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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–5
Verses 1–5

Here we have, I. The circumstances of this prayer, John 17:1. Many a solemn prayer Christ made in the days of his flesh (sometimes he continued all night in prayer), but none of his prayers are recorded so fully as this. Observe,

1. The time when he prayed this prayer; when he had spoken these words, had given the foregoing farewell to his disciples, he prayed this prayer in their hearing; so that, (1.) It was a prayer after a sermon; when he had spoken from God to them, he turned to speak to God for them. Note, Those we preach to we must pray for. He that was to prophesy upon the dry bones was also to pray, Come, O breath, and breathe upon them. And the word preached should be prayed over, for God gives the increase. (2.) It was a prayer after sacrament; after Christ and his disciples had eaten the passover and the Lord’s supper together, and he had given them a suitable exhortation, he closed the solemnity with this prayer, that God would preserve the good impressions of the ordinance upon them. (3.) It was a family-prayer. Christ’s disciples were his family, and, to set a good example before the masters of families, he not only, as the son of Abraham, taught his household (Gen. 18:19), but, as a son of David, blessed his household (2 Sam. 6:20), prayed for them and with them. (4.) It was a parting prayer. When we and our friends are parting, it is good to part with prayer, Acts 20:36. Christ was parting by death, and that parting should be sanctified and sweetened by prayer. Dying Jacob blessed the twelve patriarchs, dying Moses the twelve tribes, and so, here, dying Jesus the twelve apostles. (5.) It was a prayer that was a preface to his sacrifice, which he was now about to offer on earth, specifying the favours and blessings designed to be purchased by the merit of his death for those that were his; like a deed leading the uses of a fine, and directing to what intents and purposes it shall be levied. Christ prayed then as a priest now offering sacrifice, in the virtue of which all prayers were to be made. (6.) It was a prayer that was a specimen of his intercession, which he ever lives to make for us within the veil. Not that in his exalted state he addresses himself to his Father by way of humble petition, as when he was on earth. No, his intercession in heaven is a presenting of his merit to his Father, with a suing out of the benefit of it for all his chosen ones.

2. The outward expression of fervent desire which he used in this prayer: He lifted up his eyes to heaven, as before (John 11:41); not that Christ needed thus to engage his own attention, but he was pleased thus to sanctify this gesture to those that use it, and justify it against those that ridicule it. It is significant of the lifting up of the soul to God in prayer, Ps. 25:1. Sursum corda was anciently used as a call to prayer, Up with your hearts, up to heaven; thither we must direct our desires in prayer, and thence we must expect to receive the good things we pray for.

II. The first part of the prayer itself, in which Christ prays for himself. Observe here,

1. He prays to God as a Father: He lifted up his eyes, and said, Father. Note, As prayer is to be made to God only, so it is our duty in prayer to eye him as a Father, and to call him our Father. All that have the Spirit of adoption are taught to cry Abba, Father, John 17:25. For it will be of great use to us in prayer, both for direction and for encouragement, to call God as we hope to find him.

2. He prayed for himself first. Though Christ, as God, was prayed to, Christ, as man, prayed; thus it became him to fulfill all righteousness. It was said to him, as it is said to us, Ask, and I will give thee, Ps. 2:8. What he had purchased he must ask for; and shall we expect to have what we never merited, but have a thousand times forfeited, unless we pray for it? This puts an honour upon prayer, that it was the messenger Christ sent on his errands, the way in which even he corresponded with Heaven. It likewise gives great encouragement to praying people, and cause to hope that even the prayer of the destitute shall not be despised; time was when he that is advocate for us had a cause of his own to solicit, a great cause, on the success of which depended all his honour as Mediator; and this he was to solicit in the same method that is prescribed to us, by prayers and supplications (Heb. 5:7), so that he knows the heart of a petitioner (Exod. 23:9), he knows the way. Now observe, Christ began with prayer for himself, and afterwards prayed for his disciples; this charity must begin at home, though it must not end there. We must love and pray for our neighbor as ourselves, and therefore must in a right manner love and pray for ourselves first. Christ was much shorter in his prayer for himself than in his prayer for his disciples. Our prayers for the church must not be crowded into a corner of our prayers; in making supplication for all saints, we have room enough to enlarge, and should not straiten ourselves. Now here are two petitions which Christ puts up for himself, and these two are one—that he might be glorified. But this one petition, Glorify thou me, is twice put up, because it has a double reference. To the prosecution of his undertaking further: Glorify me, that I may glorify thee, in doing what is agreed upon to be yet done, John 17:1-3. And to the performance of his undertaking hitherto: “Glorify me, for I have glorified thee. I have done my part, and now, Lord, do thine,” John 17:4, 5.

(1.) Christ here prays to be glorified, in order to his glorifying God (John 17:1): Glorify thy Son according to thy promise, that thy Son may glorify thee according to his understanding. Here observe,

[1.] What he prays for—that he might be glorified in this world: “The hour is come when all the powers of darkness will combine to vilify thy Son; now, Father, glorify him.” The Father glorified the Son upon earth, First, Even in his sufferings, by the signs and wonders which attended them. When they that came to take him were thunder-struck with a word,—when Judas confessed him innocent, and sealed that confession with his own guilty blood,—when the judge’s wife asleep, and the judge himself awake, pronounced him righteous,—when the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple rent, then the Father not only justified, but glorified the Son. Nay, Secondly, Even by his sufferings; when he was crucified, he was magnified, he was glorified, John 13:31. It was in his cross that he conquered Satan and death; his thorns were a crown, and Pilate in the inscription over his head wrote more than he thought. But, Thirdly, Much more after his sufferings. The Father glorified the Son when he raised him from the dead, showed him openly to chosen witnesses, and poured out the Spirit to support and plead his cause, and to set up his kingdom among men, then he glorified him. This he here prays for, and insists upon.

[2.] What he pleads to enforce this request.

First, He pleads relation: Glorify thy Son; thy Son as God, as Mediator. It is in consideration of this that the heathen are given him for his inheritance; for thou art my Son, Ps. 2:7, 8. The devil had tempted him to renounce his sonship with an offer of the kingdoms of this world; but he rejected the offer with disdain, and depended upon his Father for his preferment, and here applies himself to him for it. Note, Those that have received the adoption of sons may in faith pray for the inheritance of sons; if sanctified, then glorified: Father, glorify thy Son.

Secondly, He pleads the time: The hour is come; the season prefixed to an hour. The hour of Christ’s passion was determined in the counsel of God. He had often said his hour was not yet come; but now it was come, and he knew it. Man knows not his time (Eccl. 9:12), but the Son of man did. He calls it this hour (John 12:27), and here, the hour; compare Mark 14:35; John 16:21. For the hour of the Redeemer’s death, which was also the hour of the Redeemer’s birth, was the most signal and remarkable hour, and, without doubt, the most critical, that ever was since the clock of time was first set a going. Never was there such an hour as that, nor did ever any hour challenge such expectations of it before, nor such reflections upon it after. 1. “The hour is come in the midst of which I need to be owned.” Now is the hour when this grand affair is come to a crisis; after many a skirmish the decisive battle between heaven and hell is now to be fought, and that great cause in which God’s honour and man’s happiness are together embarked must now be either won or lost for ever. The two champions David and Goliath, Michael and the dragon, are now entering the lists; the trumpet sounds for an engagement that will be irretrievably fatal either to the one or to the other: “Now glorify thy Son, now give him victory over principalities and powers, now let the bruising of his heel be the breaking of the serpent’s head, now let thy Son be so upheld as not to fail nor be discouraged.” When Joshua went forth conquering and to conquer, it is said, The Lord magnified Joshua; so he glorified his Son when he made the cross his triumphant chariot. 2. “The hour is come in the close of which I expect to be crowned; the hour is come when I am to be glorified, and, set at thy right hand.” Betwixt him and that glory there intervened a bloody scene of suffering; but, being short, he speaks as if he made little of it: The hour is come that I must be glorified; and he did not expect it till then. Good Christians in a trying hour, particularly a dying hour, may thus plead: “Now the hour is come, stand by me, appear for me, now or never: now the earthly tabernacle is to be dissolved, the hour is come that I should be glorified.” 2 Cor. 5:1

Thirdly, He pleads the Father’s own interest and concern herein: That thy Son may also glorify thee; for he had consecrated his whole undertaking to his Father’s honour. He desired to be carried triumphantly through his sufferings to his glory, that he might glorify the Father two ways:—1. By the death of the cross, which he was now to suffer. Father, glorify thy name, expressed the great intention of his sufferings, which was to retrieve his Father’s injured honour among men, and, by his satisfaction, to come up to the glory of God, which man, by his sin, came short of: “Father, own me in my sufferings, that I may honour thee by them.” 2. By the doctrine of the cross, which was now shortly to be published to the world, by which God’s kingdom was to be re-established among men. He prays that his Father would so grace his sufferings, and crown them, as not only to take off the offence of the cross, but to make it, to those that are saved, the wisdom of God and the power of God. If God had not glorified Christ crucified, by raising him from the dead, his whole undertaking had been crushed; therefore glorify me, that I may glorify thee. Now thereby he hath taught us, (1.) What to eye and aim at in our prayers, in all our designs and desires—and that is, the honour of God. It being our chief end to glorify God, other things must be sought and attended to in subordination and subserviency to the Lord. “Do this and the other for thy servant, that thy servant may glorify thee. Give me health, that I may glorify thee with my body; success, that I may glorify thee with my estate,” etc. Hallowed be thy name must be our first petition, which must fix our end in all our other petitions, 1 Pet. 4:11. (2.) He hath taught us what to expect and hope for. If we sincerely set ourselves to glorify our Father, he will not be wanting to do that for us which is requisite to put us into a capacity of glorifying him, to give us the grace he knows sufficient, and the opportunity he sees convenient. But, if we secretly honour ourselves more than him, it is just with him to leave us in the hand of our own counsels, and then, instead of honouring ourselves, we shall shame ourselves.

Fourthly, He pleads his commission (John 17:2, 3); he desires to glorify his Father, in conformity to, and in pursuance of, the commission given him: “Glorify thy Son, as thou hast given him power, glorify him in the execution of the powers thou hast given him,” so it is connected with the petition; or, that thy Son may glorify thee according to the power given him, so it is connected with the plea. Now see here the power of the Mediator.

a. The origin of his power: Thou hast given him power; he has it from God, to whom all power belongs. Man, in his fallen state, must, in order to his recovery, be taken under a new model of government, which could not be erected but by a special commission under the broad seal of heaven, directed to the undertaker of that glorious work, and constituting him sole arbitrator of the grand difference that was, and sole guarantee of the grand alliance that was to be, between God and man; so as to this office, he received his power, which was to be executed in a way distinct from his power and government as Creator. Note, The church’s king is no usurper, as the prince of this world is; Christ’s right to rule is incontestable.

b. The extent of his power: He has power over all flesh. (a.) Over all mankind. He has power in and over the world of spirits, the powers of the upper and unseen world are subject to him (1 Pet. 3:22); but, being now mediating between God and man, he here pleads his power over all flesh. They were men whom he was to subdue and save; out of that race he had a remnant given him, and therefore all that rank of beings was put under his feet. (b.) Over mankind considered as corrupt and fallen, for so he is called flesh, Gen. 6:3. If he had not in this sense been flesh, he had not needed a Redeemer. Over this sinful race the Lord Jesus has all power; and all judgment, concerning them, is committed to him; power to bind or loose, acquit or condemn; power on earth to forgive sins or not. Christ, as Mediator, has the government of the whole world put into his hand; he is king of nations, has power even over those that know him not, nor obey his gospel; whom he does not rule, he over-rules, Ps. 22:28; 72:8; Matt. 28:18; John 3:35

c. The grand intention and design of this power: That he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. Here is the mystery of our salvation laid open.

(a.) Here is the Father making over the elect to the Redeemer, and giving them to him as his charge and trust; as the crown and recompence of his undertaking. He has a sovereign power over all the fallen race, but a peculiar interest in the chosen remnant; all things were put under his feet, but they were delivered into his hand.

(b.) Here is the Son undertaking to secure the happiness of those that were given him, that he would give eternal life to them. See how great the authority of the Redeemer is. He has lives and crowns to give, eternal lives that never die, immortal crowns that never fade. Now consider how great the Lord Jesus is, who has such preferments in his gift; and how gracious he is in giving eternal life to those whom he undertakes to save. [a.] He sanctifies them in this world, gives them the spiritual life which is eternal life in the bud and embryo, John 4:14. Grace in the soul is heaven in that soul. [b.] He will glorify them in the other world; their happiness shall be completed in the vision and fruition of God. This only is mentioned, because it supposes all the other parts of his undertaking, teaching them, satisfying for them, sanctifying them, and preparing them for that eternal life; and indeed all the other were in order to this; we are called to his kingdom and glory, and begotten to the inheritance. What is last in execution was first in intention, and that is eternal life.

(c.) Here is the subserviency of the Redeemer’s universal dominion to this: He has power over all flesh, on purpose that he might give eternal life to the select number. Note, Christ’s dominion over the children of men is in order to the salvation of the children of God. All things are for their sakes, 2 Cor. 4:15. All Christ’s laws, ordinances, and promises, which are given to all, are designed effectually to convey spiritual life, and secure eternal life, to all that were given to Christ; he is head over all things to the church. The administration of the kingdoms of providence and grace are put into the same hand, that all things may be made to concur for good to the called.

d. Here is a further explication of this grand design (John 17:3): “This is life eternal, which I am empowered and have undertaken to give, this is the nature of it, and this the way leading to it, to know thee the only true God, and all the discoveries and principles of natural religion, and Jesus Christ whom, thou has sent, as Mediator, and the doctrines and laws of that holy religion which he instituted for the recovery of man out of his lapsed state.” Here is,

(a.) The great end which the Christian religion sets before us, and that is, eternal life, the happiness of an immortal soul in the vision and fruition of an eternal God. This he was to reveal to all, and secure to all that were given him. By the gospel life and immortality are brought to light, are brought to hand, a life which transcends this as much in excellency as it does in duration.

(b.) The sure way of attaining this blessed end, which is, by the right knowledge of God and Jesus Christ: “This is life eternal, to know thee,” which may be taken two ways-- [a.] Life eternal lies in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ; the present principle of this life is the believing knowledge of God and Christ; the future perfection of that life will be the intuitive knowledge of God and Christ. Those that are brought into union with Christ, and live a life of communion with God in Christ, know, in some measure, by experience, what eternal life is, and will say, “If this be heaven, heaven is sweet.” See Ps. 17:15. [b.] The knowledge of God and Christ leads to life eternal; this is the way in which Christ gives eternal life, by the knowledge of him that has called us (2 Pet. 1:3), and this is the way in which we come to receive it. The Christian religion shows us the way to heaven, First, By directing us to God, as the author and felicity of our being; for Christ died to bring us to God. To know him as our Creator, and to love him, obey him, submit to him, and trust in him, as our owner ruler, and benefactor,—to devote ourselves to him as our sovereign Lord, depend upon him as our chief good, and direct all to his praise as our highest end,—this is life eternal. God is here called the only true God, to distinguish him from the false gods of the heathen, which were counterfeits and pretenders, not from the person of the Son, of whom it is expressly said that he is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20), and who in this text is proposed as the object of the same religious regard with the Father. It is certain there is but one only living and true God and the God we adore is he. He is the true God, and not a mere name or notion; the only true God, and all that ever set up as rivals with him are vanity and a lie; the service of him is the only true religion. Secondly, By directing us to Jesus Christ, as the Mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. If man had continued innocent, the knowledge of the only true God would have been life eternal to him; but now that he is fallen there must be something more; now that we are under guilt, to know God is to know him as a righteous Judge, whose curse we are under; and nothing is more killing than to know this. We are therefore concerned to know Christ as our Redeemer, by whom alone we can now have access to God; it is life eternal to believe in Christ; and this he has undertaken to give to as many as were given him. See John 6:39, 40. Those that are acquainted with God and Christ are already in the suburbs of life eternal.

(2.) Christ here prays to be glorified in consideration of his having glorified the Father hitherto, John 17:4, 5. The meaning of the former petition was, Glorify me in this world; the meaning of the latter is, Glorify me in the other world. I have glorified thee on the earth, and now glorify thou me. Observe here,

[1.] With what comfort Christ reflects on the life he had lived on earth: I have glorified thee, and finished my work; it is as good as finished. He does not complain of the poverty and disgrace he had lived in, what a weary life he had upon earth, as ever any man of sorrows had. He overlooks this, and pleases himself in reviewing the service he had done his Father, and the progress he had made in his understanding. This is here recorded, First, For the honour of Christ, that his life upon earth did in all respects fully answer the end of his coming into the world. Note, 1. Our Lord Jesus had work given him to do by him that sent him; he came not into the world to live at ease, but to go about doing good, and to fulfill all righteousness. His Father gave him his work, his work in the vineyard, both appointed him to it and assisted him in it. 2. The work that was given him to do he finished. Though he had not, as yet, gone through the last part of his undertaking, yet he was so near being made perfect through sufferings that he might say, I have finished it; it was as good as done, he was giving it its finishing stroke eteleiosaI have finished. The word signifies his performing every part of his undertaking in the most complete and perfect manner. 3. Herein he glorified his Father; he pleased him, he praised him. It is the glory of God that his work is perfect, and the same is the glory of the Redeemer; what he is the author of he will be the finisher of. It was a strange way for the Son to glorify the Father by abasing himself (this looked more likely to disparage him), yet it was contrived that so he should glorify him: “I have glorified thee on the earth, in such a way as men on earth could bear the manifestation of thy glory.” Secondly, It is recorded for example to all, that we may follow his example. 1. We must make it our business to do the work God has appointed us to do, according to our capacity and the sphere of our activity; we must each of us do all the good we can in this world. 2. We must aim at the glory of God in all. We must glorify him on the earth, which he has given unto the children of men, demanding only this quit-rent; on the earth, where we are in a state of probation and preparation for eternity. 3. We must persevere herein to the end of our days; we must not sit down till we have finished our work, and accomplished as a hireling our day. Thirdly, It is recorded for encouragement to all those that rest upon him. If he has finished the work that was given him to do, then he is a complete Saviour, and did not do his work by the halves. And he that finished his work for us will finish it in us to the day of Christ.

[2.] See with what confidence he expects the joy set before him (John 17:5): Now, O Father, glorify thou me. It is what he depends upon, and cannot be denied him.

First, See here what he prayed for: Glorify thou me, as before, John 17:1. All repetitions in prayer are not to be counted vain repetitions; Christ prayed, saying the same words (Matt. 26:44), and yet prayed more earnestly. What his Father had promised him, and he was assured of, yet he must pray for; promises are not designed to supersede prayers, but to be the guide of our desires and the ground of our hopes. Christ’s being glorified includes all the honours, powers, and joys, of his exalted state. See how it is described. 1. It is a glory with God; not only, Glorify my name on earth, but, Glorify me with thine own self. It was paradise, it was heaven, to be with his Father, as Prov. 8:30; Dan. 7:13; Heb. 8:1. Note, The brightest glories of the exalted Redeemer were to be displayed within the veil, where the Father manifests his glory. The praises of the upper world are offered up to him that sits upon the throne and to the lamb in conjunction (Rev. 5:13), and the prayers of the lower world draw out grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ in conjunction; and thus the Father has glorified him with himself. 2. It is the glory he had with God before the world was. By this it appears, (1.) That Jesus Christ, as God, had a being before the world was, co-eternal with the Father; our religion acquaints us with one that was before all things, and by whom all things consist. (2.) That his glory with the Father is from everlasting, as well as his existence with the Father; for he was from eternity the brightness of his Father’s glory, Heb. 1:3. As God’s making the world only declared his glory, but made no real additions to it; so Christ undertook the work of redemption, not because he needed glory, for he had a glory with the Father before the world, but because we needed glory. (3.) That Jesus Christ in his state of humiliation divested himself of this glory, and drew a veil over it; though he was still God, yet he was God manifested in the flesh, not in his glory. He laid down this glory for a time, as a pledge that he would go through with his undertaking, according to the appointment of his Father. (4.) That in his exalted state he resumed this glory, and clad himself again with his former robes of light. Having performed his undertaking, he did, as it were, reposcere pignus—take up his pledge, by this demand, Glorify thou me. He prays that even his human nature might be advanced to the highest honour it was capable of, his body a glorious body; and that the glory of the Godhead might now be manifested in the person of the Mediator, Emmanuel, God-man. He does not pray to be glorified with the princes and great men of the earth: no; he that knew both worlds, and might choose which he would have his preferment in, chose it in the glory of the other world, as far exceeding all the glory of this. He had despised the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, when Satan offered them to him, and therefore might the more boldly claim the glories of the other world. Let the same mind be in us. “Lord, give the glories of this world to whom thou wilt give them, but let me have my portion of glory in the world to come. It is no matter, though I be vilified with men; but, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self.”

Secondly, See here what he pleaded: I have glorified thee; and now, in consideration thereof, glorify thou me. For, 1. There was an equity in it, and an admirable becomingness, that if God was glorified in him, he should glorify him in himself, as he had observed, John 13:32. Such an infinite value there was in what Christ did to glorify his Father that he properly merited all the glories of his exalted state. If the Father was a gainer in his glory by the Son’s humiliation, it was fit the Son should be no loser by it at long run, in his glory. 2. It was according to the covenant between them, that if the Son would make his soul an offering for sin he should divide the spoil with the strong (Isa. 53:10, 12), and the kingdom should be his; and this he had an eye to, and depended upon, in his sufferings; it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross: and now in his exalted state he still expects the completing of his exaltation, because he perfected his undertaking, Heb. 10:13. 3. It was the most proper evidence of his Father’s accepting and approving the work he had finished. By the glorifying of Christ we are satisfied that God was satisfied, and therein a real demonstration was given that the Father was well pleased in him as his beloved Son. 4. Thus we must be taught that those, and only those, who glorify God on earth, and persevere in the work God hath given them to do, shall be glorified with the Father, when they must be no more in this world. Not that we can merit the glory, as Christ did, but our glorifying God is required as an evidence of our interest in Christ, through whom eternal life is God’s free gift.