Notes on Prayer: Jn 17:24-26 (continued)

This note is supplemental to the recent “Monday Notes on Prayer” series, in which I went through the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. In the last study of that series, we examined the concluding verses 24-26, but it remains to go into a bit more detail on the final vv. 25-26, to see how Jesus’ words serve to bring out and summarize many of the themes that run throughout the Discourses.

Verse 25

One important point to make is that there is a strong eschatological context to verses 24-26, even though that may not be immediately obvious to the average reader. To begin with, let us consider again the first address and petition to God the Father in verse 24:

“Father, (for) that which you have given to me, I wish that where I am those also [i.e. believers] would be with me, (so) that they would look upon my honor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [i.e. founding] of the world.”

In the setting of the Last Discourse and the Prayer of chap. 17, Jesus is about to depart and return back to the Father; the fundamental emphasis, then, of the wish that believers “would be with” him, is eschatological—i.e. that they/we would be with him in heaven, alongside the Father. This heavenly (and eternal) dimension is described two ways:

    • The Divine glory (do/ca, honor/splendor) which Jesus, as the Son, shares with the Father, and
    • Divine pre-existence, understood, as in verse 5, in relation to the creation of the world (ko/smo$)

When Jesus returns to his disciples (believers) again, it will be to take them with him to the Father (14:1-3). This is a basic early Christian belief, attested at numerous points in the New Testament (cf. especially Mark 13:26-27 par, and 1 Thess 4:16-17). However, in the Gospel of John, and in the Discourses in particular, this traditional eschatology is enhanced (and supplemented) by a distinct kind of “realized” eschatology, in which the things to be experienced by the righteous at the end-time are already realized now, in the present, for believers in Christ. This “realized” eschatology is central to the message of the Last Discourse, and is rooted in the idea of the coming (and presence) of the Paraclete/Spirit (discussed further below).

If this two-aspect eschatology relates to what believers experience—including eternal life (lit. “Life of the Age”) and the vision of God (emphasized here in v. 24)—it also applies to the Judgment which believers must pass through. This Judgment separates the righteous (believers) from the wicked (the “world”, ko/smo$); while traditionally, this occurs at the end-time, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Johannine Discourses, believers already experience the reality of it in the present—i.e. they/we have already passed through the Judgment. How has this occurred? It is stated most clearly in 5:24:

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that the (one) hearing my word [lo/go$] and trusting in the (One) having sent me holds (the) Life of the Age, and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across out of death (and) into Life”.

This is very much what Jesus refers to in the conclusion to his Prayer (v. 25) as well. The manner of his address (“Just/Righteous Father”, Path\r di/kaie) suggests God the Father’s role as Judge and administrator of Justice, and that the idea of the Judgment is in view. The petition serves to bring to a climax the dualistic theme of contrast between Father/Son/Believers and the World (ko/smos). The traditional concept of God judging the world here is re-interpreted in relation to trust in Jesus, an emphasis we find repeatedly in the Gospel, going all the way back to the Prologue (1:5, 10-13). It is stated perhaps most succinctly in 3:17-21, a passage which can be compared with the close of chapter 17; note several points of comparison:

    • God the Father sends Jesus (the Son) so that the world might be saved through trust in him (3:16-17)
      • Disciples/Believers are sent by Jesus so that the world might come to know and trust (17:20-23)
    • The salvation of the world = “all those who trust”, i.e. all believers (“every one [pa=$] trusting in him”) (3:16)
      • Similarly the “world” trusting and knowing = the elect (believers) who are “in the world” but have not yet come to trust/know; once they come to faith, then the believers will “all” be one (17:20-23)
    • Judgment takes place in relation to trusting in the Son (Jesus); those who do not trust are (already) condemned because they cannot see (i.e. know) the truth (3:18-21)
      • The separation between believers and the “world” (now understood as the wicked/unbelievers) occurs on the basis of knowing (i.e. seeing) the Son, and through him, God the Father (17:25)

The last point, in particular, is a key theme in the Last Discourse, beginning with the dialogue in 14:5-10ff—one sees God the Father through the Son—and the same point is made in v. 24 of the Prayer (cf. above). We should pay attention to precise way the Judgment theme is brought out in verse 25:

“Just/Righteous Father, indeed, the world did not know you, but I knew you, and these [ou!toi, i.e. believers] knew that you se(n)t me forth”

The dualistic contrast, between Believers and the World, here takes the form of a chiasm:

    • the world did not know [ou)k e&gnw] you
      • but I knew [e&gnwn] you
    • believers (“these”) did know [e&gnwsan]…

Embedded in this very structure is the key theological point of the entire Gospel: that one knows God the Father through trust in Jesus (the Son). This is emphasized again in terms of what the believers (“these”) know. Jesus does not say “these knew you” (par. to “but I knew you”); rather, he says “these knew that you sent me forth“. In other words, what believers “know” is centered in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, as is clear from the theological formula included in the opening of the Prayer (v. 3). It also confirms the distinctive sense of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in vv. 20-23, where, as I argued in an earlier study, it means the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) living “in the world” who have not yet come to trust in Jesus. Throughout the Johannine writings, ko/smo$ refers to a realm of wickedness and darkness that is opposed to God, which characterizes the current “world-order”. In vv. 21, 23, the focus is on believers dwelling in this wicked realm, while in v 25 it is the wicked (unbelievers) themselves who are in view.

Verse 26

The key Johannine motif of knowledge, knowing, in verse 25 is expanded upon by Jesus in v. 26; at the same time, the traditional future eschatology (first aspect, cf. above) gives way to a present “realized” eschatology (second aspect). The idea of believers separating from the world, and passing through the Judgment (implied) to see the glory of God in heaven, now shifts to the union believers have with God in the present. It is worth examining each component, or phrase, of this verse in some detail. To begin with, v. 26 is part of a single sentence with v. 25, marked by the conjunction kai/ (“and”):

“and I made known your name to them” (kai\ e)gnw/risa au)toi=$ to\ o&noma/ sou)—On the surface, this simply restates what Jesus already said earlier in the Prayer (v. 6, also 11-12), that, through his work on earth (as the incarnate Son), he revealed the Person and Presence of God the Father to the Elect/Chosen ones (disciples/believers), a process that will continue as those believers, in turn, proclaim and reveal the message of Jesus to others. However, it is the positioning of this phrase which is distinctive here—first, in relation to the previous phrase in v. 25:

    • “these knew that you sent me forth,
      and I made known to them your Name”

We might have expected a reverse sequence—i.e. they came to know because Jesus made the Father known to them—but this is contrary to the basic theological outlook of the Gospel of John, in which believers come to know because they are the Elect,  they already belong to God. And, because they belong to God, and God the Father gives them to the Son, they are able to recognize the truth of who Jesus is; and, as they become disciples (believers), Jesus then is able to reveal the Father to them.

Secondly, we must read it in connection with the phrase that follows:

    • “and I made known to them your Name,
      and I will (yet) make (it) known”

“and I will (yet) make (it) known” (kai\ gnwri/sw)—Here we have implicitly a key theme from the Last Discourse: that of the coming of the Paraclete/Spirit, who will continue Jesus’ work after his departure back to the Father. I have pointed out several times in the prior studies that, though the Spirit is not specifically mentioned in the Prayer, the idea is certainly present, and is to be inferred throughout. Note this revelatory aspect of the Spirit’s work from the statements in the Last Discourse:

    • “this is the Spirit of Truth which the world is unable to receive, (in) that it does not look upon him and does not know; but you know him…” (14:17)
    • “…(he) will teach you all (thing)s and will place under memory (for) you all (thing)s which I said to you” (14:26)
    • “…that (one) will witness about me, and you also will witness…” (15:26-27)
    • “…he will lead the way (for) you into all truth; for he will not speak from himself, but what (thing)s he hears he will speak…” (16:13)

Through the Spirit, Jesus himself will be speaking to believers, and that it is ultimately God the Father’s word that he speaks, making the Father known:

“…he will receive out of (what is) mine, and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you. All things what(ever) that the Father holds are mine; through this I said that he will receive out of (what is) mine and will give (it) up as a message [i.e. announce it] to you.” (16:14-15)

“(so) that the love (with) which you loved me would be in them” (i%na h( a)ga/ph h^n h)ga/phsa/$ me e)n au)toi=$ h@|)—The particle i%na here indicates the goal or end result (“[so] that”), and, indeed, it may be justly said to be the desired purpose and result of the entire Prayer. It essentially restates the request for unity that dominated the earlier vv. 20-23, combining two basic motifs:

    • The Son being “in” (e)n) believers
    • This unity reflects the relationship (union) between Father and Son

The final phrase of verse 23 further defines the unity/union believers have with Father and Son in terms of the Johannine theme of love (a)ga/ph):

“…that the world [i.e. the elect/believers in the world] would know that you sent me forth, and (that) you loved them just as you loved me.”

There Jesus asks that believers would know this Divine Love; now he requests that the Love be “in” (e)n) them. While the Spirit is not associated with love, particularly, in the Gospel of John, it is certainly an association that is part of the Johannine  theology, and is more prominent in the First Letter (see esp. 4:7-21). Love characterizes one who “comes to be (born)” of God, which is very much in accord with the language Jesus uses in relation to the Spirit in Jn 3:3-8 (cf. also 1:12-13). The words of Paul in Romans 5:5 seem to echo, independently, the language in v. 26 of the Prayer:

“…(in) that the love of God has been poured out in(to) our hearts through the Holy Spirit th(at is) given to us.”

“and I in them” (ka)gw\ e)n au)toi=$)—Just as the Love of God is present in us (believers) through the Spirit, so also is Jesus himself personally present in us. The parallelism is precise:

    • “the love…in them”
      “and I in them”

Ultimately, this is the central theme of the Last Discourse: that Jesus (the Son) will remain united with believers, dwelling in and among us, through the presence of the Spirit. It is also the climactic message of the Prayer, and, indeed, ought to be the central focus of every prayer we make to God the Father. In this regard, and in closing, consider the Lukan context of the Lord’s Prayer (teaching on prayer, 11:1-13), which begins with the Prayer itself (vv. 2-4), but ends with an emphasis on Jesus’ disciples asking God the Father specifically for the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

“…Spirit and Life”: John 17:3-4

John 17:2-3

Today’s note comes from the great prayer-discourse (chap. 17) which concludes the “Last Discourse” (for more on this passage, cf. the current “Prayer Notes” series). At the beginning of this section (vv. 2-3), we find the most precise definition of the expression “Life of the Age [zwh/ ai)w/nio$]” (i.e. eternal life) in the Gospel. It also happens to be one of the most “gnostic”-sounding statements in the New Testament; indeed, I discus this aspect of the passage at length in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament” (soon to be posted here. Here are verses 1b-2 in translation:

“Father, the hour has come—give honor to your Son (so) that your Son might give honor to you, even as you gave him authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) all flesh, (so) that, (for) all (person)s, whom(ever) you have given to him, he should give to them (the) Life of the Age.”

This repeats the idea, expressed at numerous points in the earlier discourses, that the Father gives Life to the Son, and the Son, in turn, gives Life to believers. For the background of the specific expression “Life of the Age”, cf. the earlier notes in this series, as well as the notes on Jn 11:20-27. Verse 2 also expresses the idea that believers (elect/chosen ones) have been given to the Son by the Father (vv. 6ff). The definition of “Life of the Age” comes in verse 3:

“And this is the Life of the Age: that they should know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

This formulation, specifically referring to “Yeshua the Anointed [i.e. Jesus Christ]”, sounds very much like an early Christian credal statement; and, in fact, many critical commentators view it as a product of the Gospel writer, rather than a self-referential statement by Jesus himself. It is certainly possible to view verse 3 as a parenthetical comment by the writer—indeed, one can read verse 4 directly after v. 2 without any real disruption or loss of meaning. However one views the composition of verse 3, the value and significance of it as a definition of “the Life of the Age” is clear—and it is defined in terms of knowledge:

    1. of the only true God (i.e., God the Father, YHWH):
      “they should know you, the only true God”
    2. of the one sent forth by God (Jesus–Yeshua the Anointed):
      “(they should know) the (one) whom you sent forth…”

In terms of obtaining this knowledge, and thus possessing (“holding”) eternal Life, the order has to be reversed (cf. 1:18; 14:6-11, etc):

    1. One sees/knows Jesus (the Son)—i.e. recognizes and trusts in him
    2. One sees/knows God the Father through the Son

The theological framework of the Gospel of John can be outlined in more detail:

Thus the emphasis on knowledge in 17:3 can be misleading, if we think of it in terms of ordinary human knowledge and perception. Rather, in the Gospel of John, and much of the New Testament elsewhere, a deeper kind of theological and spiritual understanding is meant—centered on trust in Jesus and the presence of both the Son (Jesus) and the Father through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not mentioned directly in the prayer-discourse of chapter 17, but it can be inferred from the theme of unity (esp. verses 20-24) and the triadic relationship of Father-Son-Believer(s):

Mention should be made of the specific title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”). Though the Johannine portrait of Jesus goes far beyond the traditional Jewish conception(s) of the Anointed One (Messiah), it retains the title and the fundamental identification of Jesus with the Messianic figure-types—Prophet, Davidic Ruler, and also “Son of Man” (on these, cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The association of the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” goes back to the early Gospel traditions (in the Baptism and Passion/crucifixion scenes, etc), and, while the latter title (i.e. Jesus as God’s Son) dominates the Gospel of John, the former is certainly not forgotten. True knowledge of Jesus—the knowledge which is the same as Life—includes recognition that he is the Anointed One of God. The closing words of the Gospel proper give unmistakable expression to this fact:

“These (thing)s have been written (so) that you might trust that Yeshua is the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that, trusting, you would hold Life in his name.” (20:31)

Notes on Prayer: John 17:24-26

John 17:24-26

With verses 24-26 we come to the end of our study of the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17. These verses conclude the exposition section that makes up the body of the Prayer (in relation to the Discourse-format), as well as the Prayer itself. It contains most of the key words and ideas found throughout the chapter, serving as a summary of the theology expressed therein. It also forms an inclusio with the first portion of the Prayer, with the dual address to God the Father; note the parallel:

    • “Father” / “Holy Father” (vv. 1, 11)
    • “Father” / “Just/Righteous Father” (vv. 24-25)

In particular, the address in verse 11b (“Holy Father… [pa/ter a%gie]”) marks the beginning of the exposition, which is bracketed here in vv. 24ff. There is a formal parallel between v. 11b and verse 24 (note the italicized portion):

“Holy Father, may you keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, that they would be one just as we (are).” (v. 11b)

Father, (that) which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me…” (v. 24a)

A principal theme in the Prayer is the idea that God the Father has given (vb. di/dwmi, in the perfect). This verbal expression has two points of reference, and there is a play between them:

    • The Father has given his (own Divine) name, glory, etc, to the Son
    • The Father has given the disciples (i.e. believers, the Elect) to the Son

Verse 24 again contains both aspects:

“Father, (that) which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (so) that they would look (upon) my honor which you have given [de/dwka$] to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down of the world.”

The parallel is precise, differing only in the gender of the relative pronoun:

    • “which [neut.] you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ moi)
    • “which [fem.] you have given to me” (h^n de/dwka/$ moi)

The use of the neuter pronoun seems to have caused some difficulty for early copyists, as it was widely changed to the masculine plural ou%$, so as to agree with the subject “they” (i.e. disciples/believers). The neuter actually refers back to the beginning of the Prayer, in verse 2:

“…just as you gave him [i.e. the Son] authority over all flesh, (so) that, (for) all which you have given to him, he would give to them (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”

Compare the italicized phrase with that in v. 24:

    • “all which you have given to him” (pa=n o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)
    • “which you have given to me” (o^ de/dwka/$ au)tw=|)

Clearly, the neuter pronoun refers to neuter substantive pa=n (“all”)—that is, the disciples (believers) considered as a collective whole, or unity; given the emphasis in vv. 20-23 (cf. the previous study), this is unquestionably the focus here as well. The following phrases in vv. 2 and 24 also match, and are more or less synonymous:

    • “(that) he [i.e. the Son] would give to them (the) Life of the Age”
    • “that where I am, they also would be with me”

In other words, to be with Jesus (the Son) is the same as possessing eternal life. More to the point, this is expressed in verse 24 by a subjunctive form (w@sin) of the verb of being (ei)mi); this is obscured somewhat in English translation, but is clear and vivid if we examine the conditional clause in the Greek:

i%na o%pou ei)mi e)gw\ ka)kei=noi w@sin met’ e)mou=
“that where I am, they also would be with me”

Note the structure, presented as concentric pairs:

    • o%pou (“where [I am]”)
      • ei)mi (“I am”)
        • e)gw/ (“I”)
        • ka)kei=noi (“they also”)
      • w@sin (“they would be”)
    • met’ e)mou= (“with me”)

The indicative statement by Jesus (e)gw\ ei)mi, “I am”) has special significance in the Gospel of John, being used (by Jesus) repeatedly to express his identity (as the Son) and relationship to God (the Father). Here, in the closing portions of the Prayer, Jesus’ desire is that all believers would share in the same divine identity/relationship which he has with the Father; this is the very point made throughout vv. 20-23 (and again in vv. 25-26, cf. below), and gives equal significance to the subjunctive w@sin (“they would be”, used also in vv. 19, 21-23): that believers “would be” what Jesus “is”. In this regard, a point should be made on the coordinating particle o%pou, which itself functions as a relative pronoun; though difficult to render exactly in English, it is something like “a certain (place) in which”, and may be translated fairly as “where” or “wherever”. It is an ordinary enough word, but it comes to have a special theological (and Christological) meaning in the Gospel of John, taking on this significance in the second half of the book. This “where” or “place in which” refers consistently to Jesus’ return back to the Father, and, as such, effectively confirms his identity as the (pre-existent) Son of God. The first occurrence of this usage is in the great Sukkoth discourse of chapters 7-8, where it appears in two related declarations by Jesus (each of which is repeated):

    • where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you are not able to come (there)” (7:34, 36)
    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (8:21-22)

These statements are given to the public at large (and to Jesus’ opponents), but in the Last Discourse, he essentially re-states them for his disciples:

    • where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you are not able to come (there)” (13:33, 36)

Jesus’ departure (vb. u(pa/gw, “lead/go under”, i.e. go away, withdraw, go back) encompasses both his death and final return to the Father. In 13:33, 36, the former is in view, while it is the latter in 14:3-4:

    • “…that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\], you also may be.
      And where I go under [o%pou e)gw\ u(pa/gw], you see [i.e. know] the way (there).”

Before the Last Discourse, the disciples (represented by Peter, 13:36ff) are unable to come to the place where Jesus is (with the Father), but the promise is that they will be able to, and much of the Last Discourse is centered on this revelatory point. The declaration in 14:4, that the disciples “see/know the way (there)”, leads to the revelation that Jesus himself is the way (o(do/$) to the Father (v. 6). In this light, let us compare three key statements where the particle o%pou is used:

    • 12:26: “If any (one) would serve me, he must follow me, and (then) where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] my servant also will be.”
    • 14:3: “If I travel (away) and make ready a place for you, I will…take you along toward me (myself), (so) that where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] you also may be.”
    • 17:24: “Father…I wish [i.e. it is my will] that, where I am [o%pou ei)mi e)gw\] they also would be with me”

The statements are similar, both in form and meaning, but they reflect a development of thought within the (narrative) context of the Gospel:

    • 12:26—Believers (the Elect) coming to be disciples of Jesus
    • 14:3—The Departure of Jesus (the Son), which allows his disciples (believers) to come along (with him) to the Father
    • 17:24—The essential identity (and unity) of Believers (all Believers), that they/we will ultimately be with Jesus, together with the Father

We move from (1) being/becoming disciples, to (2) the eschatological promise of our presence (with Jesus) in heaven, and finally (3) of our fundamental union with Christ. The purpose of our being with Jesus is expressed in the second half of verse 24:

“…that they would look (upon) [qewrw=sin] my honor [do/ca] which you have given to me”

The verb qewre/w, which can have the sense of “look with wonder (at), behold” (sometimes in a religious setting), is relatively frequent in the Gospel of John, occurring 24 times, and often in the context of believers trusting in Jesus and coming to knowledge of the truth (6:40, 62; 12:45), which involves a recognition of who Jesus truly is. It is especially important in the Last Discourse (14:17, 19; 16:10, 16-17, 19), where it expresses two themes of contrast:

    • The disciples soon will not see Jesus any more (on earth), but will soon see him again; this theme has two primary aspects:
      (1) they will see him again after his death (resurrection appearances)
      (2) they will see him again after his departure to the Father (presence of the Spirit/Paraclete)
    • The disciples can see/recognize Jesus, but the world cannot

Both of these themes continue on, in various ways, within the chapter 17 Prayer-Discourse, especially the contrast between believers and the world. The ability to “see” or “look upon” Jesus, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, means to recognize (and trust in) his identity as Son of God, as the one sent by the Father. This identity includes the idea of divine pre-existence, indicated earlier in verse 5, and again here. Evidence for belief in Jesus’ pre-existence is actually quite rare in the New Testament, in spite of its importance for orthodox Christology. The belief, however, is clear and unmistakable in the Gospel of John, being affirmed (in majestic terms) in the Prologue (1:1ff), and again at various points throughout the Gospel. Jesus’ departure means a return to the Father, back the place where he was in the beginning, before the world was created. Note this point made, at both the start and end of the Prayer, in terms of (1) the do/ca (“honor, splendor”) Jesus shares with the Father, and (2) in relation to the world (ko/smo$):

    • “the honor/splendor which I held alongside of you before the (com)ing to be of the world” (v. 5)
    • “my honor/splendor which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting-down [katabolh=$, i.e. founding] of the world” (v. 24)

The (dualistic) contrast between Jesus and the world is fundamentally based on his pre-existence, his eternal identity as God’s Son—he comes from above, sent by the Father to the world below. It is for this reason that the world is unable to see (recognize) or hear (accept) him; only the Elect/Chosen ones (believers) are able to see and hear. They recognize his identity as Son (and thus see the Father), but remain unable to perceive this divine honor/splendor in its fullness; it will only become manifest when they/we are finally with Jesus (in heaven) with God the Father.

Verses 25-26, even more than v. 24, bring together all of themes and motifs of the Prayer—and, indeed, the Discourses of Jesus as a whole—and deserve an extended discussion in their own right. I will be posting this, as a supplement, later this week.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 6:63, 68

John 6:63, 68

These next two verses to be discussed are related, in some way, to the preceding Bread of Life discourse (vv. 22-59), though the precise relationship has proven difficult for commentators to determine. Verse 59 effectively serves as a conclusion to the discourse; and yet, without any other reference point, it would seem that verse 60 is referring back to the discourse (or a portion of it). The wording remains somewhat ambiguous:

“Then many out of his learners [i.e. disciples], (hav)ing heard, said, ‘This account [i.e. word/saying] is harsh [sklhro/$]—who is able to hear it?'”

There are two possibilities:

    • Verses 60ff are part of the same historical tradition, occurring in the aftermath of the discourse (as recorded in vv. 22-59)
    • The Gospel writer has joined to the discourse an entirely separate tradition, using the discourse, in the literary context of the narrative, as a way of demonstrating an example of Jesus’ teaching—i.e., the kinds of things he said which resulted in the sort of response described in vv. 60ff.

Most critical commentators would choose the second option, and there is much to be said in favor of it. In this particular instance, the view taken affects how one interprets the discourse—especially the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58. But, let us continue with the Jesus’ response to the disciples’ reaction:

“Does this trip you up? Then if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first(, what then)? The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.” (vv. 61b-63)

The logical connection and flow of these statements is rather difficult, and may possibly reflect separate sayings which have been brought together. The basic idea behind vv. 61b-62, as we have it, is relatively clear. If the disciples find Jesus’ teaching difficult (while he is present with them), how will they respond when he has left them and returned to the Father? The Christological language in v. 62 has, I think, led some commentators down the wrong track, as though Jesus were suggesting that it would be more difficult for the disciples to behold Jesus’ ascension in glory. Much more likely here is a foreshadowing of the kind of discussion Jesus will have with his (close) disciples in the Last Discourse, where he speaks at length of his departure and return to the Father. The mention of the Spirit in v. 63 would seem to confirm this. His statement here regarding the Spirit may be seen as preparatory for the later Discourse. Let us examine verse 63 in more detail.

Verse 63

Whether or not this verse ultimately derives from separate sayings, there certainly are two distinct statements being made by Jesus:

    1. “The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything”
    2. “The utterances [i.e. words] which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”

The first statement provides a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). Such a dualistic contrast is familiar from Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior note), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

A difficult point of interpretation is whether (or in what sense) this statement should be applied to the Bread of Life discourse, and the apparent eucharistic allusions in vv. 51-58. I have addressed this question in an earlier Saturday series study.

The second statement provides the theme for this series of notes: “The utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life”. Again, there is some difficulty of interpretation here; consider the possible ways this may be understood:

    • Spirit and (divine, eternal) Life are conveyed to believers through Jesus’ words
    • This giving of “Spirit and Life” is parallel to the eucharistic (symbolic) act of eating/drinking the flesh/blood of Jesus—two aspects of the same basic idea
    • Jesus’ spoken words, i.e. his teaching, reflect part (or an aspect) of the Spirit (and Life) which he gives to believers
    • Trust in Jesus, through his words, will result in believers obtaining the Spirit and (eternal) Life

In my view, the statement is fundamentally Christological. Since Jesus is the Son (of God) sent by the Father, and since God the Father (who is Spirit, 4:24) gives the Spirit to Jesus, to say that Jesus gives the Spirit (3:34) to believers means that he conveys to believers everything that the Father is. This involves both the work, and the very presence, of Jesus—wherever he is, and whatever he does (or speaks), the Spirit of God is made manifest to those who trust in him. Jesus’ utterances are not merely the sayings and teachings recorded in the Gospel, but a manifestation of the life-giving, creative power, given to him by the Father. This interpretation will, I believe, be confirmed as we explore the remainder of the relevant passages in the Gospel (and First Letter) of John.

Verse 68

Jesus’ statements in vv. 61-63 are part of a larger narrative section; and here, beginning with verse 64, there is greater likelihood that a separate historical tradition has been joined—one which has important parallels with the Synoptic Tradition. Verses 64-71 deal specifically with the Twelve disciples, and the transition to this in v. 64 appears rather abruptly. The key saying by Jesus comes in verse 65:

“Through this [i.e. for this reason] I have said to you that no one is able to come toward me if it were not given to him out of [i.e. from] the Father”

In the narrative context, this relates back to vv. 37-40, and especially vv. 44-45, of the discourse, though it is also possible that similar sayings by Jesus were given (and circulated) separately, to the same effect. At any rate, this motif of election—of the disciples (believers) being given to Jesus by God the Father—starts to come into greater prominence at this point in the Gospel. As if in response to this declaration, we read that “many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went away, into the (place)s in the back, and no longer walked about with him”. This takes things a step further from the grumbling reaction in vv. 60-61; now many disciples drew back and no longer followed Jesus closely. What comes next in the narrative serves as a parallel, of sorts, with the confession of Peter in the Synoptic Tradition—note:

    • A direct and personal question (challenge) by Jesus to his close disciples:
      “And who do you count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:30a par)
      “You do not also wish to lead (yourselves) under [i.e. go back/away] (do you)?” (Jn 6:67)
    • To which Peter is the one who responds with a declaration of faith:
      “You are the Anointed One (of God)” (Mk 8:30b par)
      “…we have trusted and have known that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68b)

Just prior to this confession, in John’s account, Peter makes the following statement, in answer to Jesus’ question:

“Lord, to whom will we go away? You hold (the) utterances of (the) Life of the Age” (v. 68a)

The last portion is made up of four Greek words which should now be familiar to you in studying the Gospel throughout this series:

  • r(h/mata “utterances”, i.e. spoken words, as in v. 63 (above)—cf. also 3:34; 5:47; 8:47; 10:21; 12:47-48; 14:7; 17:8.
  • zwh=$ “of Life”—the two words being in a genitival relationship, “utterances of life”, as in “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48), “light of life” (8:12), “resurrection of life” (5:29). This divine, eternal Life characterizes Jesus’ utterances—they belong to Life.
  • ai)wni/ou “of the Age”—the latest of many such occurrences of this adjective in the expression zwh/ ai)w/nio$ (“Life of the Age”). It reflects the idea of the divine, blessed Life which the righteous were though to inherit (and share with God) at the end-time, following the resurrection and Judgment. In the Johannine discourses, it tends to be used in the sense of the Life which believers in Jesus possess (“hold”) now, in the present, through trust in him—i.e. “realized” eschatology. The expression is typically translated as “eternal life”.
  • e&xei$ “you hold”—as indicated above, Jesus repeatedly states that those who trust in him hold eternal life. Peter here is expressing the belief that this Life comes from Jesus, who holds it, having himself received it from God the Father (cf. 5:26, etc).

While this language certainly reflects that of the Johannine discourses, it is interesting to see the way that it has developed here out of a core historical tradition, related to the calling of the Twelve and the betrayal of Judas. This framework has been chosen and utilized by the Gospel writer as a way to emphasize Jesus’ teaching on faith and discipleship, much as the tradition of Judas’ betrayal at the Last Supper has been used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce teaching of Jesus (cf. Lk 22:21-30). In the Johannine narrative, Judas has a special place in the “Last Supper” scene—his departure marks the moment when “the devil” has left, and only Jesus’ true disciples remain (13:2, 21-30; cp. 6:64, 70-71). It is at this point that the great Last Discourse can begin (13:31ff).

“…Spirit and Life”: John 6:27ff

John 6:27-58

The motif of “life” (zwh/) is especially prominent in the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. This discourse is similar to that of chapter 5 (cf. the previous notes), in being centered on a miracle story—in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode, which is also found in the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 6:30-44 par, cf. also 8:1-10 par). I have discussed the Bread of Life discourse in a number of prior notes and articles, most recently as part of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (cf. the relevant notes). The discourse, in the context of the chapter as a whole, is quite complex; I would outline it as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction—the Feeding Miracle Episode:
    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-4)
    • Tradition: The Feeding Miracle (vv. 5-14)
    • Transitional statement (v. 15)
    • Associated Tradition: The Walking on Water (vv. 16-21)
  • Introduction to the Discourse (vv. 22-24)
  • Part 1—The Bread from Heaven [Passover/Manna theme] (vv. 25-34)
    • Encounter scene—Question from the crowd (vv. 25-26)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 27)
    • Initial reaction by the people (v. 28)
    • Exposition (second saying) by Jesus (v. 29)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 30-31)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 32-33)
    • Concluding/transitional response by the people (v. 34)
  • Part 2—The Bread of Life [exposition of Bread from Heaven theme] (vv. 35-50)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 35), with exposition (vv. 36-40)
    • Reaction by the people (vv. 41-42)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 43-50)
  • Part 3—The Living Bread [exposition of Bread of Life theme] (vv. 51-58)
    • Saying of Jesus (v. 51)
    • Reaction by the people (v. 52)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 53-58)
  • Narrative Conclusion (v. 59)

There are thus three separate divisions to the discourse proper (vv. 25-58), each of which follows the basic discourse format: saying (by Jesus)–reaction (by the people)–exposition (by Jesus). In each instance, the exposition builds upon the central saying (vv. 27, 35, 51), explaining the true meaning of Jesus’ words. The word zwh/ (“life”), along with related verb za/w (“live”), occurs repeatedly throughout these verses; these references may be grouped as follows:

    • The expression “Bread of Life“, in two forms:
      bread of Lifeo( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$ (vv. 35, 48)
      living breado( a&rto$ o( zwh=n (v. 51)
    • The expression “Life of the Age” (vv. 27, 40*, 47*, 53-54*, also v. 68*)
      the asterisk indicates that the expression involves the verb e&xw (“hold, have”)
      —i.e. “hold the Life of the Age”
    • The noun “Life” without modification:
      —giving Life to/for the world (v. 33)
      —over the life of the world (v. 51)
    • The verb “Live” (participle “Living“):
      —will live into the Age (v. 51, 58)
      —Living Father…I live…that one will live (v. 57)

All told, there are 13 occurrences over a span of 32 verses—quite a high number. The expression “Bread of Life” (once “Living Bread”) features in the second and third sayings of Jesus, both of which relate back to the first saying (in verse 27):

“Do not work for the food th(at is) going to ruin, but (for) food th(at is) remaining into (the) Life of the Age, which the Son of Man will give to you—for God the Father has set (his) seal (on) this (person).”

Jesus begins from the context of the feeding miracle—the eating of bread-loaves by the people—to establish a contrast between ordinary bread (which perishes) and the bread (or “food”, brw=si$) which the Son of Man (Jesus) gives. This is precisely parallel to the contrast between ordinary water and the “living water” which Jesus gives (4:7-15ff)—one involves eating, the other drinking. During this portion of the discourse, the motif shifts to another kind of “bread” provided miraculously to the people—the manna of ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition (Exod 16:31ff; Num 11:6ff; Deut 8:3, etc). This manna is referred to as “bread from heaven” in Exod 16:4; Psalm 105:40; Neh 9:15—some combination of these may be intended by the general Scripture citation in v. 31 (“He gave them bread out of heaven to eat”). This reference, given by the people in their reaction to Jesus’ statement(s), almost certainly should be seen as relating to the Passover setting of the feeding miracle (v. 4). The people’s reaction should be understood according to the context of the following points in the saying/exposition by Jesus:

    • Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man who gives eternal food/bread
    • The divine/heavenly source of this—”God the Father set (his) seal”
    • Obtaining this food involves doing (working) the “work of God” (as in the gathering of the manna by the Israelites)
    • Jesus defines this “work” more precisely in v. 29b:
      “…that you would trust in th(e one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth”

The reaction by the people in vv. 30-31 is thus similar to the question by the Samaritan woman in 4:12. It also touches upon the contrast between Jesus and Moses (the Torah/Scriptures) in 5:39ff. The wording of verse 31 is significant:

“Our fathers ate manna in the desolate (land), even as it has been written…”

One can envision an implied question/challenge along the lines of 4:12—i.e., “you are not greater than Moses, through whom God gave us this food to eat, are you?” Jesus makes the contrast definite in v. 32:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, (it was) not Moshe (who) has given to you the ‘bread out of heaven’, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

This bread coming down from heaven is said to “give Life to the world” (v. 33). Jesus has gone a step beyond the discourse with the Samaritan woman; now, rather than being simply one who gives Life, Jesus identifies himself (the “Son of Man”) with that very Life itself. This is clear enough from the saying which begins the second portion of the discourse:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life; the one coming toward me should not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting in me will not (ever) thirst.”

The blending of hunger and thirst (eating and drinking) suggests that Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has the earlier “living water” discourse in mind, though the specific image of bread would seem to apply only to eating. The “I am” declaration is repeated in verse 48 (“I am the Bread of Life”), where it is connected back to the manna tradition (“Bread out of Heaven”). In the intervening exposition, Jesus makes absolutely clear that eating this “Bread of Life” means trusting in him:

    • “every one looking (closely) at the Son and trusting [pisteu/wn] in him holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 40)
    • “the one trusting [pisteu/wn] in me holds (the) Life of the Age” (v. 47)

As in the earlier discourses, the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) is primarily eschatological, referring to the life which the righteous (believers) will come to possess in the end-time, following the resurrection (v. 40b, etc). Within the context of the Johannine discourses, however, this is blended with a “realized” eschatology for believers in Jesus—they experience in the present the very Life which the righteous are thought to inherit at the end-time. This is the main significance of the expression “holds the Life of the Age”—i.e. the believer already possesses it now.

The third portion of the discourse runs parallel to the second, and begins with a parallel saying by Jesus:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread th(at is) stepping down out of Heaven; and if any one should eat out of this Bread, he will live into the Age…” (v. 51)

If the second portion of the discourse expounds the theme of the first (“Bread from Heaven”), the third portion also expounds the theme of the second (“Bread of Life”). Now, it is designated as “living Bread” (similar to the “living water” of 4:10ff), and the spiritual significance of the exposition is deepened by the introduction of eucharistic language and motifs. I have discussed this controversial aspect of the discourse at length in prior notes (cf. especially the earlier Saturday Series discussion). The eucharistic association is established already in the second half of the verse 51 saying:

“…and the Bread which I will give is my flesh, over [u(pe/r] the life of the world”

One need not look any further than words of institution (of the Lord’s Supper) in the Gospel tradition:

    • Mark 14:22-24:
      “this is my body…this is my blood…th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”
    • Luke 22:19-20 [MT]:
      “this is my body given over [u(pe/r] you…”

If there were any doubt as to an apparent eucharistic allusion here, verses 53-54 make it all but certain:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if you would not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold Life in yourself. (But) the one chomping my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) Life of the Age, and I will stand him up in the last day.”

It is interesting to consider the three aspects of (eternal) Life present in this statement:

    • Life which the believer holds in him/herself—i.e. through the essential presence of Jesus (his “flesh” and “blood”)
    • The Life of the Age which the believer holds (now, in the present)—”realized” eschatology
    • The Life which the believer will possess at the end time, following the Resurrection—traditional (future) eschatology

While the last two aspects have been present in the prior discourses (in chaps. 3-5), the first aspect is new to the Gospel here, though it has been implied, to some extent, both in the prologue and, perhaps, in verses 5-8 of chapter 3. It refers to the essential unity between the believer and Jesus, and this is a theme which will be developed considerably as one proceeds through the Gospel.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 5:21-29

John 5:21-29

The next references to “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John are from the chapter 5 discourse—specifically in the portion of Jesus’ exposition covering verses 19-29. I offered an outline and summary of this discourse in an earlier Saturday Series discussion (on v. 39); for this study today, it is important to consider the structure of the exposition by Jesus:

    • Verses 19-29: Jesus (the Son) does the work of the Father, exemplified by the ability to raise the dead (the ultimate work of giving new life). This section also may be divided into two parts:
      (1) Resurrection (i.e. new life) in the present for believers—”realized” eschatology (vv. 19-24)
      (2) Resurrection at the end time for those who believe—traditional (future) eschatology (vv. 25-29)
    • Verses 30-47: Testimony that Jesus comes from the Father and does the Father’s work

The references to “life” come from the first division, dealing with the theme of resurrection—a theme that will be illustrated dramatically in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11. Here in the discourse, however, the reference is not to a specific resurrection miracle, but to the resurrection which was expected to occur at the end-time, in the context of the final Judgment by God upon humankind. Such a belief in an end-time resurrection, appears to have been fairly common and widespread by the time of Jesus, so much so that it was worth noting when certain individuals or groups (such as the Sadducees) denied it. For the most part, this resurrection was reserved for the righteous; though, by the first century A.D., belief in a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked, prior to the Judgment, is attested. Jesus refers to this more general concept of the resurrection in verse 29 (cf. below).

As indicated by the outline above, the two sections dealing with the resurrection are parallel—the first (vv. 19-24) largely from the standpoint of “realized” eschatology, the second (vv. 25-29) primarily in terms of traditional (future) eschatology. This distinction can be seen from a comparison of both sections, and is confirmed by the expressions used in verses 25 and 28:

    • “an hour comes…” (v. 28) [future eschatology]
    • “an hour comes and now is…” (v. 25) [realized eschatology]

This exact distinction was seen earlier in the chapter 4 discourse (cf. the previous note): “an hour comes” (v. 21), “an hour comes and now is” (v. 23).

There are two points of parallelism which I want to examine here today. The first is found in verses 21 and 26:

    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live [zw|opoiei=]
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] the Son makes (a)live [zw|opoiei=] th(ose) whom he wishes” (v. 21)
    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father holds life [e&xei zwh/n] in Himself,
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] he gave to the Son to hold life [zwh\n e&xein] in himself” (v. 26)

Both statements utilize a nearly identical formulation, emphasizing that the Son (Jesus) does exactly what the Father does. The first statement in v. 21 focuses on the life-giving work of raising the dead (resurrection); the second (v. 26) is centered on the very Life (and life-giving power) which God “holds”. It is clearly emphasized that this Life is given by the Father to the Son—and the Son, in turn, gives it to those (i.e. believers) whom he wishes. In the previous note, we discussed that this “Life” (zwh/) which Jesus gives is essentially to be identified with the Spirit (3:34, and the “living water” [u%dwr zw=n] exposition in 4:10-26). The blending of traditional (future) and “realized” eschatology, found in 4:21-24, is expounded upon here in 5:19-29. The division between these eschatological viewpoints is perhaps not as neat as the outline of vv. 19-47 (above) might suggest. The two modes of expression are inter-related and overlap—what believers will experience in the future, they already “realize” through trust in Jesus in the present. This brings up the second main parallel in these sections (vv. 25 and 28):

    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra], and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)
    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra] in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice, and will come out…into…life” (vv. 28-29a)

The specific reference to “the memorial(-tomb)s” in the latter statement points to the traditional (future) eschatology—i.e. of the resurrection at the end-time. Yet, such a resurrection would take place, in the present, in the Lazarus episode (chap. 11). In the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in that episode (only partially a discourse), Martha expressed the traditional eschatological viewpoint (v. 24), which Jesus corrects (vv. 25-26):

    • Martha: “I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up (again) in the standing up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
    • Jesus: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life; the (one) trusting in me…”

Resurrection (and the Life which comes as a result) is to be found in the person and presence of Jesus. This is also the emphasis in 5:19-29, though there is in the discourse a more precise and detailed exposition of the relationship between the God the Father and the Son (Jesus). The Father is the ultimate source of the Life which the Son gives to believers. In this regard, we may include a third parallel between the two sections of the exposition, expressed in verses 24 and 29:

    • “he [i.e. the believer] does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. across/over], out of death (and) into Life” (v. 24)
    • “they will come out—the (one)s doing good (thing)s into a standing up of Life, and the (one)s practicing bad (thing)s into a standing up of Judgment” (v. 29)

Here the parallelism is not so exact in terms of formulation, but remains close conceptually, with common vocabulary, especially in the contrast between Life and Judgment—the believer does not come into the Judgment, for he/she has already stepped over from death into Life through trust in Jesus. This idea will be discussed further in the next note, when we look at verse 24 in connection with vv. 39-40.

Believers and the World (Jn 17:20-23, continued)

As a continuation (and conclusion) to the recently posted article, on the statements regarding believers and “the world” (o( ko/smo$) in John 17:20-23, I mentioned three specific questions which I felt still needed to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

I will briefly discuss each of these in turn.

1. How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?

The principal theme of verses 20-23 is Jesus’ request for the unity of his disciples (believers). This is expressed two ways:

    • With the neuter singular adjective e%n (“one”): “that they would (all) be one
    • Using the preposition e)n (“in”): believers in the Son (and the Father), and the Son in believers, just as the Father and Son are in one another.

The use of the comparative particle kaqw/$ (“just as”), and the relation of believers to the union between Father and Son, makes clear that believers share in the same (not just similar) unity that Father and Son share. This is a powerful theological (and spiritual) proposition, which may seem quite shocking to religious sensibilities, but it is not to be explained away or mitigated. The language used by Jesus (and the Gospel writer) must be allowed to stand. And yet, how does this unity relate to “the world”? In the main part of this article, I discussed how the concluding i%na-clauses, mentioning “the world”, are best understood as subordinate result clauses. Let us consider again how these fit in the parallel strophes of verses 20-23:

First strophe, verses 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second strophe, vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

For ease of reference, here are the two clauses in context, with the immediate statement regarding unity in bold:

“…that they…would be in us, (so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth”
“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth”

How does the unity of believers lead the world (i.e. others in the world who are not yet believers) to trust and know (i.e. recognize) Jesus’ divine origin as Messiah and Son of God? Some would cite the example of Christian unity as something which might convince people of the truth of the Gospel. While this is a noble sentiment, it is not at all what is in view here in the Prayer. Rather, the unity of which Jesus speaks is fundamental and essential—the very identity of believers is defined by their/our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. This union, indicated primarily by the preposition e)n (“in”, i.e. “in us”), is further defined three distinct ways in the Gospel of John; the divine Presence in believers is described in terms of: (1) Word [lo/go$], (2) Love [a)ga/ph], and (3) Spirit [pneu=ma]. It is the Word-Love-Spirit of God (and Christ), dwelling in and with believers, which brings others to trust and knowledge of the truth. This will be further discussed in the following two sections.

2. What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?

In the earlier notes on verses 20-23, I pointed out how the use of the verb teleio/w (“[make] complete”), in the passive, with believers as the subject, occurs only here in the Gospel of John, but that four similar instances are found in the First Letter (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). The passages in 1 John share much of the same thought, language, and vocabulary as the Prayer-Discourse of Jn 17. There, too, the unity believers share with Father and Son is defined in terms of love (cf. section 3 below). However, I believe there is one aspect of the use of the verb here in verse 23 which has not yet been explored, and it relates specifically to the statement regarding the world trusting/knowing. The unity of believers is only realized collectively, not individually—but as a universal Community, bound together by the living Word-Love-Spirit of God. To that extent, unity is not realized until all believers are included—that is, when all the Elect/Chosen ones, living throughout the world, in all times and places, come to trust in Jesus, becoming true believers in Christ. This is wonderfully expressed, though using different imagery, in the “Good Shepherd” discourse:

“And I hold other sheep, which are not out of [i.e. from] this yard, and it is necessary for me to bring them also, and they (too) will hear my voice, and they will be a single herd [poimnh/], (with) one herder [poimh/n].” (10:16)

It must be emphasized that, though believers may gather (physically) into local communities, the unity spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John is entirely spiritual—it is truly a universal Community, realized and possible only by and through the presence of the Spirit. It is no coincidence that the giving of the Spirit follows almost directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus (20:21ff), and that this is indicated symbolically in the narrative at the moment of Jesus’ death (19:30):

    • His dying word on the cross: tete/lestai (“it is completed“, vb. tele/w closely related to teleio/w), after which
    • “…he gave along the Spirit” (pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma)

3. How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit into the structure of the section?

Verses 20-23 conclude with a statement that defines unity in terms of love (a)ga/ph)—that is to say, divine love, the love of God, which believers share by way of our union with Christ. This divine love cannot be separated (as an attribute) from the very Presence of God Himself, which believers are joined with by way of the Person of Jesus, through the Spirit. As mentioned above, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, Word, Love and Spirit, are largely synonymous, all three representing the living presence of God the Father and Jesus (the Son). This special meaning of a)ga/ph is seen throughout the Gospel, but especially in the Last Discourse (5:42; 8:42; 13:34-35; 14:15, 21ff; 15:9-13, 17, 19). It is even more prominent in the Letters (42 times, including 36 in 1 John). In 4:8, God Himself is identified as Love, and I mentioned above how believers being “made complete” is understood in terms of this love (2:5; 4:12, 17-18). In many ways, the First Letter takes up where the Last Discourse leaves off, both serving as detailed expositions of the “love commandment” in 13:34-35. The wording in 17:23 summarizes this exposition, but from the standpoint of the Father’s relationship to believers: “you loved them just as you loved me”.

However, according to the syntax of vv. 22-23, this statement is part of the i%na-clause which mentions the world knowing:

“…that they would be completed into one, (so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth, and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

The statement of God’s love is part of what the world comes to know:

    • “(so) that the world would know
      • that you sent me forth
      • and (that) you loved them even as you loved me”

Some commentators have struggled with the pronoun “them”, pointing out that, in context, it must refer to the believers (“the ones trusting in me…”) of v. 20, rather than to the immediate subject “the world”. However, according to the interpretation I set forth (cf. the main discussion), here “the world” refers ostensibly to believers—i.e. the Elect/Chosen ones, in the world, who have not yet become believers. This renders the immediate syntax more intelligible: those “in the world” who come to be believers realize the love God the Father has for them, a love that is identified in the person of his Son (Jesus). The wonderful reciprocity that defines both the unity and love which we share, as believers, and expressed here, is supplemented by Jesus’ earlier statement in 14:31:

“…(so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and even as the Father placed (a duty) on me to complete, so I do (it).”

Here the idea of believers “in the world” is less in view; the focus is rather on Jesus’ impending sacrificial death, and the time of darkness which accompanies it. The statement in v. 31 is preceded by an ominous declaration that “the chief/ruler of the world comes”, along with a message of encouragement that “he holds nothing on/in me”. That last phrase could mean “he has no part in me”, or “he holds nothing on me” in the sense of having “no power over me”; probably the latter is intended. In any event, the wording of v. 31a is quite similar to that of the closing words of 17:23—the former mentions Jesus’ love for the Father, the latter the Father’s love for Jesus. The world—everyone in it, not just the elect/believers—can recognize in Jesus’ death his great love for God.

It is the “love commandment” in 13:34-35 which relates more directly to the statement in 17:23:

“A new duty I give to you to complete: that you love each another—just as I loved you, that also you would love each other. In this, all people will know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples], if you hold love among [lit. in/on, e)n] each other.”

There is a similar matrix of thought and language, including the idea that people in the world will know as a result of the unifying love which believers share. Here the sense of believers as an example to the world is more plausible; yet, the emphasis is still squarely on believers and their relationship to Jesus.

If we consider the statements in 13:34-35, 14:31, and 17:23 in sequence, representing a kind of development of thought, it seems to parallel Christian ministry itself:

  • 13:34-35—Believers as ministers, representatives of Christ, in the world
    • Love—We are to love each other according to the example of Jesus (“just as” [kaqw/$] he loved us); his sacrificial death is implicit and fundamental to this love.
    • World’s Response—”All people” recognize this love as a sign that believers are disciples of Jesus, i.e. that they are Christians
  • 14:31—The Gospel message believers proclaim in the world is centered on the sacrificial death of Jesus, which frees us from the power of the world (“ruler of the world”, v. 30)
    • Love—Jesus’ love is embodied in his sacrificial death, and demonstrates his love for God the Father
    • World’s Response—Those in the world, both the Elect and non-elect, can recognize Jesus’ love for God in his sacrificial death
  • 17:23—Believers proclaim the Gospel (the Word), being guided and empowered by the living Word (the Spirit) which unites us with God the Father and Jesus (the Son)
    • Love—As believers we share (“even as” [kaqw/$]) in the same Love which God the Father has for Jesus (the Son); it is not just an attribute of God, but the Presence of God Himself.
    • World’s Response—The Elect/Chosen ones in the world come to know that Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father, and recognize the love which God has for them, uniting them with all other believers.

Believers and the World (John 17:20-23)

This is a follow-up article to the discussion on verses 20-23 of the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17 (part of a Monday Notes on Prayer series). It is necessary to examine the use of the word ko/smo$ (“world”) in the concluding phrase of the two (parallel) strophes that make up this section:

“(so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth”
i%na o( ko/smo$ pisteu/h| o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$ (v. 21d)
“(so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth…”
i%na ginw/skh| o( ko/smo$ o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$
“…(and) that you loved them just as you loved me.” (v. 23c-d)

Jesus has been praying on behalf of believers, but now suddenly he shifts to the response of the “world”. There is some question as to the syntactical place of these two i%na-clauses, whether they are parallel to the prior i%na-clauses in each strophe (see the earlier discussion), or represent a subordinate result clause. In the first view, the world’s trusting/knowing would be part of the unity of believers in Jesus’ request; according to the second view, it is the result of the unity shared by believers. I consider the latter to be more likely, and more in keeping with the thought of the Prayer, and have rendered the conjunctive particle i%na to reflect this (i.e., “so that…”).

However, this reference to the “world” (ko/smo$) raises a problem. All throughout the Prayer, as well as the Last Discourse, and, indeed, the Gospel of John as a whole (with but few exceptions), the expression “the world” (o( ko/smo$) designates a realm of sin and darkness which is opposed to God and hostile to Christ; moreover, Jesus warns his disciples (and future believers), that, as long as they are living in the world, it will remain hostile to them (cf. 14:17, 22, 30; 15:18-25; 16:33; 17:9ff). This has been discussed repeatedly in the previous notes on chapter 17. Now, suddenly, Jesus speaks of the world trusting and knowing. How are we to understand this? There are several possible answers to this question:

1. It refers to a different kind (or level) of trust and knowledge, one which shows awareness of Jesus’ divine origins, but does not indicate true trust and knowledge. In traditional religious terms, we might refer to this as faith (of sorts), but not saving faith. There is some precedence for this in the Gospel of John. On several occasions, the populace at large (including Jesus’ opponents) are said to “trust” or “know”, but without any definite indication that they are true, committed believers (7:28ff; 8:30-31 [compare with the discourse that follows]; 11:45ff; 12:43-44). However, throughout the Gospel, the verbs pisteu/w (“trust”) and ginw/skw (“know”) are overwhelmingly used to characterize true believers, being used almost interchangeably. Even more to the point, the emphasis on Jesus as one “sent forth” (vb. a)poste/llw) by the Father serves as a shorthand for (true) trust/belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (see esp. verse 3 of the Prayer).

2. An interpretation more in keeping with the portrait of “the world” as hostile to God and unable to accept the truth, is to read the subjunctive verb forms (“might trust”, “might know”) as indicating a possibility which, for the most part, will not be realized. In this view, the missionary work of the disciples serves as a challenge to the world which leads, not to true faith, but to judgment for their inability (and/or unwillingness) to accept the truth. This preserves the contrast between believers and the world, which Jesus states unequivocally again in verse 25. The theme of Judgment is certainly present in the Last Discourse (14:30 [cf. 12:31]; 15:22ff; 16:8-11, 33), but is generally absent from the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17, and, it must be said, is quite foreign to the thought of verses 20-23.

3. A simple reading of the phrases, taking the words at face value, might suggest that Jesus is speaking of the wicked/sinners in the world being converted to faith by the witness of believers. This is a common enough Christian outlook which continues to inform missionary work and evangelistic preaching today. It is certainly present in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel context of Luke-Acts, where an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sin is an essential component of the Apostolic message (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30, etc). However, it is almost entirely absent from the Johannine writings. Apart from the episode in 7:53-8:11 (which likely was not part of the original Gospel), it is hard to find any examples referring to the conversion of sinners (5:14 is a rare instance, perhaps drawn from the wider Gospel tradition). Admittedly, some key passages in the Gospels have been understood this way (most notably 3:16-17), but only when taken somewhat out of context from the rest of the Gospel of John.

4. An interpretation closer to the mark would again be to understand the subjunctives as “might trust” / “might know”, but in the sense of “might be able to trust”, etc. In other words, through the work and Gospel of Jesus, the world is freed from the power of sin, and has the ability to accept Christ. This does not mean that all in the world will accept—indeed many (perhaps most) will not—however, they are no longer prevented from doing so by the power of evil (and the Evil One) at work in the world. As appealing as this view might be, it reflects a universalism that, I would maintain, is foreign to the Gospel of John. By “universalism” I do not mean it in an absolute or final sense (i.e. “everyone will be saved”), but in a qualified sense related to the human will (i.e. “everyone is able to be saved”). In classical theological terms, the contrast is between a universal and limited application of the atoning work of Jesus. It would be anachronistic to use either label in the case of the Johannine writings; however, it seems abundantly clear that the Gospel, in particular, evinces a strong view of what we would call Election/Predestination—i.e. believers come to Christ because they already belong to God, being “born” of God and “chosen” by Him beforehand (1:12-13; 3:21; 6:37ff, 44-45, 64-65ff; 8:42-47; 10:3-5, 14ff, 27-29; 18:37, etc). To be sure, through Christ’s work, believers are freed from the power of sin and darkness in the world (1:5; 8:12, 31-32; 12:35-36, 46; 14:30; 16:33, etc); however, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, they never really belonged to the world in the first place—they were “in” the world, but not “of” it. This is a central theme in the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 (vv. 2, 6, 9, 11ff).

In my view, a proper understanding of the phrases in question requires a close examination of the usage of the expression o( ko/smo$ (“the world”), beginning here in chapter 17, and widening out to the Last Discourse, the Gospel as a whole, and, finally to the Letters of John for comparison. Such a study is beyond the scope of this article; however, let us at least summarize the language and usage in the Last Discourse and the Prayer. Overall, in spite of some wordplay, o( ko/smo$ is part of a dualistic contrast—i.e. Jesus/Spirit/Believers vs. the World. A few points of detail:

    • The world is unable to receive the Spirit, and also unable to receive the Truth (“Spirit of Truth”) (14:17; 17:25); similarly, the world cannot “see” (i.e. recognize, accept) Jesus (14:19ff; 16:28)
    • The Spirit will judge/convict the world of its sin, this sin being that it does not trust in Jesus (16:8-11)
    • The world is contrasted with Jesus in the person of its chief/ruler (presumably to be identified with the Satan/Devil), a person (and/or personification) embodying evil. This “Ruler of the World”, and, the world itself, has no power over Jesus (14:30; 16:11, 33), who, in turn, has the power to remove believers from the world, i.e. freeing and protecting them from sin and evil (15:19; 17:15)
    • The world hates both Jesus and his disciples (believers), being hostile to them and persecuting them, etc (15:19; 16:20, 33)
    • Believers are not “of” (lit. “out of”, i.e. “from”) the world; rather, they are “of” God, belonging to the Father (14:19ff; 17:6ff, 16), and this is the reason for the world’s hatred of them (15:19; 17:14-15). The Father has given believers to Jesus, who, in turn, sends the Spirit to protect them in his place (14:26; 15:26; 16:7ff; 17:6, 9)
    • There is a clear contrast between the realm of the world (below) and that of the Father (above) (14:27; 16:28; 17:16ff)

Now let us look specifically at the way believers are contrasted with “the world” in chapter 17. In particular, there is an interplay of two expressions: “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou) and “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|):

    • Believers are “out of [e)k] the world” in the sense that they/we do not belong to it; rather, they/we belong to God (vv. 6, 9). If believers, like Jesus, are “out of” the world, then it means that they/we are truly not “in [e)n]” it (v. 11).
      • In a secondary, but related, sense, God gave the disciples (believers) to Jesus “out of” the world (v. 6); this refers specifically to their/our coming to be believers in Christ.
    • The exact same point can be made, saying that believers are not “out of [e)k] the world”, meaning that they/we do not come from it—their/our true origins are from God (vv. 14, 16)
    • Yet it is also said that believers are not “out of [e)k] the world” in the sense they/we are still living on earth and, more importantly, must face the evil and hostility that dominates the world; in this sense, believers are “in [e)n] the world” (vv. 11, 13, 15)
      • Jesus’ ministry on behalf of believers relates to their being “in the world”: he speaks to them, giving them his word, “in the world” (v. 13), and sends them, as his representatives, out “in(to) the world” (v. 18)

Now, let us consider how this relates to the wording in vv. 21, 23. If we piece together the evidence in the Prayer, we can discern three key points:

    • Believers (the Elect) do not belong to the world (i.e. are not “of” it), but come from God
    • Yet believers remain living “in” the world, in the face of its darkness and evil
    • When believers are “given” by the Father to Jesus (the Son), they/we are taken “out of” the world and come to be believers in Christ

Thus, it would seem, when Jesus speaks of “the world” trusting and knowing as a result of the disciples’ (believers’) ministry, etc, it must be understood in light of the three points outlined above. In other words, here “the world” signifies the Elect/Chosen ones living in the world who have not yet come to be believers in Jesus. The same situation is described, though in different terms, in 10:16, where Jesus speaks of “other sheep”; of them he says that “it is necessary for me to bring/lead (them)”. And, from where does he, the herdsman, bring them? The answer is given here—from out of the world. The call, the sending out of the shepherd’s voice, is done through the work of other believers (“…trusting in me through their word”, v. 20), led and directed by the Spirit. I should say that the other universal-sounding statements in the Gospels, referring to the saving/salvation of “the world”, are best understood in this light as well (cf. 1:7, 29; 3:16-17; 6:33, 51; 12:32, 47).

If the above interpretation is indeed correct, there still remain three questions which I feel need to be addressed:

    • How does the unity of believers relate to the world trusting/knowing Jesus?
    • What is the significance of this for the use of the verb teleio/w (“make complete”) in verse 23?
    • How does the final clause of verse 23, with its motif of love, fit in to the structure of the section?

I will look at each of these briefly in the continuation of this article.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:20-23

John 17:20-23

As discussed previously in these notes on the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17, verses 12-26 provide an exposition of the central petition of vv. 9-11. As in the Discourses proper, Jesus explains the true meaning of his words; in this regard, the situation is much like that of the prayer at the tomb of the Lazarus in 11:41-42—it is intended as much or more for the benefit of those around him (the disciples/believers) than it is for God the Father whom he addresses. Verses 12-19, discussed in the prior studies, comprise the first section of the exposition, verse 20-26 the second. The petition in vv. 9ff is for the needs of believers; in vv. 12-19, the focus is on Jesus’ immediate disciples (the Twelve, etc), while in vv. 20-26 the viewpoint widens out to encompass all believers everywhere. This is clear from the way the language in verse 9 is repeated, essentially restating the petition:

“And (yet) I do not ask about these only, but also about the (one)s trusting in me through their word [lo/go$]…”

The wording sharpens an important theme running through the Last Discourse: that of the disciples serving as witnesses of Jesus after he has departed to the Father. Verse 18, with its reference to the disciples as apostles—i.e. ones sent out from Jesus into the world—anticipates the post-resurrection commission in 20:21-23. Yet here, the emphasis is not on the work of the disciples, but on those who come to trust in Jesus through their work. In this regard, verses 20-23 serve as an expository refrain to the Prayer, moving from Jesus’ circle of disciples to the wider sphere of believers the world over. The parallelism in these verses is striking, and must be examined carefully; indeed, we have here two strophes that are nearly identical, following a precise pattern:

    • Initial statement regarding believers
      • i%na clause—that they (all) may be one
      • comparative kaqw/$ clause, relating their unity to that shared by Father and Son
      • i%na clause—that they may share the same (kind of) unity
        • concluding i%na (result) clause—believers’ witness to the world

Let us consider each strophe—first, vv. 20-21:

    • “…(I ask) about the (one)s trusting in me through their word,
      • that [i%na] (they) all would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] you, Father, (are) in me and I in you,
      • that [i%na] they also would be in us,
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth.”

Second, the following vv. 22-23:

    • “And the honor [do/ca] which you have given to me, I have given to them,
      • that [i%na] they would be one [e%n]
      • just as [kaqw/$] we (are) one [e%n]—I in them and you in me—
      • that [i%na] they would be completed into one [e%n]
        • (so) that [i%na] the world would know that you se(n)t me forth
          and (that) you loved them even as you loved me.”

It will be most useful, I think, to take each corresponding pair of lines, from each strophe, and examine them together in turn.

With regard to the initial statement regarding believers, the first (v. 20) identifies believers as those trusting in Jesus through the intermediary work of the disciples (i.e. other believers) proclaiming the Gospel message about him. The second statement (v. 22a), I would suggest, characterizes the essential identity of the believer: one who shares in the honor/glory (do/ca) of God the Father and Jesus Christ (the Son). This divine honor/glory is not realized individually, but collectively, for believers as a whole. This will be discussed further when we come to verse 24. The Prayer-Discourse began with this idea of honor/glory (do/ca), in vv. 1ff, and has continued as a theme throughout (vv. 10, 17-18, 22ff). There can be little doubt that Jesus is here speaking of the same divine/eternal do/ca mentioned in vv. 5 and 10, however shocking that might seem to religious sensibilities. He states unequivocally that he has given this same do/ca to believers; and, it must be understood as the sign and basis of the unity we have with Father and Son (and with each other). This point will be expounded further by Jesus in vv. 24-26.

Now, for each of the i%na/kaqw/$ clause pairs:

  1. “that (they) all would be one” [i%na pa/nte$ e^n w@sin] (v. 21a)
    “that they would be one” [i%na w@sin e^n] (v. 22b)

These two statements are virtually identical, really only differing by the inclusion of “all” (pa/nte$) in the first statement, a distinction which certainly applies to the second as well. It emphasizes that Jesus’ prayer relates to all believers, everywhere. At other points in the Gospel we find a definite awareness of this universal outlook (1:12-13; 3:14-15ff; 6:44-45ff; 10:16; 11:25-26; 12:32, 46ff; 18:37; 20:29, 31, etc). The repeated use of the neuter e%n (“one”) emphasizes that believers should be understood collectively—i.e. as a universal community. It is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word dh^y~, used as an identifying self-designation by the Community of the Qumran texts; the same language was almost certainly applied by early Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking Christians as well (cf. Acts 2:42, etc).

  1. “just as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you” [kaqw\$ su/ path/r e)n e)moi\ ka)gw\ e)n soi/] (v. 21b)
    “just as we are one—I in them and you in me” [kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n emoi/] (v. 22c-23a)

These are two distinct, but closely related statements; in several important respects the meaning is the same:

    • The unity of believers is patterned after the unity shared by God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son); this is the force of the particle kaqw/$ (“just as, even as”)
    • However, this unity is not just similar to the divine unity, it is fundamentally the same—it is based upon the unity of Father and Son and derives from it
    • The basis of this divine unity, in which believers share, is the joint/reciprocal relationship of being “in” (e)n) one another.

This unity is presented here in two aspects:

    • Horizontal (reciprocal)—equally between Father and Son (and, in turn, with believers): “you in me, and I in you”
    • Vertical (hierarchical)—from Father to Son to believers: “I in them and you in me”

Ultimately, for believers, the first aspect is dependent upon the second; that is to say, we share in the unity between Father and Son through our relationship to the Son. Though it is not stated here, this relationship with the Son is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

  1. “that they also would be in us” [i%na kai\ au)toi\ e)n h(mi=n w@sin] (v. 21c)
    “that they would be completed into one” [i%na w@sin teteleiwme/noi ei)$ e%n] (v. 23b)

Here the point made above—that unity is based on being “in” the Father and Son—is beautifully set in parallel: “in us” and “completed into one” are synonymous. For the sake of simplicity, my translation of the second phrase, though generally literal in rendering, has somewhat obscured the force of the perfect participle teteleiwme/noi. This would more accurately be translated “(one)s having been completed” or “(one)s having been made complete”. In other words, the participle characterizes believers. This verb (teleio/w, “[make] complete”) is closely related to tele/w (“complete”), and both verbs together have a special theological significance in the Johannine writings. In the Gospel, they refer to Jesus (the Son) completing the work, or mission, for which the Father sent him to earth (4:34; 5:36). We saw that Jesus used the verb teleio/w earlier in the Prayer (v. 4); the Passion setting makes clear that this completed work is to culminate with his sacrificial death (19:28), being fulfilled in his final word on the cross: “it is completed” [tete/lestai, vb tele/w] (v. 30).

However, here the verb teleio/w, in the passive, is used of believers. The parallel for this usage is found in the First Letter of John, and these references must be consulted to understand its meaning here:

“but, whoever would keep watch (over) his word [lo/go$], in this (person) the love of God has been made complete [tetelei/wtai], (and) in this we know that we are in him [e)n au)tw=| e)smen]” (2:5)

“No one has ever looked (upon) God. (But) if we love (each) other, (then) God remains [i.e. dwells] in us, and his love is made complete [teteleiwme/nh] in us.” (4:12)
“In this [e)n tou/tw|], love has been completed [tetelei/wtai] with us…that just as [kaqw/$] that (one) [i.e. the Son/Jesus] is [e)stin], (so) also we are [e)smen] in this world. There is no fear in love, but the love (that is) complete [telei/a] throws fear (out)…and the (one) fearing has not been made complete [tetelei/wtai] in love.” (4:17-18)

Even a casual reading, in translation, should make clear how similar the thought and language is to that of the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus. Here the completion/completeness of believers is marked by the presence of God’s love (a)ga/ph) in them. That is certainly an important motif in the Gospel Discourses as well; in fact, it is one of the key themes that opens the Last Discourse (13:34-35), running all the way through it, to the end of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 24-26, to be discussed in next week’s study). There is, in these passages from 1 John, a close connection between the verb teleio/w and the idea of the unity of believers that is based on the presence of God (and Christ) in us. This is precisely what we find here in vv. 21, 23 of the Prayer. Believers are made complete through their/our union with the Son, the presence of whom is variously defined in terms of (a) Word [lo/go$], (b) Love, but ultimately as (c) the Spirit.

However, this is not the full extent of the meaning of the verb teleio/w in this passage; there is an important aspect yet to be addressed, which requires study of the final (concluding) phrases of each strophe.

  1. “(so) that the world would trust that you se(n)t me forth” [i%na o( ko/smo$ pisteu/h| o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$] (v. 21d)
    “(so) that the world would know that you se(n)t me forth…” [i%na ginw/skh| o( ko/smo$ o%ti su/ me a)pe/steila$]
    “…(and) that you loved them just as you loved me.” (v. 23c-d)

The references here to the “world” (ko/smo$) are complex and carry a special significance within the theological setting of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus. A proper understanding of it requires an extended discussion, which I will be giving in a supplemental article.

Notes on Prayer: John 17:16-19

John 17:16-19

Verses 16-19 close the first Expository section of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 12-19, cf. the outline in the previous study). A curious detail to note is the way that verse 16 repeats, almost verbatim, the second half of v. 14. This apparently led a number of scribes to omit the verse, but there a number of such repetitions throughout the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (and the Last Discourse, in particular), and text here is secure. As a result, we ought to regard the repetition as intentional, in terms of the structure of this section. It gives to the triadic structure a chiastic outline:

    • Expository narration—the work of the Son (vv. 12-14a)
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 14b)
        • Petition to the Father—protection from the evil in the world
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 16)
    • Exposition—the work and presence of the Son in believers (vv. 17-19)

According to this detailed outline, verses 17-19 are parallel to 12-14a, both representing the core exposition in the section. How do these two passages relate? The first deals with the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (“When I was with them…”); the second focuses on the time after Jesus’ departure back to the Father. It must be admitted that the latter emphasis is not explicit or immediately apparent on a reading of the text; however, with a little study, I believe it come through quite clear. There are three statements in this exposition:

    1. A request that his disciples be “made holy” by the Father (v. 17)
    2. A declaration similar in formula to Jesus’ words to his disciples after the resurrection, sending them into the world as apostles/missionaries (20:21)
    3. A statement explaining that the disciples are “made holy” even as Jesus himself is made holy, using reciprocal language and hearkening back to the invocation (v. 1, cf. also 13:31)

Let us examine each of these in turn.

Verse 17

This is another petition by Jesus to the Father, and must be understood in relation to the central petition of vv. 9-11, as well as the further request in v. 15 (cf. the previous study). The motif of protection has been defined in terms of holiness—which, from a religious standpoint, essentially refers to separation from evil (and the world) and protection from it. Here is the request:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth—your word is truth.”

We may isolate three key components to this petition:

    • The verb (a(gia/zw, “make holy, treat as holy”)
    • Emphasis on truth (a)lh/qeia), and
    • The identification of truth with the word (lo/go$) of God the Father

The second and third of these are important theological key words in the Johannine Writings (both Gospel and Letters), and occur far more frequently than the first. In this regard, they serve to expound and explain the primary petition comprised of the initial words: a(gi/ason au)tou\$, “(May you) make them (to be) holy”. The verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ, “make holy, treat as holy”) is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring just 28 times, compared with the much more common adjective a%gio$ (hágios, “holy”). In the Synoptic Gospels, in the words of Jesus, its usage is almost entirely limited to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2), a context similar to that in John 17 (with the emphasis on the name of God the Father and His holiness, vv. 1, 6ff):

Pa/ter […] a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“Father […], may your name be made holy”

Pa/ter… (“Father…”, v. 1)
e)fane/rwsa/ sou to\ o&noma (“I made your name shine forth…”, v. 6)
Pa/ter a%gie th/rhson au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou
(“Holy Father, keep watch [over] them in your name…”, v. 11)

Paul uses the verb 6 times in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 5:23; Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 7:14 [twice]); it occurs three more times in Eph 5:26; 2 Tim 2:21; 1 Tim 4:5. It is used 7 times in Hebrews (2:11 [twice]; 9:13; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12), in the context of the Israelite priesthood—a point to be discussed on v. 19 below.

It is important to emphasize again that the following phrase “in the truth” and the statement “your word is truth” both qualify and explain the meaning of the petition. First, we have the full form of the petition: “Make them (to be) holy in the truth”. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel of John, and another 20 times in the Letters (9 in 1 John). It has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, going far beyond the simple idea of factual truth, or even moral and religious truth. Rather, it is a fundamental characteristic of God the Father Himself, and of Jesus as the Son (of God). Moreover, it does not refer primarily to Jesus’ teaching and the proclamation of God’s word (as a message), but is embodied in the person of Jesus himself. Cf. John 1:14, 17; 8:32ff, 44-46; 14:6; 18:37-38; 1 Jn 1:6, 8; 2:21, etc. Distinctive of the Johannine theology, including that expressed by Jesus in the Discourses, is the special association (and identification) of the Spirit with this Truth (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 1 John 4:6). The declaration in 1 John 5:6 makes this identification explicit and unqualified, and provides the answer to Pilate’s provocative question (Jn 18:38, “What is [the] truth?”):

“The Spirit is the Truth”
to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin h( a)lh/qeia

This declaration also informs the statement in 17:17b (cp. Psalm 119:142b Greek v.l.), which has similar wording (the only real difference being the emphatic position of the verb):

“Your Word is (the) Truth”
o( lo/go$ o( so$ a)lh/qeia/ e)stin

Taking these statements together, we have the fundamental identification of God’s Word (lo/go$) with the Spirit. Again, this does not refer to any particular message or set of words spoken by Jesus (though these are included, Jn 6:63, etc), but to the essential identity of Jesus (the Son) as the living embodiment of God’s Word on earth (Jn 1:1ff, 14, etc). Jesus’ manifest presence with the disciples cleanses them (Jn 13:10-11; 15:3), culminating in his sacrificial death (1 Jn 1:7-9) that protects believers and makes them clean (i.e. holy) from sin. This cleansing power again is identified with the Spirit (“water and blood”, Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:6-8)—the living and indwelling presence of Jesus (and God the Father) in believers. The Spirit is given following Jesus’ death (19:30, 34, understood symbolically) and resurrection (20:22).

Thus we may see here in verse 17 an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit as the means by which the disciples (believers) are made holy.

Verse 18

This is confirmed by what follows in verse 18, a reciprocal statement similar to the ‘commission’ of the disciples in 20:21:

“Even as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
“Even as the Father se(n)t me forth, I also send [pe/mpw] you” (20:21b)

In 17:18, the aorist is used (indicating a past occurrence), while in 20:21, in addressing the disciples, Jesus uses the present tense (and a different verb [pe/mpw]). It is possible that the aorist assumes a tradition such as in the Synoptics (Mk 3:14-15; 6:6b-13 par; Lk 10:1ff), where Jesus is to have sent the disciples out on preaching assignments. The Gospel writer is certainly familiar with such traditions (3:34-38; 6:67-71), though he makes little of them in the narrative. However, a better explanation is at hand in the context of the Last Discourse. An important point of emphasis (discussed in the prior studies) is that Jesus was able to sanctify his disciples by his presence with them on earth (i.e., in the past, up to this point). Now that he is about to return to the Father, he is no longer able to “make them holy” the same way—thus the need (in the present) for the Father to send the Spirit as the Divine Presence (and Power) to fill this role in Jesus’ place. The words of commission in 20:21 are followed directly by the disciples receiving the Spirit from Jesus (who, in turn, had received it from the Father). The Spirit’s presence cleanses the disciples and makes them holy.

In this regard, the disciples are to function in the manner of priests in ancient religious tradition. Through a proscribed ceremonial ritual, Israelite priests were consecrated (made holy) for service in the sacred place(s), handling of sacrifices and sacred objects, etc—e.g., Exod 40:13; Lev 8:30; 2 Chron 5:11. Jesus’ disciples (believers) are compared or described as priests at numerous points in early Christian tradition, part of a wider religious phenomenon whereby devotion to Jesus takes the place of (or fulfills) the earlier cultic ritual practiced by the priesthood. Of the passages in the New Testament indicating this, cf. Matt 12:1-8; Rom 12:1-2; 15:16; 2 Cor 3:6ff; 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

Verse 19

The imagery of priesthood is even more prominent in verse 19. Indeed, it is due almost entirely to the influence of verses 17-19 that the Prayer-Discourse in chapter 17 is sometimes called the “High Priestly” Prayer of Jesus. However, this label is quite inappropriate for the Prayer as a whole, since it is only in these three verses that there is any real indication of priestly language or emphasis. Nevertheless, it remains a small, but important, element of the Prayer, and follows the overall theology of the Gospel, in which it is not believers, but Jesus himself, who is described in priestly terms. The emphasis is on the sacrifice (esp. the Passover sacrifice) rather than the one administering it; however, as in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus would certainly be seen as fulfilling both roles. This is expressed here in verse 19, where the Passion setting of the Prayer again comes to the fore:

“And (it is) over them [i.e. the disciples] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (also) would be made holy in the truth.”

Jesus functions as a priest, consecrating himself for service (symbolized by his actions in 13:4-12)—the primary service being his impending sacrificial death on the cross, which represents the completion of his ministry on earth (19:30). The only other occurrence of the verb a(gia/zw is in 10:36, which comes at the end of the “Good Shepherd” Discourse. The central motif of this Discourse is the idea that Jesus, as the excellent or exemplary (kalo/$) herdsman, lays down his life for the sake of the sheep. God the Father has given him the authority (and the command) to lay down his life (death) and take it up again (resurrection), cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18. The preposition is u(pe/r (lit. “over”), essentially the same idiom as we see here in 17:19, and also in the Last Supper scene in the Synoptics; let us compare these (and the general parallel in Jn 6:51):

    • “This is my blood of the covenant th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many” (Mk 14:24 par)
    • “the bread which I will give is my flesh over [u(pe/r] the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)
    • “…I set (down) my soul [i.e. life] over [u(pe/r] the sheep” (Jn 10:15, cf. also vv. 11, 17-18)
    • “I make myself holy over [u(per/] them…” (17:19)

There can thus be no real doubt that there is a direct allusion to sacrificial death of Jesus. The idiom in Mk 14:24 par is more concrete, drawing upon the ritual image of blood actually being poured (or sprinkled) over the people at the covenant ceremony (Exodus 24:6-8). In the Johannine references, it is more symbolic, dealing the sacrificial nature and character of Jesus’ death, much as we see in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. throughout chapters 5-10). From the Johannine (theological) standpoint, it is the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus which releases the Spirit to believers, both symbolically (19:30, 34) and literally (20:22). The Spirit remains essentially connected with the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7-9; 5:6-8), transmitting its live-giving (and protecting) efficacy to the believer.

A point should be made about the reflexive use of a(gia/zw in verse 19, whereby Jesus says: “I make myself holy” (a(gia/zw e)mauto/n). We might have expected him to ask the Father to make him holy, or at least to emphasize the Father as the source of holiness (v. 11). The key to understanding this lies in the Johannine theological-christological framework, perhaps best expressed by Jesus in 5:26:

“as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave life to the Son to hold in himself”

There is a parallel to this in 13:31-32, using the idea of honor/glory (do/ca) rather than life (zwh/). Moreover, the context of 17:19 is elucidated in this regard by turning back to the use of the verb a(gia/zw in 10:36:

“…the (one) whom the Father made holy [h(gi/asen] and se(n)t forth into the world”

This expresses the same chain of relation as in 5:26, both reciprocal and hierarchical:

The Son alongside the Father—made holy by the Father’s Life and Power
Sent into the world by the Father
The Son (on earth) has the Life and Power given to him by the Father
Prepares to finish his work in the world
The Son about to return to the Father—makes himself holy

This dynamic continues as the Son makes his disciples (believers) holy in turn, through his work, and, ultimately, through the presence of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit represents the presence of both Father and Son (together) in and among believers, and this theme of unity becomes dominant in the remainder of the Prayer (vv. 20-26), as we will begin to explore in next week’s study.