3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 17

Contents

Chapter 16

4556406267This is part 17 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

This whole chapter is Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. It continues to underscore and reinforce our theme of hearing and believing. It becomes the central understanding around which the whole passage revolves.


REVIEWING THE TEXT – CHAPTER 17

Praying for the disciples

The chapter opens with a reference to Jesus having spoken through Chapter 16, “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said…”

We are completely involved in a section of the story where Jesus is speaking. Not only is he speaking, he is frequently speaking about speaking.  For example, consider this statement:

I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

– John 17:4

Jesus said this before he was crucified…

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Now, if Jesus can say, “the work that you gave me to do” was something other than to “die for the sins of the world”, we need to sit up and pay attention! What is this “work” that he’s talking about?

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

– John 17:6

His “work”, his mission was to make God’s name known. Of course, this is consistent with something Jesus said earlier about his “work”:

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

– John 4:34

I have given them your word

… and that was in the context of speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He went on, in chapter 4, to talk about “the harvest”, meaning the crowds of people who needed to hear those truths about “God is Spirit”, and worship “in Spirit and in truth”, which he had just explained to the woman.

Jesus’ ministry was all about expounding the truths of God, as he goes on to indicate in his prayer:

Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

– John 17:7-8

… and those truths have a purpose in the lives of believers:

But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

– John 17:13

You have already been cleansed by the word

Because Jesus doesn’t mean, “I’m praying this prayer so that they may have my joy…” He is saying, “I have taught ‘these things’ (my teachings) so that they may have my joy…”, which becomes obvious as we read the next sentence:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

– John 17:14

To be “given” God’s word is to be set apart from the world. This is a key idea, not unique to this chapter. For example from Chapter 15:

You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

– John 15:3

… and Paul repeats this concept faithfully, too:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.

– Ephesians 5:25-27

(for an explanation of what it means to be made “holy”, see this article on Sanctification).

… and that brings us to the comment which so neatly underlines our theme of hearing and believing:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

– John 17:17

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word

To unpack this, Jesus is saying, “Set them apart [from the world] in ‘the truth’, and by that I mean your word, which is ministered to them in my teachings”. He goes on to emphasise the “sanctify” part of this, saying:

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

– John 17:19

… and in this case he is talking about his imminent death again, continuing the thought from verse 11: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Praying for later believers

Jesus continues in his prayer to include future believers. But he doesn’t just say, “those in the future who will believe in me”, he uses an expression which indicates how people will come to believe:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word

– John 17:20

The remainder of the prayer has a lot of “me in them” and “you in me” and “us in you” type of language. Why?

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

– John 17:20-26

This is not only about togetherness, community, and unity. It is not “with”, but “in”. To comprehend it, we can work backwards from the end.

But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

To paraphrase and summarise this passage, Jesus is saying that the Father sent Jesus, and Jesus revealed his glory. This is the same as saying that the Father taught Jesus, and Jesus expounded the teaching. This happened because God so loved the world that he wanted them “to believe”, and therefore be joined to God. Therefore to believe is to receive the Father’s love, as ministered through Jesus, and this activity glorifies God. The end result is the believer, Jesus, and the Father, all in some essential way joined together, mutually “in” one another, as an expression of deeply intimate knowledge, love, and fraternity.

… and all this is predicated on hearing and believing Jesus’ word.

 


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 17

What about someone who is deaf?
Is there any correlation between the father’s love expressed here, and our desire for our own children to listen, accept, obey, and believe what we tell them?
What is the difference between “take them out of the world” (v15), and “sanctify them” (v17)?

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