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20. Exegetical Commentary on John 17


    [4 A The Book of Glory: Jesus accomplishes his return to the Father (13:1-20:31)]

      [2 B The Last Supper: Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure (13:2-17:26)]

        [2 C The Last Discourse (13:31-17:26)]

          3 D Jesus’ concluding prayer (17:1-26)

            1 E Jesus asks the Father to glorify him (17:1-5)

            2 E Jesus prays for the disciples the Father has given him (17:6-19)

            3 E Jesus prays for the ones who believe in him on account of the testimony of the disciples (17:20-26)


Agourides, S. C., “The ‘High Priestly Prayer’ of Jesus,” Studia Evangelica 4 [= Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 102] (Berlin: Akademie, 1968): 137-43.

Appold, M. L., The Oneness Motif in the Fourth Gospel: Motif Analysis and Exegetical Probe into the Theology of John, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2,1 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1976).

Cadier, J., “The Unity of the Church: An Exposition of John 17’, Interpretation 11 (1957): 166-76.

Ksemann, E., The Testament of Jesus According to John 17, trans. G. Krodel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968).

Lloyd-Jones, D. M., The Basis of Christian Unity: An Exposition of John 17 and Ephesians 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963).

Malatesta, E., “The Literary Structure of John 17,” Biblica 52 (1971): 190-214.

Minear, P. S., “Evangelism, Ecumenism, and John 17,” Theology Today 35 (1978): 353-60.

Minear, P. S., “John 17:1-11,” Interpretation 32 (1978): 175-79.

Morrison, C. D., “Mission and Ethic: An Interpretation of John 17,” Interpretation 19 (1965): 259-73.

Newman, B. M., “The Case of the Eclectic and the Neglected ejk of John 17,” Bible Translator 29 (1978): 339-41.

Poelman, R., “The Sacerdotal Prayer: John xvii,” Lumen Vitae 20 (1965): 43-66.

Pollard, T. E., “‘That They All May Be One’ (John xvii 21)—and the Unity of the Church,” Expository Times 70 (1958/59): 149-50.

Randall, J. F., “The Theme of Unity in John 17:20-23,” Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses 41 (1965): 373-94.

Villain, M., “Those Who Believe: A Meditation on John 17,” One in Christ 6 (1970): 140-45, 547-53.

Wenger, E. L., “‘That They All May Be One’,” Expository Times 70 (1958/59): 333.


          3 D Jesus’ concluding prayer (17:1-26)

Introduction. Jesus’ prayer now marks the conclusion of the Last Discourse. As we noted above at 13:31 in the Note on the literary genre of the Last Discourse it appears to be organized after the pattern of a farewell speech, and it was not uncommon for farewell speeches to include closing prayers. Deuteronomy, for example, contains both a prayer in chapter 32 and a blessing of the people in chapter 33.

It is common to refer to chapter 17 as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. C. K. Barrett did not like this designation because it “does not do justice to the full range of the material contained in it.”138 Whatever else may be said, such a label does emphasize the consecratory emphasis of the prayer with regard both to the disciples and to Jesus’ own work, which is now accomplished as he looks forward to his impending death on the cross.

Actually John does not used the term “high priest” to describe Jesus. However, in context, Jesus has promised “another Paraclete” (14:16) and since the range of meaning for this word includes “advocate” (cf. 1 John 2:1 and the Notes on 14:16) it may well be that here the Evangelist shows Jesus interceding for his disciples as Advocate/Paraclete.

            1 E Jesus asks the Father to glorify him (17:1-5)

17:1 kaiV ejpavra" touV" ojfqalmouV" aujtou' eij" toVn oujranoVn Jesus also did this before his prayer in 11:41. This was probably a common posture in prayer; according to the parable in Luke 18:13 the tax collector did not feel himself worthy to do this.

ejlhvluqen hJ w{ra Jesus has said before that his “hour” had come, both in 12:23 when some Greeks sought to speak with him, and in 13:1 where just before he washed the disciples’ feet he is said to have known that his hour had come. It appears best to understand the “hour” as a period of time starting at the end of Jesus’ public ministry and extending through the passion week, ending with Jesus’ return to the Father through death, resurrection, and exaltation. The “hour” begins as soon as the first events occur which begin the process that leads to Jesus’ death.

dovxasovn sou toVn uiJovn Related to the coming of the “hour” is the glorification of Jesus. In 13:31-32 Jesus had said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and immediately he will glorify him.” Now in 17:1ff. Jesus prays for this to be carried out.

i{na oJ oiJoV" doxavsh/ sev The glorification of the Son and the Father are closely related. Jesus’ own glorification (his return to the Father through death, resurrection, and exaltation) is not an end in itself; even this is to the greater glory of the Father, as is everything the Son does.

17:2 e[dwka" aujtw'/ ejxousivan pavsh" sarkov" Jesus has been given authority by the Father over all people. This probably refers to the authority to judge (cf. 5:27) since the next phrase makes it clear that Jesus does not give eternal life to everyone indiscriminately, but only to those whom the Father has given him.

paVn o} devdwka" aujtw'/ Jesus gives the gift of eternal life only to those whom the Father has given him. Once again there is the thought (seen before in 6:44 and 6:65) that although the gift of life is offered freely, a person does not accept it unless the Father has predestined that person to come to Jesus and believe in him.

17:3 au{th dev to introduce an explanation is typical Johannine style; it was used before in 1:19, 3:19, and 15:12. The Evangelist here defines “eternal life” for the readers. It is not just unending life in the sense of prolonged duration. Rather it is a quality of life, with its qualitativeness derived from a relationship with God. Having eternal life is here defined as being in relationship with the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. Cristov" is not characteristically attached to Jesus’ name in the Fourth Gospel; it occurs elsewhere primarily as a title and is used with Jesus’ name only in 1:17. But that is connected to its use here: the statement here in 17:3 enables us to correlate the statement made in 1:18 of the Prologue, that Jesus has fully revealed what God is like, with Jesus’ statement in 10:10 that he has come that people might have life, and have it abundantly. These two purposes are really one, according to 17:3, because (abundant) eternal life is defined as knowing (being in relationship with) the Father and the Son. The only way to gain this eternal life, that is, to obtain this knowledge of the Father, is through the Son (cf. 14:6). Although some have pointed to the use of ginwvskw here as evidence of Gnostic influence in the Gospel, there is a crucial difference: for John this knowledge is not intellectual, but relational. It involves being in relationship.

17:4 ejgwv se ejdovxasa ejpiV th'" gh'" Jesus now states that he has glorified the Father on earth by completing (teleiwvsa" is best understood as a circumstantial participle of means) the work which the Father had given him to do. The idea of Jesus being sent into the world on a mission has been mentioned before, significantly in 3:17. It was even alluded to in the immediately preceding verse here (17:3). The completion of the “work” the Father had sent him to accomplish was mentioned by Jesus in 4:34 and 5:36. What is the nature of the “work” the Father has given the Son to accomplish? It involves the Son’s mission to be the Saviour of the world, as 3:17 indicates. But this is accomplished specifically through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross (a thought implied by the reference to the Father “giving” the Son in 3:16). It is not without significance that Jesus’ last word from the cross is tetevlestai, “it is completed” (19:30).

Jesus can thus speak proleptically, as if his work (including even the work of the cross) is already completed, since the “hour” has already come and his departure is at hand.

17:5 kaiV nu'n dovxasovn me suv In 17:1 Jesus prays for the Father to glorify him. Now he repeats the request and defines the glory for which he prays more specifically as the glory which he had with the Father before the world existed. The use of parav twice in this verse looks back to the assertion in 1:1 that the Word (the Lovgo", who became Jesus of Nazareth in 1:14) was with God (proV" toVn qeovn). Whatever else may be said, the statement in 17:5 strongly asserts the preexistence of Christ.

            2 E Jesus prays for the disciples the Father has given him (17:6-19)

17:6 =Efanevrwsav sou toV o[noma Now Jesus turns his attention to the disciples. He begins by asserting that he manifested the Father’s name to them. The mention of the Father’s name will occur again in chapter 17 in verses 11, 12, and 26, but it is not often mentioned elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel (only in 5:43, 10:25, 12:28). What are we to make of this? In one sense the name represents the person (cf. 1:12) and thus Jesus in saying that he has made known the Father’s name is saying that he has fully revealed who God is and what he is like (cf. 1:18 and 14:9). But there is probably another meaning as well in the Fourth Gospel: Jesus himself is identified with God repeatedly (10:30, 14:11, etc.) and nowhere is this more apparent than in Jesus’ absolute uses of the phrase ejgwv eijmi without a predicate (8:24, 8:28, 8:58, and 13:19). The name of the Father which Jesus has made known to men is thus the Divine Name revealed to Moses in Exod 3:14.

ou}" e[dwkav" moi Once again there is the idea of the Father’s predestination (see 17:2).

toVn lovgon sou tethvrhkan In 8:55 Jesus said that he kept his Father’s word; this is the one time in the Fourth Gospel that the disciples are said to keep it.

17:7 Only now (nu'n) have the disciples begun to understand. The finite verb e[gnwkan is best understood as an ingressive aorist which looks at entry into the state of knowledge or understanding. Previously it has been clear that the disciples did not understand the uniqueness of the relationship between Jesus and the Father (cf. 14:8-10). Now as a result of the coming of Jesus’ “hour” (which includes his exaltation as well as his death and resurrection) Jesus affirms here in his prayer that the disciples are finally beginning to understand.

17:8 o{ti taV rJhvmata a} e[dwkav" moi devdwka aujtoi'" Jesus now explains the reason why the disciples have come to know that the source of everything Jesus has received is the Father: it is because Jesus has faithfully communicated to the disciples the words he has received from his Father. The disciples have received these words and thus have come to know that Jesus has come forth from the Father, who sent him. Jesus, who is himself the Word of God, is also the vehicle for the words of God, that is, divine revelation and communication to men (cf. discussion at 10:34).

If as we have pointed out in verse 6 above the name which Jesus has made known to the disciples is the Divine Name revealed to Moses in Exod 3:14, then we might see here a comparison with Moses, who transmitted the words he received from God (the Torah) to Israel. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ statement here in 17:8 (taV rJhvmata a} e[dwkav" moi devdwka aujtoi'") may be taken as a direct allusion to Deut 18:18—”I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you [Moses], and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

17:9 ouj periV tou' kovsmou ejrwtw' Jesus now specifies that his prayer is for the disciples, not for those in the world. Once again there is the note that the disciples “belong” to the Father (cf. 17:6), and he has given them to Jesus (see note on 17:2 for a brief discussion of this theme of predestination, which appears repeatedly in Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17).

17:10 kaiV taV ejmaV pavnta sav ejstin kaiV taV saV ejmav Once again, Jesus affirms that everything that belongs to him also belongs to the Father, and all that belongs to the Father belongs also to him. This theme was mentioned earlier in 16:15.

dedovxasmai The theme of glory with which Jesus began this prayer in 17:1-5 now recurs. Jesus says that he has been glorified in his disciples, but in what sense is this true? Jesus has manifested his glory to them in all of the sign-miracles which he has performed, beginning with the miracle at the wedding-feast in Cana (2:11). He can now say that he has been glorified in them in the light of what he has already said in verses 7-8, that the disciples have come to know that he has come from the Father and been sent by the Father. He will, of course, be glorified in them further after the resurrection, as they carry on his ministry after his departure.

17:11 kaiV oujkevti eijmiV ejn tw'/ kovsmw/ In what sense is Jesus at this point no longer in the world? In verse 13 he seems to speak as if he is still in the world. Yet both here and in verse 13 he says that he is coming to the Father. Jesus’ departure from the world is so near that he can speak here as if he has already left the world, and he does so to contrast his own situation with that of the disciples, who are still in the world.

thvrhson aujtouV" ejn tw'/ ojnovmativ sou In 17:6 Jesus said that the disciples had kept the Father’s word. Now Jesus prays that the Father would keep them during and after his departure from them, since he is coming to the Father.

i{na wsin e}n kaqwV" hJmei'" The ultimate object of Jesus’ request here is the unity of the disciples. He will return to this theme in verses 21-23. This unity is compared to the unity which exists (and has been mentioned frequently in the Fourth Gospel, cf. 10:30) between the Father and the Son.

17:12 ejgwV ejthvroun aujtouV"kaiV ejfuvlaxa Jesus now mentions that he guarded and protected the disciples while he was with them. The imagery here is suggestive of the Good Shepherd imagery of chapter 10, especially verses 27-30 (10:30 also deals with the theme of the unity between the Father and the Son, and thus relates to the request for the disciples’ unity in the preceding verse). In 10:28 Jesus says that he gives eternal life to his own, and they shall never perish (ajpovlwntai). Here Jesus affirms that indeed none of them have perished (ajpwvleto) except one, the “son destined for destruction” (oJ uiJoV" th'" ajpwleiva"), that is, Judas Iscariot.

i{na hJ grafhV plhrwqh'/ This appears to indicate that some OT passage predicted Judas’ betrayal and defection. The exact passage is not specified here, but in 13:18 Psalm 41:9 is explicitly quoted by Jesus with reference to the traitor, suggesting strongly that this is the passage to which Jesus refers here. The previous mention of Ps 41:9 in 13:18 probably explains why the Evangelist felt no need for an explanatory parenthetical note here.

17:13 proV" se e[rcomai Jesus reiterates that he is coming to the Father, as he had stated before in 17:11. Yet while he is still in the world he is speaking these things for the comfort of his disciples. He has told them these things in order that they might have his joy fulfilled in themselves. This echoes earlier statements about the disciples possessing Jesus’ joy in 15:11 (“These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be made full”) and 16:24 (“Ask, and you will receive, in order that your joy may be fulfilled”).

17:14 kaqwV" ejgwV oujk eijmiV ejk tou' kovsmou Although Jesus is still in the world, preparing to leave it and return to the Father, he is not of the world (ejk tou' kovsmou) as he now makes clear. Once again he returns to the theme of the world’s hatred for the disciples (cf. 15:18-25, 16:1-4a). The reason Jesus gives here for the world’s hatred of the disciples is that they (like he) are not of the world. This was the same reason given for the world’s hatred in 15:19—”If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

In the case of Jesus himself it is easy to see how he is not “of the world”: he came down from heaven on a mission from the Father. But in what sense can it be said that the disciples to whom he refers are not “of the world”? They are not of the world in that their allegiance was to Jesus.

17:15 oujk ejrwtw' i{na a[rh/" aujtouV" ejk tou' kovsmou Jesus now clarifies further his request for the disciples: he does not ask the Father to take them out of the world, but rather to protect them as they remain in the world from the evil one.

tou' ponhrou' The genitive noun is ambiguous with regard to gender: it may represent the neuter toV ponhrov", “that which is evil,” or the masculine oJ ponhrov", “the evil one,” i.e., Satan. In view of the frequent use of the masculine in 1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, and 5:18-19 it seems much more probable that the masculine is to be understood here, and that Jesus is praying for his disciples to be protected from Satan.

17:16 ejk tou' kovsmou oujk eijsiVn This is a repetition of the second half of verse 14. The only difference is in word order: verse 14 has oujk eijsiVn ejk tou' kovsmou, while here the prepositional phrase is stated first: ejk tou' kovsmou oujk eijsiVn. This gives additional emphasis to the idea of the prepositional phrase, i.e., origin or source. See the discussion above under verse 14.

17:17 aJgivason aujtouV" Jesus now prays for the disciples’ sanctification. The word translated “sanctification,” aJgiavzw, is used here in its normal sense of being dedicated, consecrated, or set apart. The sphere in which the disciples are to be set apart is in the truth (ejn th'/ ajlhqeiva/). In 3:21 the idea of “practicing” (literally “doing”) the truth was introduced; in 8:32 Jesus told some of his hearers that if they continued in his word they would truly be his disciples, and would know the truth, and the truth would make them free. These disciples who are with Jesus now in the Upper Room have continued in his word (except for Judas Iscariot, who has departed), and they do know the truth about who Jesus is and why he has come into the world (17:8). Thus Jesus can ask the Father to set them apart in this truth as he himself is set apart, so that they might carry on his mission in the world after his departure (note the following verse).

17:18 kaqwV" ejmeV ajpevsteila" Jesus now compares the mission upon which he is sending the disciples to his own mission into the world, upon which he was sent by the Father. As the Father sent Jesus into the world (cf. 3:17), so Jesus is sending the disciples into the world to continue his mission after his departure. The nature of this prayer for the disciples as a consecratory prayer is now emerging: Jesus is setting them apart for the work he has called them to do. They are, in a sense, being commissioned.

17:19 uJpeVr aujtw'n ejgwV aJgiavzw ejmautovn Now Jesus says that on behalf of the disciples he sanctifies himself, in order that the disciples themselves also may be sanctified in the truth (which was Jesus’ request in verse 17). In what sense does Jesus refer to his own sanctification here? In 10:36 Jesus referred to himself as “the one whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world,” which seems to look at something already accomplished. Here, however, it is something he does on behalf of the disciples (uJpeVr aujtw'n) and this suggests a reference to his impending death on the cross. It seems that there is in fact a Johannine word-play here based on slightly different meanings for aJgiavzw. In the sense it was used in 10:36 of Jesus and in 17:17 and here to refer to the disciples, it means to set apart in the sense that prophets (cf. Jer 1:5) and priests (Exod 40:13, Lev 8:30, and 2 Chr 5:11) were consecrated or set apart to perform their tasks. But when Jesus speaks of consecrating/setting apart/dedicating himself on behalf of the disciples here in 17:19 the meaning is closer to the consecration of a sacrificial animal (Deut 15:19). Jesus is “setting himself apart” to do the will of the Father, that is, to go to the cross on the disciples’ behalf (and of course on behalf of their successors as well).

            3 E Jesus prays for the ones who believe in him on account of the testimony of the disciples (17:20-26)

17:20 Ouj periV touvtwn deV ejrwtw' movnon Now as his prayer is drawing to a close Jesus goes on to pray for those who will believe in him on account of the disciples’ testimony. Although pisteuovntwn is a present participle, it must in context carry futuristic force. The disciples whom Jesus is leaving behind will carry on his ministry and in doing so will see others come to trust in him. This will include not only Jewish Christians, but other Gentile Christians who are “not of this fold” (10:16), and thus Jesus’ prayer for unity is especially appropriate in light of the probability that most of the readers of the Gospel are Gentiles (much as Paul stresses unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians in Eph 2:10-22).

17:21 i{na pavnte" e}n wsin The model for this unity is the unity which exists between the Father and the Son, a unity which allows for diversity of persons while maintaining essential unity. The ultimate result of such unity among believers will be that the world comes to believe that the Father sent Jesus (i{na oJ kovsmo" pisteuvh/ o{ti suv me ajpevsteila", compare i{na ginwvskh/ oJ kovsmo" o{ti suv me ajpevsteila" kaiV hjgavphsa" aujtouV" kaqwV" ejmeV hjgavphsa" in verse 23).

A parallel structure may be seen in verses 21-23, as follows:

21a i{na pavnte" e}n wsin

21b kaqwV" suv, pavter, ejn ejmoiV kajgwV ejn soiv

21c i{na kaiV aujtoiV ejn hJmi'n wsin

21d i{na oJ kovsmo" pisteuvh/ o{ti suv me ajpevsteila"

22b i{na wsin e}n

22c-23a kaqwV" hJmei'" e}n: ejgwV ejn aujtoi'" kaiV suV ejn ejmoiv

23b i{na wsin teteleiwmevnoi eij" e{n

23c i{na ginwvskh/ oJ kovsmo" o{ti suv me ajpevsteila" kaiV hjgavphsa" aujtouV" kaqwV" ejmeV hjgavphsa"

The first and second i{na in each case deals with the unity of believers, as illustrated both times by the unity which exists between the Father and the Son (the kaqwvV" clauses). The third i{na in each case looks at the effect of this unity on the world.

17:22 thVn dovxan Jesus now says that he has given to those who believe on account of the disciples’ testimony the glory which the Father had given to him, that they may be one. This again is proleptic, since these people to whom Jesus speaks of giving glory have not even come to believe in him yet. They will do so later on account of his disciples’ continuation of his ministry.

17:23 i{na wsin teteleiwmevnoi eij" e{n Jesus now requests that these people who believe on account of the disciples’ testimony may be completed into one (teteleiwmevnoi eij" e{n) which again (as in verse 21) will result in the world coming to know that Jesus had been sent by the Father.

Thus Jesus’ gift of glory to believers (22a) results in their unity (22b-23a) which has the ultimate result of confronting the world once more with the claims of Jesus (23b).

17:24 i{na o{pou eijmiV ejgwV kajkei'noi wsin met= ejmou' Jesus’ prayer is now reaching its final conclusion. His closing request is that the ones whom the Father has given him be with him, where he is, so that they may see his glory. This glory was given by the Father to Jesus because of the Father’s love for Jesus before the foundation of the world (proV katabolh'" kovsmou). Once again the pre-existence of the Son is mentioned in connection with the relationship he shared with the Father in eternity past (cf. 17:5).

17:25 pavter divkaie Jesus addresses the Father directly again, as he did in 17:11. He states that the world does not know the Father, but he does, and then he affirms that these believers for whom he prays (both the disciples and those later believers who come to trust in Jesus on account of the disciples’ word) have come to know that he was sent by the Father.

17:26 kaiV ejgnwvrisa aujtoi'" toV o[nomav sou kaiV gnwrivsw Jesus now states that he both made known and will make known the Father’s name to these believers, so that the love with which the Father loved Jesus (cf. 17:24) will be in them and in fact Jesus himself will be in them. The theme of the manifestation of the Father’s name is picked up from 17:6 and refers to Jesus’ revelation of the Divine Name of Exod 3:14 in his person (see additional discussion at 17:6).

kajgwV ejn aujtoi'" The concluding statement of the entire prayer appropriately reflects the presence of Jesus dwelling permanently in believers after his resurrection and return to the Father (cf. 14:18, 20). He will not leave them alone and forsaken, but will be in them forever.

Related Topics: Christology, Prayer

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