John 17. The High-Priestly Prayer.—Various guesses (they are nothing more) have been made as to the scene: the upper chamber, or the way to Gethsemane, or the courts of the Temple. The substance of such a prayer may well have been remembered and handed down. It is clear that the language is Johannine, and that the process of translating has led to the same sort of modification that we find elsewhere in Jn. But it is equally clear that these chapters teach us much as to the source of the author's theology, and perhaps of some of the language in which it is expressed. The prayer is in three parts, natural to the circumstances of its presumed utterance; for Christ Himself (John 17:1-8), for His disciples (John 17:9-19), and for the wider circle of those whom they should bring into the fold (John 17:20-25).
John 17:1-4. Jesus prays with full consciousness that the crisis of His earthly career is come. Will His death prove the annihilation of His person and work, or its glorification, the transition to a higher form of life, in which His life-work on earth shall be consummated in fuller life under circumstances of wider opportunity? The glory for which He prays is not for Himself but to disclose what the Son really is, that by the completion of His life-work, which has shown God's purpose of love for men, God may be glorified, revealed in His true nature of Love. He knows the prophets' wider outlook of blessing for all men through the Jews, and that His commission of authority extends to "all flesh." The Heb. form of expression is to be noticed. So He prays to enter into the wider life in which He can fulfil the wider purpose of His mission, which during His earthly life was confined to Palestine. The author adds that this "eternal" life consists in growing acquaintance with God, which can be had by "getting to know" Jesus Christ, whom He sent, the man who lived on earth a human life, that He might be the Messiah of His race, God's Messenger to all men. The London Papyri offer a curious parallel to the language of this passage: "Lady Isis, glorify me as I glorified the name of thy son Horus."
John 13:33 to John 17:26. The Last Discourses and Prayer.—Perhaps this is the best place to consider the general arrangement and character of the final discourses. They present the same problems of style and language, of content and of arrangement, that are raised elsewhere in this gospel. The language and the theology of the author are conspicuous. And yet we cannot escape the conviction that a greater than "John" is here, or fail to ask whether something of his style and theology was not learned in the upper room. These chapters are not merely the reflections of a later generation. The question of order is also difficult. The last words of ch. 14 mark the end of the discourse, the preceding verses are clearly the last words of a speech. The command, "Arise, let us go hence," does not find its counterpart till John 18:1. How are we to regard the intervening discourse and prayer; (a) Wellhausen and others find in them a later stage in the growth of the gospel, perhaps an insertion by the final redactor, the author of 1 Jn., with which they have much in common, who also added ch. 21. (b) Others suggest that there has been transposition, the content of these discourses having been originally fixed in writing or taught orally in a different order. Some of the matter of 15 and 16 certainly seems to come naturally before parts of 14. The pruning of the vine fits on admirably to the teaching which followed the expulsion of the traitor. On the other hand the mention of the Paraclete in 14 seems to be prior to what is taught of Him in 15 and 16. (c) Probably there has been both addition and rearrangement. The interpretation of what Christ taught in the upper chamber grew and took shape in divers parts and at different times. John perhaps taught it at first much as we have it in 13 and 14. But in the light of further meditation he expanded and enlarged, a fact which has left its trace on the present arrangement. In explaining their meaning we shall do well not to regard the whole content of 15 and 16 as subsequent to that of 14.
With John 13:33 the Lord begins to prepare the disciples for losing Him. He uses the term of endearment, teknia, "little children," which is frequent in 1 Jn., though not found elsewhere in the gospel. They will miss Him, and cannot follow yet. But their case is not hopeless as that of the Jews (John 7:34). They must make up for their loss by mutual love, according to the standard which He has set (cf. 1 John 2:7-11*). Peter's remonstrance is met by the prediction of his failure, placed earlier here than in the other gospels (Mark 14:29).
John 17:5-8. It is a return to former "glory" for which He prays. Are we to regard this petition as exclusively the author's addition, on the lines of his theology of the pre-existent Logos, or the real expression of Christ's consciousness of former life with God, expressed in language which could be used in speaking to the Father, though He could not have used it in teaching men; or as a real expression of consciousness of pre-existence, in the sense which it would naturally have to the Jews of our Lord's own time (cf. Jeremiah 1:5), which the author interprets in the terms of his doctrine of pre-existence? In John 17:6-8 He pleads the accomplishment of His appointed work for those whom the Father has given Him, into whose hearts God has put it to accept the message. To them He has made known the nature of God. God gave them to Him to shepherd, and they have received and made effective in their lives His word. So they have learned the Divine origin of His teaching and the truth that God sent Him.
John 17:9-19. On the ground of this accomplished work He now prays for these disciples. The world, which is not beyond the sphere of His love, is excluded from this part of His prayer. It can be reached only through them. These disciples, His by God's gift, are the object of the love and care of both, for whom all things are in common. He has proved His ownership by their acceptance of His message. Now that He leaves the world, where they must stay to do their work, and comes to the Father, in the light of this coming separation He prays that they may be kept in true union with God, whose holiness separates Him from the world; that they may keep their unity, even as the Father and the Son are one. While with them He kept them in touch with God, the Holy Father whose name it was His to make known, and guarded them safely. None fell away, but the "son of perdition," Judas, the man of the wasted life. And that was part of God's plan as foretold in Scripture (Psalms 109:8). He asks that the joy which He has made His own, the joy of consciously accomplished work, may be fully gained by them for themselves. He gave them God's message, which must needs bring on them the world's hatred, for their acceptance has shown that, like Him, they do not belong to the world (1 John 2:15-17*). He does not ask for their removal to safer spheres, but that they should be kept from the evil of that to which they do not belong, by being "sanctified," made and kept holy as God is holy, by the truth as it is revealed in God's message which He has delivered (cf. Psalms 119:142). So they will be fit for their work to which He sends them, as He was sent. Sanctification is that which qualifies the priest to perform his office, or which gives to the victim the quality that makes it well pleasing to God. By His death He sets Himself apart (John 17:19) for God's service on their behalf, that they too may receive true setting apart for the same service, a real and not merely symbolical sanctification.
John 17:19-24. The prayer now passes to those whom they shall make disciples, the fruits of their missionary labours. For them He asks unity, in the Father and the Son, corresponding to the unity of Father and Son. Such unity will convince the world of His own Divine mission and of God's love for men. The way to God, to union with Him, is not through ecstasy but through faith. John 17:24 gathers up the section into one wish, that all who form the Father's gift should be with Christ to see the "glory" given to the Son by the Father, because of His love.
John 17:25 f. reviews, after the author's wont, the main points of the whole, in a final appeal to the Father's justice on behalf of the disciples against the world, the refusal of the world to accept the message which gives knowledge of God, Christ's own knowledge, and the disciples' knowledge at least of His Divine mission, His making known to the disciples the true nature of God, a process not yet completed, and the indwelling of the Father's love, which is the true source of real union.
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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on John 17". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany