John 17:1-13, Jesus’ Prayer for Release

[November 13, 2011] We are almost at the end of our meditation on the Gospel according to John. This week and the following, we will reflect on the meaning of chapter 17, the prayer that concludes the Last Supper which began with the foot-washing in chapter 13. The Gospel according to John replaces the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the other gospels with Jesus’ final speech to His disciples, introduced by the cleansing and finished by the prayer. Yet the Gospel according to John does not oppose the practice of the Lord’s Supper any more than it opposes baptism. It never directly speaks of the outward practices of the church not because it dismisses them but, as we see by its constant allusion to them, because it reveals the inner essence and meaning of them. For example, this gospel does not narrate the baptism of Jesus as the other gospels do. Nevertheless, it has John the Baptist refer to it as having happened and speak of its significance. In chapter 6 Jesus speaks of eating His body and drinking His blood and connects this to His incarnation, death, resurrection, giving of the Spirit, and the Word. He does so, however, not to negate the Lord’s Supper but to bring out its significance. Here too, in chapters 13—17, the institution of the Lord’s Supper is not ignored but, though not even alluded to, its inner significance is in the meanwhile fully brought forth.

These chapters bring out the significance of the entire gospel. When Jesus came into the world, He manifested Himself and gathered those whom the Father gave Him to Himself. This constituted the first half of the gospel (up to 12:11) as He came forth from the Father to manifest Himself in the flesh of His humanity. 12:12 on describes the process by which He returned to the Father that His humanity might share “the glory which I had with You before the world was” (17:5). This return, however, was also His glorification by which He in His entirety (divinity and humanity) became communicable as life to those who believe into Him and thus multiplied Himself in others. This was fulfilled in His resurrection when He breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples.

The central doctrine of the Gospel according to John is the co-inherence of the divine Persons, that is, how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwell in each other as they share their undivided and singular divine nature, and how this co-inherence extends to the Lord’s humanity. In particular, the Lord, in both the native divine and assumed human natures of His singular hypostasis (person), co-inheres with the Holy Spirit—so that when we receive the Holy Spirit we receive Himself. In this sense, He IS the Holy Spirit. We could not receive the Holy Spirit before His death and resurrection and we can receive the Holy Spirit after His death and resurrection because His death—His undergoing the divine judgment on our behalf—makes it possible for us to receive Him by changing our condition. He Himself, communicated now in the Holy Spirit, is the antidote to our affliction (sin) which made us incapable of receiving His life. Now that He has passed through death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit is now different (She “contains” the Lord’s experience of death and resurrection); the Holy Spirit has become assimilable to us. What this means is that when we receive the Holy Spirit we begin to participate in the divine co-inherence, so that as we abide in Christ through faith (which faith is itself a consequence of the co-inherence of Christ in us) the Triune God abides in us (14:23).

Chapters 14—16 are the revelation of this. In this speech Jesus reveals the significance of His death and resurrection. His death and resurrection, and the consequences ensuing for us, are the subject of His talk. His going away refers to His death. His coming back refers to His resurrection. His death and resurrection are for the sake of our union with Him—in His body which is the Father’s house, in the vine of which we are the branches, in Himself as the newborn Child, the Firstborn of the entire creation.

The Purpose of the Lord’s Prayer

This speech concludes with the prayer of chapter 17. This prayer functions in a similar way to His prayer in 11:41-42 that preceded His raising of Lazarus. This prayer precedes His own resurrection and is in fact a prayer for His resurrection: “glorify Me” (17:5). It is also the conclusion of chapters 13—16, an “amen” that asks that what He has said may be made effectual. This then becomes an anticipatory “amen” to His whole life—“I have [finished] the work which You have given Me to do”—anticipating the death which He was about to die. The prayer is a request that His entire “work,” from the time when He first assumed the flesh of creation, would come to fruition in His resurrection in the way that He has described in chapters 14—16.

Prayer does not make things happen as if it were a form of magic. It is not a way of manipulating the deity, as if the deity were a kind of power that we controlled through prayer and whatever we imagine are the preconditions of prayer; in other words, that prayer was some kind of power of our own. The things for which we pray (assuming God answers us), God does. Our prayer is not causative in this regard. God is God’s own cause.

Yet prayer is essential to what God does. How are we to unravel this then so that we can avoid confusion? For it is not a light thing for us to misconstrue prayer as a power of our own. If we imagine this—in the manner of Christian Science, New Thought, New Age, and Christian babblers of all kinds—we are praying without faith. What we bring to our prayer—for example, positive things—is not faith. Faith begins when we separate the affects of our soul (our soul’s energy, for example) from our recognition and perception of God’s autonomy in everything that God does. This beholding of the autonomy of the divine reality is spiritual, not soulical, though it then shapes the soul and becomes soulical (see for example the change in tenses of Luke 1:46-47). What is soulish is quite different: that refers to the soul acting as if it were an independent agent, apart from spirit.

Prayer is as much the affect of the divine action as that for which we pray. It is a part of that action and it is brought into affect by our communion with God. Prayer is our cooperation and participation in that which God does, but, as our cooperation, it is initiated by God as much as that for which we are praying. Prayer is not dispensable, for it is the co-working of heaven and earth initiated from heaven, which has to do with the very purpose of God answering our prayer in the first place. The purpose of God’s grace is the sanctification of His name, the coming of His kingdom, and the doing of God’s will—all of which has to do with the “glorification” of the creation. Our glorification, and by extension, the glorification of creation, is our participation in the divine nature, our divinization. The divine became flesh that the flesh might become divine—without change or confusion, yet without separation or division: Just as in the incarnation the divine did not stop being divine and change into the human but instead remained what it was while fully participating in the human, so also in redemption the human does not stop being human and change into the divine but instead remains what it is while fully participating in the divine. When God answers prayer it is to this end. This end, however, begins with the prayer itself. The prayer itself is the affect of God’s grace and is part of the same act. It is our participation in what God does in the creation. It is far from dispensable—if we are serious about that for which we pray—but neither is it causative. It is the practice of communion.

Having said that, when it comes to the prayer of chapter 17, the Lord Himself is the One who effects that for which He prays (in the Gospel according to John Jesus is not raised by the Father but raises Himself from the dead) even as He seeks the Father to effect it. Yet even in His own case, prayer is not dispensable but is the affect of the divine communion, the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their co-inherence. When we pray, we are in affect participating in this communion and therefore praying with the Son.

If there is resonance between this prayer and the prayer of Matthew 6:9-10, it is because the “mystery” of all prayer is that which the Lord prays here. We may pray for many things, but the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6 describes the perimeters of what we may pray for. John 17 crystallizes this further. All prayer is essentially praying for the glorification of the divine in the creation. We may not know in our weakness that for which we are praying, “but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning which cannot be uttered. But He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to God” (Romans 8:26-27). This describes all prayer. Everything else is just us babbling.

Let us turn, to the Lord’s words.

Glorify Me” (John 17:1-5)

At first Jesus prays in the third person. “Father, glorify Your Son.” What we see here is the communion of Father and Son, that is, a communion that takes place within the divinity itself, between One divine Person and Another, whose divinity is indivisible. If the divinity is indivisible into parts, then that communion between the Persons is the divinity in its life and action. This dynamic communion (the perichoresis) is the divine nature. To put it abstractly, personhood is ontologically prior to nature and is the concrete basis of its actuality. The Personhood of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is such that it gives rise ontologically to the one divine essence. The divine essence is therefore Love.

“The hour has come.” The hour refers to His death and resurrection. “My hour” throughout the gospel has consistently had this reference. Now in this prayer Jesus will speak as if it has actually arrived: often He speaks as if it is already or has already taken place (for example, when He says, “I am no longer in the world,” verse 11).

The prayer is: “Father, glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You … Glory Me along with Yourself, Father, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (17:1, 5). This summarizes the entire prayer and thus forms the heading. The Son goes to the Father in resurrection with His human nature. This is the difference between the glory that He had with the Father before the incarnation and the glory in His resurrection. He goes to the Father—in His humanity—by means of His loving obedience which He carried out in His human nature when He boldly went to the cross. The glorification of the Son is the divinization of His human nature in resurrection. Before His resurrection, He was the Person of the Son who had two natures, one native to Himself as the Son of God, namely His divinity, and one assumed by the incarnation, namely His humanity. Both natures were His own. He was completely divine and completely human. But His divinity was veiled by His humanity. Though He hypostatically participated in both natures, the participation of His human nature in His divinity was usually hidden. The transfiguration on the mount was one time when His divinity was manifested in His human nature. His signs also “manifested His glory” (1:11). His divine nature participated fully in His human nature, but the participation of His human nature in divinity was hidden within the limitations of His human nature. In resurrection this changed. His human nature was glorified. His human time (from conception to death) became eternal, that is, ever present, and spatially He became omnipresent, everywhere at once (so that when He says He is in the midst of us, He actually is). And so forth.

The word “glory” speaks of brilliance and shining forth. To glorify the Son is to make the Son manifest. In resurrection, the divine (eternal) life that was within Him is released so that it can be increased and multiplied in others. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:23-24).

When the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified in Him, for when the Son is glorified, the one divine nature of the Father and the Son becomes manifest in the Son’s human nature. The Father shines forth when the Son’s human nature is divinized and the creation begins to be divinized in Him. This is the extension of the glory that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had with each other “before the world was.” This “glory”—the glory for which Jesus prays—is the manifestation of that which is eternal (the divine nature) in the creation.

“Even as You have given Him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him … I have glorified You on earth, finishing the work which You have given Me to do” (verses 2 and 4). Jesus revealed Himself to those who believed into Him, namely His disciples. Insofar as He has revealed Himself, that is, revealed His divinity (as the “I Am”), He has glorified the Father on earth, for the divine nature shone forth in Him. By so doing, He has given eternal life, the life that is within Him that has yet to be released by His death, to those to whom He has Himself.

We do not make the revelation of the Son happen to us. The Son reveals Himself to us because the Father has given us to the Son. This revelation creates our faith in Him, the faith by which we believe into Him. This revelation took place through the presentation of His own Person by His own authority and continues to take place—by His authority—through the word of the Gospel. He presents Himself through the Word, the Holy Spirit making Him present in the Word.

 What is eternal life? Semantically, eternal life is the divine life, the life of God. It is not, as some people imagine, the gift of an immortal afterlife (though that may be the affect). It is God’s own life. 1 John 5:20 says, “The Son of God has come and has given us an understanding that we might know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” That is, His Son Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. Yet there seems to be some confusion in the words that precede. “We are in Him … in His Son.” The confusion is, are we in Him or in His Son? The confusion is dissolved when we recognize that we are in the Father when we are in the Son, for the Son is the true God (the same as the Father) and the Son is eternal life, the same eternal life that the Father is. Eternal life is divine, not particular to one Person of the Trinity or another.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Him whom You have sent, Jesus Christ.” For us to have eternal life is to participate in the divine self-knowledge of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “The things of God no one has known except the Spirit of God. [And] we have received … the Spirit which is from God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). Only God can know God. Yet by the Holy Spirit we are given knowledge (gnosis) of God. Our knowledge of God is actually God knowing Himself in us. Eternal life, which is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit within us, is this divine self-knowing. For us, eternal life is a participation in the divine life of the Trinity in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit know each other and thus know the divine nature that is the communion between them (that which they are and which they share, i.e., their essence).

The Father’s Name (17:6-8)

“I have manifested Your name” and “they have kept Your word.” The word (logos) is the revelation of the name, which has come about through the Lord’s words (rhema) to them. What was revealed? “That all that You have given Me is from You.” Now they know “that I came forth from You.” The Father’s name is what Jesus revealed, which is also inseparable from Himself. It is His own divinity (that which is from You … I am from You). So I would disagree that the name is simply the revelation of God as “Father.” Rather, the Father’s name is the revelation of His divinity. The Father is revealed in the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. It is not that the Father and Son do not face each other as distinct Persons, but rather that the divinity that the Son reveals as Himself is the divinity of the Father and therefore reveals the Father as well. The Son manifested the Father’s name when He revealed Himself as the “I Am.” The revelation of Himself throughout the gospel as the “I Am” of YHWH the oneness of whose identity is absolutely exclusive. Jesus is God in God’s uniqueness from everything and everyone else. The name “I Am” in the sense that Isaiah uses it absolutely excludes polytheism, including tri-theism. Yet this is who Jesus claims to be. He manifests the Father’s name—in Himself.

“I Am” also signifies, by the meaning of the words themselves, the divine presence. When Jesus says, “I Am,” God is immediately present to us, present in His own Person. To say, “I Am,” rather than “That which Is,” “This,” or something similar, is to insist on the personal presence of the One speaking. When One who insists on His personal presence speaks to us, we become personally present to Him. There is no alternative, unless we are not addressed, and there is no revelation. If, however, God speaks and reveals Himself as “I Am,” we can only become persons in response, which means that we echo, “Here am I.” This creation of a face-to-face encounter by the revelation itself makes the revelation of God the revelation of the Personhood of God, for in this encounter we become a person facing the Person of God. The Person of the Son manifests the Personhood of God, which is revealed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their relation to and communion with one another.

I Have Been Glorified in Them” (17:9-10)

Always in this prayer Jesus speaks as the Son to the Father and always as sharing the divine nature with the Father. All that the Father has is the Son’s and all that the Son has is the Father’s. This is the relationship of the three Persons in the Trinity. No one Person has anything at all that does not also belong to the others, including the human nature of Jesus. They may have them differently (for the Father after all gives them to the Son: the Persons are different in their relation to each other), but each has them fully.

You have given them to Me and “I have been glorified in them.” The Son has been glorified in His believers by virtue of having revealed Himself—His divinity and therefore the Father’s name—to them.

Keep Them in Your Name that They May be One” (17:11-12)

Jesus prays for us “in the world” that the Father may keep us in His name—the name which He has given to the Son. This name, as we said above, is the revelation of the divine nature, Jesus revealing Himself as “I Am,” which is the Father’s name. We are to be kept in the revelation of the divine “I Am.” What does that mean?

If the revelation of the divine “I Am” reveals the divine Personhood, the fact that the revelation takes place at all means that we are participating in the communion of the Trinity. To be “kept” in the name is to be maintained in this communion as we grow deeper and deeper into it. We exist “in the world” in this communion, as Jesus Himself existed in the world in this communion. We do so by faith in Him and therefore within the Christian community.

“That they may be one as We are.” [To be continued at a later date.]

Joy (17:13)

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