Throughout our history here at SonRise it’s been our custom during the month of January to focus on the doctrine of the Church. In the past few years we’ve looked at everything from the marks of the Church found in the creeds and confessions of Church history to issues present within the modern Church like the mission of the Church, the Church as a blood bought covenant community, and the Church as an intentionally multi-ethnic people who are to be zealous for good deeds. This year we’re continuing the January trend of looking into the doctrine of the Church but this year we’ll do so in a different manner. Rather than looking directly into the doctrine of the Church we’ll spend time seeing how Jesus prays for the Church. To do this we return to our series in John’s gospel, specifically we return to John 17. And when we come to chapter 17 in John’s gospel we come to a chapter of special magnificence. For in this chapter we witness, we get a glimpse, we behold a private prayer we would not naturally be privy too unless God the Spirit revealed it to us.
The Puritan pastor Thomas Manton preached 26 sermons on this chapter, one per verse, due to how wonderfully full it is. In his first sermon on the first verse he began the series by saying this, “I shall, in the following exercises, open to you Christ’s solemn prayer recorded in this chapter – a subject worthy of our reverence and serious mediations. The Holy Spirit seemed to put a mark of respect on this prayer above other prayers which Christ prayed in the days of His flesh. Elsewhere the Scripture tells us Christ prayed but the form is not expressed, or else only brief hints are delivered, but this is expressed at large. This was, as it were, His dying blaze. Natural motion is swifter and stronger in the end; so was Christ’s love hottest and strongest in the close of His life…here you have the eruption and flame of it. He now opens to us the bottom of His heart, and gives us a copy of His continual intercession. This prayer is a standing monument of Christ’s affection to the Church; it did not pass away with the external sound, or as soon as Christ ascended into heaven…it remains though the words be over.”M
Many rightly call this chapter the ‘High Priestly Prayer’ or Jesus ‘Prayer of Consecration’ because it marks the end of His earthly ministry and looks forward to the completion of Jesus’ priestly work on the cross.Others call this chapter the ‘Real Lord’s Prayer’ because of all the prayers of Jesus we have in Scripture the one recorded here is not only the longest prayer we have from Jesus but its contents are simply stunning. Deeply profound yet delightfully plain, majestic and mysterious yet simple and straightforward. Plunging us into the depths of the inter-Trinitarian relationship and revealing the entire scope of redemptive history from election before time began to glorification at end of all things. All the major themes of John’s gospel are summarized here: Jesus’ obedience, the glory of the Father, the glory of the shameful death and triumphant resurrection of the Son, the place of the apostles ministry, the place of those who believe the apostles message, the Church’s mission in the world, the Church’s joy in seeing the glory of Christ, and the Church’s unity modeled in the community of the Holy Trinity.It’s as if here, for a brief moment the veil of glory is removed as we get a sight of the Son of God coming before the throne of God in a triumphant tenderness on the eve of His arrest.
Many think of Jesus here in John 17 praying in a kind of gloomy manner, as if the thought of the impending cross to come robbed Him of all joy and put Him into despair. This isn’t how we should see it. Why? Because the tone that was set before this prayer began isn’t gloomy at all. As John 16 ends in v33 we find, not a tone of gloom, but a tone of accomplishment and victory, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Right after this declaration that He has overcome the world and that His victory gives us peace, comes His High Priestly Prayer.
Though John 17 is worthy of 26 sermons, we’ll follow the flow of the text as it comes to us. In v1-5 Jesus prays for Himself, in v6-19 Jesus prays for the apostles, and in v20-26 Jesus prays for the Church, those who will believe in Him through the ministry of the apostles. In a few sections we’ll linger a few weeks longer on because there’s simply so much here.
So, without further ado, let’s begin.
The Hour of Glory (v1)
“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…”
We have many times read in John’s gospel that Jesus’ hour ‘had not yet come.’ It was His mother Mary at the wedding in Cana in chapter 2 and His brothers before the Feast of Tabernacles in chapter 7 who asked Jesus to show Himself, to show His power, and to publicly reveal His divine agenda so that all would know who He truly was. In these occasions Jesus always refused saying one thing, “My hour has not yet come.” It was the hostile mobs time and time again who tried but couldn’t arrest Him when they so desired because, again, His hour hadn’t come yet. Now in v1 the tune shifts as we see these first words in His prayer, “Father, the hour has come…” He is no longer waiting for His hour to come, it has come. His whole ministry has led up to this point, more so, His whole human life and the reason He advented among us is now at hand. Plans made in eternity past are now coming to culmination in the present. Plans for Him to rescue God’s people by doing the unthinkable. Plans for Him to offer Himself up as an atoning sacrifice in the place of and for all the sinners who will one day believe in Him. Plans for Him to become sin so that those sinners would become righteous in Him. Plans that would redeem a people for Himself who would be zealous for good works. Plans that would fulfill the first gospel promise of good news in Genesis 3:15 where He, the Seed of the woman, though bruised by the serpent would crush his head once and for all.
See what Jesus does now that the hour long awaited has arrived. Does He give up and say, ‘Que sera sera’ (whatever will be, will be)? No, He doesn’t resign Himself to fatalistic passive tendencies as many do today, seeing God’s sovereignty as a reason for inaction. Rather, look at what He’s doing. God in His sovereignty has brought about the long awaited hour and that this hour has dawned moves Jesus towards prayer, not away from it.See what the nature of this hour means. It truly was the hour of His atonement where He would, in the fullest sense possible become a man of sorrows aquatinted with grief, dying a shameful painful death on the cross. But what does Jesus ask the Father as He prays for Himself? “…glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You…” Normally when you and I seek after glory of any kind we do so at the expense of the glory of God. We want to made much of, we want the spotlight, we want to be center stage. For us to do this is clearly a sinful and wicked pursuit. But this isn’t the case for Jesus because He and the Father are one. Which means when the Son is glorified the Father is also glorified. So when Jesus asks for the Father to glorify Himself, we shouldn’t interpret this prescriptively as if we should ask God to glorify us in prayer, but descriptively as something that only the Son can pray for, because it is right for Him to do so. So He asks to be glorified as His hour has come.
This request to be glorified so that He’d glorify His Father is really no surprise for us. At Jesus’ birth the angelic host sang out an anthem over the shepherds giving the highest glory to God. Jesus’ whole life was lived to the glory of God, Jesus’ teaching glorified God, Jesus’ miracles, signs, and wonders glorified God, Jesus’ faithfulness glorified God. Now that His hour had come, Jesus’ death will glorify God. Why? Because what looks like an hour of tragedy to all looking on is to Jesus, not a tragedy, but the hour of His triumphant glory. He knows in just a few hours the people He created will lift Him up on the cross and end His life. But He also knows that millions of men and women from all nations will for all time lift Him up in praise, glorifying both Father and Son, singing songs of joy and hope and confidence because He was lifted up here on this cross. And from this cross a people will not only be purchased by His death, but a people will be propelled into the world with a message of gospel power, that will have one very clear result: the creation of a community for God’s eternal praise. This hour of glory is simultaneously the hour of the Son’s deepest humiliation, the hour of the Son’s greatest exaltation, and the means by which the Father will be glorified as well.
This past Christmas we got both of our boys a small bottle of slime in their stockings. You know the kind I mean right? It comes in a bottle, you can squeeze it in that bottle to make noises, and then you can take it out and play with it until it gets all sorts of dirty. Well, we got this for them, they opened it up, got all the slime out, and spent hours squishing it in their hands, through their fingers, on their toys and Lego’s, and they loved it! But no surprise, they then couldn’t wait for me to do the same and so they brought the slime to me. As I took the slime and gave it a squish…a thick, gooey, cold, gross goo began to ooze through my closed fist and it felt as though my whole hand had been saturated with a nasty unnatural substance. In a much more delightful manner, do you see the similarity with that goo and these first few words of Jesus in John 17? They are saturated with Trinitarian, cross-centered, redemptive glory. And the more you squeeze the more the substance and the significance of this prayer comes forth for us. And that’s just v1! Let’s move onto v2-3 where we see more.
The Work of Glory (v2-3)
“…since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
After beginning His prayer asking God to glorify Him in His much anticipated and now present hour, Jesus turns in v2-3 to the work of His glory. What is the work of Christ to bring the Father glory? It’s all about eternal life. There is a threefold giving in v2 that begins explaining this. First, the Father gave the Son authority over all mankind. Second, in this authority the Son gives eternal life. Third, the Son gives eternal life, not to all, but to a specific group of people – those the Father has first given Him. So here we have the work of glory (in v2-4) that will be carried out in the hour of glory (in v1). Just as in v1 when we saw Jesus seeking glory to glorify the Father, so too here in v2 Jesus wielding His authority to give eternal life. And while His authority is truly over all flesh, all people, only those the Father has chosen or elected in eternity past and given to the Son are redeemed as they place their faith in the Son and receive eternal life. v2 is one of those moments within the text of Scripture where you have a choice to make. Will you embrace what Scripture teaches and trust that God is wiser than you, or will you reject what Scripture teaches and think you’re wiser than God? It pleases our modern sensibilities concerning fairness to think God, in an unbiased manner, gives everyone a fair shot at getting into heaven. But I’m afraid this thought is as agreeable to Scripture as gummy worms in a toilet are agreeable to your taste. When it comes to the sovereignty of God and salvation if fairness is in view, we shouldn’t be saying God is unfair to only give some people to the Son to be saved. We should be asking why God gives anyone at all to the son to be saved. If God were fair, no one would be given to the Son in order to be saved. Due to our sin and the nature of our rebellion against Him, He would be just to condemn us all. So we don’t want God to be fair, we want mercy. And through Christ He shows mercy and grace to the world and to those He’s chosen and given to the Son. How so? He loves all men in some ways and loves some men in all ways. He gives all mankind life, breath, food, family, and rest, while He gives the elect all of this plus eternal life. So when you read in v2 of these back and forth gifts between the Father and the Son don’t see sovereignty that limits redemption to those who deserve it. No, see a plan the Father established in eternity past for the joy of a particular people, being carried out in the present through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son Jesus Christ. This is a plan to give eternal life to those who only deserve eternal punishment.
But what is eternal life? v3 answers that question as the work of glory continues to be expounded, “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Most of us usually think of eternal life as something of significance for the future, of living forever after we die. See here a larger definition of eternal life that encompasses both the life to come and our lives here and now. “This is eternal life, that they know You…” It really is all about who you know. And while each of us might know or be connected to those who know some very influential and important people in this world, they all pale in comparison to the most important Person in all of existence, God Himself! Eternal life is knowing this God, not as we want Him to be, not as what we feel He is like, and not as how we would prefer Him to be, but knowing Him as He is, knowing Him as He has revealed Himself as the Sender and the Sent One. You see that? When you know the Father you’ll know the Son too, since They’re One you cannot know the One and remain ignorant of the Other.
But even here when we speak of knowing God we must go further because knowing God is far more than just knowing God intellectually. True we must know facts and objective truth about God. And true we must be convinced that the facts about God are true. But just because we may know things about God and just because we may think that they are true doesn’t mean we truly know God. Recall James 2:19? Even the demons know many things about God and even know that those things are true and yet they still refuse to bow the knee and worship Him. Lesson? We must know the teachings of Jesus, we must be convinced of their truthfulness, but we also must bank our lives on those teachings, rely on them, and trust in them for our salvation. When you know Him intimately like this the result is nothing less than a complete transformation one’s life. You’re still you, but you’re no longer dead in sin and disinterested in the things of God, you’re joyously fully alive to Him, His Word, His worship, and His Church.
This kind of knowing God isn’t just the way to eternal life, it is eternal life.And this knowledge is what Jesus gives to all those who’ve been given to Him by the Father, to all those who believe in Him. The prophet Habakkuk once said the lack of this kind of knowledge is what destroys people, which is why he also longed for the day when “…the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” In Christ, that day has begun, and as His gospel expands over this globe that longing becomes a reality!
The Return of Glory (v4-5)
As we come to v4-5 this first section ends where it began in v1 but in reverse. Recall in v1 Jesus begins asking the Father to glorify Him so that He could glorify the Father. The aim in v1 is the Father’s glory. Here Jesus begins by speaking of the glory of the Father and ends with a request for Him to be glorified. The aim in v4-5 is His own glory.
“I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”
Speaking in the past tense, Jesus says to the Father that He has glorified Him and has accomplished the work He gave Him. But, the cross hasn’t happened yet. How could He say this? I think that He says it like this isn’t an error but shows His confidence in the Father’s plans and His own willingness to eagerly enter into the most dreadful moment in history. Jesus wasn’t hoping His work would accomplish something, He didn’t nervously anticipate if it really would accomplish redemption, no. Before it even occurs, Jesus speaks of it as already finished and satisfying both He and His Father! And of course, as it played out it was gruesome but it did truly glorify the Father by accomplishing His redemptive plan. So on this basis Jesus makes a grand request in v5 to be glorified as He once was.
In his commentaries John Calvin on v4-5 states, “This is a remarkable passage, which teaches us that Christ is not a God who has been newly contrived, or who has existed only for a time; for if his glory was eternal, Hehimself has always been.”Can you see it, that by accomplishing His Father’s work and asking the Father to glorify Him in His presence with the glory He had with Him before creation, carries a massive implication? The Son of God is stating crystal clear that He had no beginning, that He is eternal, and that by becoming incarnate, by becoming truly man He truly did forfeit some of this glory, which He now asks to be restored. I have good news for you this morning. The Father has answered this request, for Jesus Christ, at this very moment, is sitting at His Father’s right hand, ruling and reigning, continuing His priestly work of praying for us. Because the Father answered His prayer here, a deep confidence can be ours that the Father is also right now at this very moment not only hearing the prayers of His Son for us, but answering them! You who believe in Christ aren’t ever alone. You have a great High Priest in the heavens, who knows your frame, knows your weaknesses, knows your temptations, and still and ever will be as confident now as He was here. May this give you a great confidence as you stand in the hour of trial yourself.
I think we’ve now got a taste that this prayer in John 17 is stunning indeed. It is a reverent prayer and a reasoned prayer, that shows the readiness of the Son to move ahead in unfathomable love for His bride with a confident trust in His Father.The hour of glory come, the work of glory explained, the return of glory requested. All leading to the satisfaction of both the Father in the work of the Son.
These things must lead us all to a live out what Jesus lived out here. Much has glory here in this life, but nothing compares to the glory of knowing this God and making Him known. So you may know, may you press on to know the Lord!
Thomas Manton, An Exposition of John Seventeen (Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958) page 9.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 716.
Grant Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 391.
John MacArthur, John 12-21 – The MacArthur New Testament Commentary(Chicago, Illinois: Moody, 2008) page 235-236.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 553-554.
Morris, page 719.
Carson, page 556.
Osborne, page 392-393.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – John (accessed via Accordance Bible software on 1.6.19), emphasis mine.
Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 387.