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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
John 17

 

 

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Introduction

Verse 1

John 17:1. These things spake Jesus, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said. Thus the Evangelist connects the prayer before us with the parting discourse contained in the previous chapters. It is offered in the same place, while the disciples stand around, and in the same frame of mind as that in which Jesus had just spoken; so that, when we read of His ‘lifting up His eyes to heaven,’ we must think of them as full alike of holy devotion and of the consciousness of completed victory.

Father, the hour is come. The first word of the prayer is ‘Father;’ not ‘our Father’ as in the Lord’s Prayer, but simply ‘Father,’ and so throughout, though twice with ‘righteous’ or ‘holy’ connected with the name (John 17:5; John 17:11; John 17:21; John 17:24-25). The word sums up the peculiar revelation of this Gospel, and expresses the whole consciousness of that relation to God in which ‘the only-begotten Son’ stood, and would have us to stand. Yet it is not a word of tenderness only, but of authority and power: if it stirs affection, it awakens also reverence and awe. ‘The hour’ referred to is not merely that of death, or of death as a transition to glory; it is that in which the Son makes perfect the accomplishment of the Father’s will (comp. chaps. John 2:4, John 7:30, John 8:20, John 13:32). This no doubt involves alike the death and the exaltation of Jesus, but it is the inner character of the hour, rather than its outward accompaniments, that is mainly referred to in the words ‘The hour is come.’

Glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee. On the meaning of ‘glorify’ compare what has been said at chap. John 13:31-32. It is not a bestowal of personal glory for which Jesus prays, for such a thought would both be out of keeping with the mind of Him who never sought His own glory, and would compel us to understand the word ‘glorify’ in the first clause in a sense wholly different from any that can be given it in the second. What Jesus prays for is, that the Father would now withdraw the veil which had hitherto obscured to some, and concealed from others, the ‘glory’ belonging to the Son’s unity of relation to the Father, in order that that ‘glory’ of the Father Himself, which is the end of all existence, and which can be seen only in the Son, may thus shine forth in the sight of His creatures without any shadow to dim its brightness. The former is the means, the latter is the end (comp. on chap. John 11:4). The transition from ‘Thy Son’ to ‘the Son’ is worthy of notice, the former including an appeal to personal relationship, the latter bringing especially into view the work by which Jesus ‘declares’ the Father (comp. chap. John 1:18), and leads men into the condition and privileges of son ship (comp. chap. John 1:12).


Verse 2

John 17:2. Even as thou gayest him authority over all flesh, in order that all that which thou hast given him, he may give unto them life eternal. This verse is clearly connected with John 17:1. It unfolds the means by which the glorifying of the Father is to be accomplished; and the first clause corresponds to ‘glorify Thy Son,’ the second to ‘that the Son may glorify Thee.’ To the Son the Father gave authority over all flesh, that the Son on His part might give to them eternal life. The words ‘all flesh’ (the Old Testament expression for all men) here used are remarkable. No words could more powerfully bring out that universality which is so characteristic of this Gospel and this prayer; while, at the same time, they set before us the picture of all humanity, Gentile as well as Jewish, in its weakness and sinfulness, in its want of the power of the Spirit, in its separation from that spiritual and eternal life in which alone it accomplishes its destiny and attains to the completion of its joy. Over all men the Son received authority that if they would only listen to Him they might be saved: thus the Father glorifies the Son. By the execution of this mission, again, and by the giving of life eternal to all believers, the Son glorifies the Father. The commission, in short, was glory to the Son: the execution was glory to the Father; and the prayer is, that the loving purpose of the Father may be accomplished in the visible glory properly belonging to it. The peculiar structure of this verse, by which Jesus first presents those spoken of as a connected whole, and then proceeds to refer to them in their more individual aspect, has already been spoken of (see on chap, John 6:37); and in the commentary on the same passage we have also seen that under the words ‘all fiat which Thou hast given Him,’ we are not to think of any absolute, predestinating decree laving no regard to the moral and spiritual character of those thus ‘given.’ Their moral and spiritual state is rather the prominent thought; they are believers; they possess eternal life. It is true that this is to be traced to the ‘drawing’ of the Father. From Him alone comes every perfect gift; they are in themselves only weak and sinful flesh; but, at the stage at which we view them here, the working of prevenient grace is long since past; the Father has called them, and they have answered the call: then they are viewed as ‘given.’


Verse 3

John 17:3. And this is the eternal life, that they may learn to know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, Jesus, as Christ. The article is used before ‘eternal life’ in order to carry our thoughts back to the ‘life eternal’ of John 17:2; and the conception involved in these words is now dwelt upon in meditation which finds utterance because of the disciples who heard (comp. chap. John 11:42). Therefore when Jesus, with His mind full of the thought of the glorification of the Father and the Son, speaks of the eternal life bestowed upon His people, He turns to the manner in which, through the reception of that life, such a glorification shall be effected by them. Two points must be kept in view while we endeavour to understand the words:—(1) The force of ‘that;’ this word sets before us the ‘knowing’ as a goal towards which we are to strain our efforts. (2) That the word ‘know’ does not mean to know fully or to recognise, but to learn to know: it expresses not perfect, but inceptive and ever - growing knowledge. Those, then, who receive ‘eternal life’ enter into a condition in which they learn to know the Father and the Son as They really are,—learn to know Them in Their love and saving mercy,—and are thus enabled to ‘glorify’ Them. The knowledge of the Father and the Son is neither the condition of the ‘life,’ nor the same thing as the ‘life.’ It is rather that far-off goal which is constantly before us, and to which we come ever nearer, in proportion as we enter more deeply into the life which Christ bestows. The ‘life,’ on the other hand, is that state in which we are introduced to the knowledge of the Father and the Son, the state in which we learn to know Them with constantly-increasing clearness and fulness, and finally the state in which, when life is perfected in us, we come to know Them as They are, to ‘see’ Them, and to ‘be like’ Them (comp. 1 John 3:2). Strictly speaking, the knowledge is thus dependent on the life, rather than the life on the knowledge. But, in truth, the interdependence is mutual; neither can exist without the other; there is no life which does not lead to knowledge; there is no knowledge without life. The ‘eternal life’ is thus also a present thing, stretching indeed into the endless future, but begun now.

The constituents of the knowledge are also given. They are first to be viewed as two; and each has a distinguishing attributive connected with it. The first is God: He is the ‘only true God.’ We cannot exclude from these words the thought of a contrast to heathen divinities; for, as we have already seen on John 17:2, the Gentiles are here present to the mind of Him who prays for all that are to believe in Him. But, if so, we must recognise in them an allusion to the cardinal formula of Judaism, ‘The Lord our God is one Lord’ (Deuteronomy 6:4); and the force of such an allusion in its present use we shall see immediately. In addition to this, however, the word ‘true’ has also its meaning real. This God whom we are to know is the foundation of all real being, the God in whom all things are that are, and thus as ‘true’ the ‘only’ God. The second constituent of the knowledge is Jesus: He is Christ,—God’s anointed One, the Messiah. In a chapter where so much importance is attached to the word ‘name,’ we are justified in thinking that the name ‘Jesus’ is here regarded in its proper meaning of ‘Saviour:’ it expresses what the word ‘Me would not express with anything like similar fulness. These two constituents of the knowledge spoken of are next to be viewed as one; for the fact that the words.’ ‘Him whom Thou didst send’ precede the name ‘Jesus,’ as well as the whole teaching of this Gospel, suggests not the thought of God and Christ but of God in Christ, of God declaring Himself in Him whom He ‘sent.’ Herein, therefore, lies the truth, that the one God whom Israel so vainly boasted that it knew could only be ‘known’ in connection with, and by means of the knowledge of, Jesus. Hence, also, we need not wonder that Jesus here names Himself in the third Person instead of the first. He is giving expression in its most purely objective form to the sum of saving knowledge. To effect this the second clause mentioning this knowledge has to be combined with the first: it must, therefore, be presented not less objectively; and thus, seeing this knowledge as it were without Himself, our Lord speaks not of ‘Me’ but of ‘Jesus.’ Had such a use been unsuitable to prayer, it would be as difficult to account for it from the pen of the Evangelist (on the supposition that the words are remoulded by him) as from the lips of Jesus.(1)

learn to know

that Thou art the only true God.

Thee as the only true God.

learn to know

that Jesus whom Thou sentest is Christ.

Jesus whome Thou sentest as Christ.


Verse 4

John 17:4. I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do. The first petition of Jesus in this prayer had been ‘glorify Thy Son.’ That petition is now to be repeated in a more emphatic form (John 17:5), but first we have a fuller statement of the ground on which it rests. In John 17:2-3, the petition had been connected with the design of the Father; now it is connected with the accomplishment of that design; and the general prayer for glorification is to rise into the prayer ‘Glorify Thou Me now.’ This glorifying of the Father is said to have taken place ‘on the earth,’ that is, amidst the humiliations and sorrows of the Lord’s earthly life. There in word, and deed, and suffering even unto death, Jesus revealed the Father’s loving will for the salvation of men; there He accomplished the purpose for which the Father sent Him; there He glorified the Father. It will be observed that all is spoken of as past, for the whole work of Jesus is at this moment looked upon as finished. It is not indeed entirely finished, for He has not yet been nailed to the cross; but that final part of it may still be connected in thought with the whole suffering life, and may be spoken of as if it had been met. All the life of Jesus had been a death; in all of it He had been accomplishing His work and glorifying the Father: the one step still remaining, and already fully taken in will, may thus be easily associated with the rest, and the whole be contemplated as over. Therefore Jesus prays.

The predicative ‘Christ’ requires the verb to express knowledge of a fact: the impression given by the verse is that great stress belongs to ‘know’ in the sense of acquaintance with a Person.


Verse 5

John 17:5. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. The glory prayed for is distinguished by two particulars: (1) It is ‘with Thine own Self’ (comp. chap, John 13:31-32), in contrast with the words ‘on earth’ of John 17:4. (2) It is a glory that Jesus had possessed ‘before the world was;’ that is, from eternity. Thus the prayer is that the clouds which during His earthly life had obscured the glory of His Divine Sonship may be rolled back, and that as Son of man (as well as Son of God) it may now appear that He possesses that glory in all the brightness with which it encompassed Him before He came into the world (comp. on chap, John 13:32). The word ‘glory,’ in short, is to be understood in the sense of glory to be manifested as well as in a sense expressing the contents of the glory; and the petition is for a bestowal of the manifested glory rather than of the original real glory considered in itself. Thus the unity of thought in the whole passage is preserved. Not the Son’s personal exaltation, but the Father’s glory through the Son’s, is still the keynote; for, when the glory of the Son is seen the glory of the Father is seen also, and the less the obscurity resting on the former the less also that resting on the latter. With this petition the first section of the prayer closes.


Verse 6

John 17:6. I manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world. Jesus now passes to the thought of those disciples who had been led to rest on Him in faith. His work was over: theirs was to begin; and it involved a struggle and needed strength, similar to His own. In tenderest pity and love, therefore, He now prays for them, that they may be preserved as He has been. Yet not their preservation (for its own sake), but the glory of the Father, is still the leading thought. Jesus is glorified in them (John 17:10), and we have already seen that when He is glorified the glorification of the Father is secured. First of all their position is described; they have so entered into and embraced the ‘word’ of Jesus that the great purpose of His coming has been answered in them, and they are fitted to take His place in the world. That ‘word’ had been especially the ‘name’ of God, His name as ‘Father,’ including His character, His attributes, His saving will as revealed in Jesus. The whole purpose of God’s Fatherly love had been embraced by them as tidings of great joy both for themselves and for the world. They had been given to the Son by the Father ‘out of the world;’ that is, they were no longer in the world as the element of their existence. The position is exactly His own (John 17:14), so that even already we see how closely they are identified with Him, and are fitted, as taking His place, to lift men up into their own higher sphere. It is not enough, however, to say this, for the completeness with which the end has been attained has to be further brought out from two sides, the Divine and the human.

Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them. That is the Divine side. The change of order from the same words as used in the earlier part of the verse ought to be noticed. The emphasis is now directed to ‘Me,’ and the meaning is that they were now by Divine appointment the Son’s, that they might take up His work.

And they have kept thy word. This is the human side. They, on their part, had answered the purpose of the Father: they had kept the ‘word’ of God; not the general revelation of His will, but, if we may so speak, the revelation of the Logos, of the ‘Word,’ in the soul. In the Word of God they have God’s word in them. How completely are they put into the position of Him who is now ‘going away’!


Verse 7

John 17:7. Now have they learned to know that all things whatsoever thou gavest me are from thee. These words do more than state that the disciples knew this fact. They include a far deeper meaning, intended to bring out more fully the position of the disciples as the representatives of Jesus. For what was it that He knew? What was the element of relation to the Father in which he lived? It was that all He had was from the Father; that all He was the reflex of the Father; that His words, His works, His whole activity, were the Father’s; that He came forth from the Father, and was sent by Him into the world (chaps. John 3:13, John 6:46, John 7:29, John 3:34, John 13:3). This was the consciousness which especially distinguished Him in the fulfilling of His mission; and now that consciousness has passed over into them.


Verse 8

John 17:8. Because the words which thou gavest me I have given them, and they received them, and learned to know truly that I came forth from thee, and believed that thou didst send me. These words explain the fact stated immediately before. The disciples had received a consciousness similar to that of Jesus, because He, on His part, had implanted His words in them; and they, on their part, had responded, receiving what He gave. They ‘received,’ ‘learned to know,’ ‘believed:’ the three verbs, closely following each other in the same tense, correspond to the solemnity of the statement. Again, however, we see that far more is meant than the reception of particular truths: the main thought is, that He has transferred His own mind to His disciples, that He has taught them His own truths and thoughts, and that they, while retaining their own proper individuality (the word they before ‘received’ being equivalent to ‘they themselves’), have fully made them their own.


Verse 9

John 17:9. I ask concerning them; I ask not concerning the world, but concerning them which thou hast given me. In the preceding verses the mind of Jesus has been filled with the thought of the position of the disciples: He now proceeds directly to pray for them; and the substance of His prayer is that they, occupying His place, may be so preserved as to be what He had been,—true to the word given them, victorious over the devil, consecrated, filled with joy, to His glory and the glory of the Father in Him. So fully, too, are His thoughts occupied with them, that the whole energy of His prayer is devoted to them alone. He will not for the present ask concerning the enemy to be assailed, but about the assailants who are to take His place. Without denouncing the ‘world,’ therefore, He simply sets it aside. It may indeed be asked, Why mention it at all? The answer probably is, to bring out that perfect correspondence between the will of the Son and of the Father, which is the ground of the Son’s confidence in prayer. Hence the emphatic ‘I’ with which the verse begins,—‘I, who came forth from the Father, who am sent of the Father (John 17:8); I, who am the perfect expression of the Father, willing only what He wills,—I do not go beyond those whom He has given Me.’ This last thought then finds utterance.

Because they are thine. In John 17:6 it had been ‘They were thine:’ then they had been looked at only as the possession of the Father. Now ‘they are thine:’ they have been brought back to Him and united to Him in a closer, dearer bond than ever,—the bond of fellowship in the Son.


Verse 10

John 17:10. And all things that are mine are thine, and thine mine, and I have been glorified in them. It does not seem necessary to regard the two first clauses of this verse as a parenthesis, and to restrict the last words ‘in them’ to the disciples only who had been spoken of in John 17:9. Jesus seems rather to be carried away, by the thought that disciples one with Him were as truly one with His Father, to another and a more glorious thought, that all that He possessed was His Father’s and all that was His Father’s was His, so real, so intimate, so deep is the unity between Them. In all things, then, though (it may be) especially in His disciples, He has been glorified. But His being glorified in them is really the Father’s being so, because the glory flows from their recognition of Him, and their fellowship with Him, as the Son. It is not, therefore, because they glorify Himself that He is to pray for their being kept by the Father, but because the promotion of His glory is the promotion of the Father’s glory. From every thought of the prayer we must ascend to the Father, that glorious Name in which, with its blended authority and love, are given the order and the happiness of all creation.


Verse 11

John 17:11. And I am no longer in the world, and they are in the world, and I come to thee. One thought rising before the mind of Jesus now deepens His earnestness of entreaty on behalf of His disciples,—the contrast between their condition and His own. His labours and sorrows are over, but they are left behind in the struggle which He is leaving. The very greatness of His joy in the thought of His own glorious return to His Father rouses His tenderest sympathy for those who have so much to do and to suffer before they can share His joy.

Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one even as we are. In John 17:1 we had simply ‘Father:’ we have now ‘Holy’ prefixed to that name. The reason is obvious. ‘Holy’ does not express mere freedom from sin; He who is holy is entirely separated from all that is carnal and outward in this present world, so that pure spirituality and heavenliness alone rule in Him. As, therefore, a state similar to this is that to which God would raise His people, the epithet ‘Holy’ brings this thought prominently into view, and strengthens the argument of the prayer. The petition is that, for the purpose mentioned in the last words of the verse, they may be kept in the Father’s name which He has given to the Son. Light is again thrown upon the word ‘name.’ It cannot be simply the name ‘Father,’ for that could not be given to another: it is His revelation of Himself in Jesus. That revelation had been given to the Son; it had been appropriated by the disciples; they were living in it; the prayer is that, amidst all the temptations of the world, they may he kept in it. Then follows the purpose, that they may be one ‘even as’ are the Father and the Son. It is the Divine unity of love that is referred to, all wills bowing in the same direction, all affections burning with the same flame, all aims directed to the same end—one blessed harmony of love.


Verse 12

John 17:12. When I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me, and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. It is out of the fulness of His heart that Jesus continues to speak. The sad change that is to take place in the condition of His disciples after He has ‘gone away’ presses on His mind; He recalls tenderly the care with which He had hitherto watched over them in an evil world; and now that He can no longer show that care, He commends them with longing earnestness to the Father. He does this all the more because it was in the Father’s name given to Himself that He had kept them,—in the revelation of the Father, in the unity of His own relation to the Father, in the consciousness that God was their Father as well as His; so that the Father as well as He shall keep them, and, in keeping them, shall only continue the work that He had Himself begun. The word ‘I’ is very emphatic,—‘I kept them: now do Thou.’ The distinction between ‘kept’ and ‘guarded’ is not to be found in the thought of different spheres, such as inward and outward, to which it may be supposed that the words apply; but in the fact that the latter word points to the watchfulness by which the former is attained (comp. on chap. John 12:47). At the same time the difference of tense in the original is worthy of notice, the first verb expressing continued care, the second the completeness of the security afforded. Yet one dark cloud rested on the bright past, and the eyes of the disciples might at that moment be directed to it. Judas had not been kept: how was that? To this Jesus gives an answer in these words. The wonderful fact itself, when rightly viewed, affords evidence that He has fulfilled His promise that He will keep His own. It was in carrying out the Father’s will that not one of the Eleven had been lost: it was in carrying out the same will that Judas had met his fate. He was ‘the son of perdition,’ one who had freely chosen to move in that sphere of perishing, and therefore he perished. A scripture, too, or word of God (Psalms 41:9, already quoted in chap. John 13:18), had declared God’s will, and that will could not fail to be accomplished. To suppose that Judas is now brought before us as one originally doomed to perdition, and that his character was but the evolving of his doom, would contradict not only the meaning of the Hebraic expression ‘son of’ (which always takes for granted moral choice), but the whole teaching of this Gospel. In no book of the New Testament is the idea of will, of choice on the part of man, brought forward so repeatedly and with so great an emphasis. The history of man is taken up at that point when God’s previous dealings with him have prepared him for the exercise of a choice in which his responsibility shall appear. How far this previous discipline is the result of absolute decree is not said; but the very fact that it is discipline implies that the result might have been other than it is. They in whom the Father’s object is attained are those ‘given’ to the Son, and Judas, therefore, was not one so ‘given.’ (On the construction here compare what was said on chap. John 3:13.)


Verse 13

John 17:13. But now I come to thee. These words are to be connected with what follows rather than with what precedes. The thought of His immediate departure leads Jesus to pray that His disciples may be filled with a joy independent of His personal presence,—‘in themselves.’

And these things I speak in the world, that they may have the joy that is mine fulfilled in themselves. The words ‘these things I speak’ refer to more than the fact that Jesus is at present praying,—to more even than the actual petition at present on His lips. He has in view the substance of His prayer, continually taught by Him. His ‘joy’ was fulfilled in this, that the name of His Father had been given Him, that He realised the unity with His Father in which He stood. He had led the disciples to the consciousness that they too were in that name of the Father, and by that means the joy that was His had become theirs,—it was ‘fulfilled’ in them. In answering this His prayer the Father will only be accomplishing His own plan, and securing His own glory through the glorification of the disciples in the Son. ‘In the world’ does not mean merely ‘upon earth,’ but in the midst of the efforts of the world to defeat the purpose of Jesus.


Verse 14

John 17:14. I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. The prayer for preservation is over: our Lord now speaks of the work of His disciples in the world. In John 17:8 He had said ‘the words (or sayings) which Thou gavest me I have given them,’ and the statement had been immediately followed by a declaration of their personal faith. Here He says ‘I have given them Thy word,’ and the statement is followed by a declaration that the world hated them. We see at once the advance of thought. The disciples have received the Father’s word for utterance; and, as a natural consequence, the world, which might have known nothing of them had they only nourished their faith in secret, becomes their persecutor. How closely are they again identified by Jesus with Himself: they have not only His peace, His joy, but His work,—the very peace, the very joy that filled His soul, the very work in which He died.


Verse 15

John 17:15. I ask not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them out of the evil one. The disciples are in the world, and Jesus cannot yet pray that they may be taken out of it, for it is the very purpose of the Father that they shall be left in it to carry on His work. What He does pray for is, that, as their work and His will be identical, so also their preservation may be identical, with His own. The element distinguishing His preservation had been that mentioned in chap. John 14:30,—a total separation between the prince of this world and Him. The same complete separation He would now have for them,—not merely that they may be delivered from attacks of the evil one, but also that they may be kept ‘out of’ him, may have no fellowship with him, no weakening of their testimony by yielding to him, but may be single, pure, and faithful to the last as He had been. The expression ‘to be kept out of the evil one’ may surprise the reader until he re members that in 1 John 5:19-20 the Apostle really speaks of the world as lying in the evil one. The teaching of this Gospel and of the whole New Testament is that there are two spheres in which man may live, that of the world and its prince, and that of ‘Jesus Christ.’ (Compare the many passages which speak of the Christian as ‘in Christ.’) Our prayer ought to be, not that we may be kept ‘from’ the one, but that we may be kept ‘out of’ the one and ‘in’ the other.


Verse 16

John 17:16. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. These words met us in John 17:14, but they are again introduced in a slightly different order, the emphasis being now thrown on of the world, in order to prepare the way for the complete antithesis to be immediately expressed.


Verse 17

John 17:17. Consecrate them in the truth: thy word is truth. The word here rendered ‘Consecrate’ is constantly used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to express the entire dedication and consecration both of persons and of things to God. In this sense, but with the deeper meaning of inward and spiritual consecration, we find it here. It is thus, when applied to persons, not less but more than sanctification, the latter being implied before the former can take place. The word corresponds to the attribute prefixed to ‘Father’ in John 17:11 (for which, however, we have in English no other word than ‘holy’): the same word, too, is used by Jesus of Himself in chap. John 10:36. To be consecrated is, therefore, to be separated from the world, to be dedicated as a holy thing to God. This is to be done ‘in the truth,’—in that sphere of the truth which is the sphere of the Father and of the Son; in living communion with, and appropriation of, the truth, so that the truth shall be that in which their whole being is moulded and consecrated. This meaning of ‘the truth’ is then more fully brought out by the statement, ‘Thy word is truth.’ Here by ‘word’ we are not to understand the word of God in genera], but the word already spoken of in John 17:14,—that special word of the Father which is found in His revelation of Himself in the Son, the Word. And this word is ‘truth’ in its most absolute sense, truth which finds concrete expression in ‘the truth.’ It is the ‘truth’ that came by Jesus Christ,—not merely truth in opposition to error, but the eternal reality of things in contrast with that which is unsubstantial and shadowy, that which must pass away.


Verse 18

John 17:18. Even as thou didst send me into the world, I also sent them into the world. Jesus has prayed for the consecration of His disciples in the truth, and He now speaks of the necessity that existed for it. They have been sent into the world (the sending is viewed as already accomplished) ‘even as’ He had been sent into the world. Not merely is the fact of sending similar, but they are sent by the Son with the same commission as that with which the Son Himself had been sent by the Father. They are to ‘declare’ the Father as He had done, and to make the same revelation of eternal truth, of eternal love, to a sinful world. How much, then, did they need a consecration like His! But not only so. There is a further ground upon which His prayer ‘or their consecration rests.’


Verse 19

John 17:19. And for them I consecrate myself, that they themselves also may be consecrated in truth. It was for the very purpose of bringing them to a consecration like His own that His whole work of love and sacrifice had been freely undertaken. He might have said ‘I was consecrated,’ a thought which has its perfect parallel in chap. John 10:36. But He speaks of consecrating Himself, partly because He entered into His consecration with perfect acquiescence and freedom; partly, perhaps mainly, because He is thinking of that High-priestly work of His which was now immediately impending. (It will be observed that the proleptic form of expression is not always maintained: see John 17:13.) The following words express, with special reference to the disciples, the end which Jesus had been desirous to attain. It is that their consecration might be the exact counterpart of His (‘they also’); that they might act in it a free and independent part, devoting themselves in personal faith to the task assigned them (‘they themselves’), and that all might be done ‘in truth,’—not simply truly, but in conformity with the real, the essential, the everlasting (comp. on John 17:17). Finally, let us notice that the consecration spoken of is, alike in the case of Jesus and of His disciples, not a process but an act completed at once,—in His case, when, gathering together in one view all His labours and sufferings, He presented them a living sacrifice to His Father: in theirs, when they are in like manner enabled to present themselves as living sacrifices in His one perfect sacrifice.

Thus the second section of the prayer closes, its main burden having been that the disciples, who are about to be sent forth into the world in order to carry on the work of Jesus there, and who for this purpose have had the name of the Father manifested to them that they may know the Father, and the word of the Father given them that they may proclaim the Father, may be preserved by the Father from the world, and may be enabled to exhibit a perfect consecration to the Father’s work. Thus shall the Father be glorified in them as He had been glorified in the Son, who accomplished the work that had been given Him to do.


Verse 20

John 17:20. But not concerning these only do I ask, but also concerning them which believe in me through their word. From the thought of the disciples whom He was sending forth to carry on His work, Jesus now turns, in the third and last section of His prayer, to the thought of all who through their word shall be brought to faith, to the thought of believers in every country and in every age. They are spoken of as those ‘which’ believe,—not indeed in actual fact, for none had as yet believed through the instrumentality of the disciples; but in idea they rise before the mind of Jesus,—His Church down to the very end of time. The ‘word’ spoken of is that of John 17:14, the special word which is the revelation of the Father, and which brings man to recognise the love of the Father as it appears in the Son, and in the Son to them.


Verse 21

John 17:21. That they all may be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they themselves also may be in us. The petition on behalf of all believers follows in these words, and their last clause expresses it in its highest form. The second ‘that is neither parallel to the first, nor is the sentence to be inverted, as if it ran, that they themselves also may be in us as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee.’ It is dependent on the words coming immediately before, and thus brings forward the final purpose of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, and of that whole work of His by which our human nature was perfected into union with the Divine nature,—that believing men may be taken into the same glorious unity. The unity spoken of, then, is not merely that of Christians among themselves, whether outward or inward. It is unity in the Father and the Son, effected by that ‘word’ regarding the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son which has been appropriated in faith, and which produces a result corresponding to itself. It is what is known by divines as the ‘mystical union;’ yet in it believers maintain their own personality and freedom, for such is the force of ‘they themselves.’

That the world may believe that thou didst send me. The first ‘that’ here is not to be connected with a verb so far removed as ‘I ask’ of John 17:20. It is a word of purpose, marking the ultimate result of the fulfilment of the prayer. And this result is that the ‘world’ now the enemy of the truth, may be brought to faith. Although (John 17:9) Jesus had not prayed for the world, because He was praying for those who were to act upon it, He was not forgetful of its need. It was the world that He had come to save; and, although it rejected and crucified Him, He looked onward to a time when, as ‘greater works’ were done by His disciples than He Himself had done (chap. John 14:12), the world would own the Divine power appearing in them, and the Divine origin of His mission. It is the spiritual life of the Church, however, that (so far as has yet been spoken of) is to effect this end. Her unity is included, but it does not receive its special emphasis till we come to John 17:23. Her spirituality is mainly before us here, that life which her members live, not conformed to the world,—not coming down to the level of the world, with the vain idea that thus they shall bring the world nearer them, but ever rising as far as possible above the world, dwelling in the Father and in the Son, a city of God, from which even now there streams light that shall kindle light in hearts that have been formed for light and life like its own.


Verse 22

John 17:22. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one. Jesus had prayed that all believers might be one as He and the Father were one. He now turns to what He Himself had done that He might effect this end. We have already seen that the ‘glory’ referred to is that of self-sacrificing love, brought out from amidst the taunts with which men met it when displayed in Jesus, and owned by the Father as the only true glory. Such a glory Jesus had given to His people that, in living fellowship with the Father and the Son, they may be one in Them. Not worldly honour or station, the favour of kings, the patronage of statesmen, or the wealth of nations, was their glory; but the gift to love, and to sacrifice themselves for the world’s good. Then in that love would they be one, even as the Father and the Son are one.


Verse 23

John 17:23. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one. That is: not only that this oneness may be readied, but that, in its being so, the last step to be taken with believers may be accomplished, the final issue and perfect of all that Jesus has to do for them. Whereupon follows again the effect to be produced upon he world, stated, however, in a fuller form than in John 17:21.

That the world may learn to know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them even as thou lovedst me. The substitution of ‘learn to know’ here for ‘believe’ in John 17:21 is remarkable. The two words cannot be understood to signify the same thing, nor can the latter, in conformity with the style of this Gospel, express less than the former. In one way or another there must be an advance of thought. We see this in the addition of the clause, ‘lovedst them even as Thou lovedst Me.’ A similar advance must be traced on the point immediately before us. Chap. John 14:31 appears to solve the difficulty. There the same word is used as in the present verse, and we are thus invited to extend our thoughts beyond the number of those who shall be led to faith. The whole world shall recognise what Jesus speaks of: even they who do not confess in faith shall confess in shame, that He whom they rejected was the loved of the Father, and that He has gathered His people into the same blessed unity of love.

It is in this verse that the unity of the followers of Jesus is peculiarly dwelt upon. Their spirituality is accompanied by its highest result when it is perfected into unity; and with this result is connected the most powerful impression which they make upon the world. It is therefore a visible unity for which Jesus prays. His Church is visible; and that idea of an invisible Church, in which Christians seek an escape from the sentence of condemnation which their divisions compel them to pronounce upon themselves, finds as little countenance in these verses as in any other part of Scripture.


Verse 24

John 17:24. Father, what thou hast given me, I desire that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me, because thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. Having prayed for the spirituality and unity of all His disciples, Jesus now, in the closing petitions of His prayer, passes to the thought of their complete deliverance from the troubles of the world, and of their entrance with Him upon that glory with which He Himself was about to be glorified. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb rendered ‘I will’ in the Authorised Version. ‘I will’ is too strong; perhaps ‘I desire’ comes nearest to the original. The peculiar structure of the verse, in which the clause ‘what Thou hast given Me’ is so remarkably thrown forward, arises from the fact that believers are viewed not so much distributively as in the unity immediately present to the Redeemer’s mind. It is the perfect glory of Jesus not only as Son of God but also as Son of man that is spoken of,—His glory shining forth in undimmed brightness in the heavenly world. There is the true home of His being; and hence not ‘I shall be,’ but ‘I am,’ as in chap. John 14:3. Again, however, we must remember that this ‘glory’ is not that of outward estate. It is the spiritual glory of perfect union with the Father, seen and shared in apart from the shadows of earth. Hence the last words of the verse do not contain a statement of the ground upon which Jesus prays for His own, but of the nature of the glory which they are to behold when the ineffable, everlasting love of the Father to the Son is seen by them poured forth on Him who has taken the human nature into perfect union with the Divine. That had not been beheld in the Man of Sorrows: it shall be beheld when—His sorrows over, but His humanity as true as it had been upon the earth—He is crowned with glory. The full, the perfect love of God will then be seen to have embraced humanity in its tenderest outgoings, and the joy of the redeemed in the vision and fruition of that love will be complete (comp. on John 17:22).


Verse 25

John 17:25. Righteous Father, both the world learned not to know thee,—but I learned to know thee,—and these learned to know that thou didst send me. Not in the last clause of John 17:24, but now, we have the ground upon which Jesus prays that the ‘glory’ of which He has spoken may be conferred upon His people; and it connects itself not so much with the love as with the righteousness of God. It is just and right that those who have been prepared for the glory to be beheld should at last obtain it. Hence ‘Righteous’ (not as in John 17:11, ‘Holy’) ‘Father.’ For God as Father is not merely love, but love resting on perfect rectitude,—is One who will see that what befalls His creatures corresponds to what they are. The word ‘both’ here perplexes commentators, but is to be explained by what seems to be the usage of this Gospel (comp. chap. John 15:24), in which propositions subordinate to the principal statement are thus introduced; while, at the same time, like a dark background, they bring out the main thought with greater force. In the present instance this thought is contained in the last clause of the verse, and it is made more noteworthy by the fact stated in the first. The intermediate clause, again, ‘but I learned to know Thee,’ appears to be designed to lead us up to the main proposition following. It was because Jesus knew the Father that He had been able to communicate that knowledge to His people. Because they had received this knowledge, therefore, it was fitting that the love into which, along with the knowledge, they had entered, should bring to them its full reward, and should shine upon them as it shone upon the Son in whom they had renounced the world and the world’s ways. It may, indeed, at first sight startle us to find Jesus using such words of Himself as that He ‘learned to know’ the Father. But (1) it has to be borne in mind that ‘learned to know’ is not in every respect a perfectly satisfactory translation of the original; it only approaches much more nearly to the truth than ‘knew.’ The proper meaning would be ‘got knowledge,’ or ‘came to know.’ (2) There is nothing more startling in the statement than in that of the Epistle to the Hebrews (chap. John 5:8), ‘Yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.’ There, indeed, we have another and a separate word for ‘learned;’ but a process, a progress, is also implied in the word of the verse before us. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of an experimental learning of obedience by One who was possessed of a truly human, as well as of a Divine nature,—not the will to obey becoming more perfect, but actual obedience being practically more and more learned in the varying duties and trials of life. So here, He who was human as well as Divine ‘learned,’ practically and experimentally, ‘to know’ the Father; and it was because He so learned that He was able to communicate that knowledge—His own knowledge—to His people. Knowledge such as that spoken of can be acquired by us in no other way; and we have repeatedly seen, in considering this prayer, that what Jesus bestows upon His disciples is first His own.


Verse 26

John 17:26. And I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known, that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them. The thought of John 17:25 is now more fully expressed, and, with it, the result to which the knowledge spoken of conducts all believers is summed up in the one word inclusive of every blessing, both for time and for eternity,—love. How exhaustive is the mode in which Jesus teaches the ‘name’ of God, the revelation of the Father in the Son,—‘I made it known to them; they know; I shall make it known to them!’ It is the expression of complete revelation, similar—so far as in such a matter we may speak of similarity—to ‘Which was, and is, and is to come.’ Therefore there naturally follows to all who embrace this revelation a perfect entering into that of which it tells, into that love which unites the Father and the Son, and which shall be in them, as Jesus Himself shall be in them, the unbroken rest of ‘peace’ after the toils, the eternal sunshine of ‘joy’ after the sorrows, of the world.

Thus the third section of the prayer closes, its main burden having been that the whole Church of God, believers of every age and country, may be so brought to and kept in the unity of the Father and the Son that the glory of the Son in the Father may be theirs. For then, the conflicts of this world ended, they shall be partakers of the fulness of that love of the Father which shall encompass them as it encompassed the Son before the foundation of the world,—pure, undimmed, undisturbed by the presence of either sin or sorrow,—the Father in the Son and the Son in them, all in perfect holiness and blessedness consummated into One. Thus, too, shall the end of all be attained, the glorifying of Him ‘of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 17:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-17.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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