The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus: Part I (John 17:1-5)
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you—2 just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.
Any number of times, I have witnessed an event something like the following. There is a room filled with Christians, with perhaps refreshments nearby. People are milling about the room, chatting with one another. There is the sound of many voices, because everyone is talking at the same time. The master of ceremonies decides it is time to officially start the meeting with a word of prayer. Though the prayer is announced, not all hear the announcement due to the commotion and the noise. The designated individual begins to pray, while a few folks continue to chatter on. It looks a bit like “the wave” at an athletic event. Those near the one praying stop talking and bow their heads. Then those next to them do likewise. And within a few seconds, the entire room is quiet, attentively listening to the prayer.
I think something like this happened when Jesus began to pray His magnificent prayer in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel. Jesus and His disciples had left the Upper Room (John 14:31) and were making their way toward the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. It may have been that along the way, they passed a vineyard, and that this provided the occasion for our Lord to teach His disciples about abiding in Him (John 15:1-17). I believe the instruction of chapters 15 and 16 was given while the disciples were winding their way through the dark streets of Jerusalem, on their way to the Mount of Olives, where they had been camping out that week. As we come to chapter 17, Jesus continues to speak to His disciples, preparing them for the future, and assuring them of His provision for all their needs in His absence. At one moment, He is teaching His disciples, and at the next, He is praying to the Father. It probably takes the disciples a few seconds to figure this out. They seem to have been talking among themselves along the way, especially concerning those things Jesus had said that they did not understand (see 16:17-19). Eventually, one of the disciples realizes that Jesus is no longer talking to them, but rather to His Father in heaven. I can almost see John punching Peter in the ribs and whispering hoarsely, “Peter, be quiet! Jesus is praying.” Of course this is mere speculation, but it could have happened something like this.
John 17 contains the inspired record of our Lord’s prayer to the Father. In the fifth century, Clement of Alexandria remarked that in this prayer, Jesus was acting as a high priest on behalf of His people.87 Over the years, some have debated whether this prayer should be known as the “high priestly prayer of Jesus,” but no one who takes the Bible seriously as the Word of God would dare to deny the importance of this prayer, no matter what label we may give to it.
In one sense, this prayer in John 17 is one of many prayers of our Lord. Jesus is often found in prayer in the New Testament. He was in prayer at His baptism, when the Holy Spirit come upon Him (Luke 3:21). He was in prayer when He was transfigured before His three disciples (Luke 9:29). Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4).88 He prayed to bless the little children (Matthew 19:13), and He prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). Often in the Gospels, we read of our Lord’s private prayers, prayers which are not recorded for us to read and to reflect upon (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18).
There were times, however, when Jesus prayed for the benefit of those who were intended to overhear Him. Jesus publicly blessed the meager portion of food available before feeding the 5,000 (John 6:11). No doubt this was to make it clear that God the Father was equally at work in this miracle. In John 11, Jesus also prayed for the benefit of those who would witness the raising of Lazarus:
41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. 42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face (John 11:41-44).
The prayer of our Lord in John 17 is one that Jesus wanted His disciples to hear. To me, it does not appear that Jesus wanted His disciples to hear His prayer in Gethsemane, but that’s another story, one we shall take up later on in this message. The prayer recorded in John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of our Lord in the New Testament. It is found only in the Gospel of John. I like the way John G. Mitchell has outlined it,89 which I will summarize in this chart:
A Brief Overview of John 17
Christ and His Father
Christ and His Disciples
Christ and His Church
Jesus and His Father
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you— 2 just as you have given90 him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.
Verses 1-5 lay a foundation for the entire prayer. While they focus on our Lord’s relationship with His Father, they have much to say concerning our relationship with the Father. Allow me to make several observations from these verses.
First, this prayer is what we might call a “conversational prayer.” About the time I was in college, “conversational prayer” became popular for my generation. Conversational prayers are more casual. Praying to God conversationally is done in terms that make it sound more like you are talking to a friend that you know well. In this prayer, Jesus might be said to be praying conversationally. In part, I base this on the fact that in verse 1 John does not write, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and prayed, ‘Father, the time has come …’” In verse 1, the word saying and the word said are not the same Greek word, but both terms describe speech. There are several words employed for prayer, but the word “said” is not one of them. In this sense, we might say that our Lord’s prayer was, to one degree or another, conversational.
There is yet another line of supporting evidence. In this prayer, our Lord uses the word “Father” to address God the Father. Leon Morris observes:
He began his prayer with the simple address ‘Father.’ We have become used to this as a normal Christian way of beginning a prayer, but it was not usual in that day. The address was that used by a little child in speaking to his parent, but when God was addressed it was usual to add some qualifier; for example, a praying person might say, ‘Our Father in heaven.’ God was so great and so high that he must not be addressed in the language appropriate for familiar use within the family. But Jesus constantly used this way of speaking to his heavenly Father, and Christians picked up the habit from him. Notice the way it runs through this prayer (vv. 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). That God is Father was specially important at this point in Jesus’ life.91
The term “Father” is also a kind of “conversational” address, the kind of conversation that takes place between a son and his “daddy.”
This “conversational” element makes it easier for me to understand what took place. Jesus and His disciples had left the Upper Room and were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way, Jesus taught them about abiding in Him, and He also told them of the hard times ahead. Jesus also spoke of those future things which they would comprehend only after the events of the next few days. At the end of this time of instruction, Jesus just keeps speaking, but now He is speaking to His Father— in the hearing of His disciples. It may have taken them a moment to comprehend this. How they must have treasured these words as they reflected on them later.
Our Lord’s intimacy with the Father is not only reflected in His prayer to the Father here, Jesus indicates that it should greatly influence our prayers to the Father as well. Just a few moments earlier, Jesus said to His disciples,
25 “I have told you these things in obscure figures of speech; a time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in obscure figures, but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered into the world; but in turn, I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:25-28).
I believe our Lord has made it possible for Christians today to enjoy an incredible level of intimacy with the Father. We can actually experience at least a portion of the intimacy with the Father which our Lord enjoyed in His prayer life. When we do, we ought never forget the holiness and the majesty of the One we address as Father. To be able to call God our Father is no excuse for irreverence or for moral sloppiness:
17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:17-21).
Intimacy with God as our Father is a privilege which should inspire humility, gratitude, and reverence in each of us.
Our Lord’s natural transition from talking with men to talking with the Father is not altogether unique in the Bible. When I read Paul’s epistles, I find this same kind of easy transition from instruction to prayer, which seems so appropriate we hardly even recognize it:
13 For this reason I ask you not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, by being rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:13-21).
I cannot help but wonder if this is not an illustration of “praying without ceasing.” Prayer comes so naturally to our Lord, and to the Apostle Paul, that they move almost seamlessly from one to the other. Would that our prayers were as natural and as frequent.
Second, John links this prayer with the Upper Room discourse which precedes it. Notice how this chapter, and this prayer, begins: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, …” A very clear link is made between the teaching of our Lord in the Upper Room Discourse in chapters 13-16 and the high priestly prayer of Jesus, recorded in chapter 17. The sequence is, of course, chronological. The prayer of chapter 17 follows our Lord’s teaching, as recorded in the previous chapters. But I think there is much more involved than mere chronological sequence. Allow me to explain.
In the Bible, prayer is closely related to teaching and preaching. Note, for example, these verses which we find early in the Book of Acts:
1 Now in these days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Jewish convert from Antioch. 6 They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them. 7 The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:1-7, emphasis mine).
Prayer not only glorifies God, it acknowledges that the preaching (and even the hearing) of God’s truth is not enough. The truth of God’s Word does not benefit us apart from the work of God through His Holy Spirit.
6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. 7 Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
The disciples did not understand much of anything that Jesus spoke to them until after His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what Jesus said in the Upper Room Discourse. The cross of Christ (including His resurrection and ascension) and the coming of the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to grasp what Jesus had said to them earlier. Our Lord’s prayer was based upon what He had taught them, but it also petitioned the Father to cause that word to come to life, and thus to bear fruit in the lives of His children.
We see this same pattern in the New Testament epistles. The apostles not only found it essential to devote themselves to the proclamation of the Word, but also to prayer. This is because the proclamation of the Word is not enough. God must “open the spiritual eyes” of men to comprehend the Word. This is why the apostles spent so much time in prayer. They prayed that God would take the Word they had proclaimed and bring it to life in the hearts of those who heard (see James 1:21-25; 1 Peter 1:23; Acts 16:14). Proclamation and prayer are, as one song writer once put it, “like a horse and carriage: you can’t have one without the other.”
Third, I find it impossible to study the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 apart from our Lord’s agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, a few moments later. I have a confession to make. As I began to study our text, I was predisposed to assume that our Lord had already prayed His prayer in Gethsemane before He prayed His high priestly prayer of John 17. After all, I reasoned, Jesus agonized over the realities of the cross which lay ahead, resolved them, and then calmly prayed the prayer of John 17.
The Scriptures really don’t seem to allow this order of events. We read these words in the eighteenth chapter of John, just after our Lord’s high priestly prayer is ended: “When he had said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was an orchard there, and he and his disciples entered into it” (John 18:1).
This certainly seems to indicate that after He had concluded His high priestly prayer, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where His prayer of agony was uttered. Luke gives us this account of that prayer:
39 Then Jesus came out and went, as he usually did, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 When he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” 41 Then he went away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him to strengthen him. 44 And remaining in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, worn out by grief, 46 so he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not fall into temptation!” 47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He walked up to Jesus to kiss him (Luke 22:39-47).
Notice the words of verse 47: “While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” It would seem that our Lord’s arrest came immediately after His prayer in the Garden. There would have been no time for His high priestly prayer after His prayer in Gethsemane. Therefore, the order of events must be: (1) Jesus’ high priestly prayer of John 17; and then (2) Jesus’ prayer of personal agony, as recorded in Luke and the other Synoptic Gospels.
How different these two prayers were, so different that we can hardly conceive of them being prayed by the same person, within minutes of each other. In John 17, Jesus is calm, and while the mood of the moment is serious, it is not sad or gloomy.92 When He prays in Gethsemane, Jesus is in agony. He is sweating, and His sweat is like great drops of blood. He is not standing, looking up to heaven, He is kneeling, and perhaps lying prostrate upon the ground. His anguish was so great an angel was dispatched to strengthen Him. The high priestly prayer of Jesus was uttered in the presence of His disciples, so that they might hear what He was saying. The prayer in Gethsemane seems to have been private. Some might wonder about this, since Jesus took three of His disciples with Him (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:32-34). We are told, however, that Jesus went a little beyond the three (Mark 14:35), and that He came back to find them sleeping. This would suggest that there was some distance between Jesus and the three. Could this be the “stone’s throw” of Luke 22:31? There is no indication that the disciples heard Jesus at the time. If they had, could they have slept? Did they see the angel minister to Jesus? It seems as though this was a very private prayer, one known to the disciples only after our Lord’s death and resurrection, only after the Spirit revealed it to them.
Why were these two prayers of our Lord (the high priestly prayer of John 17 and the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which took place so close in time, never found together in at least one Gospel? Why does John record the high priestly prayer of Jesus in chapter 17, and not mention the Gethsemane prayer? Why do the Synoptic Gospels describe the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus, but say nothing about His high priestly prayer?
I think we could begin by noting that John’s Gospel has a unique purpose. His emphasis is surely on the deity of our Lord. Both the Upper Room Discourse and the high priestly prayer of our Lord contribute to this theme. The Synoptic Gospels exclude both the discourse and the prayer of John’s Gospel. It would be tempting to say that the Synoptic Gospels emphasize the humanity of our Lord, and that the prayer in Gethsemane shows the “human side” of Jesus. I’m not quite certain that we can divide our Lord into His “two sides.” I think the incarnation of our Lord united deity and humanity in a seamless way. Perhaps, then, it is not good to speak of His “humanity” or His “deity” as though they were separate entities.
For example, if one were to argue that the prayer of our Lord in Gethsemane revealed His “human side,” I think I would be inclined to insist that this prayer was informed by His “divine side.” Who but a holy and righteous God could grasp the horror of becoming sin for us (see 2 Corinthians 5:21)? Who but an all-knowing God could know ahead of time all that He was going to endure on the cross? Perhaps these prayers are kept apart, simply because we, in our humanity, are not really able to deal with them when they are in too close proximity. You will recall that the prophets of old had the same difficulty as they foretold the sufferings and the glory of our Lord (1 Peter 1:10-12). Both these dimensions are true, but we struggle to harmonize them, just as divine sovereignty and human responsibility are difficult to reconcile. Nevertheless, both are true, and both must be taught.
I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians: “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Paul has already emphasized the need to “speak the truth to one another” (4:25), but this does not mean that we may speak anything that is true, anytime we want, in any manner we wish. In verse 29, Paul tells us that our speaking must be governed by the principle of edification. We should speak in a way that edifies others, so that they are built up by our words. This does not mean that we avoid all rebuke or correction. It does mean that there is a proper time and a place for doing so.
Jesus has already said to His disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). I do not believe the disciples would have been able to bear witnessing the actions and words of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were already troubled enough. And so Jesus chose to bear this agony alone, as He would suffer alone on the cross of Calvary. The agony of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane is not known to the disciples or to the church until after our Lord’s resurrection. It is recorded in Scripture three times, so that we will not overlook the immensity of His suffering, and thus of His sacrifice so that we might have the forgiveness of our sins.
Fourth, Jesus speaks of His authority at the very time when it appears that His enemies are prevailing over Him.93 The arrest of our Lord is imminent, and His trial, and crucifixion only a few hours away. Outward appearances are that His enemies have finally gotten the best of Him. Jesus seems to be powerless to resist or to overcome His adversaries. This is not the time you would expect Him to speak of His authority. But then much of what Jesus has been saying was not what the disciples would have expected. Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him” (verses 1b-2).
Notice that Jesus does not merely say that the Father gave Him authority only over His disciples and those who would later believe. Jesus says that the Father gave Him authority “over all humanity.” Here is but another example of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. Jesus had full authority over Judas, over the high priests, and those Roman officials instrumental in His death. Jesus had complete authority over the hostile mob, who cried out, “Crucify! Crucify!” While they were doing a terrible thing, they were also fulfilling the purposes and prophecies of God. As Peter would later put it,
Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man clearly demonstrated to you to be from God by powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles” (Acts 2:22-23).
As we shall soon demonstrate, Jesus was never more “in control” than He was at the cross of Calvary. He had orchestrated the time and manner of His death. He had made certain that all prophecies were fulfilled. At the proper moment in time, He gave up His spirit. No one took His life away from Him; He gave it up, just as He would also raise it up again. We need to be very careful not to think of God as “waiting”94 on man for anything, as though He is dependent upon us. He has authority over all flesh, and this enables Him to save those whom the Father has chosen. Jesus has authority over every unbeliever. He has authority over every believer. Too often men portray our Lord as One who is dependent upon man, One who “waits” for us, and who is incapacitated by our disobedience or unbelief. Not so!
Fifth, in this text, Jesus defines “eternal life.” Jesus says in verse 3: “Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” For many, especially pagans, the best one can hope for is eternal existence. It is what we would seek if medical science permitted it. Some Christians would define it as having our sins forgiven, and this is certainly an important part of it. But Jesus defines eternal life here as “knowing95 God,” God the Father, and God the Son. The Jews would define “eternal life” in terms of knowing only the Father and of rejecting the Son (see John 10:34-39). Jesus insists that men cannot know the Father except through the Son, and that to reject the Son is to reject the Father as well:
45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. 46 (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—he has seen the Father.) 47 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life” (John 6:45-47).
Then they began asking him, “Who is your father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know either me or my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father too” (John 8:19).
Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me” (John 8:42).
37 If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” 39 Then they attempted again to seize him, but he escaped their clutches (John 10:37-39).
“I tell you the solemn truth, whoever accepts the one I send accepts me, and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me” (John 13:20).
6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).
10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me; but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves” (John 14:10-11).
20 “You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. 21 The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.” 22 “Lord,” Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “what has happened that you are going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him” (John 14:20-23).
23 “The one who hates me hates my Father too. 24 If I had not performed among them the miraculous deeds that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen the deeds and have hated both me and my Father” (John 15:23-24).
“They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:3).
If one defines eternal life in terms of “knowing God,” then one can hardly think of eternal life in static terms, but rather in dynamic terms. Eternal life is not just a moment in time when one trusts in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Eternal life begins with the moment of salvation and continues throughout eternity, as one comes to know God. And since God is infinite, infinitely wise, infinitely loving, gracious, and so on, then we will never come to know Him fully in this life. Thus, it will take all eternity to know Him fully. This is why we are not only called to faith, but also to discipleship. We must trust Him for our salvation, and we must follow Him as His disciples.
Sixth, in our text, Jesus speaks of His work in the past tense, even though much of it is still future. The Bible often speaks of future events by using a verb in the past tense. The “time had come” (verse 1), John tells us, and yet this “time” was the “time” of His death. It may not be far off in the future, but it is nevertheless still future. He says that He has “glorified the Father on earth by completing the work He gave Him to do” (verse 4). It will be a few hours before our Lord will cry out, “It is finished,” yet Jesus can speak of the work as though it were already finished in His prayer.
The student of the Old Testament is not at all surprised by the fact that future events are described by verbs in the past tense, as this is common in the Old Testament. From God’s point of view, the future is virtually the present. And since God is sovereign, there is no occasion when God’s purposes will not be accomplished. Thus, it is both legitimate and logical for Jesus to speak of the future as though it were the past. It is, we say, “as good as done.” It not only indicates the certainty of these events, but also of our Lord’s resolve to endure the suffering and sorrows which these events necessitate.
Seventh, in our text, Jesus speaks of His glory and the Father’s glory96 as one and the same.97 This is the reason Jesus can ask that the Father glorify Him. He is not seeking His glory alone98 (see 8:50, 54), but the glory of the Father (see 13:31-32), brought about as He is glorified (see 14:13). Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54). Jesus’ request for glory is not self-seeking; it is yet another manifestation of His servanthood. He prays that the Father glorify Him so that He might in this way glorify the Father. This is because the Father is glorified in and through the Son.
Eighth, the glorification which Jesus requests of the Father is accomplished by means of the cross of Calvary. Jesus spoke of His glorification earlier in the Gospel of John. At times, this “glorification” was spoken of in more general terms:
Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).
Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54).
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
At other times, “glory” is used in a way that would encompass the whole of His saving work: His death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation in heaven:
(Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive; for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:39)
(His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.) (John 12:16)
Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).
31 When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him right away” (John 13:31-32).
“I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
In our text, the glorification of our Lord (and the Father) may include the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus, but it must surely include His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary. The cross is a symbol of shame to the world, but it is a symbol of glory to the Christian:
In chapter 7 He said to His brethren, ‘Your hour is here. My hour is not yet come.’ In chapter 12, when the Greeks wanted to see Jesus, He said, ‘Now is mine hour come, that the Son of man should be glorified.’ Note that it wasn’t the hour that the Son should be crucified, but glorified. When the leaders took Jesus captive in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly after this prayer, He said to them, ‘This is your hour, and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22:53). Did you ever stop to think of the fact that the power of darkness, the forces of hell, had an hour? Their hour was the taking of the Son of God, scourging and rejecting Him, and then crucifying and killing Him. And yet the Lord took that very same thing, and showed that the ultimate purpose of Calvary is not salvation but the glorification of God.99
The Jews thought of the Law as being glorious, but the teaching of the New Testament is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ (in which the cross of Christ is central) has much greater glory (2 Corinthians 3). The false teachers in Corinth, along with their followers, began to glory in human wisdom, but Paul refused to glory in anything but Christ, and Christ crucified:
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were members of the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence. 30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:17-31).
No wonder Paul would glory only in Christ and His cross:
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Galatians 6:14, KJV).100
Our Lord prayed to be glorified, so that He might glorify the Father. This glorification came at the price of the cross. He paid the price for our sins; He suffered God’s eternal wrath. We shall never fully comprehend the magnitude of His sacrifice, but we can glory in it. Earthly men glory in their shame (Philippians 3:19); Christians find glory in the shame which our Lord Jesus bore for us at Calvary.
The lessons we can learn from our text are many. Let me highlight a few and suggest some implications of these eternal truths.
First, there are lessons to be learned regarding prayer. While our Lord prayed often, we have only a few recorded prayers. I would point out that even the “longer” prayers are relatively short. Jesus warned about “lengthy” prayers, prayers extended because there was the false assumption that “longer was better.” It is not wrong to pray lengthy prayers, but it is not always necessary either. The prayers of our Lord are all different. They do not have a “boiler plate” form, in which He merely fills in the blanks. There is no one style of prayer, and not even one consistent posture for prayer. What is consistent is our Lord’s submission to the will of His Father, and His constant desire to bring glory to the Father. There are times when our Lord’s prayers are private, just as there are times when His prayers are public. There are times when others can benefit (be edified) by hearing our prayers. There are other times when our prayers need to be absolutely private (as, for example, when we confess our secret sins). Also, prayer is an essential companion and counterpart to the proclamation of God’s truth.
The principle lesson should undoubtedly come from the primary theme of our text, and that is the glory of God. It is not only the dominant theme of our text, it is the dominant purpose of history. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We know from this text and others that God uses every circumstance to produce that which is for the ultimate good of His saints. Nothing will ever come into our lives that does not will work together for our good.
The same is true for God’s glory. God employs all creation, every human being, every circumstance, to bring glory to Himself. He uses the rebellion of sinful men to glorify Himself:
Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself (Psalm 76:10, NKJV).
For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
Is it any wonder, then, that the glory of God should be the ultimate goal of every Christian?
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
11 And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and work of faith, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death (Philippians 1:20).
Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
One of the most joyful wedding ceremonies I have ever performed I conducted for a couple who attends our church. These two lovely people had been dating for some time, and they wanted to be certain that it was God’s will for them to marry. We spent a good deal of time talking through some biblical issues. One evening we were all sitting in our living room, and the fellow turned to me and said, “You know, Bob, I’ve decided that whether we should get married or not depends on the answer to one simple question: ‘Will our marriage glorify God?’” He could not have said anything more true, and more encouraging to me than that. They did get married, and I was privileged to conduct the ceremony.
It is popular among young Christians today to wear a bracelet which has the letters “WWJD” on it. The letters stand for, “What would Jesus do?” That’s not a bad question. From our text and others, we can always safely say, “Jesus would do what brings glory to the Father.” Do you agonize over some decision in your life? Are you seeking to know the will of God in some particular matter? I would suggest that your first response should be that you ask this simple question: “Will it glorify God?” The answer to that question will provide you with much of the guidance you may be seeking.
Christmas is just a few days away. The Lord Jesus came to this earth to glorify God. This He accomplished by His life, by His death, and by His resurrection from the dead. At His birth, the angels who appeared to the shepherds praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest. …” That is what Christmas should be for us—a time when we ponder the gift of our Lord, who came to die for our sins, and then to proclaim with hearts filled with joy and gratitude, “Glory to God in the highest.” Often, the glory of God is overlooked or neglected because of our focus on other things—namely, what we hope to gain from Christmas. Let this Christmas season be a time when we seek, first and foremost, to glorify God. And let this be the pattern for the rest of the year. The glory of God is never contrary to our “good”; indeed, the glory of God is the Christian’s highest good. Let it be so for each of us.
87 “In the early fifth century, Clement of Alexandria said that in this prayer Jesus was a high priest acting on behalf of his people, and the prayer has often been called his high priestly prayer. Sometimes objection is made to this as, for example, when Barrett says that this does not do justice to the wide-ranging nature of the prayer. Perhaps there is more than one opinion on what we should look for in a high priestly prayer, and as there are no accepted rules to govern such a prayer the estimate is highly subjective. But the expression does draw attention to the fact that this is a very solemn and important prayer and one that is invested with deep interest for all Christian people, for it contains Jesus’ final intercession for his people before the events of the passion.” Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 4, pp. 565-566.
88 “At least a few parallels stand out between the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray and this prayer which Jesus himself prayed. The expression ‘Our Father’ is reflected here in the simple ‘Father’ (17:1). ‘Hallowed be your name’ may find some echo in the mention of God’s name in 17:6, 11, 12, 26. … ‘Your kingdom come’ has certain thematic connections with ‘glorify your Son’ (17:1, 5). We might also compare ‘lead us not into temptation’ with ‘I protected them and kept them safe’ (17:12), and ‘deliver us from the evil one’ with ‘protect them from the evil one’ (17:15).” D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 174.
89 “The chapter divides itself into three simple sections. In the first five verses, it is ‘Christ and His Father.’ The great word there is ‘glory.’ Jesus requests the Father to glorify Him with the glory they shared from eternity. And then from verse 6 through verse 19, we have ‘Christ and His Disciples.’ The great word there is ‘kept.’ Jesus asks the Father to preserve His disciples. Then from verse 20 to verse 26 we have ‘Christ and His Church.’ The great word there is ‘one.’ Jesus desires for His church to be in oneness with each other.” John G. Mitchell, with Dick Bohrer, An Everlasting Love: A Devotional Study of the Gospel of John (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1982), p. 322.
90 “The repeated use of didwmi in this chapter should not be overlooked (see vv. 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 22, 24). The verb is a favorite one of this Evangelist, being found 76 times in the Gospel (Matthew 56 times, Mark 39 times, Luke 60 times). In this prayer of our Lord it occurs 17 times. Often the perfect tense is used (11-13 times depending on the resolution of textual points) denoting the permanence of the gift. Thirteen times the Father is the subject of the verb and on every occasion the gift is made to the Son. The other four occasions all refer to the Son’s giving to the disciples. Abbott comments on the frequency of the verb in this Gospel, ‘What grace is in the Pauline Epistles, giving is in the Fourth Gospel’ (2742).” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 718.
92 “This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers, and, spoken as it is in the shadow of the cross, it is invested with a peculiar solemnity. ‘No attempt to describe the prayer can give a just idea of its sublimity, its pathos, its touching yet exalted character, its tone at once of tenderness and triumphant expectation’ (MiM). The last words are important. We so often understand this prayer as though it were rather gloomy. It is not. It is uttered by One who has just affirmed that He has overcome the world (16:33), and it starts from this conviction. Jesus is looking forward to the cross, but in a mood of hope and joy, not one of despondency. The prayer marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it looks forward to the ongoing work which would now be the responsibility first of the immediate disciples and then of those who would later believe through them. Jesus prays for them all.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 716.
93 “He exercised authority in bringing men life even as He hung, apparently helpless, on the cross.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 719.
94 All right, I confess. I’m thinking of that hymn that goes like this, “The Savior is waiting … why don’t you let Him come in …?” The impression this hymn gives is that God has done all He can, and that He is now dependent upon us to act. This implies that He is powerless to save, ultimately, and that salvation rests primarily on our decision, not God’s (but see John 15:16).
95 “There are two Greek verbs for ‘to know,’ and each of them occurs in John more often than in any other New Testament book. Knowledge matters for John, and it matters because Jesus has come to bring us knowledge and supremely, as we see here, because the knowledge of God and of Jesus is itself eternal life.” Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 4, p. 571.
96 “Glory is frequently before us in this Gospel from 1:14 on. John uses the noun glory eighteen times (which is more than in any other New Testament book except 2 Corinthians) and the verb glorify twenty-three times (no other New Testament book has it more than nine times).” Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 4, p. 567.
98 “This part of the prayer is often said to be Jesus’ prayer for Himself. As He prays that He may be glorified (vv. 1, 5) there is perhaps something in this. But this is not prayer ‘for’ Himself in the way we usually understand this. Since His glorification is to be seen in the cross it is a prayer rather that the Father’s will may be done in Him. If we do talk about this as Jesus’ prayer for Himself we should at least be clear that there is no self-seeking in it.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 717.