Jesus—His Life and Message: John 17: Jesus’ Prayer (Part 1)
August 10, 2021
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: John 17: Jesus’ Prayer (Part 1)
Having told His disciples that He was going away to “Him that sent me” (John 16:5), and that the Helper—the Holy Spirit—would come to guide them into all truth (John 16:13), Jesus then began to pray to the Father. He first prayed about His own glorification. He then prayed for His disciples, which is the main focus of this chapter. Lastly, He prayed for those who would believe in Him because of the disciples’ witness.
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, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”1
Looking up to heaven was a normal position for one praying in both the Old and New Testaments. To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! (Psalm 123:1). Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me (John 11:41).
In “lifting His eyes to heaven,” Jesus turned His attention away from the disciples and focused on God. Knowing that His death was imminent, Jesus spoke of His hour as having come. With the cross before Him, Jesus prayed for His Father to glorify Him. While the cross was used as a means to both shame and execute lawbreakers, to Jesus it was a means to glorification. His prayer indicates that the Father first glorifies the Son, and the Son consequently glorifies the Father. Jesus has spoken of His death as a departure from His Father; as such, it seems likely that He wants to be “glorified” in the sense of being reunited with the Father. (A point made clear in verse 5.)
Jesus explained what it meant for the Son to “glorify” the Father. The Son will glorify the Father by giving “eternal life to all whom you have given him,” referring at this point in time to Jesus’ disciples, those with Him in the upper room, whose feet He had washed and who had stated “we believe that you came from God.”2 His disciples also represent a wider group of those who had believed in Jesus throughout His ministry, such as the believing Samaritans, the man who was born blind, and the women disciples like Martha and Mary, as well as all believers throughout time.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.3
Here we are given something of a definition of eternal life. To truly know God and His Son results in eternal life. In this Gospel, “you the only true God” and “him whom you sent, Jesus Christ,” are linked together. Neither can truly be known apart from the other. We also see this expressed in 1 John. We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.4
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.5
Earlier in this Gospel Jesus stated, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.6 Jesus did exactly that, and He included this fact in His prayer. He has glorified His Father by doing the Father’s will.
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.7
Jesus asked His Father for “glorification” based on His having glorified the Father on earth and the promise to continue to do so. The glory for which Jesus is asking is the glory that He had in God’s presence before the creation of the world, which is expressed in the beginning of this Gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.8
Having finished praying about His own glorification, Jesus then began to pray to His Father for His disciples.
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.9
Jesus began by pointing out that He manifested [the Father’s] name to the disciples. The name stands for the whole person, so to manifest the name of God was to reveal the essential nature of God to the disciples. In accepting Jesus, the disciples accepted His Father as well. In learning to know Jesus as the Son of God, they came to know God in a new way, as the Father of Jesus, and as their Father as well. This is expressed later in this Gospel when Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”10
Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 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.11
In His prayer, Jesus echoes what His disciples had said right before He began praying: “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”12 Jesus may have also had in mind what Peter had stated earlier in this Gospel: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”13 In His prayer, Jesus focused attention on the Father by repeating “you,” “your,” and “yours.” I have manifested your name (v.6), Yours they were (v.6), your word (v.6), everything that you have given me is from you (v.7), I came from you (v.8), you sent me (v.8).
As Jesus prayed, He addressed the attitude of the disciples. First, they had received and accepted His words. The religious leaders might have been expected to accept and even welcome Jesus’ words, but they did not; yet His disciples did. Second, the disciples came to know that Jesus came forth from God. Third, they could be described as men of faith. While at this point in the Gospel they didn’t understand everything about Jesus, they did have faith that the Father had sent Jesus.
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.14
Jesus began to intercede for the disciples, for those whom the Father had given Him. This doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t concerned about the world; but that His plans for the world were channeled through the disciples. His mission to the world was coming to an end while the disciples’ mission was about to begin.
Though the Father had given the disciples to Jesus, He wasn’t giving them away; rather they belonged to both the Father and the Son, as what belongs to the one belongs to the other. All mine are yours, and yours are mine. Jesus added, I am glorified in them. This is similar to what Jesus said earlier in this Gospel: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”15 One author explains: To put it in more contemporary terms, the disciples (whatever their shortcomings) are His pride and joy, just as He is the Father’s pride and joy. They are His “glory” in that they are living proof that He has indeed “completed the work” the Father gave Him to do, making possible His return to the Father to resume the glory that was His “before the world was.”16
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.17
Jesus continued His prayer for the disciples. He will not remain in the world but His disciples will. These words echo what He had previously said: A little while, and you will see me no longer,18 and I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.19 Jesus would be returning to the Father and the disciples would remain in the world, and because of this, they were in need of prayer.
Jesus’ prayer for them begins with the words Holy Father, keep them in your name … that they may be one. This is a prayer for unity, that as Jesus is one with the Father, that the disciples will be one. Jesus will repeat His petition for their unity three more times in the chapter.20
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.21
Jesus was looking back on His ministry as if it were already finished, which is in keeping with what He had previously said: I am no longer in the world.22 He had successfully kept the disciples, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, the son of destruction.
(The second half of Jesus’ prayer will be covered in the next article.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 John 17:1–2.
2 John 16:30.
3 John 17:3.
4 1 John 5:20.
5 John 17:4.
6 John 4:34.
7 John 17:5.
8 John 1:1.
9 John 17:6.
10 John 20:17.
11 John 17:7–8.
12 John 16:30.
13 John 6:68–69.
14 John 17:9–10.
15 John 13:31.
16 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 866.
17 John 17:11.
18 John 16:16.
19 John 16:10.
20 John 17:21–23.
21 John 17:12.
22 John 17:11.