Notes on Prayer: John 17:9-12

John 17:9-12

We are continuing to explore the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17 during these Monday Notes on Prayer. In verse 9, the focus shifts toward Jesus’ disciples, though in a manner that builds seamlessly upon the themes and language used previously in the prayer. We may observe something similar to the pattern used by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (discussed previously in these Notes on Prayer). In the first portion of the Prayer (Matt 6:9-10 par), the believer is to address God, focusing on His honor and work; while in the second portion (6:11-13), the focus shifts to the needs of believers, making request to God the Father regarding them. This pattern generally holds, though with a decided difference in perspective, in the Prayer-Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-8: Addressing God, focusing on His honor (do/ca) and work (e&rgon)—based on the intimate relationship between Father and Son, the Father’s honor and work both belong to the (faithful) Son as well
    • Vv. 9-23: Addressing the needs of believers—not for ordinary daily needs (as in the Lord’s Prayer), but in light of their/our relationship to both Father and Son

The petitions of the second part (for the needs of believers) are made entirely with the statements of the first part (regarding the honor and work of God) in mind. The Lord’s Prayer begins with a statement involving the name of God the Father (“Father […], may your name be made holy”); and the Father’s name is likewise central to the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with verse 6 which opens the main section (discussed last week):

“I made your name shine forth to the men whom you gave me out of the world”

This statement provides four distinct elements or components which run through the entire Prayer-Discourse:

    1. The name (o&noma) of God the Father
    2. The focus on Jesus’ followers (believers)—”the men whom…”
    3. The Father giving to the Son, using the key verb di/dwmi
    4. The contrast between believers and the world (ko/smo$, the [current] world-order)

All of these are present and feature prominently in verses 9-12 as Jesus begins addressing the needs of believers to God the Father. In verse 9 we find the first occurrence in the Prayer-Discourse of the verb e)rwta/w, “ask (about)”, used again at key points in vv. 15 and 20. Jesus uses this verb when he speaks of his making a request to the Father (16:26), whereas elsewhere in the Last Discourse, when instructing his disciples on their making requests to the Father, he uses the verb ai)te/w (14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24, and see both verbs used together in 16:26). The verb e)rwta/w fundamentally refers to a person seeking information about something (i.e. a point of discussion or interrogation), while ai)te/w properly refers to a specific request (or, more forcefully, a demand). When e)rwta/w is used in the Last Discourse, it is in the sense of the disciples asking questions of Jesus (to find out information). Here, in the Prayer-Discourse, the point is not the request itself, but what Jesus is asking about. This is expressed by the preposition peri/ (“around, about”), with the object being the disciples (believers): “I ask about them…” (e)gw\ peri\ au)tw=n e)rwtw=). A contrast with the “world” (ko/smo$) follows immediately:

“I ask about them—(it is) not about the world (that) I ask, but about the (ones) whom you have given [de/dwka$] to me…”

In verse 6 (cf. above), Jesus specifically refers to his disciples (believers) as the ones God gave to him “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou). There is a two-fold significance to this phrase in the context of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, playing on the semantic range of the preposition e)k (“out of, from”):

    • Jesus chose people who were in the world, so as to take them out of the world—i.e. as his followers, taking them (with him) to God the Father.
    • Believers respond to Jesus because they ultimate come from God the Father, belonging to him—they do not belong the world

This latter sense, generally corresponding to the idea of divine election, is primarily in view here in the Prayer-Discourse, as the final words of the verse make clear:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] they are [i.e. belong] to you” (o%ti soi/ ei)sin)

Much the same was already stated in verse 6:

“They were [i.e. belong] to you” (soi\ h@san)

This idea, that believers come from (e)k) God—even as Jesus himself does—is expressed at many points in the Gospel and First Letter of John. One of the clearest statements in this regard is in Jesus’ great declaration to Pilate in 18:37, which serves virtually as a summary of Johannine theology (and Christology):

“I have come to be (born) unto this [i.e. for this purpose], and unto this I have come into the world: that I might give witness to the truth; every (one) being out of [e)k, i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice.”

The message is clear: the person who hears and responds in faith to Jesus does so because he/she already belongs to God, coming from Him. Here in the Prayer this is expressed in terms of God the Father giving believers to Jesus (the Son). The verb di/dwmi occurs numerous times in chapter 17, as a key term summarizing the relationship between Father and Son (and the believer): the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to his followers (believers), who, as it happens, are among the very things given to the Son by the Father. The wonderfully elliptical logic does create some confusion in the text, since Jesus refers to two different primary objects the Father gives to him: (a) believers, and (b) His name. It is not always immediately clear which is being referred to, and several textual variants have arisen in the manuscript tradition as a result. Let us survey the use of di/dwmi in the Prayer up to this point:

    • “you gave [e&dwka$] to him [i.e. the Son] authority o(ver) all flesh” (v. 2)
    • “so that every [pa=$] (one) that you have given [de/dwka$] to him, he might give [dw/sh|] to them [pl.] the Life of the Age” (v.2)
    • “I honored you upon the earth, completing the work that you have given [de/dwka$] me (to do), that I should do it” (v. 4)
    • “…the men whom you gave [e&dwka$] to me out of the world” (v. 6a)
    • “they were [i.e. belong] to you and you gave [e&dwka$] them to me” (v. 6b)
    • “all (thing)s [pa/nta], as (many) as you have given [de/dwka$] to me, are (from) alongside of you” (v. 7)
    • “the words [lit. utterances] which you gave [e&dwka$] to me, I have given [de/dwka] to them” (v. 8)

The comprehensiveness of this language, using the verb di/dwmi, is confirmed by the declaration which follows in verse 10:

“and all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine”

The reciprocal relationship between Father and Son is stated here concisely, more than English translation allows; in Greek it is:

kai\ ta\ e)ma\ pa/nta sa/ e)stin kai\ ta\ sa\ e)ma/

We find the same basic idea expressed elsewhere in the Gospel, perhaps most notably in 3:35:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s [pa/nta de/dwken] in(to) his hand.”

The concluding words of verse 10 state this in a slightly different manner, according to the theme of the Prayer: “all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and the (thing)s (that are) yours (are) mine, and I have been given honor in them [kai\ dedo/casmai e)n au)toi=$].” For more on the important verb doca/zw in chapter 17, see the discussion in the earlier note on vv. 1-5. At the start of the Prayer, Jesus asks the Father to given him honor, and yet here he declares that he has already been given honor (cp. with 12:28 and 13:31-32). This is a declaration of his fundamental identity as God’s Son; the request in vv. 1ff refers to the return of the Son to the Father following the completion of his work on earth, as is clear from v. 5b.

This powerful theological and Christological background is vital to a proper understanding of what follows in the Prayer, beginning with Jesus’ petition on behalf of his disciples (believers) in verse 11, which he expounds in verse 12. Let us consider this petition as a whole, before examining the individual parts of it:

“And (now) I am no longer in the world, and (yet) they are in the world, and I come toward you. Holy Father, keep watch (over) them in your name which you have given to me, (so) that they may be one even as we (are).” (v. 11)

Anyone familiar with the Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17 will recognize how the content and language of this primary petition is woven through the remainder of the text. It will aid our understanding greatly if we examine it carefully here, which we will do in next week’s study.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.