1. Prayer for the Glorification of the Son (17:1–5)
1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
This part of the prayer is often said to be Jesus’ prayer for himself. As he prays that he may be glorified (vv. 1, 5) there is perhaps something in this. But this is not prayer “for” himself in the way we usually understand this. Since his glorification is to be seen in the cross it is a prayer rather that the Father’s will may be done in him. If we do talk about this as Jesus’ prayer for himself we should at least be clear that there is no self-seeking in it.
1 The farewell discourse is ended and now comes prayer. Lifting up the eyes to heaven was the accepted posture for prayer (cf. 11:41; Ps. 123:1; Mark 7:34; it was a mark of recognition of personal unworthiness when the tax collector in the parable would not lift up his eyes to heaven, Luke 18:13). 2 The form of address is the simple “Father,” the address of a child to its parent (it is used six times in this prayer). 3 It marks the close familiarity between Jesus and the Father. For “the hour” (NIV, “the time”) in this Gospel see on 2:4. Now with the cross in immediate prospect Jesus can speak of the hour as having come. 4 This is that to which the whole ministry of Jesus has led up. For the idea of “glory” see on 1:14; cf. also 12:28. It is significant that with the cross in view Jesus prays that God will glorify him. To human view the cross was an instrument of shame. To Christ it was the means of true glory. The prayer makes it clear, moreover, that the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father are closely connected. To glorify the Son is to glorify the Father. 5 The two are one.
2 The thought of glory continues (“even as”; NIV, For”). The giving 6 of eternal life to people is the outworking of the glory of which Jesus speaks. His authority is God-given, and it is an authority over the whole human race (cf. 5:27; Matt. 11:27; 28:18). This does not mean that he exercises a sovereignty over the people like the sovereignty of earthly kings. It is an authority 7 given for the express purpose 8 of conferring eternal life (cf. 3:35–36; 10:28; see on 1:4; 3:15). The thought that the authority is given to Christ to confer life, used as it is in a context dealing with the passion, reminds us of that other thought that meant so much to some of the Fathers, that Christ reigned from the tree. The cross was to be not defeat but victory. He exercised authority in bringing people life even as he hung, apparently helpless, on the cross. But, though life is his gift, he does not confer it on all indiscriminately. Once again we have the thought of the divine predestination. Life is given “to all those 9 you have given him.” For a discussion of “eternal life,” see the commentary on 3:15. 10
3 Here we have something of a definition of eternal life. 11 Really to know 12 God means more than knowing the way to life. It is life. 13 In this world we are familiar with the truth that it is a blessing and an inspiration to know certain people. Much more is it the case when we know God. To know him transforms us and introduces us to a different quality of living. Eternal life is simply the knowledge of God. 14 Throughout this chapter there is an emphasis on knowing rather than on John’s characteristic thought of believing. 15 Jesus stresses that there is but one God (cf. 5:44), and he is the true 16 God. It is not knowledge of “a god” that is meant, but knowledge of the supreme Ruler of the universe. This is linked with the knowledge of Christ. 17 The only way to know God is through the revelation he has made, and he has revealed himself in his Son. It is not possible to know God in any way that we choose. We must know him in the one whom he has sent, 18 namely Jesus Christ (for “Christ” see on 1:20, 41).
4 Now comes a statement that Jesus has completed the task for which he came. “I have brought you glory” 19 indicates a completed task. This is further described as “by completing the work you gave me to do.” Jesus says that he has brought to its due end 20 the task that was assigned him (see on 4:34). There is nothing flamboyant about this utterance. But there is a quiet recognition that Jesus has completed his task adequately, and brought glory to the Father in the process. The supreme place of the Father is guarded with the expression “gave.” Even the work that Jesus did was work that the Father gave him. The initiative is seen as resting with the Father.
5 Now Jesus prays God to glorify him. He looks for glory in the last place that people would look for it, namely in the cross. And he sees this glory for which he prays as linked with his preincarnate 21 glory with the Father. 22 There is a clear assertion of Christ’s pre-existence here (we have already seen such a claim, 1:1; 8:58; 16:28). There is also the claim that he had enjoyed a unique glory with the Father in that preexistent state. 23 And now, as evil men are about to do their worst to him, he looks for the Father to glorify him again in the same way. 24 It is the Father who will glorify him with true glory in the cross, and in what follows. Paul tells us that Christ “was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4). In the passion and all that was associated with it Jesus would be glorified with the true glory, a glory continuous with, and indeed identical with, the glory he had “before the world began.” For “the world” see Additional Note B, pp. 111–13. The noun occurs eighteen times in this prayer, which is considerably more than in any section of comparable length anywhere else in this Gospel. Clearly the right relationship of the disciples to the world was of great moment to our Lord as he contemplated leaving them.
2 The worshipper might prostrate himself in prayer, presumably when he wished to adopt an especially lowly place in earnest petition. Our Lord did this in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39).
3 G. Dalman points out that the Greek πάτερ (used here), like ὁ πατήρ or πάτερ μου, presupposes an Aramaic אַבָּא (as in Mark 14:36). The significance of this is that “The usage of family life is transferred to God: it is the language of the child to its father” (The Words of Jesus [Edinburgh, 1902], pp. 191–192). The Jews preferred a less intimate form when addressing God, e.g., “Our Father in heaven.”
4 There is an air of finality about the perfect, ἐλήλυθεν; cf. 12:23.
5 ἵνα is fully telic. Jesus prays for his own glorification not as an end in itself, but as a means to the greater glory of the Father. For ἵνα in John see on 1:8.
6 The repeated use of δίδωμι in this chapter should not be overlooked (see vv. 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 22, and 24). The verb is a favorite one with this Evangelist, being found 76 times in his Gospel (Matthew has it 56 times, Mark 39 times, and Luke 60 times). In this prayer of our Lord it occurs 17 times; mostly the perfect tense is used (11–13 times depending on the resolution of textual points), denoting the permanence of the gift. Thirteen times the Father is the subject of the verb, and on every occasion the gift is made to the Son. The other four occasions all refer to the Son’s giving to the disciples. Abbott comments on the frequency of the verb in this Gospel: “What ‘grace’ is in the Pauline Epistles, ‘giving’ is in the Fourth Gospel” (2742). For the Father’s gifts to the Son see on 3:35. In this chapter Jesus says he has given him authority (v. 2), disciples (vv. 6, 9, 24), “all things” (v. 7), “the words” (v. 8), “the name” (vv. 11, 12), and glory (vv. 22 and 24).
7 ἐξουσία is also connected with the giving of life in the Prologue, though there it is translated “the right,” and it refers to an authority given to believers (1:12).
8 Again we have the telic ἵνα. It appears to be followed by the future indicative δώσει, though this is corrected in various ways, some of which have strong attestation. It is, of course, possible that δώσει is no more than an orthographical variant of δώσῃ. This latter form presents problems. Some posit a rare future subjunctive that Moulton and Howard dismiss as an “imaginary mood,” speaking of all the few examples cited (including the present term) as “only new aorists made from the future stem by the usual analogy” (M, II, p. 218).
9 The neuter πᾶν ὅ, where we might have expected the masculine, puts the emphasis on the quality as God-given, rather than on the persons as such. There is also a hint at unity, which would not be conveyed in πάντες (i.e., “the whole” rather than “all”). In strict grammar, of course, the meaning ought to be “so that he should give them all that you have given him, namely eternal life.” But there can be no doubt but that πᾶν refers to all believers, not to all God’s gift. There is a similar neuter in v. 24. It is a further example of John’s love of variety that he refers to people in the present passage first with the use of “flesh,” πάσης σαρκός, then with the neuter πᾶν, and finally with the masculine pronoun αὐτοῖς. “All flesh” is, of course, a Hebrew expression to denote all people, especially people as weak and temporary over against the strength and eternity of God.
10 When “eternal life” is repeated in the next verse there is a characteristic slight alteration. Here we have ζωὴν αἰώνιον, there ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή. The article, of course, will point back to the previous use of ζωή.
11 This verse is often said to be a parenthesis in which John gives us his view of eternal life. In favor of this is the difficulty of understanding why Jesus should give such an explanation in prayer, and the use of “Jesus Christ” rather than “me” (but he uses the third person in vv. 1–2). Against it is the use of the second person (σέ and ἀπέστειλας), and the difficulty of seeing why John should put his explanation so late in the Gospel after having used the concept so often. A similar passage where the explanation is that of the writer (and is in the third person) may be seen in 1 John 5:20). John has the expression “eternal life” 17 times, but this is the only place in which it has the article and where αἰώνιος precedes ζωή.
12 MiM maintains that “know” here “does not mean to know fully or to recognise, but to learn to know: it expresses not perfect, but inceptive and ever-growing knowledge.” This may be reading a bit much into the use of the present tense, but the point is surely valid that Jesus has in mind an ever-increasing knowledge, not something given in its completeness once and for all.
13 This is overlooked by Barrett in his otherwise excellent note. He gathers many parallels to show the stress placed on the knowledge of God in both Hebrew and Hellenistic thought. But when he says, “Knowledge of God and Christ gives life,” he is introducing a different thought. To say that the knowledge of God and Christ brings life is one thing; to say that it is life is quite another. Temple writes: “At one time I was much troubled that the climax of the Veni Creator should be Teach us to know the Father, Son, And Thee, of Both, to be but One. It seemed to suggest that the ultimate purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit was to persuade us of the truth of an orthodox formula. But that is mere thoughtlessness. If a man once knows the Spirit within him, the source of all his aspiration after holiness, as indeed the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and if he knows this Spirit of Jesus Christ within himself as none other than the Spirit of the Eternal and Almighty God, what more can he want? This is the eternal life.” Tenney stresses the importance of the passage: “the definition of eternal life is important because Jesus differentiated it from the current concept of endless existence.”
17 The compound name “Jesus Christ” is found elsewhere in this Gospel only at 1:17 (where see note). Here a few scholars take it to mean, “that they know … Jesus as Christ” (Lenski, e.g., favors this). It seems better, however, to take it in the normal fashion as the compound name. The alternative does seem to be straining the Greek.
18 The aorist ἀπέστειλας with its indication of a definite act will refer to the incarnation. See further on 3:17.
20 This will be the significance of τελειώσας. Jesus has glorified the Father in that he has finished his assigned task (cf. Rieu, “by finishing the task”). The expression, of course, looks forward to the cross (cf. the use of τετέλεσται in 19:30).
21 For the articular infinitive πρὸ τοῦ … ᾔ εἶναι see on 1:48. BDF notes the present passage as the only one in the New Testament where πρὸ τοῦ is followed by the present infinitive, the aorist being invariable elsewhere (403).
22 παρὰ σεαυτῷ looks for a glory with the Father beyond this world, and it is reinforced by παρὰ σοί. The preposition παρά when used with the dative often has the meaning “in the house of” (see LS, s.v.), and there may be a hint at such a meaning here. Cf. also 1:1, πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
23 Murray comments, “His words imply that for His human consciousness, presence in human flesh in this world involved the surrender, for the time, of the joy of full uninterrupted communion, an absence from the Father, even the possibility of that hiding of His face which makes the darkest of all human utterances a true expression of His experience as man: ‘My God, my God, why didst Thou forsake me?’ ”