THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 17
JESUS' HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER

Christ is the mediator of a greater covenant:
During his life on earth, he [Jesus] offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death, and, winning a hearing by his reverence, he learnt obedience, Son though he was, through his sufferings; when he had been perfected, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 5:7-10

 

As it is he [Jesus] has been given a ministry as far superior as is the covenant of which he is the mediator, which is founded on better promises.  If that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no room for a second one to replace it.  And in fact God does find fault with them; he says:  'Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, and I too abandoned them, the Lord declares.  No, this is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, the Lord declares.  In their minds I shall plant my Law, writing them on their hearts.  Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.  There will be no further need for each to teach neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Learn to know the Lord!'  No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.'  [quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34]

"By speaking of a new covenant, he implies that the first one is old.  And anything old and aging is ready to disappear.  Hebrews 8:6-13

 

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying 'Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27-28

 

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.  Whenever you eat this bread, then , and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes.  Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:25-27

 

+ + +

 

As the Last Supper draws to a close Jesus prays to God the Father for Himself and as the intercessor on behalf of His disciples. In the Old Covenant, it was the High Priest who offered the bloody sacrifice to Yahweh on His sacred altar and whose responsibility it was to serve the covenant people as God's representative and the people's intercessor.  Now, in the New Covenant order, it is Jesus Himself who is offering both the sacrifice of His passion and death and His intercession on behalf of His disciples to God the Father (see Hebrews 5:7-10 and Romans 8:34).  Therefore, this prayer has come to be known as Jesus' High Priestly Prayer.

 

In this deeply moving intercessory prayer, which is prayed aloud before the disciples, we become even more aware of the loving intimacy of Jesus' relationship with God the Father as well as His love and concern for those who have followed Him. As witnesses to this prayer addressed so lovingly to the Father, the disciples share, in union with Christ, the intercession as well as the revelation of Jesus' plea.  Then too, as we read the words of Jesus' prayer we have the sense that even though Jesus is still speaking from the Upper Room in Jerusalem that He has already begun to cross the barrier between time and eternity and that He has already taken His first steps toward the cross and His return to the Father (see John 17:11).

 

This prayer, the longest prayer recorded in the Gospels, can be divided into 3 parts:

  1. 17:1-5:             -Jesus makes an offering of His approaching sacrifice to God the Father
  2. 17:6-19:           -Jesus prays an intercessory prayer for the preservation of those who believe in Him.
  3. 17:20-26:         -Jesus prays for all of us–believers down through the centuries–for the unity of the New Covenant Church.

JESUS' HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER

I. FOR HIMSELF
Verses 1-5
II. FOR HIS DISCIPLES
Verses 6-19
III. FOR FUTURE BELIEVERS Verses 20-26
He prays affirming the glory of the cross
(verses 1-2)
He prays for their knowledge
(verses 6-9)
He prays for their oneness in the Father and the Son (verses  20-22)
He expresses the essence of eternal life (verses 3-4)
He prays for their perseverance (verses 10-12)
He prays for their perfect unity together (verse 23)
He rejoices in the shared glory of the Father (verse 5) He prays for their joy
(verse 13)
He prays for their future presence with Him
(verses 24-25)

 

He prays for their protection from evil
(verses 14-16)
He prays for their mutual love
(verse 26)
  He prays for their sanctification
(verses 14-17)

 

M. Hunt © 2001   www.AgapeBibleStudy.com

Please read John 17:1-5: Jesus prays for Himself

17:1After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; 2so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. 3And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, 4and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I have glorified you on earth by finishing the worked that you gave me to do. 5Now, father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.

John 17:1-2: After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven:  Looking to heaven, with arms raised, is the traditional Jewish position of prayer (see Psalms 123:1; Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41, Luke 9:15; John; etc.).  This prayer reminds us of when Jesus taught His disciples the duty and manner of praying and by example prayed the seven petitions of "The Lord's Prayer" (found in Matthew 6:9-13).  Jesus' High Priestly prayer, in fact, fulfills those 7 petitions of "The Lord's Prayer:  Catechism of the Catholic Church #2750-51: By entering into the holy name of the Lord Jesus we can accept, from within, the prayer he teaches us: 'Our Father!'  His priestly prayer fulfills, from within, the great petitions of the Lord's Prayer: concern for the Father's name; passionate zeal for his kingdom (glory); the accomplishment of the will of the Father, of his plan of salvation, and deliverance from evil.  Finally in this prayer Jesus reveals and gives to us the 'knowledge,' inseparably one, of the Father and of the Son, which is the very mystery of the life of prayer. Father, the hour has come...:  Once again He speaks of His "hour."  The Gospel of John refers to Jesus "hour" seventeen times.  In the first half of the Gospel, called "The Book of Signs," the "hour" is anticipated as the moment of climax in Jesus' ministry (see John 2:4; 4:21; 5:25; 7:30; 8:20).  In the second half of the Gospel,  called "The Book of Glory," after entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus speaks of His "hour" as being imminent, and we understand that His "hour" is not only the climax of His ministry but that it is also the climax of His earthly life (see John 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus "hour" is referred to as "the hour of darkness" (Luke 22:53).  John has also used this symbol of darkness repeatedly in his Gospel, beginning in the Prologue: What has come into being in his was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.

Question: What does "darkness" symbolize in John's Gospel and why is Jesus approaching passion and sacrificial death also Jesus' "hour of darkness"?
Answer: Darkness symbolizes sin and the "prince of darkness." This is also the "hour" of Jesus final struggle with Satan.

Jesus' death on the cross is an historical event, but is it more?  Does the "hour" of Christ's passion reach beyond the historical context?  In chapter 4 we discussed the two dimensions of Jesus "hour".

Question: What are the two significant dimensions of Jesus' "hour"?
Answer: The first is the aspect of His historical life and sacrificial death.  The second is the aspect associated with the liturgical life of the Church: the sacrificial gift of Jesus' life to God the Father and the sacramental gift of Jesus to His Church in the liturgy of the Mass, which cannot be separated.  His liturgical hour is the re-presentation of the passion of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration.  It is an "hour" that began that night in the Upper Room and is continuously unfolding throughout the centuries in every corner of the world as Christians celebrate the sacrifice.

Question: In Jesus' High Priestly prayer, what is Jesus' first petition to the Father in John 17:1?
Answer: That God the Father will glorify the Son.

Question: When will Jesus be glorified?
Answer: When film director Mel Gibson showed a preview of his film The Passion of the Christ to a mixed audience of Catholic and Protestant clergy, they all praised the film; however, one Protestant clergyman had a complaint.  "But Mel", he said, "Where's the glory?  You didn't show the glory."  Mel Gibson quietly responded, "The glory is in the sacrifice."  Mr. Gibson was absolutely correct.  The glory is in Jesus' sacrificial death.  It is then that the Son glorifies the Father through His obedience and the Father glorifies the Son in accepting His sacrificial death as the atonement for the sins of man.  The Resurrection does not add to Christ's glory.  The Resurrection is for our benefit so that we will see, understand and believe.

Question: What is Jesus' second petition?  See John 17:2.
Answer: His second petition is that He may give the gift of eternal life to all those who believe in Him.  It is through the Son's glorification that God gives man the opportunity to receive eternal life through "knowing" (the intimacy of a covenant relationship) God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son.  This covenant intimacy in turn results in the glorification of both the Father and the Son and also unites man, through participation in the Sacraments, with Christ, giving redeemed man a share in divine glory.  It is this gift of covenant knowledge that is promised in Jeremiah 31:34.  In Hebrews 8:6-13, the inspired writer, teaching about the new covenant fulfilling and replacing the old, quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34Jeremiah 31:34 speaks of the special covenant knowledge of God that will be a gift of the new age of man in the New Covenant: Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.  There will be no further need for each to teach neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Learn to know the Lord!'  (see the quote from Hebrews 8:6-13 in the introduction to this lesson).

John 17:3-5: And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I have glorified you on earth by finishing the worked that you gave me to do.  Now, father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.

This is only the second time John has referred to Jesus by the title "Jesus Christ," which literally means "Jesus Messiah" (also see John 1:17).

Question: Up to this point in Salvation History, what had been the instrument of revelation to the covenant people?  How is this changed in the New Covenant?
Answer: The Mosaic Law, the writings of the prophets, and the oral teaching of the priesthood had been the instrument of revelation to Israel in the Old Covenant.  Now revelation comes to all people who believe in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In John 17 verses 2 and 3, Jesus speaks of the gift of eternal life.

Question: What is eternal life?  Is it only survival of the righteous soul after death?  Hint: read Matthew 25:41-46  (also see Mark 3:29; John 3:16, 36; 5:29; 6:40, 54, 10:28; Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:11-15).
Answer: No, this is clear in Jesus' teaching of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:41-46: Then he will say to those on his left hand, 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angles.' [...] "And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.  Everyone will share survival of the soul, but the conditions of that survival are the vital difference. Eternal life for believers in Christ is to enter into the fullness and intensity of the life of the Most Holy Trinity to know you, the only true God...:  Once again, this is "covenant language".  In the biblical context, "to know" is not merely the result of an intellectual process to access and store information.  It is to have intimate, personal knowledge that results in a covenantal relationship. When a man and a woman marry, they not only come to know each other in the sense that they are familiar with each other's likes and dislikes and goals and dreams, but that their knowledge is intimately expressed when they are joined in a covenantal union which results in the marital act that will provide the next generation.  That is why biblically "to know" means sexually intimacy as well as covenantal union.

Question: Looking at the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see introduction quote), Yahweh promises the time will come when all will "know" Him "from the least to the greatest."    What is the sign of this intimate knowledge of Yahweh?
Answer: It is the sign of the establishment of the New Covenant.

Question: According to Jesus in John 17:3, what are the characteristics of the believer's knowledge of God in His glory?
Answer: The intimate covenant relationship with God the Father, through His Son and the Advocate/ Teacher sent by the Father through the Son, God the Holy Spirit, who is to lead covenant believers to complete truth (John 15:26; 16:13): this is the New Covenant in Christ:

Question: On what Old Testament doctrine is the New Testament revelation of the Most Holy Trinity built?
Answer: The New Testament doctrine of the Trinity is built on the Old Testament doctrine that Yahweh alone is God.  That Yahweh is the "One" (or the only) and that God is "True" are the traditional biblical attributes of God. For biblical references to "One" (or "only") see Isaiah 37:20; John 5:44, etc., and for references to the "True" God, see Exodus 34:6 and Revelation 6:10, etc.  That God is the One, True and Holy God is what is expressed in the Old Covenant profession of faith in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 32:39; and in the New Covenant text in John 17:3.  Also see CCC#s 234, 236-237; 243-245; 245-255.

Question: According to Jesus in this prayer and in His discourse previously, when then does knowledge of the One True God begin?  When does eternal life begin?
Answer: To be intimately united to Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and to be obedient to His commandments is to "know" the living God in His Triune glory.  This is much more than an intellectual knowledge.  This knowledge must include a relationship of love, friendship and communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that continually grows throughout our faith journey until our union with Him is complete when the journey has ended, our earthly temples (bodies) are judged, and God willing, we are united into the Divine Life of the Most Holy Trinity in heaven.b

Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.

Question: When did Jesus have this glory?
Answer: As the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus was united in glory with the Most Holy Trinity before the world was created (John 1:1-3).

Question: Between verses 1-5 how many times has Jesus has used the word glory/glorify?
Answer: Five times.  The word "glory/ glorify" in the Greek is doxazo.  According to Biblical scholars this verb is used 61 times in the New Testament, 23 times in John's Gospel alone.  In the Hebrew language this word is kavod [kabod] from the Hebrew root word meaning "heaviness" or "weight".  In the biblical perspective, the glory of God is the magnificence and fullness, or the weight, of His eternal Being. St Paul is expressing the Hebrew concept of God's eternal glory when he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us forever an utterly incomparable, eternal weight of glory, since what we aim for is not visible but invisible.  Visible things are transitory, but invisible things eternal.

Question: What is the nature of Jesus' petition in this part of His prayer?
Answer: He is praying about His sacrifice and His Resurrection in which not only His divinity but His humanity will be glorified.

We were first introduced to this theme of glory in the Prologue in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  The "glory" of God is the manifestation of His presence (Exodus 24:16a: Cloud covered the mountain.  The glory of Yahweh rested on Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days).  In the Old Covenant, no one could witness God's glory and live (Exodus 33:20:  'But my face', he said, 'you cannot see, for no human being can see me and survive').  Therefore, the function of the "Glory Cloud" (the pillar of cloud that was visible at night as the pillar of fire in Exodus), was to manifest Yahweh's presence and yet shield the people from His glory.  But in the Incarnation, the glory of God is hidden in Jesus' human nature.  It was in the Transfiguration experience that the Apostles Peter, James, and John witnessed the true nature of the Christ that had been hidden from them (see Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 2:2-8; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-18).

 

Jesus' obedience to the Father in His mission glorifies the Father (John 13:31; 14:13) and in turn, the Father glorifies the Son in His obedience and their unity of will (John 8:54; 11:4). Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Father, possesses the divine glory of His Father made evident through His miracles and through the gift to the Father of His sacrificial death on the cross.  Now in His prayer Jesus petitions God the Father to glorify His humanity.

Question: How will God the Father glorify the Son's humanity?

Answer:  Jesus will offer His human body in sacrifice, and He arise from the dead possessing an imperishable glorified body as well as all the power and authority to participate in the eternal glory that He already possesses in His divinity.  St. Paul explains Jesus' transformed humanity in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50.  St. Paul explains that, at Jesus' Resurrection, His risen glorified body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  In his glorified body, Jesus passes from the state of death into another life not limited by time and space.  He shares the divine life in his glorious state in His humanity as well as in His divinity, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is "the man of heaven."

 

CCC# 645: By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion.  Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm.  For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.   Also see John 17:5, 24; CCC# 646-554.

Please read John 17:6-19: Jesus' Priestly Prayer Part II; Jesus prays for His disciples

6I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me.  They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now at last they have recognized that all you have given me comes from you 8for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have accepted it and know for certain that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me. 9It is for them that I pray.  I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified. 11I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. 12While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name.  I have watched over them and not one is lost except one who was destined to be lost, and this was to fulfill the scriptures. 13But now I am coming to you and I say these things in the world to share my joy with them to the full. 7I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One. 16They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. 17Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, 19and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.

John 17:6: I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me.  They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

We have discussed that in Scripture the "name" indicates the entire person.  It was part of Jesus' mission to mankind, as prophesized in Jeremiah 31:31-34, to reveal "the name", the entire person of God the Father through His words, His works, and His sacrifice (see 3:11-13; 12:28; 14:7-11; 17:3-6, 26).  One way Jesus "revealed" the divine name of God was by identifying repeatedly Himself with the divine name "I AM" (see 6:35; 8:12; 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1).

CCC# 2812: Finally, in Jesus the name of the Holy God is revealed and given to us, in the flesh, as Savior, revealed by what he is, by his word, and by his sacrifice.  This is the heart of his priestly prayer: 'Holy Father...for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.' [John 17:11]  Because he 'sanctifies' his own name, Jesus reveals to us the name of the Father.  At the end of Christ's Passover, the Father gives him the name that is above all names: 'Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (see Philippians 2:9-11).

"and they have kept your word."  Jesus is affirming that disciples who were called by God and were given to Him have kept the Gospel message of the Living Word in its entirety

John 17:7-8: Now at last they have recognized that all you have given me comes from you for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have accepted it and know for certain that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me.  John 17:8 should be more literally translated: the words you gave me

Question: Compare "your word" in verse 6 and "the words" in verse 8.  What is the difference in meaning?
Answer: "Your word" is the entire Gospel message while "the words" indicates its constituent parts.

Question: What confidence is Jesus now expressing in His disciples?
Answer: That they do understand His mission as well as His true identity.

John 17:9-10It is for them that I pray.  I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.  All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified.

Question: Once again Jesus expresses His unity with the Father, but there is also a remarkable revelation that Jesus makes concerning His relationship and the Father's relationship to the disciples. What is that revelation?
Answer: The revelation is that one cannot accept Jesus unless one belongs to God, and one cannot belong to God unless one accepts Jesus Christ: for those you have given me, because they belong to you.  All I have is yours and all you have is mine. The equivalence between those who belong to God the Father and those who belong to God the Son indicates that it is not the creation of an individual that makes a person belong to God, but it is instead that individual's response to Jesus as Savior and Lord that makes him or her a child of the Father

John 17:11: I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. 

It is this verse that gives us the sense that Jesus has already begun His walk to Calvary.  Contrast Jesus' statement: I am no longer in the world, with His statement in verse 13: and I say these things in the world.  Even though the statements seem to contradict each other, the important key may be that in both verses Jesus says to the Father: I am coming to you.  Some ancient manuscripts add: I am no longer in the world, yet I am in the world, which seems to unite verses 11 and 13 and express a Jesus in a state of transition to the Father.

It is also interesting that in verses 10 and 11 the Greek word kai, which means  "and," is used in two sets of threes for a total of 6 times: three times in the first three lines of verse 10 and again in the first three lines of verse 11.  The literal translation is: And things my all thine [yours in the singular] are and thine mine and I have been glorified in them and no longer I am in the world and these in the world are and I to thee come.

A series of repetitions usually connects the passage or related passages, but repetition can also connect the passage to the symbolic significance of a number. Three is the number of fullness or importance, and six is the number of man.  The connection is possibly to Jesus' discussion of "the world" in relation to "those of the world" (men and women) who reject Him and to whom the disciples no longer belong having been perfected in Christ.

Another significant repetition is found in the word "one."  Jesus will repeat this word 7 times in the literal Greek text in verses 11, 12, 21 (twice), 22 (twice), and 23.  This 7 times repetition stresses the spiritual perfection found in the unity of the Church–the ONE Body of Christ.

1. John 17:11 ...so that they may be one like us
2. John 17:12 I have watched over them and not one is lost ...
3. John 17:21 May they all be one ...
4. John 17:21 ... just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be one in us.
5. John 17:22 I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one ...
6. John 17:22 ... as we are one.
7. John 17:23 With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in one that the world will recognize that it was you who sent me ...

The Interlinear Bible: Greek to English, volume IV, pages 305-6.

Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.

Question: What is Jesus' petition in this verse?
Answer: Knowing the temptations the disciples will face to reject Him in favor of the world, Jesus prays that the disciples will be kept safe from those temptations and the contamination of the world.  He prays that they will persevere, that they will remained true to the Father's commandments, and that their bond to each other will be a unity that is a reflection of the oneness of the Most Holy Trinity (see John 10:30).

John 17:12: While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name.  I have watched over them and not one is lost except one who was destined to be lost, and this was to fulfil the scriptures.

Jesus guarded and protected His disciples except the one who was destined to be lost.  The literally translation is "except the son of perishing." This Semitic expression, in the literal Greek text, is a play on the word "to perish" = not one has perished except the son of perishingThis passage is sometimes translated as "the son of perdition."

Question: Who is the "son of perishing?"  In what Old Testament passages was this betrayal prophesized?
Answer: Judas, the man of Kerioth [Iscariot = literally ish (man) Kerioth (town of his origin)].  Judas' betrayal of Jesus the Messiah was prophesized in such Old Testament passages as Genesis 3:15; Psalms 41:9; 69:25; and Zechariah 11:12-13 (also see Acts 1:16-20 and Matthew 27:3-10). You may recall that during the Last Supper (John 13:17-18Jesus quoted Psalms 41:9.  The literal Greek passage is: "He who eats bread with me lifts up against me his heel" (New Jerusalem note "l", page 1775; Interlinear Bible: New Testament, volume IV, page 295).  It is interesting that this "son of perishing" carries the name of Jesus' tribe: the tribe of Judah or Yehuda. The Hebrew name Yehuda means "Yahweh's people."  Isn't it ironic that it was Yahweh's people who rejected Him, with the exception of a faithful remnant who answered God's call, and within the Apostles there was both a "true Judah" and a "false Judah"?  The true Judah who believed in the Messiah was the Apostle Judas, son or brother of James, also called Thaddaeus or Jude to distinguish him from the other Judas (see Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; Acts 1:14), and the false Judah was the Judah from the town of Kerioth.

John 17:13-16: But now I am coming to you and I say these things in the world to share my joy with them to the full.  I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world.  I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One.  They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.

Fr. Brown agrees with the New Jerusalem Bible translation that the literal reading in the Greek text should be to keep the disciples safe from "the Evil One."  Fr. Brown writes: The word poneros, "Evil One," is capable of being translated as an abstract noun, "evil"; but on the analogy of 1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, v 18-19, a personal application to the devil is probably intended (Anchor Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John, page 761).

Question: Who is the Evil One?  What other similar petition has Jesus made in a prayer which He taught the Church to pray?

Answer: Satan, the Evil One who is the prince of this world. Jesus will refer to this fallen angel as "the prince of this world" three times in John's Gospel, and in 1 John 2:13-14, John reminds us that the whole world is under the Evil One.  This petition in John 17:13-16 may be a parallel to Jesus' petition in the "Our Father" or "the Lord's Prayer" found in Matthew 6:13 when He literally prayed free us from the Evil One, which is most often but less accurately rendered "deliver us from evil."

Question: Is it possible to belong both to the world and to Christ?  This is, of course, the great struggle.

Answer: No.  In this discourse, Jesus has repeatedly made the distinction between belonging to God or to the world; there can be no compromise between the two.

Question: How is it that John 17:15 refutes the "Rapture theory" of some of our Protestant brothers that Christians will be taken out of the world before the Second Advent of Christ, while the ungodly will be left behind?
Answer: God doesn't want Christians out of the world in order to escape persecution and conflict; He wants the ungodly out!  Our mission is to convert the world, not to flee from it.  Jesus is praying that Christians should not be "raptured"–taken out–of the world.  This is the consistent message of the Bible: that God's covenant people will inherit all things and that the ungodly will be disinherited and driven out (see Proverbs 2:21-22 and Proverbs 10:30).

In Hebrew the word for "salvation" is y'shuah (Strong's # 3444; yeshawah).  This word comes from the Hebrew root word yasha (Strong's #3467), which means "to bring into a large, wide, open space"    Through His gift of salvation that is exactly what Yahweh has prepared for man: His covenant people will inherit the entire new earthly creation (Psalms 37), which will be restored to them as the New Eden.  This is the vision St. John has in Revelation 21:1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea.  It is what Jesus tells St. John in Revelation 21:5: Look [behold], I am making the whole of creation new.

John 17:17-19: Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.

Question: In John 17:11-17, what four gifts does Jesus ask Father God to give His disciples?  See verses 11, 13, 15, and 17.
Answer:

  1. Unity: so that they may be one like us (verse 11).
  2. Joy: I say these things in the world to share my joy with them to the full (verse 13).
  3. Preservation: Protect them from the evil one (verse 15).
  4. Holiness: Consecrate them in the truth... (verse 17).

In John 17:17-19, the Greek word hagiazo [hag-ee-ad'-zo], which means "consecrate, sanctify, or to make holy," and the Greek word aletheia [al-ay'-thi-a], which is the Greek word for "truth," is repeated 3 times. This is another set of double threes. The word hagiazo indicates spiritual cleansing, but the word aletheia has power, as in John 8:32: truth will set you free. 

Question: What is the active power of "truth" in John 17:17: consecrate them in the truth?  Hint: the Greek word for "in" can also mean "by" and "for".
Answer: The truth is both the active force of the consecration as well as the sphere into which the believer is placed.  Consecrated by the Word one is to be united with Christ, who is Himself the Truth (see John 14:6: I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life).  It is Jesus' prayer that the disciples may live in His Truth, sanctified, made holy, by the truth of their faith.

Please read John 17:20-26: Jesus prays for the Church–He prays for us!

20I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me. 21May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. 22I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. 23With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognize that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me. 24Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25Father, Upright One, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. 26I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.

John 17:20-21: I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me.  May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.

The Apostles and the disciples, who are consecrated for "the priestly service of the Gospel" (Romans 15:16 and CCC#611), will witness for Christ both orally and in writing (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 15:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:14-15; 1 Peter 1:25), as the Age of the Messiah begins the gathering of the great harvest of souls into heaven.  These men are called to priestly service in much the same way that the old covenant hereditary priesthood of Aaron served God (Exodus 29:1; 40:12-13, Matthew 23:1-2).  But the priesthood is no longer only hereditary as it was in the Old Covenant.  Now, in the New Covenant, Christ our High Priest and King calls forth a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9-10), and from within the greater priesthood He also calls a spiritual priesthood of men in ministerial service to serve His Bride, the New Covenant Church (Matthew 19:12).  The priestly order of the New Covenant, not based on heredity and service to Israel, but on a spiritual call in which worship will be extended to all nations, was promised by Yahweh to the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 66:18-21: I am coming to gather every nation and every language.  They will come to witness my glory.  I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coasts and islands that have never heard of me or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory to the nations, [..].  And some of them I shall make into priests and Levites, Yahweh says.

[note: The Levites were the lesser order who served the priests (Numbers 3:11-13; 18:1-7; 25:7-13), assisting them in the liturgy and service to the Sanctuary but forbidden to offer the sacrifice. The Levites would be equated to deacons in the New Covenant order of ministerial service].

Jesus' high priestly order established in the Apostles is an order that is superior to the priestly order of the Sinai Covenant that was based on heredity (see the chart comparing the Old and New Covenant priesthoods at the end of this lesson).  Instead, the new priestly order it is like the priesthood of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Genesis 14:18, who was a priest not by virtue of earthly descent through Aaron but who was, like Christ, a priest-king by virtue of God's call, serving an earthly ministry ordained by God as a spiritual priesthood.  It is for this New Covenant priesthood and the future generations of believers who will become children in the family of God in the "catholic" (means "universal") Church that Jesus now prays.

Note:  The name "Catholic" for the Church of Jesus Christ dates back to the second century AD.  The oldest record of the use of this name comes from the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred circa 107-110AD.  St. Cyril, the great Bishop of Jerusalem [born 315AD] and Doctor of the Church, wrote about the "catholic" nature of the Church of Jesus Christ: We call it catholic not only because it is spread throughout the world, from one extreme to the other, but because in a universal way and without defect it teaches all the dogmas which men ought to know, of both the visible and the invisible, the celestial and the earthly.  Likewise because it draws to true worship all types of men, governors and citizens, the learned and the ignorant.  And finally, because it cures and heals all kinds of sins, whether of the soul or of the body, possessing in addition–by whatever name it may be called–all the forms of virtue in deeds and in words and in every kind of spiritual life (Catechesis, 18, 23 as quoted in the Navarre Bible Commentary, St John's Gospel, page 212).

Question: What is Jesus' petition to the Father for these future children of the New Covenant Church in John 17:20-21?
Answer: That they may be unified as One: one Church–one Body in Christ, just as He is One with the Father (see Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; 4:19).

In this discourse Jesus will use the Greek word for "one" (hen) to express unity with God the Father and the unity of the Church 7 times in verses 11, 21 (twice), 22 (twice), 23, and 26.  It is for the spiritual perfection of the Church indwelled by God the Holy Spirit that Jesus prays.

John 17:22-23: I have given them the glory you gave to me that they may be one as we are one.  With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognize that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me.

The Navarre Commentary lists three dimensions to Jesus' glorification (see page 206):

  1. God the Father is glorified: Jesus' glorification promotes the glory of God the Father through Christ, who in obedience to God's redemptive decree makes the Father known and so brings God's saving work to completion.
  2. God the Son is glorified: Jesus' divinity, which is disguised by His humanity, will at last be manifested through His human nature after the Resurrection and will be invested with the full power and authority of God over all creation.
  3. Man will be glorified: Jesus' glorification gives humanity the opportunity to receive God's gift of eternal life, to enter into an intimate relationship with God the Father and God the Son, and this in turn reflects the glorification of the Father and the Son while also inviting humanity's participation in that divine glory.

Question: What is the final consequence of the giving of His glory to the disciples?
Answer: That the disciples and all who believe in Him would, through grace, become partakers of the divine nature in unity with Him, and that through their transformed lives the world would recognize and be assured of His divine mission from the Father (2 Peter 1:4).

John 17:24-26: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  Father, Upright One, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me.  I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.

Question: In verse 24, what is Jesus' petition to the Father for all those who belong to Him?
Answer:  That those who have been justified by grace and "perfected as One" with Christ on earth, and be allowed to be united with Him in heaven!

Glory and justification by grace are two sides of the same coin, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 8:30: it was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory.   The change that grace works in our lives is that the power of living in God's grace conforms us to the image of Christ who is Himself the image and likeness of God the Father.

Sacred Scripture teaches us:

  1. If our gospel seems to be veiled at all, it is so to those who are on the way to destruction, the unbelievers whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world, so that they cannot see shining the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God  (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
  2. At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the ages.  He is the reflection of God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

When Jesus communicated His glory to us He joined us to God the Father by giving us a share in the supernatural life of the Godhead. This divine life is the source of the holiness of Christians united in Christ's Body, the Church.  This is St. Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4:4-6: There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

As we come to the conclusion of Jesus' powerful priestly prayer, our prayer for each other should be the same as St. Paul's prayer for the Christians of Thessalonica: In view of this we also pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call, and by his power fulfill all your desires for goodness, and complete all that you have been doing through faith; so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

Appendix:

What comparisons and contrasts can be made between the priestly order of the Levitical priesthood in the Sinai Covenant, the order of Jesus' eternal priesthood in the New Covenant, and the priestly order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:17-20; Ps 110:4; Heb 5:5, 6:20-7:28)?

Priestly order of Sinai Covenant Priestly order of Melchizedek as Shem Priestly order of Jesus Christ
Succession of priestly order based on genealogy (Ex 29:29; Num 18:1-7; 21-22; Sirach 45:15) No priestly succession order listed in Scripture–the first priest in Scripture appointed by God (Gen 14:18) Jesus is the eternal High Priest–the last and the only eternal priest appointed by God (Heb 7:26-8:2)
Priests were chosen from among men to be a compassionate advocate of Israel, God's covenant people (Ex 28:1; 41-43; Heb 5:2-3) Chosen from among men: (Gen 9:26-27) to rule over his brothers and their descendants through the Noachide world Covenant (Gen 9:8-10, 17) Chosen from among men to be a compassionate High Priest and advocate of the worldwide New Covenant people (Heb 4:15) of God (Mt 28:19-20)
Tithes were paid to the Levitical priesthood from within the covenant family  (Num 18:20-24; Dt 14:28-29) Tithes were paid to the priest Melchizedek by Abram; if he is Shem the tithes are paid within the covenant family (Gen 14:20) Tithes are paid to Christ our High Priest through His Church by the covenant family
Sacrifice and offerings were made by the covenant people through the priesthood (Lev 4:20, 31; 5:13; Num 15:25) Abram paid a tithe of a tenth of his spoil from battle to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20) The covenant people bring Christ, our High Priest, offerings of bread and wine and He gives us, under the appearance of bread and wine, His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity (Mt 26:26-29; 1 Cor 11:23-27)
In priestly role offered the peoples blessings, gifts, and sacrifices to God (Num 6:22-27) As God's priest he blessed Abram and brought bread and wine as a priestly gift (Gen 14:18-19) Offers eternal blessings to the people and an eternal sacrifice to God on behalf of the covenant people (Heb 9:25-28; 10:10)
The priesthood of the Sinai Covenant was limited to priestly functions (Ez 42:14) Melchizedek was both a High Priest and the King of Salem/Jerusalem (Gen 14:18) Jesus is both the New Covenant High Priest and King of the everlasting kingdom and the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 8:1, 6; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16)
The priesthood of the Sinai Covenant served only the children of Israel through the Covenant God made which was exclusively limited to them (Ex 19:5-6) . God's Covenant with Noah extended to all the earth.  If the covenant continued through Shem, his priesthood was over all peoples of the earth bound in one covenant family. Melchizedek is titled in Genesis 14 as "the priest" of the Most High God. There is no other high priest. God's New Covenant is extended to include all nations (Mt 28:19-20).  Jesus is the eternal high priest bringing the peoples of the earth back into one covenant family.  Jesus is the eternal priest of the New Covenant.  There is no other High Priest of the New Covenant

M. Hunt © 2007

Resources used in this chapter

  1. The International Critical Commentary – St John
  2. Ignatius Study Bible – The Gospel of John
  3. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
  4. The Anchor Bible Commentary – The Gospel of John, vol. 2
  5. The Navarre Bible Commentary – St. John
  6. The Search for the Historical Jesus
  7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  8. The Interlinear Bible: New Testament (Greek to English)
Chapter 17

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Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.