Notes on John 17:1-5

John 17:1‑5  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Next follows a chapter which one may perhaps characterize truly as unequaled for depth and scope in all the scriptures. Holiness, devotedness, love, reign throughout. Who can wonder, seeing that it is unique in this respect as it is the Son opening His heart to the Father when just about to die and leave His own for heaven? Yet profoundly interesting and momentous as the case was, it is the Son addressing Him thus which is so wondrous a privilege for us to hear. But all this may well fill our hearts with the sense of utter insufficiency to speak of such communications suitably. Nevertheless as the Savior uttered all within the hearing of the disciples, so the Holy Spirit has been pleased to reproduce His words with divine precision. They are therefore for us now, as then for His favored followers. Encouraged by this grace we would count on the Lord's real and living interest in us and on His faithfulness who still abides with us to glorify Him by taking of His things and showing them to us.
“These things spake Jesus, and lifting up his eyes unto heaven said, Father, the hour is come: glorify thy Son, that thy [or, the] Son may glorify thee, according as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that, everything which thou hast given him, he should give them eternal life. And this is the eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou didst send forth, Jesus Christ. I glorified thee on the earth, having finished the work which thou hast given me to do; and now do thou, Father, glorify me along with thyself with the glory which I had along with thee before the world was.” (Vers. 1-5.)
The Lord had closed His parting instructions to the disciples who had now to testify of and for him, and so much the more because He was just about to leave them, His own personal testimony being already complete. To them not only had He spoken with fullness, but promised the Holy Spirit from heaven on His departure, that there might be power as well as truth. Unto heaven therefore did the Savior lift up His eyes in addressing His Father. He who even as Son of man is in heaven as a divine person was going there in bodily presence, when the work of redemption was effected. In virtue of this work accomplished in death, proved in resurrection, He would take His seat there, the witness of its infinite acceptance. His proper ministry on earth, not merely to men but to the disciples, had been fully rendered. To the Father He turns as ever, but now in the hearing of His own, as indeed He would open His heart, if unto Himself and His work, about them yet more, always the Sent One and Servant in divine love, though Lord of all. He looked to heaven when He blessed and brake the five loaves to feed the five thousand. He looked there and groaned as He made the deaf stammerer to hear and speak. Upward He lifted His eyes when at the grave of Lazarus He said, Father, I thank thee that Thou hast heard Me. To heaven He raising them once more said, “Father, the hour is come: glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.” He is ever a divine person, the Son, but a man; not here as in the other Gospels the rejected and agonized sufferer, but the perfect executor of God's purposes, heavenly and everlasting.
Hence, whatever the necessary and all-important intervention of His death, without which all else had been in vain for God's glory in presence of sin and ruin, He nowhere speaks of it here, nor does He ask for resurrection but glorification. “Father, the hour is come: glorify thy Son;” but, even so, it is “that thy Son may glorify thee.” He is man, and asks the Father to glorify Him; He is Son, and when there, if glorified, it is still to glorify the Father. “According as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that, everything which thou hast given him, he should give them eternal life.” Though God, He exerts no power in His own right; He is true to the place into which He was pleased to come, and as man receives authority from the Father, but authority inconceivable, either in its universality of sphere or in its specialty of object, were He not God. For the authority given is over “all flesh,” and the special aim now, as to whatsoever the Father had given Him, is to give them eternal life. Thus the right of our Lord extends without limit, the Gentile being no more outside His title than the Jew; whilst eternal life is the portion of none beyond what is given of the Father to the Son, as elsewhere it is said to belong to the believer only.
This leads to the explanation of “the eternal life” in question. Life for evermore, life to eternity, is the blessing commanded by Jehovah on the mountains of Zion; and of the many Jews that sleep in the dust of the earth, some shall awake to everlasting life, as surely as some to shame and everlasting contempt; but both these scriptures contemplate that great turning-point for the earth, the kingdom when it comes in manifest power and glory. The Lord speaks of life as given in Himself to faith now. “And this is the eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, Jesus Christ.” If it be distinguished from that which is to be enjoyed in the displayed kingdom by-and-by, it stands as to its character in the knowledge not of the Most High Possessor of heaven and earth, but of the Father and of His sent One, the only true God now plainly revealed in the Son, and the true Melchisedec, a Priest on His throne, the one Mediator between God and man. If distinguished from the past, it is no longer the Creator-God giving promises to the fathers protected and lodging as under the shadow of the Almighty, nor the sons of Israel in relationship with the name of Jehovah the moral governor of that chosen nation. It is the children of God in possession of the revelation of the Father and of Jesus Christ whom He had sent; and this knowledge identified, not with promises nor government, but with “eternal life,” as a present thing in
Christ, the portion of every believer. A deeper blessing it is impossible for God to bestow or for man to receive; for it is exactly what characterized the Lord Himself who is that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us. Only Christ was that life; we as believers are not, but have it in Him; and as by faith alone it is received, so in faith it is exercised, sustained, and strengthened.
It may be noticed further that, as eternal life is bound up with the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, in contrast with the gods many and false of the Gentiles, so it cannot be where Christ is not known whom the Father sent, in contrast with His rejection by the Jews to their own deeper guilt and ruin. Neither the Son nor the Holy Ghost is excluded from the deity, which is elsewhere predicated or assumed of both equally with the Father. Here the object is to assert it of the Father and to state the place taken hereto below by Him who did not regard it as a prize [act or object of plunder] to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondman. He was here to obey, to do the will of the Father that sent Him. But that He took such a place in lowly love is the strongest if indirect proof of His proper and eternal Godhead; for even the archangel is a servant and can never rise out of the position or relation of a servant, whereas the Son was pleased to take it in order to the full blessing of redemption unto the glory of God the Father. So life was in Him, and He was eternal life from everlasting; but here He is viewed as coming down to impart it in a scene departed from God, and to a creature, which otherwise must know death in its most terrible shape in judgment as now in guilt.
Next, the Lord presents His work: we have seen His person as the Son pleaded. But now He urges what He had done hereto below. “I glorified thee on the earth, having finished the work which thou hast given me to do. And now, Father, glorify thou me along with thyself with the glory which I had along with thee before the world was.” The language here is more general than in chapter 13:31, 32, where it is a question of glorifying God, before whom sin comes into unsparing judgment. Here it is glorifying His Father, and so there is no special contemplation of that final dealing where all that God is and feels came out against, evil imputatively laid on the head of the Son of man. Here the entire path of Christ on earth in giving Himself up to obey and please His Father is summed up. Therefore it was the more needful to specify its completion, “having finished the work which thou hast given me to do.” He speaks not more as the faithful servant than as the conscious Son of God who sees all completed to the Father's glory, Who had given Him the work that He should do it who alone could. And thereon does He ask the Father to glorify Him, not because of His personal glory and relationship only, but in virtue of the work completed to His glory here below, that He might thus lay a valid and sure title for us to join Him in the same heavenly blessedness. It is not that He ever did or could cease to be God, any more than after becoming incarnate He will ever cease to be man; but, having, in divine love come down to be a servant and a man to glorify God the Father and make a righteous channel for all the purposes of divine grace, He asks to be glorified by the Father along with Himself with the glory which He had along with Him before the world was. There He had been from everlasting as the Son; there He asks to be as the Son but now also a man, the Word made flesh but risen, to everlasting. It was His perfection as man to ask for this glorification. Not even as risen does He glorify Himself. He had emptied and humbled Himself for the Father's glory; He asks the Father to glorify Him, though He states His eternal and divine competency by asking to be glorified with the glory He had with the Father before the world was. Never so weighty a plea, never so solid a ground of righteousness, never such exquisite and infinite grace.