“Father (most) just, indeed the world did not know you, but I (have) known you—and these (have) known that you se(n)t me forth”
After closing verse 24 with a reference to the creation (i.e. laying down the foundation) of the world (ko/smo$), the statement in v. 25 picks up again with the use of the word ko/smo$. This may be seen as an example of “catchword-bonding” —the joining of two sayings or traditions based on a common word or theme—a key building block in the development of the early lines of the Gospel Tradition. In such a developed Discourse as chap. 17 (in the wider context of the Last Discourse, 13:31-16:33), however, it is more likely that this simply reflects a creative recapitulation of the themes expressed elsewhere in these chapters.
As previously noted, the term ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”) is a regular part of the Johannine vocabulary, and occurs 18 times in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse alone. It is used two different ways: (1) for the inhabited world, in a geographic and social sense, and (2) for the current world-order, as it is dominated by sin and darkness and is opposed to God. The word is used in the first (neutral) sense in v. 24, and in the latter (negative) sense here in v. 25; there is a similar alternating play on these two aspects of meaning throughout chap. 17.
The other key term here is the verb ginw/skw, with the theme of knowledge—specifically, that of knowing God the Father through the person of Jesus the Son. This is virtually synonymous in the Gospel with the theme of seeing (sight, vision), expressed through the use of several different verbs. Indeed, the verb ei&dw (“see”) is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”), and this corresponds with the theological idiom of the Gospel—to “see” God is the same as to “know” Him, and occurs through seeing/knowing Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. Here this knowledge of God is represented by three different subjects:
- the world (o( ko/smo$)—i.e., those who belong to the world, dominated by the evil in it
- Jesus himself, the Son (“I”, e)gw/)
- “these” (ou!toi)—that is, Jesus’ disciples and believers in Christ—those (elect) who belong to God, and not to the world.
This triad is really a duality—a clear and stark contrast between believers who know God, and all others in the “world” who do not. That their knowledge of God the Father is based on a knowledge of Jesus the Son, is clear from the specific wording used here: “…that you se(n)t me forth”. The verb a)poste/llw literally means “set (away) from”, often in the positive (or neutral) sense of setting someone out, as a messenger or representative. The noun a)po/stolo$ (transliterated in English as “apostle”), of course, derives from this root, referring to someone who is “se(n)t out” on a mission. The verb is thus largely synonymous with pe/mpw (“send”), and, indeed, both are used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poste/llw, however, more properly connotes the idea of the Son (Jesus) being sent from the Father; it occurs 7 times in the Prayer-Discourse, beginning with the key theological declaration in verse 3:
“And this is the Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]—that they would know [ginw/skwsin] you the only true God, and the (one) whom you se(n)t forth [a)pe/steila$], Yeshua (the) Anointed.”
Eternal life is defined in terms of knowledge (of God and Christ), and specifically entails trust in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father. This confirms the identity of “these” as believers in Christ—those trusting in him (v. 20). The “world” is unable to trust in Jesus; only the elect (believers), who belong to God, can and will do so. On the special use of ko/smo$ in vv. 21-23, cf. my earlier note.
Some would regard the self-declaration “but I (have) known you” as parenthetical; however, I feel that it more properly is intended to center the entire construct—the dualistic contrast—clearly in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son. It is the Son who truly knows the Father, having been ‘born’ from Him, and sharing/inheriting all that the Father gives to him. Our knowledge of the Father, as believers, is based upon Jesus’ own knowledge of Him—it is this knowledge which he reveals to us. With his departure back to the Father, the imparting of this knowledge takes place primarily through the presence and work of the Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:13ff). It is this that the author of 1 John has in mind when he speaks of believers as ones taught by God, requiring no human teacher (2:27; cp. 2 Jn 9; Jn 7:16-17; 1 Thes 4:9; 1 Cor 2:13). The Spirit is identified as the very Truth of God (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6; cf. also Jn 4:23-24).
A word should be said about the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”) at the beginning of v. 25. The idea of justice (or “justness”) and righteousness as attributes of God is common to nearly all religious traditions, and certainly is prominent among Jews and Christians in both Old and New Testaments. The dikaio- word-group is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, occurring a bit more in the Letters (1 John) than the Gospel. In 5:30 and 7:24, the other two occurrences of the adjective in the Gospel, it is used in the customary ethical sense of exercising sound or “right” judgment (kri/si$). The related noun dikaiosu/nh (“justness, justice” or “right[eous]ness”) occurs only at 16:8, 10, in reference to the work of the Spirit as a witness to the justice/justness of God. In 1 John 2:1, 29, the adjective is used specifically as an attribute of Jesus, essentially as a divine attribute shared with the Father (1:9). This differs somewhat from the earliest Christian use of the term as a reference to Jesus’ innocence—that is to say, he was put to death unjustly (e.g., Lk 23:47; Acts 3:14; 7:52).
When believers act justly toward one another (through the bond of love), it demonstrates that they/we are true believers, united with the Father and Son, and reflecting the (divine) justness/righteousness that the two share—1 Jn 3:7, 10, 12. The contrast between believers and the world here indicates that the current world-order (ko/smo$), as opposite to God, is fundamentally unjust, characterized by wickedness and injustice. This is an important part of the truth that the Spirit will make known (16:8-11)—i.e., regarding sin (a(marti/a), justice (dikaiosu/nh), and judgment (kri/si$). The Spirit will demonstrate the truth of this to the world—and this indicates that it is primarily the work of God’s Judgment, already realized in the present, prior to its fulfillment at the end-time. The witness regarding sin and judgment (vv. 9, 11) are relatively straightforward, but that regarding justice (v. 10) is a bit more difficult to understand:
“…and about justice, (in) that I go back toward the Father and you no longer look at me”
How is it that Jesus’ departure (return) back to the Father manifests justice? From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this refers to a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father, and to the honor (do/ca) that comes to him following his sacrificial death (an act of injustice by the world). True justice is not based on the world’s standards, however noble they may seem, but on the nature and character of God Himself (“Father [most] just…”). The Son makes known this nature/character of the Father, and, in uniting with the Son (through the Spirit), as believers we come to share in it. The world, however, cannot accept this truth, and is so is judged (by God) accordingly. The relationship between believers and the world is a key theme of the Prayer-Discourse, running through the entire chapter, to its climax here.