One aspect of knowing/believing Christ is imitating Him (13:15). In John 17:1–8, seeing Christ’s involvement with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) provides, with appropriate qualifications, a model for our interaction with other Christians (11:41–42).
Properly during the Christmas season, we emphasize Christ’s becoming man (incarnation) and that He is the King. But without denying these appropriate emphases, the Christ of Christmas is fully the Priest (and Prophet) as well as the King.
Old Testament priests, especially the high priests, offered sacrifices and prayed for their people (Lev. 16:15, 21). They were mediators between God and men (Heb. 5:1). The succession of Old Testament high priests foreshadowed the one glorious High Priest, Jesus Christ. He was not simply a man who mediated between God and men; Christ was in fact the God-man who mediated between God and men (Heb. 8:6; see 1 Tim. 2:5). Further, He did not simply offer sacrifices of animals or grain; Christ offered Himself as the one eternal sacrifice (Heb. 7:27; 9:12). Finally, He did not offer up weak and sometime ineffectual prayers for Himself and others; Christ offered up glorious and effective prayers, and He continues to do so (5:7; 7:25).
Christ’s intercessory prayer to the Father in John 17 includes His petitions for the disciples and all subsequent believers. But also, especially in John 17:1–8, Christ reveals aspects of His mediatorial role, which in turn highlight His person as being truly God and truly man, and He highlights the special relationship He has with the Father. In this article, after an exegesis of John 17:1–8, I will expand on the agreement between the Father and Christ as to this mediatorial role and Christ’s being called “the sent one.” Finally, I will exhort us to know and believe in Christ more deeply.
Exegesis of John 17:1–8
Christ begins the prayer with “Father” and refers to Himself as “Son” (17:1). These words wonderfully reflect the close and loving intra-Trinitarian relationship between the persons of the Father and the Son, extending from eternity past and continuing throughout Christ’s life on earth. Given this positive point, however, the first comment brings an ominous note: “The hour has come.” In John’s gospel, this refers to Christ’s crucifixion (2:4; 12:23). Christ then presents His first request or petition: “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (17:1). This mutual glorification between the Father and Son is on the surface surprising because it is related to the upcoming ugly crucifixion (this mutual glorification also includes the Holy Spirit; 16:14).
Christ’s petition for mutual glorification is then grounded in what was previously given. The Father “has given” the Son both “authority over all flesh” and the elect so that the Son will “give eternal life to all [the elect]” (17:2). In this prayer, “to give” is quite prominent. This giving by the Father to the Son in order that the Son will give to the elect reflects a prior agreement between the Father and the Son. Further, since the Son, as God, has had all authority from all eternity, this giving of all authority must refer to the Son in His mediatorial role as the God-man.
Next, “eternal life” is given a definition. The elect will “know you [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3). Referring to the Father as “the only true God” is not indicating that Christ is less than fully divine. Why not? Because John elsewhere clearly shows that Christ is fully divine (e.g., 1:1; 5:18; 10:30; 17:5; 20:28). Instead, the point is that to properly know the true divine Father, one has to see His relationship to the true divine Christ. The epithet of Christ is interesting; He is the One “whom you [Father] have sent.”
In 17:4, Christ states what He has done as per the prior agreement: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Although Christ is saying this on Thursday night, He is including Friday’s crucifixion in this statement (“on earth”). Of course, as High Priest, He will also be applying His accomplished sacrificial work while ascended in heaven.
Having just discussed His work while “on earth,” Christ speaks of His future glory upon His ascension. “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (17:5). Again in John’s gospel, Christ’s divinity is shown. Christ was with the Father “before the world existed.” Further, different aspects of glory are hinted at here. There was a glory in eternity past as Christ was the eternal divine Son. There was in some way a different aspect of glory that Christ had in His state of humiliation as the God-man while on earth. Finally, there is a glory of Christ in heaven similar to the one in eternity past, but it will be Christ as the God-man, not as the preincarnate, eternal divine Son.
John 17:9–19 includes petitions explicitly related to Christ’s disciples. John 17:6–8 includes some of the grounds or rationale as to why the Father should grant the petitions. Christ has “manifested your [Father’s] name to the people whom you gave me” (v. 6), and they “have believed that you sent me” (v. 8). There is a progression: “Yours [Father’s] they [the disciples] were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (v. 6). That is, the election of the disciples was by the Father; the disciples were given to the Son; and the disciples properly responded. Therefore, part of the agreement was that the Father would give the Son a people and the Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) would ensure that they believed.