Jesus’ prayer: relationships

Father and Son (vv. 1–5) By lifting up his eyes toward heaven (17:1), Jesus strikes a customary posture in prayer (cf. Ps. 123:1; Mark 7:34; Luke 18:13). The first unit in this prayer is Jesus’ intercession for himself (17:1–5). Jesus’ opening petition, “Father, … Glorify your Son, in order that the Son may glorify you” (v.1), implies Jesus’ claim to deity, as the OT affirms that God will not give his glory to another (e.g., Isa. 42:8; 48:11). God’s granting of authority to Jesus (17:2; cf. 5:27) marks the inbreaking of a new era (Isa. 9:6–7; Dan. 7:13–14; Matt. 11:27; 28:18;).

“Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, 2 just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. 3 Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

In vv.2-3 the emphasis on the possession of eternal life in the here and now in John’s Gospel differs from the perspective conveyed by the Synoptics, which, in keeping with the Jewish attitude prevalent at the time of Jesus, view eternal life primarily as a possession to be attained in “the age to come.” But in John’s Gospel the distinction between “the present age” and “the age to come” is collapsed; with Jesus, eternity has entered into human existence already in the present. This realization is rooted in the knowledge that God is life itself, and that Jesus is the Son of God.

“Knowing” God (v.3) is not merely a function of cognitive knowledge, rather, it means living in fellowship with him. This is in keeping with the Hebrew use of the term “to know,” which encompasses even the most intimate human relationship (including even sexual relationships). Although God can be known to a limited extent through creation (Rom. 1:18–25), ultimately, the fullest possibility of human knowledge of God is contingent upon one’s relationship with the Christ.

That God is the “only true God” (17:3) is affirmed supremely in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4 ). Jesus, in turn, is the exclusive agent, sole authorized representative of this one true God; he is the God-sent Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the Christ. Just as there is only one true God, so also there is only one way to the Father: Jesus Christ (It should be notes that nowhere else in Scripture does Jesus refer to himself in this way. Many scholars think this is a copyist addition)

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world came into being” (17:5). Preexistence is ascribed also to wisdom in Second Temple literature (e.g., Wis. 7:25; 9:10–11) on the basis of its portrayal in the OT book of Proverbs (esp. 8:28, 30). In John’s Gospel preexistence is ascribed to Jesus by the designation “the Word” (1:1, 14); the title “Son of Man” (3:13; 6:62); the reference to Jesus being the “I am” preceding Abraham (8:58); and the reference to Jesus as the one who came from the Father and who is about to return to him (16:28).

Jesus and Current Disciples (vv. 6-19). The next unit in Jesus’ prayer contains his intercession for his disciples (17:6–19), which commences with a rehearsal of his own ministry to them (17:6–8). When Jesus speaks about revealing to his disciples God’s “name” (17:6; cf. 17:11–12), this encompasses who God is in his character, his essential nature (cf. Exod. 3:13–15; see Carson 1991: 558). Because his name is glorious, God wants it to be made known (e.g., Ps. 22:22; Isa. 52:6; Ezek. 39:7). The notion that Jesus reveals the Father in his whole person, both works and words, is foundational to John’s Gospel (e.g., 1:18; 8:19, 27; 10:38; 12:45; 14:9–11). In the OT God’s name is put in the central sanctuary (Deut. 12:5, 11), and knowledge of his name implies life commitment (Ps. 9:10). In John’s Gospel, likewise, Jesus’ revelation of God’s name must be met with obedience, and Jesus is shown to replace both tabernacle and temple, having become the “place” where God has put his name (see also Isa. 62:6; 65:15–16). The portrayal of Jesus in 17:7–8 is reminiscent of the description of the prophet like Moses in Deut. 18:18.

The following section contains Jesus’ actual prayer on behalf of his followers (17:9–19). Jesus’ petitions are for his disciples’ protection (17:11–16) and for their consecration for service in the truth (17:17–19). The conception underlying the address “Holy Father” in 17:11 goes back to Lev. 11:44 (cf. Ps. 71:22; 111:9; Isa. 6:3). Similar addresses appear in Jewish literature: “O holy Lord of all holiness” (2 Macc. 14:36); “O Holy One among the holy” (3 Macc. 2:2); “You are holy and your Name is awesome” (Shemoneh Esreh 3). Holiness is ascribed to God also in the book of Revelation (e.g., 4:8; 6:10). Importantly, in Jesus’ case addressing God as “holy” does not create a distance between him and God.

Jesus’ reference in 17:12 to “the son of destruction” (a Semitism; cf. Matt. 23:15; see also 1QS IX, 16; X, 19; CD-A VI, 15; cf. XIII, 14) could refer either to Judas’s character (cf. Isa. 57:4 LXX; Jub. 10:3) or his destiny (Isa. 34:5 LXX). In keeping with Johannine theodicy (cf. 12:38–40), even Judas’s betrayal is said to have occurred “in order for Scripture to be fulfilled.” This does not alter the fact that Judas made his decision as a responsible agent (see Mark 14:21/Matt. 26:24). Yet God sovereignly overrode Judas’s evil designs to bring about his own good purposes (cf. Gen. 50:20). The antecedent passage probably is Ps. 41:9 (applied to Judas in John 13:18; see commentary there). Other scriptures fulfilled through Judas are Ps. 69:25; 109:8 (cited in Acts 1:20).

In 17:18 Jesus anticipates the commissioning of the disciples in 20:21. Just as Jesus was “set apart” and sent into the world (Morris 1995: 647–48n56), so also the disciples are set apart in order to be sent into the world. Jesus’ relationship with the Father serves as the pattern for the disciples’ relationship to Jesus as their sender (Köstenberger 1998b). A partial OT parallel is the instruction to Moses, who himself had been consecrated by God (Sir. 45:4) in order to consecrate others so that they too may serve God as priests (Exod. 28:41). Jesus’ self-sacrifice on behalf of others is also reminiscent of the OT notion of “setting apart” sacrificial animals (cf., e.g., Deut. 15:19; see Michaels 1989: 297).

Sources

  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 739-46
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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