A Bible Lesson on John 17

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the high priestly prayer of Jesus. It’s essentially the last thing the disciples hear from Jesus before the crucifixion. From a human perspective, we have here a most undistinguished rag-tag bunch of no-accounts huddled for a last time with their Master (who has failed to gain any huge acceptance or understanding of His real purpose or identity) on the eve of His embarrassing execution at the hands of the Romans. In truth and in the eyes of God, this is the Son of God about to accomplish a glorious salvation for you and me, praying for Himself and disciples chosen of God, who will by the strength of God, turn the world upside down with the message of the cross.

Jesus prays. This is formally addressed to the Father, but is in fact meant as much to instruct the disciples and us about the relationship of Jesus to the Father and us to them as it is to be a set of requests made to the Father.

Jesus begins by praying for Himself.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

“Father” is “Abba,” an intimate form of address. The time has come. The time has come for the crucifixion and resurrection. The time has come for the plan of redemption to be completed.

Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. The Father’s glory and the glory that Jesus will have in being perfectly obedient and bringing men to God are inseparable, all part of the same whole. There is no place for Jesus to have glory apart from the Father. (If we have any sense we will realize that there is no place for us to have any glory outside God’s work in and through us. If we do anything well, it is only His doing and ought to be only for His praise.)

2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

you have given (already in the past)/that he might give/to all whom you have given. Here again is the intertwining/inseparability of the actions of the Father and Son. Jesus gives eternal life, but it is in the context of the Father giving to Jesus.

The tense in “all whom you have given” is the perfect tense. It is completed and is still in effect. The disciples have been given to Jesus and He is still in possession of them.

Jesus gives eternal life. It is eternal in the sense of being everlasting and eternal in the sense of belonging to the eternal God. It is God’s life.

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

What is this eternal life? It is to be in right relationship with, to have intimate knowledge of, the one true and living God. To know God is not only to know what He is like, but to be on the most intimate terms of friendship with Him. And this is only possible through the Son. Knowing the Father is inseparable from knowing Jesus. The tense of “that they may know you” implies that the knowledge is a continuing action.

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

Jesus is so committed to the will of God that He can speak of the work as already completed. There is no question that He will endure it for you and for me. The die is cast. Jesus is going through to the end.

In the case of Jesus, it is His obedience to the Father and willingness to do things His way that brought glory to the Father. It’s no different for us. Actions speak louder than words.

5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus anticipates His return to the position that He had with the Father before the beginning of time. His obedience has honored the Father and the Father will honor Him for the obedience. Truly, providing the way for countless multitudes of us to come to salvation will bring Jesus glory and honor. It’s always the hard thing, not the easy route that brings glory. You honor a good student by giving him or her the hard task. A general sends his best units to do the most difficult assignment.

Jesus says what He has done.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

This is in some sense an amplification on verse 4, another way of saying the same thing. In completing the work given Him by the Father, He has brought the Father glory and revealed God to the disciples. The Father’s name is His character. The obedience of Jesus has produced obedience in the lives of the disciples.

7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Only as people see the Father at work in the Son, do they have a right concept of both the Father and the Son. The disciples had gotten to that point.

8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

The disciples may not have it all together, but their hearts are right and they recognize Jesus and what He’s told them for what they are, God’s word to man and God’s provision to man. They believed. They put their faith in, relied upon, trusted in, cleaved to Christ.

Jesus now prays for His little group of disciples.

9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

At this point Jesus is praying specifically for the disciples. It is obviously not the case that Jesus has no concern for the rest of humanity. But it is those the Father has given Him, the ones that have chosen to follow Him, those who are going to be His instruments to address the rest of humanity for whom He prays here.

When Jesus does (somewhat indirectly) pray for the world in verses 21 and 23, it is essentially that the world would cease to be worldly.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Again, the Father and Son are in perfect harmony. Regarding “yours are mine” Luther said, “This no creature can say with reference to God.”

I am glorified in them. Again, chronologically this has not yet come to pass. Indeed, in human terms, it is totally unlikely! This rag-tag bunch of fellows is going to bring glory to Him and the Father? But Jesus looks at this as an accomplished fact.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Holy Father, protect them. Antagonism between the work of God and the world system (human society organizing itself without God) is real and simply to be expected. Persecution of God’s people will come. Jesus doesn’t ask that the disciples be taken out of the world. His mission was in the world and so is theirs. What He does pray for is their protection (see verse 15).

The name of God not only stands for His character, but for His power.

Psalm 20:1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!

Psalm 54:1 O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

Jesus prays “that they may be one as we are one.” The basis for Christian unity is the unity that already exists in the trinity. We ought to think about the nature of that unity and by implication our unity as believers. It is unity of purpose and heart and will. It involves submitting oneself to the Father. It brings God glory. It is not organizational ecumenisms, or somehow looking like peas in a pod.

The sense of the disciples being one is not that they become one, but that they continually be one. Christian unity is already a fact. It is God’s doing, not something that we must achieve or for that matter could achieve by any of our own means. We sometimes talk as if it is something for us to manufacture in order to please God. It is instead something that already exists. We’ve got the power to destroy it by falling into the ways of the world and letting the old man have his way in our lives. Instead of praying for unity, we ought to pray to be delivered from evil ways and selfishness.

12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Christ had protected them by virtue of who He is, God incarnate. The “son of destruction” points to character rather than destiny. The expression means Judas was characterized by “lostness,” not predestined to be lost. Calvin said, “It would be wrong for anyone to infer from this that Judas’ fall should be imputed to God rather than himself, in that necessity was laid on him by the prophecy.”

13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Looking at the reality here truly ought to bring us joy. Our salvation is about to be finished on Calvary. God is our protection in the present world.

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Again, it should come to us as no surprise that believers suffer the persecution and antagonism of the world. Its system is at war with God. We are not of the world because we don’t have its mind set independent of God. We’re not hostile to God and are thus are going to suffer the world’s disdain.

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

“Sanctify” them. The word has two related meanings. There is “to set apart” for a special task. There is also “to develop in a person the qualities of mind, heart, and character necessary to complete that task.” It is set apart and equip them “in the truth.” Jesus Himself is the truth.

18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Salvation is not just for the purpose of being saved. The disciples are consecrated, sanctified, set apart, equipped for God’s service and to do what He asked. So too us.

Jesus prays for you and me.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

This is good news for us. We today are a part of this prayer.

21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Unity (opened in verse 11) has to be seen. The world is supposed to see Christian unity and take note. There has to be here community, forbearance, patience, kindness generosity, real love, or it won’t be visible. Real unity is God’s. If we don’t destroy it, it is a beautiful, attractive thing, something that draws people to Christ. There is in this verse the important cycle that faith produces unity produces others coming to faith.

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

The “as” here has two dimensions. Our unity is as/like the unity between the Father and Son. It is also caused by the unity of the Father and the Son. Again, if our unity is to be like the unity between the Father and Son, it will be a singleness of purpose and heart, and a submitting of ourselves to God.

23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Again, ultimately this has its basis in verse 3 above. And here is our heavenly destiny:

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.

26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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