This chapter contains the most extensive and profound prayer of Jesus we have. When Jesus prayed at Lazarus's tomb he made it clear that he had no need of expressing prayer because he is one with God in his whole life, the union true prayer expresses. Nevertheless, he prayed for the benefit of those present (11:41-42), and the same is true here as well (17:13). Jesus' whole life has been a revelation of the Father, based on Jesus' union with him, so it is appropriate that his teaching concludes in the form of prayer, the genre most closely associated with union with God. Other farewell discourses also conclude with prayers (for example, 4 Ezra 8:19b-36; Beasley-Murray 1987:293), but in Jesus' case prayer is itself related to the essence of his message.
As Jesus turns to address the Father his speech implies that he is taken up into the eternal presence (cf. Brown 1970:747). He speaks as if his work were already complete (for example, v. 4). Indeed, he even says, "I am no longer in this world" (v. 11, completely obscured in the NIV). But right after that he says, I say these things while I am still in the world (v. 13). He is right there with his disciples just before his death, but he is praying from the realm of eternity. Just as the book of Revelation reveals from a heavenly perspective the certainty of God's unfolding will, so this prayer of Jesus shows that he is completely confident in the outworking of that will.
Jesus' intercession for his disciples from within God's presence anticipates his role after his ascension (cf. 1 Jn 2:1). Because this intercession corresponds to the role of the high priest elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25-26) and because Jesus uses sacrificial language when he refers to sanctifying himself (17:19), this prayer has been known as the High Priestly Prayer. In the fifth century Cyril of Alexandria saw these two activities as fitting for the one who is "our great and all-holy High Priest" (In John 11.8).
This chapter completes the chiasm of the farewell discourse spelled out in 13:31-35, with a return to the glory mentioned in 13:31-32 (see comment on 13:31). This passage concentrates on the relation of the Father and the Son and the glory they share. The Father is seen as the one who "gives" (used thirteen times of the Father in this chapter), highlighting his grace and his role as source of all. Jesus focuses specifically on the Father's gift to the Son of disciples. The Son continues to show himself to be the revealer sent from the Father, but he is seen also as a giver—he gives his disciples the Father's word, glory and eternal life.
This prayer gathers many of the key themes found throughout the Gospel. Indeed, "almost every verse contains echoes" (Dodd 1953:417). The Son's work in the disciples is developed through the themes of faith, knowledge, love, indwelling, oneness and God's name. There is also an emphasis on the world, including its separation from God, God's love for it and the disciples' mission to it.
As with much of the farewell discourse, this material is complex and can be outlined in several ways (cf. Brown 1970:748-51; Beasley-Murray 1987:295-96). Jesus begins with a petition for the glorification of the Father and the Son (vv. 1-5), after which he prays for the disciples gathered around him, first describing their situation (vv. 6-11) and then praying that they be protected and sanctified by God (vv. 11-19). Jesus then prays for all who will become believers through the witness of the eleven, that they may share in the divine oneness (vv. 20-24). He concludes with a summary of his past and future work (vv. 25-26).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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