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).

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.