An Exposition of John 17:1
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.”
John 17 is one of the great chapters of the Bible as it records the longest prayer that Jesus ever offered during His public ministry. The saints have loved it over the years. Phillip Melanchthon (1497-1560), one of the great German Reformers, when giving his last lecture before his death, said on John 17, “There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or in earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than the prayer offered up by the Son of God Himself.”
No one has ever seriously studied John 17 and remained the same. Here is Christ, the Great High Priest, praying for Himself, for His disciples, and for His church. Jesus acts as a Mediator between man and God and God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
To set the background for this prayer, several points might be observed.
First, the prayer is the prayer of Christ. “These words spake Jesus,” said John. He should know. John was there on that starry night when Jesus offered these wonderful words. It may be that Christ prayed when preparations were made to leave the chamber of the upper room where the Passover meal was held. It may be that the prayer was offered while going forth over the brook Kidron on the way to Gethsemane (John 18:1). Wherever the words were uttered, John was profoundly impressed by them. Later, when John took pen in hand to record the life of Christ, the Holy Spirit brought back to his memory all that he heard so that it could be recorded, “These words spake Jesus,” and no one else.
As Jesus prayed, He lifted up His eyes to heaven. Many times John had seen the Lord do that for Christ was a man of prayer.
While being baptized, Jesus prayed. “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened.” (Luke 3:21)
When His public ministry first began, Jesus prayed. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
On the night before He selected His disciples, the Bible says that Jesus “went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
While in the act of prayer Jesus was transfigured. “And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.” (Luke 9:29)
With His dying breath, the Lord prayed while on the Cross. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46)
The constant prayer life of Christ encourages us to make all things a matter of prayer. The apostolic command is to pray without ceasing. The fact that it is recorded that Jesus lifted up His eyes suggests that “bodily gestures in prayer and worship of God are not altogether to be overlooked as unmeaning” (Bishop J.C. Ryle). We should be careful not to convey signs of boredom or flippancy in the presence of God.
With a heart of love, with a specific series of request on His mind, Jesus began to pray. His prayer was the outgrowth of His preaching.
The reference to “these words” in John 17:1, takes the reader back to John 13-16. In these chapters the Lord addressed a number of different issues.
In John 13:6-11 there is a brief exchange with Peter over the necessity of personal cleansing.
In John 13:12-20 the Lord teaches His disciples something about humility.
In John 13:26-27 Judas is dismissed from the Table.
In John 13:31-35 a new commandment is given to love one another.
In John 13:36-38 Jesus tells Peter of his great denial.
In John 14:1-4 the Lord speaks of a heavenly home.
In John 14:5-8 Jesus declares He is the only way to eternal life.
In John 14:9-21 the essential unity of Christ with the Father is set forth.
In John 14:23-31 the Lord speaks of how He must go away but the Comforter will come.
In John 15:1-27 Christ gives the great vine and branches discourse declaring how dependent His disciples must be upon Himself.
In John 16:1-28 the great suffering of the Lord’s servants is predicted. The saints will suffer because Christ will suffer but that should not discourage the heart (16:19-28).
In John 16:29-33 The Lord once more tells how the sheep will be scattered. Still, the Father would be with His Son to the bitter end. “These words,” or rather, “these proclamations,” form the background for the greater prayer of John 17 and that is significant. As John Calvin notes, “Doctrine has no power, unless efficacy is imparted to it from above. Christ holds out an example to teach them, not to employ themselves only in sowing the Word, but by mingling prayer with it, to implore the assistance of God, that His blessing may render their labors fruitful.”
From preaching Jesus passed to prayer and His prayer was with passion, for He begins by saying, “Father! Abba, Father!”
There is a threefold way that Jesus can refer to God as Father.
First, God is the Father by virtue of His human nature miraculously produced. Jesus could address God as Father. “A body thou hast prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). The begetter of a child is its father according to nature, so it was in the Divine economy (Luke 1:35).
Second, by being the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29) Jesus stands as the Head and representative of the Family of God. He is the Elder Brother.
Third, by the essential relationship that exists between Christ and God, He is called Father. Jesus calls God Father by virtue of His human nature, by means of His subordinate role, and by the essential relationship of fellowship.
Because of these things Christ makes a petition: “Father, glorify Thy Son.” The reason why the Father should glorify the Son is because the hour is come. This is the seventh and last time that Jesus will refer to the great hour (cf. John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 12:27; 16:32; 17:1). His death was constantly on His mind and now the hour had come. The hour that had arrived refers to the hour of decision whereby the Son would set His face toward Jerusalem.
This was the hour of which the prophets predicted. It was the hour of which the sacrifices had foreshadowed. It was the grand hour of human history. There would be no turning back. Therefore, let the Son be honored. Why? In order that the Son may glorify the Father.
The supreme goal in all that Christ said or did was to exalt the Father. As a good child lives in order to please the father, so Christ lived in order to bring glory to God.
Here is a reason for living. Here is a supreme motive to eat, drink, work, and play—so that God might be exalted. In turn, the Father can honor or glorify those who most honor Him. “How then could the Father glorify the Son?
The Father could glorify the Son by supporting Him through the ordeal of the Cross. In a period of great distress few people want to be alone.
When the heart is hurting the most thoughts naturally turn towards those that are loved most. We think of someone who cares, and we appeal to them to come and be with us. And because there is love, they will come. The Father would sustain His Son in His great ordeal.
The Father could glorify the Son by resurrecting Him from among the dead. It was the hope of the resurrection that enabled Christ in part, to endure the hell of Calvary.
This truth is revealed in Hebrews 12:2. Following in the Lord’s footsteps Christians are exhorted to look unto Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The Father could glorify the Son by setting Him on His right hand in glory. Whatever heaven is like it is a place of majestic glory and beauty.
The book of Daniel and the book of the Revelation give us a glimpse of the heavenly sphere but it is really beyond description. What mortal tongue can describe adequately the light that characterizes heaven, the singing of the angelic choir or the worship of the saints? Jesus wanted to go back to heaven and back to this glory from which He came and of which He was familiar with in eternity past.
The Father could glorify the Son by permitting the manifestation of the Divine attributes in Christ so that people would say of Him, “Truly this was the Son of God!” The centurion was one such person who saw something extra ordinary in the person of Jesus Christ.
There was a physical strength that defined the limitations of the body.
There was a spiritual strength that enabled grace to be shown where none was deserved.
There was a mental strength that allowed for clarity of thought even to the offering of salvation to a dying thief. “Truly this was the Son of God.” It is a matter of history that the petition of Christ was granted. The Father glorified the Son, and the Son glorified the Father.