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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Prays for the Glorification of the Father and the Son (17:1-5)
Jesus Prays for the Glorification of the Father and the Son (17:1-5)

Jesus begins his prayer where his keynote address began, with the relationship between the Father and the Son (5:19-23). The oneness-yet-distinctness continues here as Jesus "lifts up his eyes toward heaven" (v. 1, obscured in the NIV) to the Father who is distinct from him and to whom he is obedient.

In his prayer Jesus will speak of the past and the future from an eternal perspective, but it is all grounded in the present, at this particular climactic point in salvation history: Father, the time ["hour," hora] has come (v. 1). This hour has cast its shadow over the whole story (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20), and its arrival has already been signaled (12:23), with its implications for glory (12:27-28), judgment (12:31-32) and Jesus' return to the Father (13:1). Jesus now addresses the theme of glory, asking the Father to glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify the Father (v. 1). Thus, even in asking on behalf of himself his ultimate goal and delight is the Father. In general, to glorify someone means to hold him or her up for honor and praise. So on one level the Son is asking that his own honor be revealed, namely, that he is one with God; Jesus in turn will glorify the Father as he continues to reveal him as one worthy of all praise and worship. In John, however, glorification also has a more specific meaning: the death of the Son of God. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus has revealed the Father's glory by manifesting his characteristic gracious love. In the death of the Son this same love is revealed most profoundly, for God is love, and love is the laying down of one's life (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16; 3:16). Thus, in his death Jesus will reveal his own character and his Father's character to be gracious love.

In verse 2 Jesus expands this request for glorification, though following his exact train of thought requires careful attention. According to the NIV, Jesus' request for his glorification is grounded on (for) the authority that the Father already gave him over all people (pases sarkos, "all flesh"). But for (kathos) could also be translated "just as," indicating that the previous granting of authority is not the grounds for the glorification, but, rather, comparable to the glorification. We will soon see reason to prefer this alternative.

What authority is Jesus referring to? Earlier in the Gospel Jesus spoke of his authority from the Father to give life and to judge (5:20-27). Now he is speaking of the role the Father gave the Son as agent of creation. While "all flesh" commonly means "all people," the expression can also mean "all life on earth" (for example, Gen 7:15-16, 21; Alford 1980:875), which would be in keeping with the Son's being the one through whom "all things were made" (1:3).

The last part of verse 2 refers to the Son's giving eternal life to all those you have given to him. The NIV takes this as the purpose (that) of the Father's granting Jesus authority over all people. This is possible grammatically, but it does not do justice to the distinctions between the two halves of the verse. It is better to take the second half of verse 2 as parallel to that your Son may glorify you in verse 1. In other words, the Son will glorify the Father through giving eternal life to those the Father gives him. And the Father's glorification of the Son is in keeping with his having given him authority over all flesh.

Thus, the flow is from creation to new creation. In both cases the Father is the ultimate source, and the Son is God's agent. The Son has given life to all creation, and now it is time for him to give eternal life to those within creation given him by God. As with the Son, so with the disciples—the Father is their source (cf. 6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:6; 18:9). He gives them to the Son, and the Son gives them eternal life. The Father acts while they are still dead (cf. Eph 2:1-10); all is of his grace. Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility have been stressed throughout this Gospel, but there is never any doubt that all depends on the Father's grace. "In the contrast between all flesh and whatsoever thou hast given is expressed the inevitable tragedy of the mercy of God; it is offered to all, but received by the few, and those the elect" (Hoskyns 1940b:590; cf. H. C. G. Moule 1908:32-36).

Jesus pauses to reflect on the meaning of the term eternal life (v. 3). This verse is commonly viewed as a parenthetical statement added by John, like a footnote (Barrett 1978:503). But it flows quite naturally even when understood as Jesus' comment on what he has just said, much as verses 6-8 will comment on verse 4. Jesus' reference to himself in the third person seems strange, but the Old Testament contains examples (e.g., 2 Sam 7:20). The phrase only true God is not attributed to Jesus elsewhere, but it is similar to John's own language (1 Jn 5:20). Likewise, nowhere else does Jesus refer to himself as Jesus Christ, but this expression is very common outside the Gospels. Indeed, this double reference to the one true God and to Jesus is similar to texts in Paul contrasting the Christian faith with pagan polytheism and idolatry (1 Thess 1:9-10; 1 Cor 8:6). So the language probably comes from a later date (though cf. Mt 11:27). Most scholars today would say the thought itself is from the later church, but this begs the question of Jesus' identity and how much of the later church's understanding derives from Jesus himself (cf. C. F. D. Moule 1977). B. F. Westcott is probably closer to the truth when he says John is giving "in conventional language (so to speak) the substance of what the Lord said probably at greater length" (1908:2:244). Such is the case throughout this Gospel.The Son's ultimate mission is to give eternal life, that is, knowledge of the Father and the Son (v. 3). "The notion that knowledge of God is essential to life (salvation) is common to Hebrew and Hellenistic thought," though knowledge does not mean the same thing in every source (Barrett 1978:503). For John, this knowledge is closely associated with faith (which enables the appropriation of eternal life; 6:47; 20:31) and includes correct intellectual understanding, moral alignment through obedience and the intimacy of union (cf. Dodd 1953:151-69). That is, it refers to shared life, and because it is the life of God that is shared it is eternal life. Eternal (aionios) means unending or timeless, but it refers to not just the quantity but also a certain quality of life. In Hebrew eternal life is literally "life of eternity, age" (hayye `olam, Dan 12:2), a expression used in contrast to temporal life and also in the contrast between this age and the age to come. Indeed, the word eternal is related to the word "age" (aion). This association with the age to come is most significant in John. For in Jewish thought, life in the age to come is characterized by a restored relationship with God, and that is precisely what Jesus speaks of here. The life of the age to come is already present in Jesus and made available to his disciples, and at the heart of it is an intimate relation with God. "The only life is participation in God, and we do this by knowing God and enjoying his goodness" (Irenaeus Against Heresies 4.20.5).

This stress on knowledge sounds Gnostic. In a sense it is, and early Christians believed they had the true knowledge, as opposed to that which is "falsely called knowledge" (tes pseudonymou gnoseos, 1 Tim 6:20). Clement of Alexandria (died in A.D. 220), for example, constantly referred to Christians as the true gnostics, and his view of knowledge at core was very much in keeping with our verse. While some of the language and thought of this Gospel is similar to Gnosticism in its various forms (for which see Rudolph 1992), the fact that this knowledge comes through the historical deeds of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, that it is grounded in faith, that it is available already now within history and that it is not concerned with self-knowledge and cosmic speculation sets it off from Gnosticism itself (cf. Schmitz and Schütz 1976:403-5). Any revealed religion will be gnostic—the issue is whether the knowledge claimed is true or false.

The statement in verse 3 is also strikingly similar in form to the central affirmation of Islam, "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet." Both religions claim to honor the only true God, a theme from the Old Testament as well (e.g., Ex 34:6 LXX; Is 37:20), and both speak of the great revealer of God. But they differ radically in what is said of this revealer. Jesus is a prophet—indeed, the revealer of God par excellence. But this verse, in keeping with the whole of this Gospel, says Jesus is far more than just a prophet. For eternal life is not just a knowledge of God as revealed by the Son; it includes a knowledge of the Son himself. Thus he shares in deity, since "the knowledge of God and a creature could not be eternal life" (Alford 1980:875). This amazing statement, therefore, affirms both the equality of the Son with the Father and his subordination as son and as the one sent.

Jesus has prayed that he might glorify God in the future, but now he speaks of the glorification of the Father he has already accomplished in his ministry (v. 4). His work is not complete before his death (10:18; 19:28, 30), but he says, "I glorified [edoxasa, aorist] you on earth, having completed [teleiosas, aorist] the work. . . ." The NIV translation is grammatically possible, but it misses the eternal, confident perspective evident in Jesus' statement that his work is already over. The glorification of the Father has been the distinguishing feature of his life throughout the Gospel, a glory characterized by grace and truth (1:14). The work was given to him by the Father. So the character of the works revealed the character of him who gave them to the Son to do, and in this way the words and deeds of Jesus revealed the Father's glory. But also in the Son's obedience itself is seen the glory of God, since his humility, obedience and sacrifice reflect the love that is the laying down of one's life.

Having prayed for the glorification of the cross and its provision of life (vv. 1-2) and having mentioned the glorification evident in his ministry (v. 4), Jesus concludes with yet another aspect of the glory: And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (v. 5). Here language used of Wisdom (Prov 8:23; Wisdom of Solomon 7:25; Brown 1970:754) is taken up by the incarnate one, who is about to die. Glory now seems to refer to the shining splendor of the divine presence, the "unapproachable light" that Paul mentions (1 Tim 6:16). Nevertheless, it still retains the element of love. For the Son is asking that, through the glorification of the cross, resurrection and ascension, he may return to where he was before, beside (para; NIV, with) the Father (cf. vv. 2, 24; 1:18, H. C. G. Moule 1908:40-42). The ineffable mystery of the loving unity of the Godhead is here revealed to us once again.

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