self’, which is then defined as being glorified with the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was. The intimacy of this leaves no doubt about the fact that He Himself is on the divine side of reality. He is to receive the glory which is essentially that of the Father, a glory which had previously also been His. It need hardly be said that Jesus’ prayer is not a prayer for personal glory, but a deliberate commitment to suffering before He is finally restored to the glory which was His by right, the “glory I had with You before the world existed”. It is difficult to overemphasise the importance of these words here. They remove all doubt about Jesus’ essential deity.

He will now go on to pray specifically for the Apostles. They were the only ones present at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14) and the exclusion of Judas as the only one lost (v. 13) excludes reference to the wider group of disciples, of whom some would certainly go astray, as others had done before (John 6:66). The prayer is extended to the remainder of the people of God in John 17:20-26.

Verse 6

“I openly revealed your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”

He points out that He has revealed to the Apostles what the Father essentially is. He has revealed ‘His Name’ to them, that is, His very nature (compare John 14:7-9). And these are the men whom the Father has ‘given Him out of the world’. They are the elect from among the world of men.

He describes them as men who ‘belonged to the Father’ and had been ‘given to Himself’. That ‘They were yours’ refers to their condition before they were given by the Father. The natural reading of this is that they responded to Christ because God had already in some way made them His own by sovereign choice prior to making a gift of them to His Son.

They were men who had ‘kept the Father’s word’, which included the words that Jesus had given them (v. 8). The idea is that they have believed them, treasured them and held them fast. They had also fully recognised Jesus’ uniqueness as God’s Son. In this we see clearly that their response is due to their ‘election’ by God Who has set them aside as His own before time began (Ephesians 1:4), something which is finally revealed by this response to His word.

They had been given to Jesus ‘out of the world’. From among mankind in its rebellion and subjection to the Evil One the Father had taken them and given them to His Son.

To them He has ‘openly revealed the Father’s name’. In Jewish thought the ‘name’ was seen as signifying the whole of what a person was. Thus when there was a great change in a person’s life they could be renamed. Consider for example Simon who became Cephas/Peter, and Saul who became Paul. Here then Jesus says He has made known to His disciples as far as was humanly possible the whole nature and being of God as expressed in His name.

This includes His name as the ‘I am’. This Greek phrase is used without a predicate in John 8:24; John 8:28; John 8:58; John 13:19. It depicts the One Who acts in history and the eternally existing One. See for this name Exodus 3:14. It is the name on which the name YHWH (‘the One Who is’) was based.

It is surely significant here that He speaks of the disciples, not as they are, but as He knows they are in embryo and surely will be. There is no thought here of their lack of understanding or soon to come failure, for He knows that their hearts are steadfast notwithstanding, and that soon they will know all (John 14:26; John 16:13).

We must not see in Jesus’ use of the term ‘the world’ any suggestion of antagonism towards the world. Indeed God loves ‘the world’ (John 3:16). Rather it is that the world that has taken up a position of enmity against God. What He is against is the attitude of the world, the very attitude with which He has come to deal.

Verses 6-19

Jesus’ Dedication of His Apostles (John 17:6-19 ).

Having prayed for the fulfilment of His own destiny Jesus now turns His attention to the needs of His Apostles. They are men of proved faithfulness, but He is aware of all that they must face in the future, and He thus commits them to His Father’s care.

Verses 7-8

“Now they know that all things whatever you have given me are from you. For the words which you gave me I have given them, and they received them and knew of a truth that I came forth from you, and they believed that you sent me.”

‘Now they know.’ This especially refers to John 16:29-30. They have professed to this understanding and He is satisfied that it is true in so far as was possible at this stage. They implicitly believe that what He has taught and revealed is of the Father, and they have received His words and accept their source in the One Who sent Him. Indeed they see clearly that Jesus was sent by the Father. They are thus worthy recipients of His favour, not because they deserve it, but because they have believed in the One Whom He sent, and have believed that He sent Him.

‘The words which you gave me --.’ Jesus’ words are words given to Him by the Father. In Deuteronomy 18:18 God promised to Moses, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." While originally these words simply conveyed the promise of a continual line of prophets for each generation, in Jewish tradition it was interpreted as signifying a Prophet who was expected in the end times. It thus finds fulfilment in Jesus Whose words were the very words of God and were passed on to the people of God. That they were treasured comes out in the epistles and in the fact that they are recorded in the Gospels.

Verses 9-10

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. And all things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

Jesus’ prayer is ‘for those whom you have given me.’ Those ‘who are given to Him’ strictly means true believers. But He goes on later to distinguish between the Apostles and those who will believe through their word (John 17:20) so that clearly here He has the Apostles primarily in mind here. These are the subject of His special prayer here.

‘I do not pray for the world.’ This is not because He is not concerned for the world. Along with His Father He loves the world (John 3:16). It is because at this moment in time the hope of the world lies in this small group of men given to Him by the Father.

He stresses the wonderful fact that while they have been given to Him, they also belong to the Father (‘they are Yours’) because He and the Father share all things mutually. And He emphasises that they will bring Him great glory. That is why He selects them out for His prayers.

‘All things -- that are yours are mine.’ It is impossible in this phrase to avoid the implication of total equality of Father and Son, otherwise it would simply not be true. What the Father has, the Son has, and vice versa (compare John 16:15).

‘I am glorified in them.’ Jesus was to be glorified by being lifted up on a cross and then through His resurrection and ascension to the throne of God. But He will receive further glory because of these chosen men, who by their dedication, sacrifice and suffering will bring about the fulfilment of His purposes, ‘filling up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ’ by taking His name to the world in the face of all the consequences (Colossians 1:24).

Verse 11

“And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world and I come to you. Holy Father, keep those whom you have given me in your name that they may be one even as we are.”

Jesus stresses the disciples’ predicament. They are still in the world which is at enmity with God, while He will no longer be with them but will have gone to the Father. He knows what the world is about to do to Him. And He is leaving them in the world knowing that the world will seek to do the same to them. So He prays the Father to keep them in His name. The Shepherd has temporarily to leave them and commits the sheep into the hands of the Gatekeeper and His large fold. The work of the Holy Spirit, enlarged on in chapters 14-16, is assumed.

‘Holy Father’. This is a unique title for One Who is unique. It stresses that He is the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15). He is ‘Holy’ because He is set apart from all others in His uniqueness, and is above all others because of what He essentially is. Thus He dwells in the high and holy place. But He is nevertheless Father to His own. He dwells there with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirits of the humble and to revive the hearts of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15). The title ‘Father’ tells of His high authority and His loving concern, ‘Holy’ warns that we must not presume upon it. We must never forget that God is holy and that we should tremble before Him, while at the same time finding joy in His presence.

‘Keep them in your name.’ The Father, the Holy One, will keep them with Him (keep them in His Name) and maintain them in His high and lofty place (‘the heavenly places’ of Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6) in accordance with His name. Their lives will be hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Thus separated to Him they will be one in holiness.

Alternatively this may signify their being kept faithful to His truth, so that they are one in the truth, but this is anyway presupposed in their being with Him.

‘That they may be one even as We are.’ It is Jesus’ great concern that the full spiritual unity of the Apostles be maintained, a unity like that between the Son and the Father, working together as one. Jesus recognises how vital that will be for the fulfilment of their task. In the past there have been jealousies and self-seeking, but through oneness with God’s holiness He prays that such things will cease.

This is not just a matter of simply getting all denominations together, for it does not refer to an outward form of ‘unity’ which would but conceal many differences. Rather it is a unity of heart and spirit that can, and should, exist between members of differing denominations as they all see themselves primarily as ‘Christians’.

Verse 12

“While I was with them I kept those whom you have given me, and I guarded them and not one of them perished except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

Jesus has faithfully and successfully fulfilled His task with regard to those whom the Father has given Him. He has watched over them and protected them, and all are safe apart from the one who was ‘the son of perdition (or destruction)’. He was never given by the Father to Jesus, for he was marked for destruction. He was never a ‘son of God’ but always ‘a son of perdition’, one bound for and deserving destruction because he follows its ways.

‘The son of perdition’ par excellence is the one who above all personifies Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the ‘man of sin’, the Antichrist. But Judas has sided with him, and revealed his true nature as one with him. John makes clear that Jesus knew the truth about him from the beginning (John 6:70). Just as at the end there will be one who will reveal Satanic control, a son of perdition, so also there was at the beginning. He was the beginning of the attempts of Satan to thwart the purposes of God.

‘That the Scripture might be fulfilled’. The main Scripture in mind is Psalms 41:9, ‘yes, my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me’ as Jesus tells us in John 13:18. It is not claiming that this is a specific prophecy of Judas’ failure, but that Judas’ failure follows the pattern of Scripture. What Scripture reveals that men are like in their attitude to those beloved by God here proves true.

Verses 13-15

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world hated them because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them from the world, but that you should keep them from the evil.”

He points out that all that He is saying, and has said, is so that they may experience the fullness of the joy that is His (compare John 15:11; John 16:24) in the midst of a hostile world. In combating it they will need the awareness of the keeping and protecting power of God (John 17:11; John 17:15), the knowledge that they are Branches of the true Vine (John 15:1-8 with 11), and the awareness of His constant provision of what they need in their ministry (John 16:24), so that they can face the somewhat grim initial future with joy. And that joy is to be the joy of Christ that He constantly experienced because of His Oneness with the Father. It is a joy that He wants them to have to the full.

Now He, their Shepherd, is leaving them, and going to the Father, whilst they must continue living in the world. But they have been given His word and the result is that they no longer live and behave as those who are ‘of the world’. Like Him they are ‘out of’ it. They are under the Rule of God, not of the world. They do not follow the world’s ways. They are citizens of Heaven living as aliens in the world (Philippians 3:20; Hebrew John 11:9-10; 1 Peter 2:11-12). And the consequence is that the world will hate them.

‘I have given them your word.’ Because He has given them the Father’s word the world will hold no truck with them, and that is because that word has brought them into a different sphere under the Kingly Rule of God. They thus no longer view things as the world views them. They are citizens of Heaven. The thought also includes the fact that that word has been entrusted to them, to be cherished and passed on. For it is not for them alone but for all whom the Father has given Him. And the result of their having that word and passing it on to others will be the hatred of the world.

‘The world hated them.’ The disciples have already experienced something of the world’s hatred. Just as the world hates the light (John 3:20) so does it hate those who shine the light on it and its ways. This is inevitable. Christian experience is ever the same. Men like to be associated with ‘goodness’ as long as it is not too strictly demanded of them. So for a while the world may sometimes admire Christians and speak well of them, but eventually their refusal to compromise will bring them into hatred. As Jesus said elsewhere, ‘beware when men speak well of you’ (Luke 6:26). They did the same to the prophets before they killed them.

‘Keep them from the evil.’ The world and its ways are insidious. The evil within it creeps in on men and slowly permeates them. So He prays that they may be kept from that evil.

‘The evil’. This could be either masculine translated ‘the Evil One’, or neuter translated ‘the evil’. In view of the fact that the concentration is on ‘the world’ which is ‘evil’ (John 3:19; John 7:7) it might seem more likely that He is speaking of the evil of the world. On the other hand the Evil One is the prince of this world, so that the evil of the world and the Evil One are closely connected.

Thus in 1 John 5:18-19, we have mention of ‘the Evil One’ who cannot touch the man who is born of God followed by ‘we know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in evil’. Compare also ‘deliver us from evil’ (Matthew 6:13). There too there is the same ambiguity and we have a choice of translations. So some have argued that in view of the frequent use of the masculine in 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19 it seems much more probable that the masculine is to be understood here, and that Jesus is praying for his disciples to be protected from Satan. This is supported by the constant earlier references to Satan (John 13:2; John 13:27) and ‘the prince of this world’ (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 - another ambiguous phrase) and the idea that an attempt may be made to pluck the sheep whom Jesus is keeping from His hand.

Possibly, as often in John, we can take both meanings. The Evil One uses the evil of the world to fulfil his aims. Consider how Judas is entered into by Satan but it is his greed for money that finally defeats him. So the world’s evil creeps up on man through the activity of the Evil One. Evil appears to be our prime enemy but that is because the Evil One prefers to remain hidden.

Verses 16-17

“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.”

By following Jesus the disciples have removed themselves from the world system and the world’s ways. They are no longer tied to the world or absorbed by its interests. Just as Jesus thought only of His Father and his Father’s will so was it to be with the disciples. Thus can He pray for them to be sanctified in the truth.

‘Sanctify them in your truth.’ To ‘sanctify’ means to ‘make holy’, to ‘set apart as God’s’ so that they begin to partake of the ‘wholly other’. They are to have the touch of God on them. Here the power of God’s truth within them and around them is to give them that aura of belonging to God. The ‘ Holy Father’ (John 17:11) is to make them holy too, ‘in His truth’. It is truth that makes holy, not mysticism. Mysticism without truth can only be dangerous and misleading.

‘Your word is truth.’ Jesus has spoken of ‘the word of God’ as referring to the Old Testament Scriptures (Mark 7:13 compare Luke 4:4) and elsewhere it refers to the teaching of godly men (Luke 3:2) and especially of Jesus (Luke 5:1; Luke 8:11; Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28) Who is the Word (John 1:1-18). Thus it means God’s communication through godly men in whatever form He chooses and especially through Jesus. For us therefore it primarily means the Scriptures as they reveal Him Who is the Word. It is there above all that we can find truth. And it is by absorption of that truth that we become God’s own people, set apart to Him and accepted by Him as holy. But no one today has the special unction given to the Apostles. We should beware of any ‘truth’ which is not fully based on Scripture taken as a whole and firmly in context.

Verse 18

“As you sent me into the world, even so I sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”

Just as Jesus was sent by the Father to ‘the world’ as a light, to open its eyes, shake its complacency and make it aware of its evil (John 1:9 with John 3:16-18) , so have the disciples been sent by the Son. But they will need the protection of ‘the truth’ which can only come from God. Constancy in truth is the only way of combating the world and its ways.

‘For their sakes I sanctify myself.’ On John 10:36 we are told that He was sanctified by the Father and sent into the world. In other words the Father set Him apart as His chosen means of delivering the world. How then will He now sanctify Himself ‘on their behalf ’? The answer is that He is renewing His commitment to their salvation. They have been given to Him and as He begins a new phase of His ministry He is now unreservedly committing Himself wholly to the cause of their forgiveness, deliverance and safety, and this includes for Him the path of the cross.

There by His own will He will be ‘set apart to God’ as a sacrifice, as a sin offering and as a whole offering pleasing to God on behalf of the disciples and on behalf of all who are given to Him (see Deuteronomy 15:19 for ‘sanctifying’ referring to a sacrificial offering). But it includes far more, for having died for them He will be raised again to His throne and will ever live to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) and be with them always to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He was setting Himself apart to God for the whole of His saving purpose.

‘That they also may be sanctified in truth.’ Jesus has previously asked the Father to sanctify them (John 17:17). Now we learn that this can only be because of what He will do when He goes to the cross and as He makes intercession for them. Through His sacrificial death and continual intercession their sanctification in truth (being wholly set apart to God by their experience and knowledge of the truth) is made possible. Man can know the truth because He Who is the truth sanctified Himself on their behalf as an offering for sin. In His ‘setting apart’, His own also are set apart.

So they will be ‘set apart to God’ (sanctified) in and through God’s truth, the truth of His word which Jesus has revealed to them (v. 17 with v. 8). What above all will make them objects of the world’s hatred is that they have received and seek to pass on the truth of God. This benefit is something that they will enjoy because Jesus is deliberately “setting himself apart” (sanctifying himself) to suffering and glory. They too will be set apart to suffering and to glory, because they possess the truth. We note all through the prayer that Jesus is aware that as long as the truth abides in them everything else will fall into place. It is when we diverge from the truth or cease to pay it due heed that our problems begin.

Verse 20

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for those also who are believing on me through their word.”

‘I pray’. Literally, the verb means ‘make request’. This encompasses the many believers who had already responded to Jesus and His Apostles and all those who would do so in their future. As the later ‘early church’ emphasised, true faith must be a response to Apostolic truth. The Apostles were unique. They were chosen to lay the foundation for the church of God by their understanding and revealing of the truth, and it is by that truth that true believers must be tested. It is not transferred to anyone, whether church or individual. Church tradition has no intrinsic guarantee within it. Each church, each tradition, each individual, must be tested against the truth revealed through the Apostles, in other words by the New Testament.

Verses 20-26

Jesus Dedicates All Who Will Respond to Him through His Apostles (John 17:20-26 ).

Jesus was now looking far ahead, beyond His own group of disciples, as He began to pray for all who would become believers through their ministry, and through the ministry of others who would proclaim the same truths in His Name. And His foremost prayer was that they might be one in Spirit and truth. In so far as we fail in that inner spiritual unity, we fail to fulfil His purposes, whatever our boasts of ‘soundness’ may be. We should aim to feel ourselves at one with all who love the LORD Jesus Christ in sincerity, even though we may differ on secondary things.

Verse 21

“That they may all be one, even as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

His prayer is that the unity which He has requested for the Apostles may also be experienced by His people as a whole. That unity He likens to the unity between Himself and His Father, a unity of purpose and action, of love and truth, which will be theirs as they abide in Him and the Father. This portrayal of unity and love will then make its impression on the world so that the world will believe that Jesus Christ came from the Father. Here of course He means by ‘the world’ that part of ‘the world’ (that is, of the non-believing world) that sees Christians active in a unity of love.

For some considerable time that unity did impress the world. They said, ‘see how these Christians love one another’. And this was enhanced by the persecution that drove Christians together. Even today whenever the hearts of Christians are firmly set on Christ rather than on the church there is a unity and love which is remarkable to behold. The more we ‘abide in Christ’, the more that oneness is seen. But let us get on to cold doctrine alone and that unity becomes conflict. There is no greater divider than enthusiasm for some secondary interpretation or doctrine, or our own individual interpretation of Scripture.

It is clear that Jesus was as much concerned for the open revealing of this spiritual oneness as for anything else, for He continually underlines it. Christians will inevitably disagree on doctrine, on views of the scriptures, on church government and on many daily practises, but when they have allowed this to destroy essential oneness with all Christians who truly believe in the LORD Jesus Christ, they have committed a great sin. They have denied their birthright and brought shame on Christ. If men are one with the Father and the Son, then they are one with each other, and must love one another, and must show it, for how else is the world to believe?. This is the ‘unity of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 4:3). It is the result of the Father’s love in them (v. 26) It does not mean compromising what they see as the truth, it means that they love one another while disagreeing, because they are one in Him. That is what matters above all.

The basis of this unity is that they have heard and received the word of the Apostles. It is a unity based on apostolic teaching, an assumption illustrated in 1 John 2:19 where it results in their “abiding in the Father and the Son” (abiding in the truth of the Triune God), as long as what they have “heard from the beginning” (the truth presented by Apostolic men) abides in them (1 John 2:24). There are a few essential truths which determine a man’s position before God. If a man believes in Jesus as uniquely God’s Son, and in the fact that His work on the cross, and that alone, somehow brings him an undeserved forgiveness, and responds to God on the basis of this, is he not made one with the Father? Then he must be embraced in the circle of Christian love however differently he may view more detailed interpretations.

God’s final purpose is to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20) and to bring all things into harmony in and through Christ (Ephesians 1:10), removing the rebellion and disharmony that man has introduced into creation (Romans 8:1-23). The church was intended to be the firstfruits, the outward sign that God’s purposes were on the way to fulfilment. We shame Him when we fight with each other.

Verses 22-23

“And the glory which you have given me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one, that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

The glory of Jesus was ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). It was a glory of compassion and mercifulness, and above all of truth concerning God. This He has sought to pass on to His own. As they are absorbed in the truth revealed in His word, concentrating on the central themes of God and redemption, and understanding and appreciating more of the character of God, and as they become more and more aware of God’s free unmerited grace and love, and of their privilege to enjoy, and responsibility to manifest, that love, so they will be one in humility and awe. Having received grace (undeserved, unmerited favour) and truth they will be full of grace and truth. They will have received His glory. But let them depart from these and they will be divided.

But there is more than that to be included. Jesus spoke in John 17:5 of ‘the glory which I had with you before the world was’. It is true that this glory could never be fully communicated to His own, especially while they were on earth, but it is at least partly given to them for He is given to them, and they will be able to enjoy it to the full capacity of which they are able, while on earth, and to an even greater capacity in Heaven. They will be able to bask in the ethical and spiritual glory of Jesus both now and then as they are changed from glory into glory by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18) and behold and reflect that glory in their lives. And the glory in 2 Corinthians was referring to the full glory of God as seen by Moses on the Mount. Now we see it as though in a first century mirror, distorted but real. One day we will see it as it is. And then we will experience it to our fullest capacity, for He has given it to us in full measure. We ‘will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is’ (1 John 2:2).

Jesus then goes on to make clear that Christians are introduced into a fellowship of love and truth that is almost beyond comprehension. It is a unity caused by His indwelling in them and the Father’s indwelling in Him. They are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). They are united with His own body (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff). But as He has made clear it is a unity based on truth (John 17:17-19). Once so-called Christians begin to diverge from the central truths in the word of God they no longer share in that unity but have become mere philosophers, borrowing Christian truth for their own purposes and destroying the central nature of truth. And the only test we have is the word of God.

But we must be careful to distinguish truth from our interpretations of truth. That the Holy Spirit was given and is experienced in the church is a central truth, how He particularly works in detail is an interpretation of truth. That Christ is coming in one way or another at the end of time is a central truth. The details of that coming are interpretations of truth. And so we could go on. Now we see in a distorted mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). Let us therefore beware of dogmatic arguments about that of which we cannot be certain, while holding firmly to that of which we can be certain.

By uniting in truth we will be perfected into one, and nothing will disturb that oneness. Thus will the world know that Christ came from the Father and that the Father loves His people as He loved His Son, for they will be brothers in Christ.

‘I in them, and you in me.’ This unity is grounded in a oneness with the indwelling Christ Who is Himself one with the Father.

‘That they may be perfected into one.’ God’s essential purpose is in the uniting and bringing together into harmony with Himself of all things (Colossians 1:20; Romans 8:18-23; Acts 3:21; Ephesians 1:10), the removal of all that causes dissension in creation, and His longing is that this be first accomplished in His people so that they will enjoy ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). Then will the world know that Jesus was sent by God, and that the people of God are loved by God equally with His love for His Son.

Verse 24

“Father, that which you have given me, I will that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

‘That which you have given me’. This refers to the gift from the Father to the Son of His true people, seen as one. (Although some authorities have ‘those whom you have given me’). In them will be fulfilled all the spiritual blessing of Ephesians 1:3-14, for it is to this that He has called and chosen them. They are ‘His own people’ set apart to reveal His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9), chosen by God, set apart and precious, and secure in His hand (John 10:28-29)

‘I will that --’. Christ expresses His will for His people. He wants them to be with Him beholding all the glory which is His, the glory which He once laid aside, but which was now about to be restored to Him by the Father (John 17:5) in accordance with His eternal love for His eternal Son.

‘That they also may be with me’. His desire for them is that finally they may see and share His glory. What a wonder this is, that we are to share His glory. This is expressed vividly and pictorially in Revelation 21:22-23 where the light of the ‘city of God’ is the Lamb, a light to be enjoyed by His people. Yet as Paul makes clear there is a sense in which His people may now share that position and that glory by faith as they recognise that they have been raised with Him and seated in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6). We do not have to wait for eternity to be with Him and to behold His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18 to 2 Corinthians 4:6).

‘My glory which you have given me --’ This is not the glory which was His by right as very God. That was His by right, and only His (John 17:5). It is rather the glory given Him by the Father when He was chosen to be the Redeemer, the Saviour of mankind, a choice made before the foundation of the world when we also were chosen with Him (Ephesians 1:4), and it is His glory as glorified man.

‘Loved me before the foundation of the world’. He was not only chosen before the foundation of the world but was also loved as well, for unlike us He was there to enjoy the love of the Father from before the beginning.

That Jesus was the means by which, with the Spirit, the Godhead acted in the creation of the world, that He was the means by which the Godhead wrought salvation for the world, also along with the Spirit, means that sometimes we see Him described as though He were in a subordinate position to the Father within the Godhead. But we should recognise that this is as seen from our point of view and is more apparent than real. For they were always together as One, face to face in glorious unity (John 1:2), working as One for the fulfilment of Their purposes, always at One in will and purpose. It was only in their presentation to man, and in the positions that they took in the carrying out of the divine plan, that this idea of subordination was suggested. It describes more man’s way of looking at things than God’s. It was a subordination of presentation rather than of reality. In eternity they are co-equally One.

Verse 25

“Oh righteous Father, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these knew that you sent me. And I made known to them your name and will make it known, that the love wherewith you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

In all our dealings and thoughts concerning the Father we have to recognise that He is the righteous Father. That was what the world failed to recognise about Him. They were unaware of His true righteousness, and therefore did not realise their need for atonement, or their need to become truly righteous. They thought that they could get away with being religious. But the Father is a righteous Father, and all hypocrisy collapses in His presence. Righteousness and truth are branches from the same stem.

‘The world did not know you.’ He had come to His own world but even His own people did not receive Him (John 1:11). God in Christ was unrecognised and unwanted by the world with its distorted aims and motives, and by ‘His people’ because He was not what they wanted. The world may to some extent have gained a general perception of a rather insipid ‘Father’ above, but they do not have a conception of a ‘righteous Father’, a Father Who in His love requires strict adherence to His word, His laws and His ways, a Father Who requires obedience. The truth is that the Father requires of us that which is good, and those who are His will therefore be obedient to His ways, and will work them out in their lives with great care. They know that God is at work in them and they therefore respond fully from the heart (Philippians 2:12-13).

The world neither knows nor heeds a Father like this. They are not subject to His ways. But Jesus knew Him fully, and knew and revealed Him in this way, and those who are His know that Jesus was sent from God and has made known to them His name, and will continue to make it known. Thus through Him they too come to a true knowledge of God and of His righteous requirements. It is fallen and unredeemed man who makes the grace of God an excuse for carrying on sinning.

‘Made known to them your name’. In other words Jesus had revealed what the Father essentially is as the ‘Holy’ and ‘Righteous’ Father. We note that Jesus does not here address Him as ‘loving Father’. It is true that that love has been revealed, but it is no sentimental or maudlin love. It is a loving response to those who have recognised their need to be made righteous and holy. It is true that God ‘loved the world’ (John 3:16) but that love is only experienced by those who come to the light to have the truth about themselves revealed, that their deeds are wrought in God (John 3:21).

‘And will make it known’. His work of making His Father known will continue into unborn generations. In the presence of the Holy Spirit Jesus is also present with us. Compare John 14:16-17. The Holy Spirit cannot be present in us without Jesus being with us.

‘That the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ The love that the Father has for His Son is also manifested in His people. They acknowledge that He is the beloved of the Father, and that He dwells within them. Thus do know that they dwell in the Father’s love (see 1 John 3:1).

‘And I in them’. This is the Christian’s final glory, that Christ dwells in his heart by faith (Ephesians 3:17; compare Galatians 2:20). God Himself possesses His people, and dwells in them (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). Thus do they know that they are rooted and grounded in love and that the love of God and of Christ is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to them (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 3:16-21).

In this regard we may have been noted that in John 17:0 there has been no mention of the Spirit. In the most important prayer ever made He is not mentioned, even though His work is everywhere in mind. The giving of ‘the life of the coming age’ (v. 2 compare Romans 8:2; Romans 8:10; John 3:5-6), the treasuring of His word (John 17:6; John 17:8 compare 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 1:17; Ephesians 6:17), the essential unity ( v. 11; v. 21 - 23 compare Ephesians 4:3), preservation from evil (v. 15 compare 1 Peter 1:2), the joy of Christ (v. 13 compare Galatians 5:22), being set apart by His word (v. 17 compare 1 Corinthians 2:10; Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:9) and the divine love within (v. 26 compare Romans 15:30; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:7) are all elsewhere described as the work of the Spirit. Thus if Jesus could pray like this without mentioning the Spirit, we need to be careful about passing judgment on praying men because they do not pray or speak as we do about the Spirit. We must remember that to be in touch with God is to activate the Spirit, for He is the Spirit of God.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 17". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/john-17.html. 2013.
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