[(3) LOVE MANIFESTED IN HIS INTERCESSORY PRAYER (John 17:1-26). HE PRAYS—
(a)For Himself; the glory of the Son (John 17:1-5);
(b)For the disciples; their union with the Father and the Son (John 17:6-19);
(c)For all believers; their union (John 17:20-21); their communion with the Godhead (John 17:22-24); which results from the revelation to them of the Father (John 17:25-26).]
Bengel speaks of this chapter as the simplest in word, and profoundest in thought, in the whole Bible. The key to the thought is in the presence of the Spirit, who shall guide into all truth (John 16:26).
Father, the hour is come.—“Father,” without any addition, as in John 17:5; John 17:21; John 17:24. Comp. “Our Father,” in the prayer taught to the disciples, and “Holy Father” and “Righteous Father” in John 17:11; John 17:25. In the first petition of this prayer the disciples are not identified with Him, and yet He does not by the use of the singular person exclude them. Through Him they and all believers receive the spirit of adoption, and cry, as He cried, “Abba, Father.” For the thought of the hour, comp. John 12:23; John 12:28; John 13:1; John 13:31-32.
Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.—What is meant by glorifying the Son is further explained in John 17:5. But this implies the dark path of death, which has to be trodden before that glory will be attained. (Comp. John 12:23 et seq.) The glorifying of the Father by the Son is the manifestation of God’s glory in the completion of the Messianic work by the mission of the Advocate and the future victories of the Church. This is further explained in John 17:2-4.
“All flesh” represents a Greek translation of a Hebrew phrase. It occurs again in Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20; Luke 3:6; Acts 2:17; Romans 3:20; 1 Corinthians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 15:39; Galatians 2:16; 1 Peter 1:24. St. John uses it in this place only. Its especial signification is humanity as such, considered in its weakness and imperfection.
That he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.—Literally, That all whom thou gavest Him, He may give to them eternal life. (Comp. John 17:6, and Note on John 6:37 et seq.) The word “all” is in the Greek a neuter singular, and signifies collectively the whole body of humanity given to Christ. The word for “to them” is masculine and plural, and signifies the individual reception on the part of those to whom eternal life is given. (Comp. Notes on John 6:39-40.)
That they might know thee the only true God.—Better, That they might recognise Thee as the only true God. (Comp. Notes on John 1:9; John 14:7.)
And Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.—Better, And Him, whom Thou didst send, Jesus, as Messiah. Eternal life consists in the knowledge of the Father as the only Being answering to the ideal thought of God; and in this knowledge manifested in Him, whom God anointed and sent into the world-to declare His attributes and character. Only in the Word made flesh can we hear the voice of mercy, forgiveness, love, fatherhood; which comes to men as the breath of life, so that they become living souls.
With the glory which I had with thee before the world was.—This clause admits of but one meaning—viz., that Jesus claimed for Himself the possession of the divine glory in His pre-existent state before the world was; and that He claimed this in personality distinct from, but in essence one with God. (Comp. John 1:1; John 1:18, and on the whole passage, Notes on Philippians 2:4-9.) The special importance of the thought here is that it is uttered in the words of Christ Himself, and that these words are a prayer to the Father. There can be no explanation of John 17:1-5 of this chapter, which denies that our Lord Jesus Christ claimed for Himself that He was divine, and co-eternal with the Father.
He thinks of the disciples as a body separated from the world (comp. Note on John 15:19), and as given to Him by the Father. (Comp. Note on John 6:37.)
Thine they were, and thou gavest (better, hast given) them me.—The meaning of these words is that they were morally prepared by the earlier manifestation of God for the fuller manifestation in Christ. They were God’s in more than name, and therefore when Christ was revealed to them, they recognised Him of whom Moses and the prophets did speak. (Comp. John 1:37 et seq., and especially Notes on John 5:46; John 6:37; John 8:47.)
And they have kept thy word.—Comp. Notes on John 8:51; John 14:23. He says here, “Thy word,” not “My word,” because the thought of these verses (John 17:6-8) is that they were originally and were still the Father’s. They had been given to the Son, but this was only the completion of the revelation of the Father to them. Christ’s word was that of the Father who sent Him. (Comp. Notes on John 7:16; John 12:48-49.)
All things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.—We ought to assign no limit to the extent of these words. The lesson He had been teaching them, and which they were about fully to know, was that the whole life of Christ—the words He had spoken (John 12:49), the works He had done (John 5:36)—was a manifestation of the Father.
And they have received them.—Not less emphatic is the work of the disciples themselves. “They on their part received them.” Others had been taught, and did not receive. The teaching was the same; the varying effect was in the heart of the hearer. (Comp. John 1:12; John 1:18.)
He has spoken of the teaching and the reception. He proceeds to the two-fold result.
And have known (better, and knew) surely that I came out from thee.—Comp. Notes on John 3:2; John 16:30.
And they have believed (better, and they believed) that thou didst send me.—The addition of this clause is in part to be explained as the Hebrew fulness of expression, and in part as an advance on the truth, “I came out from Thee.” That He came from God they knew by the harmony of His doctrine with the voice of God, which was already speaking in their consciences. But more than this, they believed Him to be the sent One, the Messiah, whom they expected (John 17:3).
But for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.—This is the special claim on which He commends them to the Father. They were the Father’s before they were given to the Son. By that gift they have become the Father’s more fully (John 17:6-8). They are the Father’s, for all things which are the Son’s are the Father’s, and all things which are the Father’s are the Son’s (John 17:10).
And I am glorified in them.—The division of verses is unfortunate, as the last words of this verse are closely connected with the last words of John 17:9, and the general assertion which intervenes is a parenthesis. The thought is, “For they are Thine (and all My things are Thine, and Thy things are Mine), and I am glorified in them.” The fact that Christ is glorified in them forms, then, a second reason for His special prayer for them. The tense is perfect. Its accomplishment is already in part realised (John 17:6-8; comp. John 15:8), and is more fully to be realised in that future of the Spirit’s work which all through this chapter is regarded as present. (Comp. Note on John 16:14.)
Holy Father.—Comp. John 17:1; John 17:24-25. There is a special fitness in the word “Holy” here, as in opposition to the world. The disciples were left in the world, but they were not of the world (John 17:14). These were spiritually God’s children, separated from the world (John 17:6), and He commits them to the Holy Father, that He may keep them from the evil of the world.
Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.—The reading is slightly doubtful, but if we take what would certainly seem to be the true text, the rendering should be, Keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me. (Comp. John 17:12.) The Authorised version renders the same words by “through Thy name” in this verse, and by “in Thy name” in John 17:12. The thought appears to be that the revelation of the nature of God by Christ to the world (John 17:6), was that which He Himself received from the Father. “I have not spoken of Myself, but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak.” (Comp. Note on John 12:49.)
That they may be one, as we are.—This clause depends upon the words, “Keep them in Thy name.” They had so far realised the revelation of God that they had known Christ’s whole life to be the utterance of God to their spirits (John 17:6-8). He prays that they may be kept in this knowledge in order that they may so know the Father through Him, as to become themselves one with the Father.
I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept.—Better (comp. previous verse), I kept them in Thy name which Thou gavest Me, and guarded them. The pronoun is emphatic. “While I was in the world I kept them. I am now praying that Thou wouldest keep them.” The words “kept” and “guarded” differ slightly in meaning, the former pointing to the preservation in the truth revealed to them, and the latter to the watchfulness by means of which this result was obtained. The former may be compared to the feeding of the flock, the latter to the care which protects from the wild beasts around. (Comp. John 10:28-30.)
And none of them is lost, but the son of perdition.—Better, None of them perished, except the son of perdition. The tense is the same as that of the word “guarded.” The Good Shepherd watched His flock, and such was His care that none perished but the “son of perdition.” Of him the words carefully state that “he perished.” He, then, was included in “them which Thou gavest Me.” For him there was the same preservation and the same guardianship as for those who remained in the fold. The sheep wandered from the flock, and was lost by his own act. (Comp. especially Notes on John 6:37-39; John 6:71. See also John 18:9.)
The term, “son of perdition,” is a well-known Hebrew idiom, by which the lack of qualitative adjectives is supplied by the use of the abstract substantives, which express that quality. A disobedient child is, e.g., “a son of disobedience;” other common instances are “children of light,” “children of darkness.” A “son of perdition” is one in whose nature there is the quality expressed by “perdition.” The phrase is used in Isaiah 57:4 to express the apostacy of the Israelites (in English version, “children of transgression”). It occurs once again in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, of the “man of sin.” (Comp. Notes there.) It is used, in the Gospel of Nicodemus, of the devil. In the present passage it is difficult to express the meaning in English, because we have no verb of the same root as the abstract substantive “perdition,” and no abstract substantive of the same root as the verb “perish.” No exact translation can therefore give in English the point of our Lord’s words, “And none of them perished except him whose nature it was to perish.” Here, as often (comp. Note on John 10:16), the reader who can consult Luther’s German will find that he exactly hits the sense: “Und ist keiner von ihnen verloren ohne das verlorne Kind.”
That the scripture might be fulfilled.—Comp. Note on John 13:18, and Acts 1:20.
And these things I speak in the world.—The thought is that He is about to leave them, and that He utters this prayer in their hearing (comp. John 11:42) that they may have the support of knowing that He who had kept them while with them, had solemnly committed them to His Father’s care. The prayer itself was a lesson, and this thought is to be remembered in the interpretation of it.
That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.—Comp. Notes on John 15:11; John 16:24. The joy here thought of is that which supported Him in all the sorrow and loneliness of His work on earth, and came from the never-failing source of the Father’s presence with Him. (Comp. Note on John 16:32.) He would have them fulfilled with the abundance of this joy.
Because they are not of the world.—Comp. Note on John 15:18.
But that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.—Comp. Note on Matthew 6:13. The usage of St. John is, beyond question, in favour of the masculine. The only other passages where he uses the word in the singular are 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19. We have to bear in mind also that the present passage occurs in the second “Lord’s Prayer,” and that His prayer for them may with probability be interpreted in the same sense as the words in which He taught them to pray. On the whole, therefore, it seems likely, but yet is by no means certain, that we ought to read here, “that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.”
The idea at the root of the word rendered “sanctify,” is not holiness, but separation. It is opposed not to what is impure, but to what is common, and is constantly used in the Greek of the Old Testament for the consecration of persons and things to the service of God. Hence our Lord can use it of Himself in John 10:36, and in this context (John 17:19; these are the only places where it occurs in St. John’s writings). He was Himself “set apart and sent into the world.” He has to send them into the world in the same way (John 17:18, and John 10:36), and prays that they may be in the same way consecrated for their work.
Thy word is truth.—There is a strong emphasis in the pronoun “Thy word is truth.” This word they had kept (John 17:6-8). It had become the region of their life. They are to be the channels through which it is to pass to others (John 17:20). They are already in the higher sphere of truth, in which their entire consecration is to take place, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit shall descend upon them.
So have I also sent them into the world.—Better, I also sent. Comp. Notes on Matthew 10:5; Luke 6:13. In the very word “Apostles” their mission was contained; but the thought here comprehends the immediate future of their wider mission. (Comp. Note on John 20:21.)
That they also might be sanctified through the truth.—Better, as in the margin, . . . . might be truly sanctified. The words “they also” are emphatic, answering to “their sakes” and “myself” in the preceding clause.
But for them also which shall believe on me through their word.—All the best MSS. read, “but for them also which believe;” but the sense is not affected by the change. As we have again and again found in these chapters, the future of the Church is so immediately in our Lord’s thoughts that it is spoken of as actually present. “Their word” is their witness concerning Him through which men should believe (John 15:27). He had manifested the nature of God to them; and they who had received His word and witnessed His work would become, by the indwelling of the Spirit in them, the means of extending this revelation of God to others. They would do this by means of the word which, in His name, they would preach. (Comp. Romans 10:14 et seq.)
As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.—The insertion of “art,” which, as the italics show, is not in the original text, weakens the sense. It is better, therefore, to omit it. The word “one,” in the second clause, is of doubtful authority, and has the appearance of a gloss. The probable reading, therefore, is, That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; and the meaning is that the union of the Church may be of the same essential nature as that between the Father and the Son; yea, that the union of the Church may result from the union of individual members with the Father through the Son. (Comp. John 14:23; John 15:4-10, et al.) The Father in the Son and the Son in the Father; both Father and Son taking up their abode in the believer, and the believer, therefore, in the Father and the Son. This is the ideal of the unity of the Church of Christ; and if this union with God is realised by each individual, it necessarily follows that all the individuals will be one with each other. (Comp. Notes on Ephesians 4:4 et seq.)
That the world may believe that thou hast sent me.—The result of the union of believers with God, and therefore with each other, will be that the world will see in it a proof of the divine origin of Christianity, and will believe that the Father sent the Son into the world. As this will be the result, it is thought of as the purpose of the prayer for the whole body of believers. Instances of this result crowd involuntarily upon the mind. The brotherhood of Christians has ever been the witness to their common Fatherhood in God. The divisions of Christendom have ever been the weakness of the Church and the proof to the world that, in that they are divided, they cannot be of God. (Comp. Note on John 13:35.)
That they may be one, even as we are one.—This is here expressed, in addition to the thought of the last verse, as the purpose for which He has given to them the glory which the Father has given Him. It is future in the union of the glory of heaven; it is present in the realisation of heaven now in those who have the one common hope of their calling.
That they may be made perfect in one.—Better, . . . unto one. The unity is the result of their being made perfect. (Comp. Notes on Hebrews 10:14 and 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:17-18.)
And that the world may know that thou hast sent me.—Better, . . . didst send Me. Comp. John 17:21. “That the world may know” (recognise) here is parallel to “that the world may believe,” in the earlier verse. We are to regard it, therefore, as another instance of the repeated expression of the fulness of thought; and this is borne out by the parallel in John 13:35; John 14:31. The thought which has been introduced here of the conviction of the unbelieving world, seems to be opposed to the context. The prayer is that the world, seeing in its midst the power which binds men together in unity, may believe and know that this is of God, who sent Christ into the world, and may accept for themselves the message of love which the “Sent of God” has brought unto them. (Comp. Note on John 3:16.)
The “I will” expresses the consciousness that His will was that of the Father, and is the prayer of Him who is one with the Father. He had before said, “I pray” (John 17:9, and Note on John 17:20), but the thought of the union with the Father, expressed in John 17:23, leads to the fuller expression of His confidence that the prayer will be answered.
For the words, “with Me where I am,” comp. Note on John 14:3.
That they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.—Comp. Note on John 17:22. That we are to think of the future glory of the divine-human nature of Christ, is shown by the addition of the words, “which Thou hast given Me.” The pre-incarnate glory of the Son was of His divine nature only, and is not, therefore, spoken of as given to Him, nor could it be given to those who believe in Him (John 17:22). That with which the Father has glorified the Son, is “the glory which He had with the Father before the world was” (John 17:5), but it is the Son of man who is glorified with it, and therefore it is that human nature is made capable of receiving it.
For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.—Comp. Note on John 17:5.
That the love wherewith thou hast loved (better, didst love) me may be in them, and I in them.—Comp. Note on John 15:9. The thought of Christ’s prayer in this verse is expanded in St. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19. It is more than that God may love the disciples, even as He loved the Son; it is that they may so know the nature of God that this love may be in them, dwelling in them as the principle of their life. And then the thought passes on to that fulness which has been present all through this last discourse and prayer, “and I in them.” (Comp. John 17:23.) Going from them, to be yet with them; not to be with them only as a Person without, but as a power within. “I in them” are the last words of the Intercessory Prayer. The words remain in all their comfort for them in whom “Christ is formed;” in all their encouragement for doubting hearts seeking to know God; in all their warning for hearts that do not seek His presence. They are the prayer of Him who knoweth that the Father always heareth Him.