Chapter 11: The Last Words of the Lord Jesus in the Upper Room - John Chapter 17

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by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland

INTRODUCTION

SANCTITY

SHADOW

STRUCTURE

STATUS

SPECIFICS

SCOPE

SIGNIFICANCE

CONCLUSION


INTRODUCTION

Chapters 13 to 17 of the Gospel by John have often and appropriately been entitled generically the ‘Upper Room Ministry’ of the Lord Jesus. However, it should be noted that the words recorded in chapters 15, 16 and 17 were not spoken in the upper room itself, but after the Lord Jesus and His disciples had left its precincts and had started their journey which would ultimately lead to the crossing “over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples” Jn.18.1. Nevertheless, the upper room formed a most fitting backdrop to the entire discourse. The place was highly significant. Details of its selection and specification are found in Luke chapter 22, where it is described as “a large upper room furnished” v.12. How Peter and John were directed there is worthy of consideration: they met a man “bearing a pitcher of water” and followed “him into the house where he enter[ed] in” Lk.22.10. If the unidentified man represents the Holy Spirit, the pitcher of water is a beautiful and consistent picture of the Word of God, and so the two chosen disciples, directed by the Lord Himself, were guided to the place where preparation was made for the eating of the Passover and the ensuing institution of the Lord’s Supper. The principle remains that it is through the leading of the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the Word of God, that individuals are led to the place where the Lord is in the midst and His own are gathered unto Himself. While there is no record of the institution of the supper in the Gospel by John, he is careful to make it clear, through the washing of the feet of the disciples and the egress of Judas from the assembled company, that conditions must be right before such an innovative and noble act could have been undertaken.

It has often been observed that the on-looking world was excluded from the intimacy and sanctity of the upper room. The opening twelve chapters of John’s Gospel are very much public in their context, whereas chapters 13 to 17 are primarily about His own and a huge emphasis lies, not so much on their secrecy, but rather on their privacy. The world never understood the Saviour. In fact, the world hated Him, albeit without a cause, and He sought to instruct His disciples that they could not expect the world to adopt a different attitude to them. How true His words to them, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My name’s sake, because they know not Him that sent Me” Jn.15.18-21. He further explained: “He that hateth Me hateth My Father also” Jn.15.23. How precious to appreciate the special relationship between the Lord Jesus and His own and that the portion found in Him is vastly superior to anything that this world can offer! Truly “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” Jn.17.16.

SANCTITY

The words of the Lord Jesus in chapters 13 to 16 were addressed to the disciples. They were words of instruction, consolation, and preparation for what would follow His departure. Above all they were words of exhortation and encouragement. It is such a privilege, in the holy and spiritual environment of the upper room, to be permitted to listen to and contemplate the words that He spoke to His own in those never-to-be-repeated circumstances. We have so much to learn, digest and indeed implement. Yet when we come to chapter 17 it is not His words to men that are prominent but rather His words to His Father. When one Divine Person addresses another we must pay particular attention. The prayer of John chapter 17 would, by far, be the longest and most detailed of such communications found in all of the Bible; while others, such as Psalm 110 and Hebrews chapter 1, deal with the Lord’s enthronement and are regal in character, this discourse is essentially holy and primarily priestly. Coming on the eve of the cross it provides such an apt insight into how the Lord viewed His imminent sufferings, His desires for His own, and how He anticipated displaying His glory to them whom the Father had given to Him, Jn.17.24.

It is appropriate to draw a parallel with the upper room ministry and the Tabernacle. Indeed this is only one of the many links between the Gospel of John and the early books of the Bible. Chapter 13 and the feet washing connects so clearly with the laver. Equally clearly, chapter 17 links with the Holiest of all. As we approach, listen and ponder, the instruction “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” Ex.3.5, is most becoming and appropriate. In such spiritual and lofty environs there is not the slightest hint of failure, infirmity or shortcoming. These may have had their place in previous chapters but not now; the great wonder is that we are permitted to hear in such intimate detail the words of the Son as He communed with His Father. W.E. Vine observes that “it is the prayer of our ‘Apostle and High Priest’, the Apostle as sent from God to men, the High Priest for men to God”.1

1. Vine, W.E. “The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Vol.1”. Thomas Nelson Inc., Tennessee, 1996.

SHADOW

The concluding words spoken at the end of chapter 16 summarised the purpose of His communication to the disciples. It was that they might have peace in the world, to remind them that in the world they would not be immune from tribulation, to exhort them to be of good cheer and to assure them that they were associated with One Who had overcome the world. Without any recorded gap “Jesus … lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee’” Jn.17.1. Clearly the disciples were within earshot. The crossing of the brook was imminent. The dark experiences of Gethsemane and all that was entailed in the hour He had just spoken of were about to become a reality; the priestly words that He uttered must be heard and assessed in the context of the shadow of His impending suffering.

STRUCTURE

Before commenting on the sections of the prayer it is worth noting that it is primarily intercessory in character. In a delightful way this is a fulfilment of Israel’s high priest and a preview of the present ministry of the Lord Jesus, Who “died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” Rom.8.34. Again we read, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” Heb.7.25. If the reference to His ability connects with the names of the tribes borne on the shoulders (the place of strength) of the high priest, then in Romans chapter 8 there is an appropriate connection with the names carried upon the breastplate (the place of affection). The major emphasis on intercession is confirmed by the fact that twenty-one of the twenty-eight verses are devoted to the disciples, and to those who also would believe on Him, Jn.17.20. With the cross so near it is remarkable that the Lord Jesus should display such care and compassion for others. Even on the cross, and in the midst of His suffering, He observed His mother and made arrangements for her, post-Calvary, to be looked after: “And from that hour that disciple [John] took her unto his own home” Jn.19.27.

There are occasions when certain passages of the Word of God do not lend themselves readily to sectional division. However, this is not the case with this prayer. In many ways it is a pattern prayer in its structure and order, and in this regard the Lord has left us an important example. While the three sections are clearly distinguished, there is nonetheless an undisputable interconnection between each that is worthy of contemplation; this highlights the preciousness of the unbreakable relationship between the Lord Himself and those that are His. As has often been noted, the Lord prayed for Himself, vv.1-5, for the disciples, vv.6-19, and for those who would subsequently believe on Him, vv.20-26. In praying for Himself the Lord was speaking to the Father about their mutual glorification, when He prayed for His disciples He was occupied primarily with their sanctification and when He interceded on behalf of a wider circle of ensuing believers His overriding focus was on their unification. How important to note that precedence must ever be given to the glory and exaltation of Divine Persons!

STATUS

Intimacy

The introductory words confirm the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. Not only is attention drawn to the words spoken but it must be noted that in so doing the Lord Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father …’” Jn.17.1. His assured and intimate manner of approach is a most fitting confirmation of the unbroken communion between the Father and Son: “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” Jn.1.18. As such He did not require a mediator and this sets Him apart from all others, for the Lord Himself taught, “no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” Jn.14.6.

Equality

Confirmation of the ever-present relationship is one thing; the language employed is also a profound endorsement of the equality that ever existed between the Father and the Son, and His threefold address of “Father” v.5, “Holy Father” v.11, and “O righteous Father” v.25, offers further confirmation of such equality, if it were needed. We do well to recall that when the Lord Jesus explained to the Jews, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”, they “sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” Jn.5.17,18. How precious to reflect upon and rejoice in the glorious truth that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” Jn.1.1. The truth of equality is further ratified by the declaration of the Son, “all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them” Jn.17.10.

In Thee, most perfectly expressed,
The Father’s glories shine,
Of the full Deity possessed,
Eternally Divine.
   (Josiah Conder)

Certainty

A further aspect of Deity must not be overlooked. In the opening part of His High Priestly prayer the Son speaks to the Father about future events in the past tense, as though they had already taken place. Only Deity could use such language. Let us also observe that nothing can hinder the outworking of Divine purpose, regardless of all opposition, whether human or demonic. While His declaration, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” Jn.17.4, has a retrospective element to it as far as it covered His life up to that moment, the main thrust of it looked beyond “the sufferings”, and on to “the glory that should follow” 1Pet.1.11. It is most instructive to note that when the Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples about His death, “He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” Mk.8.31; when He was speaking to His Father it was altogether different: not about suffering at the hand of man but about the work which the Father had given Him to do. There is clearly a Godward and a manward aspect to the cross but there is no room for anything of man in the holy environs of John chapter 17. How true that “no flesh should glory in His presence” 1Cor.1.29.

Reality

Those words, “Father, the hour is come” Jn.17.1, carry a real sense of imminence and inevitability. Often the Saviour had spoken about an hour that was to come but now that hour was upon Him. In the context of eternal purpose, it is remarkable that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus should be described as “the hour”. W.E. Vine comments: “It is the predetermined hour, fulfilling the past, conditioning the future. It is the hour of the overthrow of Satan, the hour of atonement and redemption, bearing their eternal issues.”2

2. ibid.
O wondrous hour, when Jesus, Thou,
Co-equal with the eternal God,
Beneath our sins didst deign to bow,
And in our stead didst bear the rod.
   (Edward Denny)

Granted the hour involved intense suffering but in the context of this particular prayer the focus was neither on shame nor humiliation but on glorification. It was a twofold glory. Firstly His request was “glorify Thy Son” and secondly “that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” Jn.17.1. The work of the cross was and is foundational to every aspect of ensuing glory, whether manifested in His resurrection, ascension, exaltation, present ministry on behalf of His own or future days of Millennial or eternal glory. It should always be remembered that it was the goal of the Son to glorify the Father. Surely He has left us “an example, that ye should follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21. While mortal man can never follow in His steps it should ever be our aim to be as like Him as we possibly can, and to be marked with a desire to bring glory to both Him and the Father.

Authority

In His standing as Son, the Lord Jesus was mindful that the Father had “given Him power [‘authority’ Newberry margin] over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou [the Father] hast given Him” Jn.17.2. Broadly speaking, His authority is twofold: firstly it is sovereign and creatorial, and secondly it is redemptive and regenerative. He made it clear that it was within His power to give eternal life to those who had been given to Him by the Father in the first place. Only One Who is the source of life has the ability to impart life to others, and the life that He gives is eternal both as to its duration and to its quality. The description of eternal life given by the Son is most instructive and gratifying, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” Jn.17.3. Knowledge about God and the Lord Jesus is something precious but having eternal life is much more; it involves an experimental knowledge of God on an ongoing basis. W.E. Vine adds, “it is a knowledge of Persons, not simply of facts, and this involves personal contact and intercourse. It is our mind answering to His, our heart to His heart, our appropriating to ourselves all that God makes known to us, the Father and the Son revealing themselves to us by the Holy Spirit.”3 Those that are saved can say truthfully, “I know Him Whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day” 2Tim.1.12, R.V. Sadly, it can be said of many, as it was of Samuel, that he “did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him” 1Sam.3.7.

3. Ibid.

STATEMENTS

As already noted, the largest section of the prayer focused on the disciples, vv.6-19. Before making request for them the Lord Jesus made a number of important statements in regard to His own; these conveyed, in an instructive but intimate way, something of how He valued them and clearly demonstrated what they meant to Him. It must have been soul-thrilling for them to apprehend and grasp how precious they were to Him; furthermore, to listen to Him speak to His Father about them added a very special dimension to their relationship with Him. The details are worthy of consideration.

Declaration

Let us note how the Son announced to the Father, “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word” Jn.17.6. Only the Son could reveal the Father: “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him [‘told Him out’ Newberry margin]” Jn.1.18. His communication of the Father was accurate and complete; truly He is “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” Heb.1.3. In this connection His declaration to Philip is most reassuring: “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” Jn.14.9.

Allocation

The Lord Jesus went a step further. He declared, “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me” Jn.17.8. It is important to note that there was not the slightest variation between the words of the Father and those of the Son and that by accepting His word the disciples were embracing the precious truth that He had come out from the Father having been sent forth by Him. A grasp of these things was vital on the part of the disciples, if they were to be fully prepared for the role that they had to fulfil in their capacity as His representatives in a dark hostile world after His triumphant return to glory. This is a lovely foreshadowing of all that our High Priest is presently on behalf of His own during the period of His absence.

Distinction

There can never be any hint that the disciples would be abandoned in this world following the Saviour’s return to glory. This is reflected in the brief but highly significant statement, “I pray for them” Jn.17.9. Observe the double emphasis, firstly on the One Who prays and secondly on those for whom prayer is made: “I” is particularly emphatic and the word “pray” (erotao) highlights the precious idea of Him making request for them. It would have been most encouraging for the disciples to realise that the One they had followed was not only praying for them in a general way but also now in a detailed manner. Perhaps we are slow to appreciate that we too can and ought to be specific in our prayers; this would preserve from long rambling non-specific prayers that lack focus. It is possible that as Peter listened he recalled the earlier words of the Lord Jesus to him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” Lk.22.32. While this prayer was for Peter personally, it was also a particular request that he would be preserved from a breakdown in faith.

Having stated that He prayed for His own, He also made it very clear that He prayed not for the world. What an important distinction! It could never be argued that the Lord Jesus did not have any care for or interest in the world. It will always be true that “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” Jn.3.17, and in a relatively short period from the occasion of this prayer, having been raised from the dead, He will commission the eleven to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” Mk.16.15. Such a differentiation can be more readily appreciated by a recognition that the Lord Jesus was praying in His High Priestly capacity, and it was in this capacity that He emphasised that those who were the burden of His prayer had been given to Him by His Father. How reassuring and consoling it must have been to the disciples to receive confirmation that they belonged equally to the Father and the Son. To be under Divine ownership is more than a precious privilege; it is a huge responsibility. Paul reminded the believers at Corinth, “What! Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” 1Cor.6.19,20.

Glorification

The statement, “And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine” Jn.17.10, could not have been uttered by anyone other than the Son of God; here is a fitting confirmation of His Deity. It also elevates the standing of those that are His to an exceedingly high level: to be mutually owned by Divine Persons is truly a position far beyond merit or evaluation. This is further developed through the simple but profound expression, “I am glorified in them” Jn.17.10. Some take the view that the “all Mine” referred to in v.10 is all embracing and includes things as well as persons but it would seem from the tenor and the context that the disciples are primarily in view. We know that “in all things He might have the pre-eminence” Col.1.18, but there is something special about the contemplation that He will be glorified in His own. How solemn to consider the potential in each of us to bring dishonour to Him Who has left us “an example, that [we] should follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21! Paul prayed for the Thessalonians “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” 2Thess.1.12. It is our longing that this would be so for us too. This ought to have a regulating and a motivational influence on all of our lives so that each of us can truthfully say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Phil.1.21.

SPECIFICS

Having observed in a generic way the priestly character of the prayer and its primary focus on those who belonged to Him and those that would be His subsequently, let us ponder in a little more detail something of His particular longings for those who were His. Sometimes we are occupied with our desires to live in a manner that would be for His glory and while this is to be applauded and encouraged, it would be most wholesome to reflect on the Lord’s wishes for us and to be ever mindful of “what manner of persons ought [we] to be in all holy conversation and godliness” 2Pet.3.11. The specific nature of His requests is remarkable and should not be overlooked. Let us observe the following desires He expresses:

Security

How significant that this matter should be accorded such a prominent place in the scale of Divine priorities. The Saviour anticipates His return to heaven. He declares, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” Jn.17.11,12. F.B. Hole comments, “Hitherto they had been kept by the Son in the Father’s name, and the only one missing was no true disciple at all but the son of perdition, and even this sad happening was in fulfilment of Scripture. As to all those really given to Him of the Father, Jesus could say, ‘I have kept’”.4  As He had kept the disciples when He was with them, He is now asking that the Father would keep them. After all, while here He had encountered the hostility and adversity of the world and was now demonstrating His understanding of what confronted those left in it as His representatives. Such an insight provides a most encouraging reassurance that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4.15.

4.  Hole, F.B. “The Serious Christian”. Central Bible Hammond Trust Ltd., 1924.

It is encouraging to note that the first verb, to keep, in v.12 is in the imperfect tense and this emphasises the ongoing nature of His love and power, whereas the second verb has the idea of guarding or protecting. How precious to observe that His power to keep knows neither interruption as to its continuity nor fallibility as to its capacity. It is also worth noting that the concept of being kept relates to the vital matter of spiritual preservation in this life; the matter of eternal security had been dealt with previously in this Gospel when the disciples were assured, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” Jn.10.27-30.

Unity

In the context of making request in relation to their security the Saviour touches upon another closely related matter: the highly significant issue of their unity. The purpose of His plea for their preservation was that “they may be one, as We are” Jn.17.11. It has always been the basis of joy and thanksgiving that there has never been any discord among the ranks of Divine Persons, whether it be in relation to creation, salvation, preservation or ultimate glorification. This is particularly true in regard to the Incarnation, public introduction, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Space would not permit a detailed examination of these delightful aspects, but a more detailed consideration will be beneficial in terms of stirring up our affections in fresh devotion to Himself.

The standard of unity could not be higher. As this was, and will ever be, true of the relationships within the Godhead, it ought also to characterise those brought into an eternal association with such Persons. Unity is therefore something that God has established, encourages and expects. On the other hand, it is something that the devil hates. While he cannot alter what God has established, he will do whatever he can to cause division and prevent the precious and practical enjoyment of unity. His aim is ever to sow discord and he is fully aware that “if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” Mk.3.24,25. Sadly, so many companies are divided and as a result the testimony is seriously restricted in its effectiveness. There ought to be a bond of affection between those who belong to the Saviour, who are among those He addressed as His “little children” and to whom He gave “a new commandment … That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” Jn.13.33-35.

It is of interest to note the three incidences in the Bible where God commanded blessing. The first is in connection with the year of jubilee when the instruction was not to sow in the seventh year; where this was the case God had promised, “Then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years” Lev.25.21. The second is introduced in Deuteronomy chapter 28 in connection with adhering to God’s statutes. In that chapter God had promised a series of blessings based on their conformity to His Word and it is declared, “The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and He shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” Deut.28.8. The third is perhaps the best known and in Psalm 133 we read, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity … For there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” vv.1,3. Bringing these together it is instructive to note that the Lord commanded blessing where there was the observation of Divine order, manifestation of obedience and the display of gracious oneness. Perhaps one of the reasons for the absence of blessing is the lack of unity. This was such a burden on the heart of the Lord Jesus as He was approaching the cross and as He anticipated His return to the Father.

Capacity

We have already noted that as the Lord Jesus approached the cross He viewed it as the hour of His glorification. In keeping with that He further prays, “And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves” Jn.17.13. This request, expressed in their hearing, is a very clear indication that it is possible for the disciples to experience the indwelling joy of the Lord. Such a joy is far superior to happiness, which is usually dependent on circumstances. True spiritual joy rises above the mundane things of time. This has often been illustrated by the experience of the apostle Paul as he wrote the Philippian letter; he penned it from the prison cell but the overriding theme was one of joy and rejoicing.

Such joy is not a natural product. It is one of the qualities of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit, Gal.5.22,23. These qualities clearly fall into three groups. The first three, love, joy and peace, are Godward; the second three, longsuffering, gentleness and goodness, are man-ward; whereas the last three, faith, meekness and temperance, are self-ward. The concept of fruit suggests that this is something produced by an inner power, and how precious to observe that the Holy Spirit can develop in the lives of believers features that are Christ-like and pleasurable to God. To have such a capacity is truly remarkable and perhaps not as fully cultivated as it might be. Let us ever remember that “the joy of the Lord is [our] strength” Neh.8.10. How precious to observe that joy of this character can be experienced when circumstances are difficult and much opposition is being encountered, as it was in the days of Nehemiah.

Purity

The One Who prayed had a profound insight into the many dangers that confronted and would confront the disciples. He did not pray that they would be taken out of “the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one” Jn.17.15, R.V. Clearly the disciples were left in the world for a purpose; they were to be witnesses, Lk.24.48; Acts 1.8, and were to “Go … therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” Matt.28.19,20. Nevertheless His concern was for their preservation and He was fully aware that all the hardship and opposition that they would encounter found its source in one accurately described as the evil one, that is, the personification of evil and wickedness.

Having made it clear that it was His will that the disciples should remain in the world after His departure out of it, He was equally clear in His declaration that “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” Jn.17.16. Being in the world, but not of it, is one of the biggest challenges that the believer faces. It is most difficult to rise above worldly influences and pressures. A glance at the well-watered “plain of Jordan” Gen.13.10, was the initial step in Lot moving towards the cities that would come under Divine judgment. As Paul wrote his closing letter to Timothy, he reported with pathos in his soul that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world [‘age’ J.N.D.]” 2Tim.4.10. Perhaps John had the words of the Saviour in mind when he exhorted, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” 1Jn.2.15. May we know something of what it is to bear the true characteristics of “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” Heb.11.13, and not be like those “… who mind earthly things. For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” Phil.3.19,20.

O worldly pomp and glory,
Your charms are spread in vain!
I’ve heard a sweeter story,
I’ve found a truer gain:
Where Christ a place prepareth,
There is my loved abode;
There shall I gaze on Jesus,
There shall I dwell with God.
   (Samuel C. G. Kuster)

To be in the world yet not of it is to follow the perfect example set by the Lord Jesus Himself. It should ever be our goal to be as like Him as we possibly can. It is against this background that the Lord Jesus prayed “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” Jn.17.17. Sanctification is both a positional and a practical truth. To be sanctified is to be brought into a state of separation unto God, and this is true of every believer from the moment of salvation, when he or she is born of God. W.E. Vine helpfully observes that “sanctification is also used of the practical experience of this separation to God and is the effect of the Word of God as learned by the Holy Spirit, and is to be pursued by the believer earnestly”.5  Obedience to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures will produce sanctity of life, and how precious to appreciate when defilement does occur, that there is cleansing available, again “according to [His] word” Ps.119.9. Earlier the Saviour had assured the disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” Jn.15.3.

5. Vine, W.E. ibid.

Responsibility

It was never intended that the disciples, although heavenly-minded in conduct and outlook, should live as isolationists in the world. Rather, just as the Father had sent the Son into the world, so now the Son sends forth His own into that same hostile world. John Heading helpfully points out that “these disciples, like Paul, were to be ambassadors from heaven, representing the heavenly court in a world of men dominated by Satan. The Son was the first Divine Ambassador sent forth from heaven, and the disciples would follow His steps. It is not profitable to be a servant in this world with a high and heavenly calling, and yet seeking to be unsanctified practically. Neither is it profitable to go here and there in the world without having been sent.”6  Heavenly representatives ought, therefore, to be marked with a becoming dignity that reflects both their role and weighty responsibility. At the same time there could be no greater honour than sharing in such gracious privileges as “ambassadors for Christ” 2Cor.5.20. This surely was true in the case of Peter and John when the people of their day “perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” Acts 4.13. May we all feel keenly our responsibilities in this regard and may we be preserved from, inadvertently or otherwise, having a negative impact upon the lives of others.

6. Heading, J. “John – What the Bible Teaches”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock.

SCOPE

As we have already observed, the closing verses of our chapter provide a most precious disclosure of the desire of the Lord Jesus for “them also which shall believe on Me through their word” Jn.17.20. It must have been a great source of comfort for Him to look beyond the hour of His suffering and contemplate those who would be saved as a result of the death of the “corn of wheat” Jn.12.24. How precious to be among that number! How consoling to recall that every believer of the present dispensation had a central place in the longings of His heart! Although many centuries have passed since these words were uttered in the hearing of His disciples, there has never been the slightest variation in His will for them that would subsequently believe.

It would be remiss not to highlight the significant role that the apostles would fill in the spread of the gospel and its associated truths. As they listened, it would become apparent to them that others would believe through their ministry. In reality they were identified as the foundation stones upon which evangelical and church doctrine would be established and advanced. The apostle Paul later wrote about believers as “the household of God … built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” Eph.2.19-21. It is also highly significant, in a much later stage in the outworking of the Divine programme, that “the wall of the city [that is, the holy city, the new Jerusalem] had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” Rev.21.14.

In this section those under scrutiny are described as those that shall believe. Therefore, faith is the key that unlocks a deeper appreciation of all the blessings bestowed upon those that believed at that time and from then onwards. Let us observe the following points concerning faith:

Foundation of Faith

It is of interest that the word “faith” does not occur in the Authorised Version of the Gospel by John; rather he makes extensive use of the word “believe” and as W.E. Vine points out: “Matthew uses the verb ten times, Mark ten, Luke nine, John ninety-nine times”.7  To believe is much more than assenting to or giving credibility; it means to be fully persuaded, to place total dependence upon and to have implicit trust. As the Lord Jesus draws near to the end of this remarkable prayer, He is emphasising that the belief of which He spoke was not merely mental consent to a dogma but was absolute reliance upon a Person. He further affirmed that faith does not operate in a vacuum, rather it must have the rock-solid basis of what He described as “their word” v.20, that is, the word they would thereafter declare, whether it would be by means of preaching or written ministry. It is ever true that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Rom.10.17.

7.  Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”.

Fellowship of Faith

Faith is the key that opens the door to the treasure trove of every spiritual blessing. As the Lord Jesus had emphasised the unity that He longed for on the part of the apostolic band, He again makes a similar request for those who would subsequently believe. He once more highlights the lofty status of that unity and likens it to the essential oneness that ever existed between the Father and the Son. What a precious privilege! What a fellowship! May we be preserved from anything that would ever introduce or contribute to discord among those belonging to Him, and may we be ever mindful that “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1Jn.1.3. The display of such unity is vitally important; this is the means whereby the world may believe that the Father has sent Him: “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” Jn.17.21. If the world takes notice of such a testimony it is equally true that it will be quick to perceive any hint of disunity. An appreciation of this will lead to a much greater understanding of Satan’s swiftness to promote disharmony at every available opportunity. May we “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” be enabled “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Eph.4.2,3, and “love the brotherhood” 1Pet.2.17.

Focus of Faith

The concept of unity is further developed in a most instructive manner. The Lord Jesus tells His Father, “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one as We are one” Jn.17.22. Clearly the purpose of this glory being given by the Father to the Son and then being passed on to His own is linked with the noble aim of promoting unity and harmony, but coming to a proper understanding of the particular glory that the Saviour spoke of on this occasion is not so clear cut. John Heading helpfully comments that “this glory of Christ is not that which is His eternally as One in Deity, but the glory consequential upon His becoming Man, and returning with added glory. This glory is in our hearts, and shows itself in our profession and testimony; disunity shows that some hearts are void and empty.”8  Perhaps Peter had a recollection of these words when he reminded suffering believers at a later time of “God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” 1Pet.1.21. While there might be slight differences of view as to the exact nature of the glory, these should not be allowed in any way to deprive us of its graciousness and grandeur, neither should it relieve us of the weighty responsibility resting upon us to reflect something of His glory in a hostile world. Lives that are reflective of His glory will also be a living confirmation that we have been loved by God, as He is loved of His Father: “Thou … hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me” Jn.17.23.

8. Heading, J., ibid.

Fruition of Faith

As this remarkable prayer nears its conclusion, attention is drawn to two most gracious requests. Firstly, He asks that “they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am”, and secondly, “that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me” Jn.17.24. The first offers the prospect of being in His presence; the second the prospect of being occupied with His glory. In chapter 14 the Lord dealt with the fact that He would be leaving them to return to His Father, but now He lifts their thoughts to the future and to a time when they would not only be in His presence but occupied with the glory that is uniquely His. In the opening chapter of his Gospel John wrote about the One Who “was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” Jn.1.14. At the end of chapter 17 the emphasis is not on the glory of the Son in incarnation but rather on His glory in anticipated exaltation. The observation of such glory will not only be a precious privilege but it will be an irrefutable proof that the Father loved Him “before the foundation of the world” Jn.17.24. It is vital to highlight the accuracy of Scripture: had it said ‘from before the foundation of the world’ that would have implied that there was a moment when the Son came into being, and if that were the case, He would not in reality be the Son of God. W.E. Vine points out that “to behold His glory will be to be like Him”. What a joy to be able to say, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” Ps.17.15.

And is it so! I shall be like Thy Son,
Is this the grace which He for me has won?
Father of glory! (thought beyond all thought)
In glory to His own blest likeness brought.
   (John Nelson Darby)

Fortification of Faith

There is a very clear ring of certainty and triumph about the entire prayer, but this is particularly the case as it comes to an end, when the Son speaks to the Father in unequivocal, definite tones. He announces firstly, “the world hath not known Thee”; secondly, “I have known Thee”; thirdly, “these have known that Thou hast sent Me”; fourthly, “I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it” Jn.17.25,26. These words must have made a lasting impression upon the disciples. They would have imparted to them spiritual fibre, conviction and assurance. We too ought to lay hold upon them and may we be filled with courage and gratitude knowing “that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” Jn.17.26.

SIGNIFICANCE

The words of John chapter 17 occupy a special place in the canon of Scripture. Apart from the fact that they provide by far the longest discourse between Divine Persons, they are so devotional and comforting and at the same time so practical and full of challenge. However, woven throughout are some of the most important and precious tenets of doctrine. These are:

  • The equality of the Son to the Father, v.3
  • The eternality of Divine Persons, v.5
  • The Son will be glorified in His own, v.10
  • The preservation of all believers, v.12
  • The world hates the Son and His associates, v.14
  • The Scriptural basis of sanctification, v.17
  • The way God reaches out to the world, v.18
  • The future of believers is secure, v.24
  • The purpose of God and the righteous basis of its execution, v.25.

CONCLUSION

The Lord’s High Priestly prayer is truly the capstone upon His upper room ministry. It is helpful to recall that it began with the Lord Jesus taking the place of the servant as He “… laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself … and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded” Jn.13.4,5. The conclusion is a total contrast: it ends with the unmistakable implication that the disciples and all those who would subsequently believe will be at His feet eternally in adoring occupation with Him and His unfailing glory as the Son. May we all have the grace to live presently in the glad expectation of that day, mindful that “every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” 1Jn.3.3.