John chapter 17 is a record of Jesus’ prayer for us. He has already taught his disciples how they ought to pray, and here he is, walking the walk, showing us what it looks like. This passage is packed, so to try to do it justice, it will be separated into three separate posts. We’ll start with the first three verses, and work our way through as we go.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
I’ve heard it said that a text without context is a pretext. Because this passage begins with “After Jesus had spoken these words”, I think it’s important to go back to the previous chapter to see what He said that preceded this prayer. This is for the purpose of developing context…
Well, John chapter 16 also begins with a similar statement “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling…”
What things? Turn back to John 15….in fact…keep going…back to chapter 13. I see this as the beginning of the context for chapter 17 to make the best sense. (Really, the whole book of John starting with chapter one would be the best context. I feel like Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride “Let me ‘splain…no, takes too long…let me sum up”)
So, to sum up:
John 13 — Jesus, before breaking bread at the Last Supper, washes His disciples’ feet, and begins briefing them on things to come, starting with His betrayal, and ending with the foretelling of Peter’s denial. In between though, there is this little passage, prefaced by talk of “being glorified”, and “glorifying the Father”. Here Jesus lovingly prepares his “little children” for his departure, and gives them a “new commandment”; to prove to the world that they are his followers, they are commanded to love one another.
John 14 — after warning of his betrayal, Jesus prepares His disciples for his departure to a place where they couldn’t follow yet, then foretells of Peter’s denial. Jesus tells the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, and encourages them with thoughts of heaven, saying that they already know the way to where He’s going. Thomas and Phillip don’t get it (bless their hearts…I’m so glad they had the courage to ask…aren’t you?), and Jesus explains that He is the way, and the truth and the life, and claims to be one with the Father and talks some more about “glorifying the Father”. He gives more instructions about love (this time it’s not about loving one another, but about how we prove that we love Him…as He shows that He loves the father by obedience to His commands), promises the disciples a coming “Helper”, “Advocate”, and “Teacher”, and gives a little blessing on peace.
John 15 — As they walk and talk, Jesus uses a vine and branches to teach us (the branches) what abiding in Him, (The Vine) looks like. Here we get a mini-lesson on vine husbandry…removing dead branches, and pruning productive ones so that they will produce more. We also get more instruction on “glorifying God”, obedience, joy, and what love looks like. The end of this chapter is a contrast between God and the world. If we love God, and follow Him, it will cause the world to hate us. He comforts us with the knowledge that we aren’t greater than our master, and the world hated him first…and He reminds them that the Advocate will be with them, and they are to testify on behalf of the Spirit, as the Spirit testifies of Him.
John 16 — Back to “these things” that Jesus told them to keep them from stumbling: I believe He was talking about all the things he had told them in the previous chapters…the things that we summed up by looking back to chapters 13-15 (or the whole of the book of John, if you’ve decided to do it right). His words of encouragement, comfort, and warning will keep them from stumbling when they are thrown out of the synagogue, or when those who truly believe they are following God will kill them. He reminds them that the reason He is telling them now, is so that they remember His words when these persecutions occur, because He will not be present to remind them. He gives more instruction on the coming presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate and the work He will accomplish, before He bewilders the still clueless disciples with more talk of their coming sorrow and pain at His departure, but offers them peace because even though in the world they will face persecution, He reminds them that He has overcome the world.
So…that is the “summing up” of chapters 13-16 to set the context for Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in chapter 17.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father…” — We’ve already developed context to what we are about to learn…now, we see Him look up to heaven, and address His Father…just like He taught the disciples to do when they pray. (“Say, “our Father, who is in heaven...”)
“the hour has come; – what hour? This one…the one that Jesus, has been warning the disciples, and preparing them for is here. He knows at this point that the time of his suffering and death is close at hand, and recognizes it in prayer to His Father. There is something about verbalizing knowledge that brings clarity and acceptance to a situation. We can “know” something in an abstract way, but when we can verbalize it, it becomes concrete and real. I see that here.
glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, — Here it is. The first request in Jesus’ prayer is that He will be glorified, so that He may bring glory to the Father.
since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. — Recognizing that He has authority over all people given to Him, He prays to give eternal life to all who are given to Him by the Father.
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. — Jesus defines his term, “eternal life”. I don’t know if it’s proper exegesis here, but I like to think He wasn’t just talking about life everlasting with Him in heaven, but also for the abundant life that He said in John 10:10 He came to give us while we are here on earth.
I’ve read and studied this passage too many times to remember and count, but until beginning this study, I had never noticed that Jesus refers to Himself in the third person in the first three verses, and then switches to the first person for the remainder of His prayer. Maybe it’s just me, but while reading this passage over numerous times, and meditating on it after I shut off the computer and close my eyes, it’s plain as day, and hard for a grammar nerd to easily dismiss. I keep thinking about the past four chapters where Jesus has talked about sending the Holy Spirit who will testify of Him, and wonder if there is a connection to Jesus’ referral to Himself in the third person. Could this be our first glimpse of the Holy Spirit doing just that…testifying of Him? Are we witnessing a Holy Trinity Conference of sorts, where Jesus, who is in God, and God in Him…with the Spirit bearing witness of Him and His work, all praying together? I don’t know, but I do find it fascinating…and very thought provoking.
Here are links to commentaries on these verses, in case you are interested:
John Rittenbaugh from Forerunner commentary on John 17:3
Ray Stedman on The Longest Prayer