Jesus Begins His Prayer for the Eleven Disciples by Describing Their Situation (17:6-11)

The opening verses have focused on the glory of the Father and the Son, but they have also included the disciples, and to them Jesus now turns more directly. He comments on his work among them, their response and the relation they now have with the Father and the Son in contrast to the world's.

As in verse 4, Jesus again speaks as if his ministry is complete: "I revealed [ephanerosa, aorist] your name [cf. NIV margin] to those whom you gave me out of the world" (v. 6). Revealing the name could point specifically to Jesus' use of the I AM (Dodd 1953:417; Brown 1970:755-56), but in any case it certainly means to make manifest the person and character of God (cf. 1:12). Thus, revealing the name is similar to revealing the glory, and, like the glorification, it will not be complete before Jesus' death. The manifestation through teaching has been completed, but the climactic revelation through death and resurrection yet remains.

The disciples were given to Jesus by the Father from the world, another reference to the amazing grace of God. The Father is the ultimate agent in the disciples' lives just as he is in Jesus' life. Jesus states the pattern of relations very succinctly: They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word (v. 6). What does it mean that they were God's? Some would see here a reference to predestination (Barrett 1978:505)—they were the Father's through "the eternity of election" (Calvin 1959:139). But Paul, who develops this specific theme, writes that the election "before the creation of the world" is in Christ (Eph 1:4). If our text referred to this election it would seem to drive a wedge between the Father and the pre-existent Son, a false inference from this text (vv. 9-10; cf. Chrysostom In John 81.1; Augustine In John 106.5). Jesus is probably speaking not of an eternal relation but of a relation within salvation history, that is, the relation the disciples had with God through the covenant with Israel (Westcott 1908:2:246; Ridderbos 1997:551-52). Those true Israelites (1:47), who had an affinity with God (8:47), were already God's and were awaiting his Messiah, who would bring them to the fulfillment of that relationship. The Father gave them to the Son for this purpose; and through their faith and obedience, as they were drawn by God to the Son and his teaching (6:44-45, 60-66), they demonstrated that they were God's. This relationship is about to be changed radically, for the disciples are now on the brink of the birth from above. Thus, the disciples were already of the Father—there was an affinity—just as the opponents were of their father, the devil (8:42-47). This interpretation leads us to ask why some had (and have) an affinity for God and some do not, why some, but not others, have hardness of heart that alienates them from the life of God (cf. Eph 4:18). Since both divine grace and human responsibility are mentioned together in this Gospel, the answer probably lies in some combination of the two, a combination that eludes our full understanding.

The point here, however, is that true Israelites whom God has shepherded have been handed over by him to Jesus, and the sheep have recognized his voice and have received Jesus as come from God. In doing so they have obeyed ["kept," teterekan] your word (v. 6). This is the only such reference in John to keeping the Father's word. Most interpreters think this refers to keeping Jesus' word, which is God's word. Jesus will speak of that soon (vv. 8, 14), but here he is probably saying that the disciples obeyed the Father's voice, which was drawing them to Jesus, and that Jesus in turn passed on to them the revelation of the Father.

Jesus does then address the disciples' response to himself (vv. 7-8). These disciples, who are of God and are given by God to the Son, have been able to recognize and receive as from the Father all that the Son has received from the Father and passed on to them (v. 7). The specific reference is to Jesus' teaching, which they have received. Jesus' words are God's words, and these bring life and judgment (3:34; 6:63, 68; 12:48; 14:24; 17:14). Thus, Jesus' teaching has been grounded on his own identity as the Son sent from the Father. Accordingly, these disciples have been given to the Son; the focus is on him and their acceptance of him. They knew for certain that he came from the Father, and they believed that the Father sent him. So they knew and believed the truth about both the Son and the Father in their mutual relation.

Jesus picks up the affirmation spoken by disciples (16:30) just minutes before he began his prayer. Their knowledge and faith are not as complete as they think it is, but Jesus affirms they have reached a decisive point. They have believed in him and hung in with him, even when most of his followers abandoned him (6:60-69). There is still an enormous amount they do not know, and Jesus told them as much when he promised them the Paraclete to instruct them (14:26; 16:13). But the foundation has been laid, and it is secure. They have been receptive, the fundamental attitude of a true disciple, and now they have grasped the crux of the revelation—the identity of the Son in relation to the Father. The grace of revelation has been met with by human response of humble openness, faith and obedience. Jesus' affirmation of these disciples should be tremendously encouraging to present-day disciples. Here we see God's acceptance of believers despite their great ignorance and weakness.

The disciples' relation to God has enabled them to recognize the Son and believe in him. It is for these believers—and not the world, which has rejected Jesus—that he is now praying (v. 9). Jesus' frank statement I am not praying for the world may sound as though he has nothing to do with the world, and it has even led some to think he only ever prays for the elect (Calvin 1959:140-41). But, in fact, he does go on to pray for the world (vv. 21, 23)! So here he means the petitions that follow about protection, sanctification and union with God are prayers only for the disciples (cf. Alford 1980:877). None of these petitions are applicable to the world, to the system and those beings in rebellion against God. Since it is through the disciples' witness that the world will continue to be challenged with God's love and call, Jesus' prayer for his disciples is actually an indirect prayer for the world (Beasley-Murray 1987:298).

Jesus repeats his earlier description of the disciples (v. 6) but changes it subtly. These disciples are those the Father has given the Son—for they are yours. They were the Father's before he gave them to the Son, and they remain the Father's after he gives them to the Son. The next verse (v. 10) explains how this can be: All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. Here is the fundamental truth of this Gospel—the oneness of the Father and the Son—expressed in terms of possession. The disciples' very relations with the Father and Son bear witness to this foundational truth. They have been given to the Son and yet remain the Father's because of the divine oneness. Here, as throughout this Gospel, Jesus' deeds and words make no sense unless one realizes he is God. Indeed, this very statement bears witness to this claim. For anyone can, and should, truthfully say to the Father, all I have is yours. But the reverse, all you have is mine—"this can no creature say before God" (Alford 1980:878). The glory that Jesus says has come to him through them comes from both the Father and the disciples. In the Father's giving the disciples to Jesus, the Father bore witness to this relation of oneness; and the disciples, who were of the Father, recognized him and believed in him.

So we see that the mutual glorification between the Father and the Son for which the Son is praying (v. 1) has already occurred on one level. But now Jesus looks to the time when the Son is taken from them and they are left in the world (v. 11a). The relation that has begun must now be maintained in this new situation; and the glory that has begun must come to completion in divine oneness (v. 22) and then eventually, in yet another stage, in the fullness of the revelation of the glory of Son (v. 24). The world and the evil one would like to thwart these plans, so Jesus now turns to pray for his disciples in the situation they are about to face.

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