John 17:1-11

The Farewell Discourse – Part 4

Jesus’ Prayer

In line with literary convention, the Farewell Discourse finished with prayer and blessing.  It is important that readers keep alert to the literary technique.  The Beloved Disciple was not pretending to record the words of the historical Jesus (though some of the thoughts expressed and the language used may have originated from him).  Through the convention of an overheard conversation between Jesus and his Father, the Disciple wished to educate and to motivate the members of his own believing community.  The words were the words of the Disciple, but of a Disciple who had known Jesus personally, who had been privileged to share (and remember) many of his intimate thoughts and words, who had continued his (mystical) relationship with the Risen Jesus, and who believed he wrote under the gentle influence of the guiding Paraclete.  (For ease of exploration [as it did for the earlier sections of the Discourse], the commentary will approach this section as though the words were those of the historical Jesus.)

A little earlier in the Discourse, Jesus had encouraged the disciples to ask God for what they desired: In fact I assure you that the Father will give you in my name anything you ask of him. So far you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, so that your joy may be complete [16:23-24].  The point of their asking was not to inform an otherwise absent-minded God, but to sensitise them to their deeper desires so that they might draw on the energies associated with those desires.

Now, Jesus himself addressed the Father, revealing to him his deepest desires and thereby, more consciously, focussing his inner strengths and motivating himself to face his pending death with unflinching determination.

In the process, Jesus’ prayer would make clear to the readers the fire burning in his heart and sustaining all that he had so far done and shared.  The signs that he had worked, the dialogues and discussions in which he had become involved, and the discourses that he had given were all done with the overriding purpose of making God known.  God loved the world.  Jesus knew his Father; Jesus loved his Father.  To reveal that God to the world, Jesus had given his all; and his mission was about to be completed: the hour has come.

John 17:1-5     Jesus Prayer – For Himself

1 When he had said these things,
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.

The story had reached its climax: the hour has come.

Glory for Father and Son

… Glorify your Son so that your Son might glorify you – 

To glorify is to reveal the inner reality and truth of another.

Jesus indicated the motivation for his whole life.  He saw his role as revealing God to the world – as making obvious to all the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.  The Prayer connected with the Prologue, where the author had claimed:  we beheld his glory, his glory as only son of his Father, full of love and truth [1.14], and had then reflected: No one has ever seen God – the only-begotten God, near to the Father’s heart, has made him known [1.18].

The purpose of Jesus’ death, resurrection and return was primarily to reveal God to the world.  His love for humanity flowed from his passionate commitment to the steadfast love and mercy of his Father.

Jesus prayed that the world would see in his death the depth of his integrity and his love; and that, in seeing the truth of Jesus, would see the heart of the God who had sent him.

The Father’s Glory

The word “glorify” may not sit easily with the modern reader.  But, by praying that he might glorify his Father, Jesus was effectively praying that he might make God known to the world.  That was his deepest desire and the focus of his life.  For Jesus, God was love.  He yearned to convince people that God, simply, was love.

In today’s world, the need is as urgent as ever.  Most people who seem to have not even the least interest in God, or who do not want to know God, have no idea that the God they choose to ignore is a God who loves them.  Within the culture, God is not generally known as the God who loves passionately, consistently and unconditionally.

Jesus knew the problem.  He knew that the only real hope of leading people to discover the truth of his Father was to reveal the Father’s love by medium of his own love for them.  Sadly, people chose, also, to deaden themselves to the love that animated him.  He longed for them to recognise his love.  That is what he meant by asking that God “glorify the Son”: he wanted people to see his love, to believe it, to trust him, and to draw close to him in genuine intimacy.

Through Disciples.  Though few people recognised the love in the heart of the historical Jesus, he hoped that, after his return to the Father, the Paraclete would so work in the hearts of those who did respond that their witness of love would bring others to explore further.  He had already urged them earnestly “to love one another”.  Their mutual love would be the medium, ultimately, of bringing people into existential contact with the Jesus who loved them.

Yet, even disciples can be distracted from the non-negotiable priority to love one another, and allow themselves to be side-tracked by giving precedence to secondary issues of orthodoxy or status or power.  The result is that the steadfast love and mercy of God are not revealed in tangible, credible form; and the burning desire of Jesus that God be glorified is overlooked.

2 … just as you gave him universal authority
to give eternal life to all whom you have entrusted to him. 

Though totally aware of his over-riding relationship with the Father, and of the mission entrusted to him by the Father, Jesus also knew that he was a free agent.  Authorised and empowered by the Father, Jesus knew that it would be purely the power of his own inner truth and love that would touch the hearts of people, leading them freely to open to the possibilities of genuine life.

Together with the Father, Jesus yearned that people become truly alive.  Again, the words of the Prologue echoed: In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity[1:4].  To the extent that people lived fully, they would share with Jesus in glorifying God – discovering for themselves, and revealing to others, the beauty of God.

3 And this is eternal life,
that they may know you, the only true God, 
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 

Many scholars believe that these words were a later addition to the text by way of clarification.  The knowing associated with eternal life is the knowledge, beyond words, proper to persons in love.  Love is not something that can be looked at objectively.  It is known as it is experienced; and it is experienced as it is lived.

4 I have glorified you on earth
by completing the work you gave me to do. 
5 Now, Father, glorify me there beside you
with the glory which I had with you before the world ever was.

The Beloved Disciple repeated the conviction that had also stimulated his personal reflection articulated in the Prologue.  The effect of Jesus on all who were receptive to him was such that they somehow intuited that he was more than human.  Jesus so beautifully revealed the mystery of God that, in some way, he must have shared personally in that mystery.

Jesus’ prayer expressed in subjective, personalized form the more objective prayer found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven [Matthew 6:9-10; Luke 11:2].

John 17:6-19  Jesus' Prayer – For Disciples

6I have made your name known
to those whom you gave to me from this world.  
They were yours, and you gave them to me,

Jesus saw the disciples as the Father’s gift to him.  He knew that their readiness to recognise his truth and to love him was the fruit of the Father’s careful action within them: he prunes every branch that does bear fruit so that it will bear more. [15:2].

Through their deeply intimate friendship with Jesus, the disciples had come to know his inner world, and had drawn close to his mysterious and ultimately unknowable personality.  In drawing near to him, they had come to know, also, the Father by whose inner truth he was nourished:  I am alive because of the Father [6:57].

The world from which the disciples were given to Jesus was the world that had closed itself to the truth of Jesus [1:10], and that took shape in the unresponsive structures of power existing within the broader world that God so loved [3:16].

… and they have held your word fast.
7 They have come to know
that all the things you have given me are really yours -
8 because I have given them all the words you gave me,
and they have accepted them,
and are aware that I have come from beside you,
and have believed that you sent me. 

Once more the Beloved Disciple insisted that the purpose of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return was to make known the truth of God – known not as an academic challenge, but experientially, as a furnace of life and love into which to be plunged, and by which to be purified and enlivened.

9 I pray for them.  
I am not praying for the world,
but for those whom you gave to me
because they are yours ...

Jesus’ prayer focussed on the disciples.  What he was about to request applied to them.  As long as other people remained unresponsive (the world), Jesus could do little specifically for them (beyond laying down his life in hope that, his love revealed and their sin exposed [16:8-11], they might convert and turn to him).

10 … [everything I have is yours and everything you have is mine],
and in them I am glorified.

The members of the Beloved Disciples’ community, reflecting in the light of their experience of persecution and exclusion, would have drawn assurance from the Disciple’s insistent reminder of their relationship to both Jesus and to the Father.  Whatever others thought of them, they knew who they were.  Their own perseverance and integrity served to reveal to the unresponsive world the reality of Jesus who motivated and empowered them.  Their lives truly glorified him.

11 I am no longer in this world because I am going to you,
but they are in this world.  

Jesus spoke as both the risen Lord and as the historical Jesus; times coalesced.  The reference to the world served in this instance to differentiate life in history from life beyond history, in full and direct union with God.

Holy Father, in your name, which you have given to me,
keep hold of them
so that they might be one just as we are.

Jesus saw his own identity (name) as given to him by his Father.  Jesus prayed that the Father keep his friends as disciples of his, deriving their identity from him, and, through him, from the Father himself.  He saw that identity bound to their unity with each other.  There would be no true self-sufficient disciples, despite how they might consider themselves.  Given the power of cultures, disciples would need the support of each other. They would be living branches [15:4-6] only to the extent that they remained part of the whole vine. Their harmony would derive from their common unity with Jesus, who, in turn, was in deep union with the Father.  The energy of that unity would be the energy of love, originating in the heart of God.

Jesus’ vision of discipleship was truly profound.

(Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, in the context of their fragility, reflects the disciples’ prayer as given in Matthew and Luke: “Do not bring us to the time of trial” [Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4]).


Next >> John 17:12-19