Jesus’ High-Priestly Prayer, John 17
“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’ ” (John 17:1. Scriptures drawn from the ESV, Rotherham and Barclay’s).
by Owen Kindig
Three themes will occupy this study: (1) Honor or Glory, which God bestows upon his first-born children — access, protection, transformation — and God receives when all of His creation is thus elevated. (2) Oneness with God, and sanctification or separation from the spirit of sin. (3) Eternal life resulting from personal knowledge of God.
(1) The Glory of a Relationship with the Father
● “Father” (John 17:1). With one word, Jesus takes us into God’s presence. The Name is both a benediction and a supplication. Jesus honors God and seeks His help.
● “The hour has come.” Since the moment of creation, sin and its remedy guided every decision. The firstborn Son, the Lamb of God, has been selected. Now he is about to be slain. From that moment forward, the fulcrum of history tips away from sin toward redemption. Jesus knew that his Father always heard him (John 11:42). In this prayer Jesus models the behavior appropriate to an actual priestly son, facing frightful times (Hebrews 12:2). We can — indeed, we must — enter God’s presence with similar boldness on the basis of Jesus’ merit (Hebrews 10:19-25).
● “Glorify your son, that the son may glorify you” (ESV).
Doxazo, (Strong’s G1392), or glorify, according to Thayer, is “to cause the dignity and worth of some person … to become manifest and acknowledged.” The invisible God prepares the true Church, and later the world, to develop noble character and moral goodness even when free to choose otherwise. Jesus, who is the visible reflection of God, helps man see those qualities as the “kingdom of God” in their midst (Luke 17:21).
Paraphrasing Jesus’ prayer for mutual glory: “You are now, and always will be, greater than me. Thank you for inviting me to work with You, Father, to eradicate human sin. I am praying for Glory, visibly appealing signs of your goodness working through me, so that the hour of my death will reflect upon You and help to fulfill your great Plan.” All who have wept while reading the accounts of the crucifixion have fulfilled this prayer. The Gospels, too, record fulfillments of Jesus’ prayer for mutual honor to become visible:
(a) The darkness and earthquake (Matthew 27:51). (b) The Centurion’s reaction (Matthew 27:54). (c) Jesus’ dying words (Luke 23:46).
● And, now, glorify me — thou, Father! with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world’s existence, with [para, Strong’s 3844, close beside or in the presence of] thee. (John 17:5, Rotherham Emphasized Bible).
The humility of Jesus now appears even more clearly: Jesus knows God has promised more than his former glory. But as Paul said in Philippians 2:6, Jesus did not “grasp” for equality with God. He was content with the privilege of being a Son in heaven. His humility is holy and beautiful. Truly, the humble will be exalted.
I pray not for the world, but for those whom thou has given me; for they are thine: and all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them (John 17:9-10).
● Holy Father! Protect them with your personal protection, as you did me” (John 17:11, Barclay). Jesus clearly included his disciples in his prayer. As a perfect son, Jesus deserved the protection of God and his angels. But he asks for a covering cherub to protect those who will sleep during his hour of need, will deny him and forsake him. Men who will not believe the women who first report his resurrection. Jesus loved them anyway (John 13:1).
● Father! It is my wish for all you have given me that they should be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory which you have given me (John 17:24, Barclay). Jesus longed to be close, personally, to both his Father and his disciples — both then and in the future. Perhaps it also included special fellowship during the time of his Parousia, exhorting his own to purity and zeal, preparing us to live in heavenly Zion (Revelation 3:14-22).
● Righteous Father! Although the world does not know you, I know you, And these know that you sent me. (John 17:25, Barclay). For the fifth time, Jesus addresses God as “Father,” now as “the righteous” One. It is helpful to distinguish between the judgments of Jesus’ disciples and the unsaved world. Jesus asserts he and his faithful disciples will be judges of the world, but the Heavenly Father remains Judge of the Church (see John 5:22, Matthew 19:28, Romans 14:10, 1 John 2:1, Revelation 20:4). Jesus serves as its Advocate (John 5:22).
It was enough for Jesus that his followers then only appreciated that he was the Son of God and was sent by Him. He prayed that they continue to gain the life-giving knowledge of God based on his advocacy.
(2) Oneness and Sanctification
Jesus’ intercession reveals the principles of Christian growth: Oneness and Sanctification. Jesus prayed for us to be one with God, with himself, and with each other but to remain spiritually separate from the world, from sin, and
the Evil One who opposes us.
● I do not pray for the world [cosmos]. I pray for those whom you have given me (John 17:9, Barclay).
● I am [soon to be] no longer in the world, but they are in the world (John 17:11, Barclay).
Separation from the spirit of the world stimulates growth, and marks authenticity for Jesus’ followers. However, physical and mental separation are neither advisable nor possible. Therefore, we must establish spiritual distance
(see 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
● I do not ask you to remove them from the world. What I do ask you to do is to protect them from the Evil One (John 17:15, Barclay).
To encounter sinful people (and even the Adversary himself) without adopting their worldview, Jesus models both decisive thinking, informed by scripture, and decisive action (see Matthew 16:22-23, 4:1-11).
● Even as thou didst send me forth into the world, I also send them forth into the world; And, on their behalf, I, hallow myself, that they also may have become hallowed in truth (John 17:18-19, Rotherham).
● Sanctify them by the truth: your logos is truth (John 17:17, Berean Study Bible with logos left untranslated).
Notice that truth is what God uses to make us sanctified priests, set apart from the world and removed from the burden of sin, just as the Levite priesthood relinquished inheritance in the Promised Land. Like them, we are to offer sacrifices of praise, teach God’s principles, and keep the spiritual sanctuary lit and free of impurities. Each year we blow the trumpet of Jubilee, sing the songs of ascents.
I have given myself completely for their sake, so they may belong completely to the truth (John 17:19, Contemporary English Version).
At this end of the age, we are likewise sanctified by truth. The great gift of truth we have received from the Harvest Message separates us from those who do not cherish it as we do. We realize the value and importance of contending
for truth. Great joy and blessing of fellowship come through shared understanding and peaceable collaboration among like-minded brethren.
However, some caution is warranted in this element of sanctification.
If Jesus’ prayer for truth refers only to doctrinal beliefs, then “sanctification” would be merely an affirmation of a correct intellectual position — much as a test in school may consist of answers on a page. However, this is not the
case. Jesus said “Thy Logos is Truth,” and thus affirmed that a relationship with the Word of God — both the person and the principles he embodies — equips us to be both separated for service and one with our Lord and each other (Psalms 119:160, Ephesians 4:13). Personal loyalty, forbearance in fellowship, and forgiveness of one another, based upon character and personal relationship rather than merely mental assent, unites us with all brethren chosen by God.
Sanctification, thus viewed, can help us fellowship more deeply, find fewer issues over which to separate, and increase our zeal for oneness, while embracing Jesus’ peacemaking, forgiving pattern. This oneness should be evident to others, as Jesus concluded: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Jesus interacted with the ruling authorities, Jewish religious leaders, and the “riffraff ” of lower society. In what way was he “separate”? He retained the autonomy to think and act in ways that glorified God. He chose to be approachable, yet seasoned with salt; accepting dinner invitations, yet asking and answering uncomfortable questions. Sometimes he directly rebuked wrong thinking or improper actions. Yet always Jesus wins even his opponents with his kindness, courage, and grace.
And his gentleness. Jesus used a small whip to upset the collection tables, not to injure the humans who sat there. He told his disciples to bring swords, only to define misplaced zeal for all of us by commanding Peter to sheath it, then healing the injured victim (Luke 22:50,51).
That was our Lord in action — perfectly aligned with his words (Matthew 5:44). He did not love the cosmos — the arrangement of things, the human and demonic ways of thinking and acting. Jesus “loved righteousness, and
hated iniquity” (Hebrews 1:9), which is the definition of agape. David characterized Jesus when he wrote, “I hate [evil doers] with perfect hatred” (Psalms 139:21). Like Jesus, we should resist the sin, waiting until future
redemptive interventions have been exhausted before judgment is pronounced upon sinners. Jesus will be the patient and perceptive judge (John 5:22), and his glorified disciples will join with him after they understand the difference (Revelation 2:26,27).
Jesus prayed that each of us will have the strength to resist the Evil One and avoid the shipwreck of our faith (1 Timothy 1:19). Sanctification requires firm decisiveness, constant prayer, and frequent gatherings with other
disciples (Hebrews 10:25). It requires us to actively cooperate with God as He works to transform our character by renewing our mind (Philippians 2:13, Romans 12:1,2). Our active submission to that God-initiated process will help us be better spouses, parents, and workers. Authentic love, forgiveness, goodness, and gentleness will create the separation God seeks (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 4:6).
● Not, however, concerning these alone do I make request, but concerning them also who will believe, through their word, on me (John 17:20, Rotherham).
Or, as Barclay renders it: I do not pray only for my disciples here. I pray too for those who are to believe in me through their preaching.
● That they, all, may be, one — even as, thou, Father, in me, and, I, in thee — that, they also, in us … may be one, even as we are, one. — I, in them and, thou, in me; That they may have been perfected into, one — That the world may get to know, that thou didst send me forth, and didst love them even as thou didst love me (John 17:21-23 Rotherham).
These verses have a broad fulfillment. At Pentecost, Peter reached thousands of hearing hearts from every corner of the empire (Acts 2). And so it has been ever since. The Gospel has gone out to all people, and disciples of Jesus
continue to blossom in the Harvest. China, Africa, India, and South America have all seen substantial activity during the 21st century. This will continue until the Temple of God is complete. Alert and open hearts find love, humility, peace, and freedom in Christ (2 Peter 1:4-8). Consider the list of ingredients in the care for each other that brings oneness:
(a) Love (John 13:34)
(b) Forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32)
(c) Forbearance (Colossians 3:13)
(d) Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
(e) Admonition, Teaching, and Singing (Colossians 3:16)
(f) Service (Galatians 5:13)
(g) Confession and prayer (James 5:16)
(3) Life that Flows from Experiential Knowledge
● But these things are eternal life: ‘They shall know you, for you alone are The God of Truth, and Yeshua the Messiah whom you have sent (John 17:3, Aramaic Bible in Plain English).
Seven times (verses 3, 7, 8, 23, and 25 three times) Jesus speaks of knowledge in this prayer. Each time he uses a word for experiential knowledge (Strong’s G1097, ginosko), “getting to know” a person, or “directly learning”
a truth (see also 1 John 4:16). Jesus equates getting to know God with life itself. Life that does not end comes from the eternal God and the Only-Begotten Son.
● Now have they [the disciples] come to know, that all things that you gave me — are from Thee. And the declarations [Strong’s G4487, rhema, narratives] which You gave me, have I given them, and they received them,
and came to know in truth that from Thee came I forth (John 17:7,8, Rotherham).
God lived alongside his only begotten Son, allowing his Son to come to know Him. The Son then left and lived alongside humans who never truly knew God. They came to know the Son, and then they know God (John 14:9).
When Jesus once told the crowd following him that a true disciple must eat his flesh and drink his blood, many
left him for good. Jesus asked the twelve: “‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘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’” (John 6:66-69).
● Righteous Father! … The world came not to know Thee; But I came to know Thee, and these [disciples] came to know that Thou didst send me forth (John 17:25, Rotherham).
Today God is not widely known, nor is His plan widely understood. Human society has been shaped by rebellion
against God. Even the churches mix their ideas of God with preconceptions of an unforgiving strong-man— deceptions of Satan, “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Lucifer has blinded the world to the love and wisdom of God. Since the fall of man, humans have doubted the
Almighty’s goodness. As Paul said in Romans 1:17,18, God’s wrath has been evident, but his righteousness can only be glimpsed by the eyes of faith. Even in the days of the Patriarchs, when humans knew God, “they did not honor Him as God … [but] exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:22,23).
Dr. Horatius Bonar, composer of “I heard the voice of Jesus Say,” described the ancient world’s lack of consciousness about God in this way: “The arts flourish under Cain’s posterity. They can prosper without God, and … God suffers them to go on forgetting Himself … God … will let the world roll on its own way that it may be seen what a world it is. What is earth without the God that made it, or the Christ by whom it is yet to be made new?” (The Berean Study Bible, Genesis 4:22).
Paul explains: “And even as they did not approve [of retaining God in their knowledge], God gave them up unto a disapproved mind” (Romans 1:28, Rotherham, Blue Letter Bible).
Jesus reveals that such rebellion will not be permanent.
● “The glory which thou hast given to me, [I] have given to them, that they may be one, even as, we are, one — I, in them and, thou, in me; That they may have been perfected into one — That the world may get to know, that thou didst send me forth, and didst love them even as thou didst love me” (John 17:22, 23, Rotherham).
Here is the great hidden dispensational truth: while the people of the world [cosmos] do not yet know God, they provide a training ground for the followers of Jesus. They play a pivotal role. Before they are won to cooperation
and compliance, they are the furnace whereby the spiritual Sons of Levi are purified (Malachi 3:3) — the fire pit where the disciples, and Jesus, voluntarily allow their best intentions to be noxiously consumed (see Hebrews 13:11-13).
When the royal priesthood has been made “perfect in one,” loving disciples of Jesus will join his reign of righteousness and peace. And then, the entire world will “get to know God.” How? By experiencing the love and
truth which Jesus’ followers learned when they had the privilege of getting to know God and his Son.
The structure described in Ephesians 1:10 will then be built.
To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.