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John 17:6-19 Biblical Commentary:
JOHN 13-18. THE CONTEXT
Following the Passover foot washing (13:1-20) Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for his departure:
• He foretells his betrayal (13:21-30), gives them the great love commandment (13:31-35), and foretells Peter’s denial (13:36-38).
• He then tells his disciples that he is going to the Father’s house where he will prepare a place for them (14:2) and that he will come again to take them with him (14:3).
• He promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit (14:16)—and that he won’t leave them orphaned (14:18)—and that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything (14:26).
• Also implied in his call for them to abide in him is a promise of ongoing connectedness (15:1-17).
• He warns of the world’s hatred (15:18 – 16:4a), and gives the rationale that the Spirit cannot come unless he goes (16:4b-15). He promises them joy (16:16-24) and peace (16:25-33).
After this prayer, Jesus and his disciples will go to a garden in the Kidron Valley where he will be arrested. This prayer, then, serves as a transition from the discourses of the Upper Room to Jesus’ passion (his death on the cross).
JOHN 17:1-26. JESUS’ HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER
This prayer concludes the farewell dinner. It is often called The High Priestly Prayer for two reasons: First, Jesus is preparing to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Second, he intercedes for his disciples (vv. 6-26) in the same way that the high priest intercedes for the people of Israel (see Romans 8:34).
This prayer is often likened to Moses’ farewell address (Deuteronomy 31:30ff), which concluded with Moses’ final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33). The tone of that address was positive, very much like Jesus’ prayer. Moses was preparing to die, but he said, “You are happy, Israel. Who is like you, a people saved by Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 33:29). Jesus is preparing to die, but he prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you” (17:1).
This is the Johannine equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-15. Lincoln notes the following parallels (Lincoln 432-433):
• “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9) is paralleled in John 17:1 by Jesus mentioning heaven and addressing God as Father.
• “May your name be kept holy” (Matthew 6:9) is paralleled in several places by concerns for God’s holiness or God’s name (John 17:6, 11, 26).
• “Let your Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) is paralleled by a concern for Jesus’ time having come (John 17:1) and a concern about eternal life (John 17:2-3).
• “Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth” (Matthew 6:10) is paralleled by Jesus’ comment that he has finished the work that the Father sent him to do (John 17:4).
• “Bring us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13) is paralleled by Jesus’ plea for the Father to protect the disciples, living as they do in a hostile kosmos (John 17:11b-16).
This Johannine prayer is quite unlike Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). There Jesus sweats drops of blood and prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me.” In John’s Gospel, there is a hint of anxiety in Jesus’ earlier prayer, “Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this time?’ But for this cause I came to this time,” (12:27) but but Jesus expresses no anxiety about his personal fate in chapter 17.
But though Jesus’ prayer is positive, we hear an urgent, concerned tone. He is, after all, about to depart, leaving his disciples in a difficult world with a critical mission. He includes several petitions for the disciples in this prayer:
• First, he prays, “Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are” (v. 11).
• Second, he prays, “I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).
• Third, he prays, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth” (v. 17).
• He also prays, “Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me” (17:20-21). This expands on the emphasis on oneness in the first petition.
Verses 1-11 have to do with the interrelationship between Jesus, God and the disciples. While Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit on several occasions (7:39; 14:16-26; 15:26; 16:13), there is no mention of the Spirit in this prayer.
JOHN 17:1-5. GLORIFY THE SON
These verses are not included in this Gospel lesson, but the preacher needs to be familiar with them. In these verses, Jesus deals with various concerns, including:
• His “hour,” by which he means his death and resurrection (v. 1a).
• The glorification of the Son and Father (v. 1b).
• The Son’s God-given authority (v. 2)
• And eternal life (vv. 2-3).
JOHN 17:6-8. I REVEALED YOUR NAME
6 “I revealed your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me. They have kept your word (Greek: logos). 7Now they have known that all things whatever you have given me are from you, 8for the words (Greek: rhemata) which you have given me I have given to them, and they received them, and knew for sure that I came forth from you, and they have believed that you sent me.”
“I revealed your name” (v. 6a). From the beginning, Jesus’ mission has been revelation. He is the Logos, the Word, the one sent to reveal God to us (1:1). He has made the Father’s name known.
The Jewish people were sensitive about God’s name, because they thought of God’s name as synonymous with God’s true nature or character. At the burning bush, Moses asked God’s name, and God replied, “I AM WHO I AM” (Hebrew: YHWH or Yahweh) and commanded Moses to tell the people, “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). In John’s Gospel, Jesus frequently uses this “I AM” formula (Greek: ego eimi) to identify himself (“I AM the bread of life”—“I AM the light of the world”—“I AM the sheep’s door”—“I AM the good shepherd”).
For much of their history, Jewish people considered God’s name, YHWH, too sacred to pronounce, so they substituted the word adonai. Now Jesus makes God’s name known “to the people whom you have given me out of the world” (v. 6)—and the name is Father. Jesus makes God accessible—makes it possible for us to address God as Father.
“to the people whom you have given me out of the world” (v. 6b). The disciples about whom Jesus speaks are not outstanding in any way. Jesus could easily complain about their mediocrity, but instead speaks of them respectfully, as if they were a treasure that the Father has placed into his hands. As events will prove, once they are filled with the Spirit, they will become worthy witnesses—powerful advocates for the kingdom.
“They have kept your word” (logos) (v. 6c). It is surprising that Jesus would say that the disciples have kept the Father’s word. Their performance thus far has been mixed at best—but see the comments on verse 8b below.
“Now they have known that all things whatever you have given me are from you” (v. 7). The disciples do not yet understand Jesus’ teachings about his death and resurrection, but they have placed their faith in Jesus as God’s prophet—as one who speaks God’s word.
“for the words (rhemata) which you have given me I have given to them” (v. 8a). Note the difference between “word” singular (logos) in verse 6 and “words” plural (rhemata) in verse 8. Logos (singular) and rhemata (plural) are two different words with significantly different meanings.
• Logos is important in this Gospel. Jesus is Logos—Word—the revelation of God. “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God” (1:1). Jesus was the incarnate Word of God.
• Rhemata is a different word. Earlier we heard, “In the beginning was the Word” (logos) (1:1). Jesus is the Word of God––the one who embodies all that the Father intended to communicate to humankind. The word used in this verse, rhemata, has to do with spoken words. These rhemata (words) are Christ’s teachings, which he has embedded in his disciples’ hearts.
“and they received them, and knew for sure that I came forth from you” (v. 8b). Jesus does not say that the disciples have kept his rhemata—his words—his teachings—but only that they have received them.
It would be stretching things to say that the disciples have been faithful to Jesus’ teachings, which they have thus far understood only dimly. Prior to the resurrection, they are more clueless than faithful. However, they have been faithful to the Father’s logos—to the Father’s revelation of himself through the Son, who is the Logos. The disciples have hung in there with Jesus through good times and bad, because, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69). It is the disciples’ faithfulness to himself to which Jesus refers when he says, “they have kept your word” (v. 6).
“and they have believed that you sent me” (v. 8c). Jesus establishes the chain of custody by which God’s words are transmitted. The words came from the Father, who gave them to the Son, who in turn gave them to the disciples. These disciples have not rejected these words, but have “received” them (v. 8b). They have been receptive to the words that Jesus gave them, because they believed that Jesus was sent by the Father. It follows that Jesus’ words are trustworthy.
JOHN 17:9-11a. I AM PRAYING FOR THOSE WHOM YOU HAVE GIVEN ME
9 “I pray for them. I don’t pray for the world, (Greek: kosmou—from kosmos) but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10All things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you.”
“I don’t pray for the world, (kosmos) but for those whom you have given me” (v. 9).
This has a harsh ring to it, as if Jesus cares only about his little band of disciples and nobody else. However, when Jesus speaks of the world, he is not speaking of planet earth or all humanity but of the kosmos, which is the world that is opposed to God. The kosmos-world poses a threat to the disciples, who “are in the kosmos“ even as Jesus is preparing to depart the kosmos (v. 11).
But God and Jesus do not respond with hostility to a hostile world. Instead, this Gospel portrays them as loving the world and working to redeem it. Jesus said:
• “For God so loved the world (kosmos) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t not send his Son into the world to judge the world, (kosmon) but that the world (kosmos) should be saved through him” (3:16-17)
• “If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn’t believe, I don’t judge him. For I came not to judge the world, (kosmos) but to save the world” (kosmos) (12:47).
Jesus’ salvation purpose was clear even to the Samaritans, who said to the woman at the well, “We know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (kosmos) (4:42).
“All things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them” (v. 10). “What strikes one… most in our Lord’s prayer is not even (Jesus’) moving loyalty to his friends, …but rather his unmistakable pride in them” (Gossip, 746). It seems astonishing that Jesus would claim to be glorified in these disciples. They are a small and ordinary group of people who exhibit no unusual intelligence or talent. They seem unable to learn from the numerous clues that Jesus gives them concerning his future. No matter what Jesus says, they just don’t get it. How can Jesus claim to have been glorified in them?
Keep in mind that this Gospel was written quite late, probably after most of Jesus’ original disciples had died. The author has seen that, somehow, through the grace of God and the work of the Spirit, Jesus has indeed been glorified by these disciples. The church is growing and spreading. However imperfect these disciples might have been, they have succeeded in glorifying the Lord. In fact, when Jesus says that he has been glorified in them, he uses the perfect tense, suggesting an already completed glorification, showing full confidence that they have glorified him and will glorify him.
This is an encouraging word to those of us who are tempted to despair of disciples and discipleship today—those of us who long for a wart-free church. While the future of the church might seem compromised by the quality and commitment of its people, we can rest assured that the glorification that began with those first disciples continues with the work of the church today. The church is one example of the principle that God chooses the foolish and weak to shame the wise and strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).
“I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you” (v. 11a). Technically, Jesus is still present in the world, and his death and resurrection lie ahead, but he has begun the process by which he will be glorified and will return to the Father. The kosmos will soon succeed in killing him, but he will emerge victorious through the resurrection. The disciples, however, will continue to live in the kosmos, an alien and hostile kosmos, and we can hear a note of angst in Jesus’ voice as he speaks of leaving them behind.
JOHN 17:11b-16. HOLY FATHER, KEEP THEM THROUGH YOUR NAME
11b“Holy Father, keep (Greek: tereson—keep, hold, maintain) them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. 12While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you have given me I have kept. None of them is lost, except the son of destruction, (Greek: ho huios tes apoleias—the son of perdition) that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. 14I have given them your word (Greek: logon). The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.15 I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.“
“Holy Father” (v. 11b)—in verse 25, Jesus says, “Righteous Father.”God is holy and righteous. This righteous aspect of God was emphasized in the Old Testament to the extent that Jewish people did not feel worthy to address God by name. Now Jesus makes known God’s name—and that name is Father. That name helps us to see God in a new light, not simply as holy and righteous, but also as nurturing.
But we must not forget that the nurturing Father is also holy and righteous. In our preaching, we will always be tempted to favor speaking about the Father’s willingness to forgive rather than the Father’s call to holiness and righteousness. However, if it weren’t for God’s call to holiness (and our failure to measure up), there would be no need for forgiveness.
“keep (tereson—keep, hold, maintain) them through your name” or “keep them through your name which you have given me” (v. 11b). Jesus has been the disciples’ protector, and gives an account of his stewardship (v. 12). Now he is preparing to depart, so he asks the Father to assume the role of protector to these disciples who are in the kosmos (world) but not of the kosmos—belonging to the Father but dwelling in a hostile land.
If we had been praying, we would have asked simply that the Father protect Jesus’ disciples, but Jesus prays, “keep them through your name.” The Father’s name represents the Father’s person and character. Jesus is praying that the Father will help the disciples to maintain their Godly character.
“that they may be one, as we are” (v. 11b). In recent decades, the ecumenical movement has worked to bring denominations together organizationally, their efforts reflecting concerns both for this petition of Jesus and for the church’s witness. The unity for which Jesus is praying, however, is deeper—a unity of heart and purpose. Denominational unity is only a first step. We must be equally concerned about disunity within denominations—within congregations—among individual Christians.
This is a prayer that, in many respects, has not been answered. The church has fragmented into many denominations and factions. Christians have spent too much time fighting one another.
And yet, in some respects, Jesus prayer has been answered. Christians work together across denominational lines in many ways—from sponsoring community worship services to financing relief efforts. There have been a number of efforts to bring together denominations, either in formal mergers or through shared initiatives and mutual recognition of clergy. It is not enough, but it is a beginning.
“While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you have given me I have kept. None of them is lost except the son of destruction” (ho huios tes apoleias—literally, “the son of perdition” or “the son of utter ruin”) (v. 12a). This most likely refers to Judas (Morris, 645), but could refer to Satan (Moloney, 467).
“that the scripture might be fulfilled” (v. 12b). The fulfilled scripture is almost surely Psalm 41:9, which is applied to Judas in John 13:18.
“But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves” (v. 13). Earlier, Jesus commanded the disciples to abide in him and to keep his commandments “so that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full” (15:11). The world in which we live—the kosmos—tends to think of joy in terms of the baser pleasures. Such joy tastes sweet for a while, but then turns rancid, leaving a bitter aftertaste.
There are joys with deeper roots—the joy of hearth and home—the joy of creativity and productivity—the joy of service and benevolence—the joy of knowing and serving truth—the joy of having one’s feet firmly planted on a solid foundation—the joy of being in a right relationship with God. It is these joys that Jesus offers.
“I have given them your word (Greek: logos). The world (Greek: kosmos) hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (v. 14). Jesus has given the disciples God’s word—God’s logos—and that word has made them different. These logos-people do not belong to the kosmos-world—the world that is opposed to God. Their new identity, their separateness, draws the world’s ire.
The kosmos-world is suspicious—afraid of those who have rejected its ways. Kosmos-people feel insecure except in the company of other kosmos-people—those who accept their values and seek the same pleasures. We see that with drug-addicts, who cannot abide the addict who has quit using drugs. We see it in the criminal world that cannot abide the person who has “gone straight.” Kosmos-people know that the person who no longer belongs to them is especially dangerous, because that person knows their secrets but no longer shares their loyalties.
We see something similar in the shadowy world of enterprises (legal or illegal) that profit from people’s weaknesses—manufacturers of cigarettes or alcohol, people who run casinos and bars, pimps, sellers of pornography and the like. Kosmos-people move among a small circle of colleagues and see the rest of the world as their enemy. They hate anyone who opposes them, whether overtly or by wholesome example, and respond viciously to any perceived threat to their kosmos-enterprise.
We see it in the movies, where Christians are seldom portrayed in a favorable light—and in the news media, which seldom reports anything good about the church but delights in clergy-gone-awry stories.
Jesus has not overstated the case at all when he says that the kosmos “hated” the disciples “because they are not of the kosmos.” That hatred is fueled by guilt, fear of exposure, and fierce resistance to change.
“I pray not that you would take them from the world, (kosmos) but that you would keep them from the evil one” (v. 15). The mission of the disciples is to carry on Christ’s work in the kosmos-world, so Jesus cannot remove them from the kosmos. They will do their work in a world to which they no longer belong and in which they no longer feel wholly comfortable. The old gospel song comes to mind: “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.” The poetry might be less than wonderful, but the sentiment is correct.
Jesus does pray that God will “keep them from the evil one” (v. 15). Jesus prays not that the Father will give the disciples pain-free lives, but that he will protect them from succumbing to the evil one (Borchert, 200).
What does seem to be overstated is Jesus’ claim that “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world” (v. 16). Gossip notes that this sounds far too generous (Gossip, 748). These disciples are flawed people who have failed Jesus in the past and who will fail him again in the future. Nevertheless, they have become different, because Jesus has given them the Father’s word (v. 14). That word moved them from the kosmos camp to the Father’s camp.
JOHN 17:17-19. SANCTIFY THEM IN YOUR TRUTH
17“Sanctify (Greek: hagiason—set apart as sacred to God—make holy—consecrate) them in your truth. Your word (Greek: logos) is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. 19For their sakes I sanctify (Greek: hagiazo) myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified (Greek: hegiasmenoi) in truth.”
“Sanctify (Greek: hagiason) them in your truth” (v. 17a). Hagiason is related to hagios, which means holy—set apart for God’s service. Jesus has already said that his disciples “are not of the world” (v. 14), which is simply another way of saying that they are separate or holy.
We cannot perform our mission of witnessing to the love of the holy Father in this world unless we ourselves are holy. While the Jews were concerned for the physical wholeness of the animals they set apart for sacrifice, Jesus’ concern is that his disciples should be spiritually whole—holy.
Being holy in an unholy kosmos (world) was fatal for Jesus, and we should understand that it might be dangerous for us too.
“your word (logos) is truth” (v. 17b). This borrows from John 1:14, where the author pronounced the Word “full of grace and truth.” Jesus calls for the Father to “sanctify (the disciples) in the truth”—equipping them for their difficult work.
“As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world” (v. 18). Jesus is not of this world, but emptied himself so that he might take on human form and live in the kosmos-world on a mission of mercy and salvation (Philippians 2:5-11). Now he is preparing the disciples to continue this incarnational ministry in a world that will often require them to take up their crosses to follow Jesus.
“And for their sakes I sanctify (hagiazo) myself” (v. 19a). We don’t often use the word sanctify in common conversation, but it is related to hagios (holy or set apart). Sanctify (hagiazo) means “to make holy” or “to set apart for Godly service.”
“that they themselves also may be sanctified (hegiasmenoi) in truth” (v. 19b). In the New Testament, all Christians are made holy by the grace of God—set apart for a Godly purpose—”sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 10:10).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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