At the conclusion of our previous study, we noted that in John 17 there is no interruption by the apostles and no pause on our Lord’s part. There can be no difficulty in understanding why: here the Lord is not speaking to the eleven, but is praying to his Father. It would be in the highest degree inappropriate that his followers should interrupt. Moreover, there is much in this chapter which the apostles will find deeply moving and unforgettable.
The Lord in prayer to the Father
The Lord’s teaching on prayer, and his own prayer life, constitute a major subject in its own right, and a rewarding one. It must suffice now to recall he taught his disciples “they ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1 all quotes RV). It is thus that the resources of prayer are adequate to the most taxing situations in life. Being invariably true to his own teaching, and thus setting a supreme example, our beloved Lord prayed with great intensity in Gethsemane and was in communion with his Father on the cross (Lk. 23:34,46).
There is a simple indication at the start of John 17 that the Lord has finished addressing his disciples: “These things spake Jesus…,” then he lifts his eyes to heaven, an indication as on another occasion that he is speaking to the Father. He did so before the restoration of life to Lazarus (John11:41), a great miracle indeed, demonstrating Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
The prayer opens with the petition that the Father will glorify His Son, so that the Son may glorify his Father. This is in harmony with the whole tenor of our Lord’s life and is a subject already encountered in the Gospel. We remember he told the Jews that he was carrying out, not his own will, but the Father’s (John5:30), words which were poignantly to be repeated inGethsemane. So it was that his own glorification was dependent upon his glorification of his Father, a condition which applies also to all his followers.
The way to eternal life
Then, in verse 2, the Lord asserts he has been given authority “over all flesh,” a staggering claim, but the aim of this is so that he can bestow eternal life on all those whom God has given him. Yet once more we take note of the important fact that the Lord recognizes his Father as the One from whom he derives all; those to whom he can give eternal life are those whom his Father has given him.
But how is this eternal life to be communicated and received? The Lord explains: eternal life is conditional upon, and consists in, knowing the only true God, and the one He has sent: Jesus Christ.
We take account here of the Lord’s own use of the full name: “Jesus” – the Saviour (Mt. 1:21; “Christ” – the anointed (Lk. 1:32-33). The understanding of the mission and work of the Lord depends upon our understanding of the full purpose God is carrying out through His son. He is supremely the “Apostle” (Heb. 3:1). The meaning of the term “apostle” is “one sent forth.” As Jesus looks back upon his life (v. 4), he claims he has glorified “thee” (his Father), on the earth, having carried out among men what the Father has required of him.
But we may well ask: if the Lord already has accomplished what his Father required of him, why then Gethsemane, and the cross? We had a similar problem when we considered our Lord’s words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you” (14:27). Superficially these words appear to be in conflict with his agony in the garden. But we know he recovered his composure completely and went to the cross unhesitatingly; so he was to carry out to the full what was required of him. That was his full intent and he was fully confident that, with the help of his Father, he would carry the work to completion.
Before the world was
In verse 5, the Lord asks his Father to glorify him with His own self, with the glory he had before “the world was.” The statement may appear difficult to explain. However, if historically he already possessed the glory which was his before the present order came into being, how then does he now ask his Father to bestow it on him? The answer undoubtedly lies in the unique foreknowledge the Father possessed, and in the eternal purpose of which Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians. There Paul asserts believers have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and have been foreordained as sons through Jesus Christ (1:4,5).
Other New Testament passages present human history, especially that which concerns God’s purpose with mankind, as having been predetermined from the beginning. Thus, Peter, in speaking of the Lord’s death upon the cross, which manifestly took place in the apostle’s own experience, peaks of it as an event “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but…manifested at the end of the times” (I Peter 1:20). So it was that Jesus was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
The unfolding panorama of human history was thus foreknown to God before the beginning, and central to this was His redemptive purpose in His Son, a fact which one day will be recognized by a startled world.
The apostles a gift from the Father
In verse 6, the apostles are brought into view, and their attention must more than ever have been concentrated on what they were hearing. The Lord asserts he has manifested the Father’s name to the men the Father had given him “out of the world.” We note how the Lord recognizes these men as a gift from his Father, fallible though they were. (The concept of the apostles being a gift from the Father inevitably recalls the fact recorded by Luke that Jesus had spent the night in prayer before choosing the twelve, (Luke 6:12-13).
We have seen how the Lord anticipated the crisis with which his followers would be unable to cope: one would disown him (John13:38), and they would all be scattered, leaving him alone, though the Father would be with him (16:32). When later they would talk among themselves of the final events in the Lord’s ministry, and the contrast between their own behaviour and their Lord’s, their feelings would be a mixture of shame and deep gratitude. He had shown the love which all his followers are called upon to emulate (13:34), a condition of true discipleship which seems too often beyond us.
His Father’s name
So it was to the apostles and not to the world at large, that the Lord had manifested the Father’s name. This is a comprehensive concept, this idea of the Name. It has a rich Old Testament background. There are names inIsrael’s history which are highly significant because of the individual who bore them. When Moses was a witness of the great theophanies of Exodus 3:13-16 and 6:1-3 a connection was made in both instances with the divine promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the latter theophany, the Lord God declares He was unknown of them by His name Yahweh, although the Name as such was certainly known. However, there were aspects of God’s character and activity which had not been revealed to the patriarchs.
It is a token of Moses’ profound humility that, though he had been the witness of the two earlier theophanies, he prayed: “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy ways, that I may know thee” (Ex. 33:13). In other words, Moses recognized he had much more to learn about Yahweh if he was acceptably to lead the people. It was in response to this humble prayer that the Lord God granted Moses the supreme theophany of Exodus 34, which is the necessary complement to the earlier revelations.
That the name stands for, and embodies the attributes of the one to whom it belongs, is shown clearly in this revelation of Exodus 34. The Name is proclaimed (v. 6) and immediately we read: “The LORD, the LORD, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” While this spells out God’s grace, the following verse reminds us that the Lord punishes the unrepentant sinner, and likewise punishes his offspring to the third and fourth generation. That this is no vindictiveness is shown in the earlier revelation which states it relates to those who hate the Lord generation after generation (Ex. 20:5).
So it is that God’s attributes should be reflected in those who worship Him, as they were uniquely in the Son (John1:14). When the Lord Jesus claimed he had manifested his Father’s name to his apostles, he would be well aware of the Old Testament background. He had so constantly and consciously endeavoured to embody in himself his Father’s attributes that he was indeed the very image of the invisible God (John 14:9; Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4). It is, therefore, the measure in which the Lord’s disciples are conformed to the image of the Son (Rom.8:29) that they are conformed to the image of the Father and belong to God’s family, and thus fulfill the purpose for which mankind was originally created (Gen. 1:26-27).
The Lord’s works and words
While the divine attributes found a unique expression in the Lord’s character, we must not overlook his works and his teaching, verses 7 and 8. As we have had occasion to observe so often in these studies, the Lord made no claim to what we may term originality.
The remarkable miracles he carried out he knew were the result of the endowment of the spirit at his baptism. There is no hint of any such miracles during the years of preparation atNazareth. After his baptism he carried out the beginning of signs atCana(John 2), a miracle to be followed by many others. These acts were so impressive that even a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, was moved to recognize that God was with Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:1-2).
As for his teaching, the Lord stated his words were those of the One who sent him (John14:10). It is interesting to note that in verse 8 the Lord couples his words and his works – they were both of his Father.
It was an immense comfort to the Lord that, in a society of which the leaders, with some exceptions (John12:42) were so hostile to him and bent on his destruction, he had these constant companions (see Lk.22:28) who, despite all their limitations, had remained loyal to him and endorsed his claims. They knew all he had was derived from his Father. They had accepted his teaching and recognized he had come froth from God. These are the marks of true discipleship.