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Bible Commentaries
John 17

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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So closes the Saviour’s farewell address to his apostles. From man he now turns to God; and, as is suitable in address to God, in prayer. Yet is it not so entirely addressed to God as that man is wholly left out of thought; for all audible and public prayer is for man; that is, for others than him who prays, as well as to God. The very institution of public prayer includes a purpose of instruction, namely, to reveal and perpetuate the knowledge of what are our wants, and how to express them before God. Of such a nature is the Lord’s Prayer. And for this same purpose was this memorable intercessory prayer uttered aloud by Jesus in the hearing of his apostles, and recorded under guidance of the blessed Spirit by the hand of that very apostle who dwelt most deeply in the heart of Jesus. We might suppose that the prayer is recorded with verbal accuracy. But if our human presuppositions are not upon this point accurate, we may be sure that the very soul of the prayer uttered is in the prayer recorded, so that both would be for us identical.

As this prayer is uttered just before the great sacrifice by him who was at once Victim and High Priest, so it has been called, with much propriety, by Christian scholars, the HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER. But though uttered before the sacrifice, the actual standpoint in spirit of the great Supplicator is really at the close of the sacrifice; just as in the last verse of the last chapter, as we have noted, the standpoint of the Saviour’s triumph is after the triumph is won. See notes on John 12:31; John 13:31; John 17:11. The present prayer is uttered as if in fact the great work were completed; and as if, from the scene of battle, the blood-stained conqueror was stepping in triumph upon the threshold of heaven into the presence of his Father, claiming his investment with a glory belonging to him both by original inheritance and final victory.

Though properly called a prayer, but a small part and but a few points are precisely petition. For himself he claims, as his right, his glorious investment. For his disciples he supplicates unity, preservation, and consecration. For all future believers he supplicates the same holy unity, and indirectly prays for the conversion of the world to the faith. The greater part of the prayer is what we will call representation; performed by Him who is the great representative of us all before God.

A summary of the chapter will show that in John 17:1-5 he presents himself before the Father; that in John 17:6-19 he represents the case of his apostles; that in John 17:20-26 he represents before God, directly, the case of all future believers; indirectly, the case, good or ill, of the world.

Verse 1

1. Lifted… eyes to heaven Hitherto his glance had been horizontally directed upon his listening apostles; but now our Evangelist beholds him turn his eye upward, and recognizes that his spirit is with God. The phrase to heaven would naturally, but not necessarily, imply that he was under the open sky. Heaven, though upward, is not the sky.

Verses 1-5

Christ’s self-presentation before the Father, John 17:1-5.

As already noted, Jesus now speaks as if his Passion were but a point in time, and that he is already ascended into the Paternal presence. Commentators, in consequence of not appreciating this, have lost much of the beauty and power of this great prayer. It is the commencement and specimen of his ever-living intercession; nay, it is that intercession itself. Ever here recorded, it is ever being offered. Read by the Church on earth, it ever avails in the sanctuary of heaven.

Father The first appealing word of the eternal intercession, simply Father, (see note on John 17:11,) a name of God unknown to the world before the Son revealed it. God is Father of all by creation; he is Father of the justified by regeneration; he is sole Father of this sole Son as he is Father of nothing else in the universe besides. Yet this sole Son stands before God in order that he may be the First-born among many brethren.

The hour is come As we have elsewhere noted, (John 2:4,) the life of Jesus was marked by the divine order into hours, periods, or crises. But verily now had come the hour of hours, the consummating period of a complete work and an attained glory.

Glorify thy Son Invest his glorified resurrection body, now identified with his eternal Spirit compositely, with an eternal glory.

That thy Son… glorify thee In the great mediatorial work, gathering a glorious Church into the everlasting habitations, he will unfold to the universe the divine glory. Reciprocally and eternally in majesty, power, but most of all in love, will Father and Son thus glorify each other.

Verse 2

2. As Inasmuch, as, or since. He asks the Father to glorify him, inasmuch as he possesses power to reciprocate that glory in gathering his glorified Church. Surely all this is language that creatures could never use with God. It stands on equal terms, and assumes merit. It claims, rather than supplicates; offering compensation, glory for glory.

Given him Yet is the Father, even in this equality, source, giver, superior.

All flesh All humanity. The power of his death is not partial but universal, embracing every child of Adam both before and after birth. We are born under atonement.

As many as thou hast given him Given him, in the eternal purpose of redemption, as foreknown believers and persevering heirs of salvation; as it is expressed in John 17:20: “Them also which shall [or rather will ] believe on me;” and in John 17:8, even the apostles are those that “have believed.” And as that plan of redemption is conditional, saving in divine anticipation all who are foreknown as believers, so it presupposes no want of power for belief in others. It excludes none who do not exclude themselves. Hence this intercessory prayer covers all who please to place themselves beneath it.

Verse 3

3. Life eternal… might know thee This knowing of God and Christ is that full experimental knowing which, being commenced by the believer on earth, is consummated in eternity: hence it is not the cause of eternal life, but is the very eternal life itself. The vital seed of eternal life, its first minute instalment, is placed within the believing soul on earth, and, unless on earth removed, will put forth in eternal life in heaven. It is the well of water within springing up to everlasting life.

The only true God The only God; for there can be no other. The true God, in opposition to all false gods. Whether Jupiter, or Brahm, or Vishnu, they are false. The fancies of the idolater, of the pantheist, or the atheist, have their absolute contradiction in this the true God. He possesses those attributes of power, wisdom, and mercy; he has unfolded those attributes in such plans and deeds of redemption, as that eternal life is realized in the very knowing them in their knowable fulness.

And Jesus Christ It is remarkable that this is the only instance in the Gospels in which the words Jesus Christ are used as one compound name. They are so used frequently in the Epistles; from which some liberalistic commentators have argued that this phrase was mistakenly used by John, according to a later custom, and falsely attributed by him to Christ. More likely, however, the apostolic custom arose in the Epistles from its original use by Jesus. It is a most expressive compound. Jesus is Saviour: Christ is Messiah; that is, Anointed King. Hence Jesus Christ is Saviour-Messiah, Saviour-King. He is a Royal Saviour sent from God to man. It is with a solemn majesty that Jesus thus pronounces his compound name of dignity, naming himself thus before God and man.

Unitarian writers, who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, have quoted this as a primary text to show that Christ is not God, but purely man. God, as they claim, is pronounced here to be sole God, and Jesus Christ is excluded. But surely it is of that very sole God that Jesus Christ is the Sent, the manifestation, the incarnation. The Father, indeed, as the unknowable Absolute, the reserve of Deity, is often styled by the entire name of God.

So the very first verse of John’s Gospel tells us that the Word was with God; that is, with the Father. But that did not forbid his adding, “and the Word was God.” And so, that the Father is God does not disprove that Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh.

Verse 4

4. Glorified thee on the earth On the earth in antithesis with in heaven. In the former he had glorified God; in the latter God will glorify him. He had glorified God on earth by exhibiting to mankind the perfect ideal of God in man; miraculously showing forth the wisdom and power of God, but especially revealing God’s mercy for the salvation of the world.

Have finished the work The great mission for divine manifestation and human redemption. By this great work he had purchased the right to save all who by faith should accept his mission.

Verse 5

5. With thine own self In blessed and eternal society with thy own nature.

Glory which I had… before the world That is, the glory which I, as eternal Logos, had with the eternal God. See note on John 1:1. Into that glory admit me, the incarnate Logos, so that the God-man shall be eternally recognized as eternally divine. The eternal Logos and the incarnate Logos are the same person in different eras of existence. So that the incarnate Logos could claim on earth that as Logos he possessed an eternal glory in heaven, to which he might ascend and therewith be invested.

Before the world was The term world here includes the entire universe of worlds. Some have affirmed that God has eternally been creating worlds after worlds. In that case the priority of the glory of the Logos would be rather priority in the order of nature than of time, as regards the absolute universe.

Verse 6

6. The men Part of the human race, selected for the good of the race.

Thou gavest me Words which represent the divine side of the apostolic selection. For, being so chosen, they were in capacity, purpose, and susceptibility the proper men. Wisely were they chosen of Christ; graciously were they given by God. God always selects the most suitable instruments at hand for his purposes.

They have kept The human side of the apostolic action. God had been gracious to keep: men had been faithful and kept.

Verses 6-19

Christ’s representation of, and petitions for, his apostles, John 17:6-19.

First, the Saviour represents his apostles before God in their past relations with himself, closing with a petition for their gracious preservation, 6-11. Second, he represents their relations of danger to the world, closing with a petition for divine keeping, 12-16. Third, opening with a petition, he represents their mission to the world, 16-19.

Verse 7

7. All things The entire furnishings for his divine mission. The apostles had learned and recognized that they were not fabricated by Jesus, but given from God.

Verse 8

8. They have believed They were selected and given by God with full foreknowledge that they would believe. The final taking of effect, both of their election and the giving, was conditioned on their faith and perseverance as free agents.

Verse 9

9. Pray not for the world For the world, as such, and while it stays such, (in the sense used here and in John 17:14,) is not a possible object of the mercies and blessings he is now imploring; and so cannot be the object of his direct prayer. Indirectly he prays, in John 17:21; John 17:23, for the world, that it may be brought under the scope and cover of his prayer, by conversion to faith in him. When Christ intercedes, as here, for his Church, it is that it may be, as here, preserved, sanctified, and glorified. When he prays for the world, it is that it may be converted and forgiven. Luke xxiii, 34. Then the world comes into the Church, and receives the blessing of Christ’s Church by intercession.

For them which thou hast given me The apostles, as in John 17:6; John 17:8.

They are thine The Father gave them, yet still retained them. They were the common property of God and of Christ. Therefore did Christ confidently pray for them.

Verse 10

10. Thine are mine Language which no created being could use.

Verse 11

11. I am no more in the world As above noted, his standpoint is after his ascension .

Holy Father The first petition for his apostles. The opening address, the first, is to Father simply; here, where holy preservation is petitioned, the address is Holy Father; in John 17:25, where retribution in the world is indicated, it is Righteous Father. Stier elaborately argues that God’s holiness is identical with his absolute love. It may be, indeed, admitted that of God’s primary love, pure and absolute righteousness, mercy, and purity are the perfect forms. Yet that love is rather holy than holiness itself. That love is holy because it is absolutely right; and holiness consists in rightness, with all the intensity of infinite emotion, and all the firmness of an infinite Will eternally determining.

Verse 12

12. While In the five ensuing verses Jesus contemplates his apostles in relation to their earthly dangers, as by him faithfully kept, (albeit that one is lost,) in the midst of a hated world, from which they must not be withdrawn, though while in it they are not of it. While… in the world Here, as throughout this intercession, his standpoint is beyond this world.

I kept them Kept them, not like a purse of coin, locked in an iron safe, as a mere thing; nor as a prisoner, locked in a bolted cell, as an unfree agent, but as a child is kept in a loved home, from which he is able to escape by a power of his own. Such keeping of a true free agent is intended to be sure only when the kept one prefers to be kept. No divine guardianship throughout the Bible engages to secure a Christian from voluntary apostacy.

The son of perdition Stier well remarks that wherever in the Holy Scriptures the figurative phrase child of an evil thing is used, it indicates the wilful, guilty, and fixed tendency of the being. So child of hell, Matthew 23:15; children of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2; so also man of sin, 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Son of perdition, therefore, indicates one who by his own wilful, guilty, personal tending, lands in final destruction. But it is plain, from the previous part of the verse, that this son of perdition was one of those whom thou gavest me, and was kept in thy name; and yet, in spite of that keeping, he was lost; and he became a final heir of perdition. Hence we have on this sacred record, presented in the very primal twelve, a type of genuine final apostacy in the Christian Church.

Scripture might be fulfilled This is the final good educed by God from the darkest evil: that therein his foreknowledge is verified, and God’s plans for his own conduct, which are conditioned upon the foreknowledge, are left underanged. The dark human side was for pure evil; the divine side is, that the unneeded and condemned sin does of itself fit in to the production of God’s best results.

Verse 13

13. Now come I to thee The world is far behind; the agony is past; he stands upon the mount of God, approaching his Father’s smiling face. But all this is upon a conceptual standpoint; for he immediately adds, These things I speak in the world. Why speak them in the world? The words immediately following explain: that his apostles might hear; that one apostle might record; so that their joy, and the joy of the future Church, whom they represent, may be fulfilled.

Verse 14

14. The world hath hated them See notes on John 15:18-25.

Verse 15

15. Not… take… out of the world Peter was ready (John 13:37) to follow his Lord out of the world. Wearied Christians often would sigh to depart and be with Christ. But that aspiration must be checked within the most reverent limits. What could the world’s great carcass do if the salt should all depart? What but suffer the fate of Sodom for want of ten righteous men? The good men hated by the world are the world’s preservers.

Keep them from the evil For how easy is it for them to assimilate by gentle shadings with the world. The world, then, will no longer hate, however much they will despise them for the compromise. God keeps them, not merely for themselves, but for the honour of his own name, and from mercy to the world that hates them.

Verse 17

17. Sanctify them In the three ensuing verses Jesus represents their consecration to their mission. God must sanctify them as Christ sanctifies himself. To sanctify is to set apart to some special divine use; and this may or may not require an inner purification of the being set apart. If an unholy being, as man, be set apart to a pure use, he must be rendered internally as pure as the use to which he is appropriated. Of an indifferent thing, neither intrinsically holy or unholy, as a vessel for the sanctuary service, there can be no purification but a physical one with an emblematical meaning. Where a holy being, as Christ, is set apart for a holy work, as for the work of redemption, no inward purification is possible; for he is already perfectly pure. It is a consecration of the holy to the holy. The use to which man is divinely consecrated is eternal service in the sanctuary of heaven; but to attain this use his entire purification must be perfect. If he fails in this his failure is total.

Through thy truth Rather in thy truth.

Thy word is truth Thy word doubtless means the Gospel revelation, both in its doctrinal and preceptive parts; its doctrinal parts exhibiting the scheme of salvation, its preceptive enjoining us to obey its conditions. The agent of this sanctification through or in the Gospel, according to Jesus’s prayer is God, who both gives the Gospel which sanctifies, and animates it by his Spirit to a sanctifying power. Hence it is not the mere instrumental truth, it is the divine Spirit, which sanctifies.

Verse 18

18. Sent me… I also sent them So that both, primarily and secondarily, are from God; and as they were directed to ordain others to the same work, so it is evident that a body of ministry issuing from God himself, distinct from the laity, is a divine institution in the Christian Church.

Verse 19

19. Sanctify myself The great conditional sanctification or consecration of himself, by which Christ entitled himself to redeem a glorious Church from out the world, and present it pure and perfect before the Father, was the suffering of death. Thus as a redeemer he was made perfect through suffering.

For their sakes This consecrating agony was undergone for the sake of his apostles, constituting and representing his entire glorious Church.

Verse 20

20. For these alone Most merciful as is the interior of the Saviour’s intercession, there is a stern exclusiveness, a terrible outside to it, expressed not so much in words as in silence. Cold and dreary is the condition of those who stand without the boundary of the Christly supplication.

Shall believe Foreknown future voluntary receivers of the apostolic Gospel. The shall here is a mere future, equivalent to will. Faith is either a power or an act; as a power it is a gift of God, and may be prayed for; as an act it must be from ourselves, and cannot be a gift from any other.

Their word No traditions of an interior Christian doctrine are to be received by us which are uncorroborated in the written word. This, the written testament alone, can assure us that the tradition is apostolic and binding; for unwritten traditions are unstable, easily forged, and unreliable. But as it appears from John 17:18 that the apostles were commissioned by Christ, as Christ by God, so the true written tradition of the apostles, whether it be John, or Paul, or Peter, are the authorized word both of Christ and God. Those, therefore, who endeavor to separate the apostles’ doctrine as contrary to Christ’s, are enemies of the truth, sacrilegiously endeavouring to cut the Gospel in two, that they may murder both parts.

Verses 20-26

Christ’s representation of future believers and the world, John 17:20-26.

Our Intercessor now broadens his scope so widely that every man may enrol himself in the limits of the prayer. Directly, he prays for the perfecting of all believers and their reception into glory. Indirectly, he prays that all may become believers.

Christ cannot, of course, pray that the world, as the world, should be taken to heaven. He cannot pray that the sinner should be glorified in his sins; any more than he can pray that the unchanged Satan should be reinstalled in the highest heaven. He can only pray that the world may, through appointed agencies, be so won as to come into the range of his prayers for his Church. None are excluded from his churchly prayer who do not exclude themselves.

Verse 21

21. May be one Amid every diversity there is among true Christians a true unity. So amid many varieties, external and striking, the human race has a unity internal and absolute. One touch of feeling makes the whole world akin. Universal man, and man alone, has the moral emotion, the religious susceptibility, the power to possess an idea of the infinite God.

The European, the Chinaman, the Hottentot, can be brought to worship the Omnipotent; but not the dog, the elephant, or the gorilla. So, amid every outward diversity, there is in the Christian body the true unity of the Spirit. The attempt has been made to bring that body under one human head, the Pope, and what has been the result? The head became ambitious, corrupt, despotic, infidel, and bloody. This was substituting for God’s unity of the Spirit man’s unity of temporal power.

As thou… and I The opposer of the doctrine of the Trinity very vainly attempts to prove that the Logos, or Word, can be no more one with God, than one Christian man can be one with another. But the as here indicates not equality in degree, but similarity in nature according to the human likeness and proportion to the Divine. As of Christian perfection the ideal is God, so of Christian unity the model is the ever-blessed Trinity. (See note on Matthew 5:48. Also, John 14:9-10.) For man was made in the image of God. Of the Church, as of the Trinity, the unity is spiritual.

That… that… that There are three thats in this verse. The first two are parallel to each other, the latter enlarging the other, and both depend on pray in the previous verse. Christ directly prays that his followers may be one; and that they may be one in us. The third that depends upon these two. May they be one in us, that the world may be inspired, by that unity, with faith.

The world Stands in a double aspect: as the embodied enemy of Christ, and, as such, no object of prayer; and as the raw material from which the future Church must be won and shaped, and, as such, the object of this extension of prayer. And in the following verses Christ prays that the Church may be perfect in one, both for its own blessed sake and for the winning the world to faith. No limits are assigned to the diffusion of faith through the world; but the Saviour, justifying a holy ambition in his Church to win the whole, prays that the world may believe, and nothing less.

Verse 22

22. The glory which thou gavest me The eternal celestial glory.

I have given them It is in them even now, in various degrees, a spark, a slender flame, a beaming luminousness, destined to shine in eternal splendour in the celestial firmament. “Even the slightest glimmering of heavenly light which begins to shine out of the countenance of a justified publican, is an outbeaming of this glorification; and so is the still brighter angel-face of the crowned martyr at his trial.” Stier.

May be one For that glory has its source in a spark of divine love in the heart, and that love melts into one its various possessors, so that there is one love, one glory, one Church.

Verse 23

23. Thou in me So that the very centre and nucleus of this unity is God himself.

The unity of the Church consists in doctrine and in spirit. The historian of evangelical doctrine finds that the system, in its great outlines, forms a grand architectural structure, extending through ages, identical in its general outlines, and excluding all mere half-faiths, heresies, novelties, and infidelities. As such a system it does, by its self-consistency, strength, and permanence, form a powerful proof of the reality of the Christian faith, calculated to make the world believe.

Yet deeper and more absolute is the unity of the spirit. Doctrinal differences are many; Christian experience is vitally one. Says Dr. Shedd: “Tried by the test of exact dogmatic statement, there is a plain difference between the creed of the Arminian and the Calvinist; but tried by the test of practical piety and devout feeling, there is little difference between the character of John Wesley and John Calvin.” For this he assigns as a reason, that “the practical religions life is much more a product of the Holy Spirit than is the speculative construction of Scripture truth. Piety is certainly the product of divine grace; but the creed is not certainly formed under divine illumination.”

Verse 24

24. I will Not I pray, nor I ask; but this is my will. He speaks as a Son returned to his Father’s house, who tells, in loving confidence, how he will have things. He will bring his beloved comrades with him, that they may see what a glorious Prince he is, and in what a glorious palace

That they may behold my glory And themselves participate and possess it, just as seeing the kingdom of God is sharing it. (John 3:3.) So, beholding his glory, we are all changed into the same image from glory to glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18.)

Verse 25

25. O righteous Father He addresses his Father in his stern aspect of righteousness, and his subject is the world in its contrast with his disciples and himself. Yet is its tone the awfulness of reserve. He utters no condemnation, pronounces no sentence. Note that God is not a mere Father, but also a righteous Father. He has not only his parental, but his judicial and governmental aspect. He is not only living Father, but stern Judge and absolute Sovereign.

The world hath not known thee This is his final brief word of appeal to the just God against a rejecting world. It is not passively and innocently and with no means of knowledge, that the world does not know thee. But, after all I have done to reveal thee, the guilty voluntary world has persistently ignored thee! I…

and these I have, spite of and in contrast with this world, determinately known thee, and have made thee known to these. He has no more to say of the world; his heart and speech catch and fasten upon the brighter topic.

Verse 26

26. Declared thy name Unfolding the mystery of grace and glory embraced in the name of the Father.

And will declare it Unfolding its still more gracious grace, and its still more glorious glory, to them, to the Church of all ages, and to their whole glorious assembly in eternity.

Love wherewith thou hast loved me Which, as said in John 17:24, was a love before the foundation of the world.

May be in them Love from God resting upon them, and to God dwelling in them. They thus, by faith, come into a participation of God’s eternal love to his Son. They come into the everlasting beams of the eternal Sun. They enter into the embrace of God’s eternal purpose to glorify all who believe in Jesus. They fasten themselves to the golden chain of God’s election to eternal life of all who know him through his Son.

And I in them As the life-spring of their immortal existence, the well-spring of their eternal love, the day-spring of their eternal glory. For eternal life, love, and glory, embodied in Christ dwelling in them, are the full consummation of all that the sufferings and intercession of Christ himself can bring to his chosen. And in this consummation does this intercession most fitly end.

Thus close the valedictory utterances of Jesus to his disciples, extending through the last four chapters of this Gospel. They are, first, the colloquy and events during the supper, (chap. 13;) second, the Lord’s after-supper discourse, slightly interrupted by questions, (chap. 14;) third, his parting address of prediction, warning, and consolation, (chap. 15, and 16;) fourth, and last, this High Priestly prayer, (chap. 17.) It is pervaded with pathos, which runs as an undertone even through the triumphant passages both of the valedictory and the prayer. The pathos and the sorrow are soon to deepen into the immediate agonies of Gethsemane and the crucifixion; the triumphal tone is sustained by a prophetic recognition of the victory in the more distant future.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/john-17.html. 1874-1909.
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