Our Lord's High-Priestly Prayer: Part 1 -- Joh_17:1-5
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
We are told in the epistle to the Hebrews that God “is able … to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb_7:25).
Have you ever wondered how our blessed Lord speaks to the Father when He makes intercession as our High Priest? What does He have to say? This question is largely answered in this seventeenth chapter. We have here what has well been called the high-priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have seen that the gospel of John is divided into two parts. The first twelve chapters give the presentation of our Lord to the world. From the thirteenth on, we have His manifestation to His own. Even the chapter that speaks of His crucifixion is presented from the standpoint of the burnt offering-that aspect of His work which is entered into only by those already in living relationship with God. In chapter 13 He appears as our Advocate, keeping His people fit and clean as they travel through this world. In chapter 14 He is the Coming One, the object of His people’s hope. In chapter 15 He is the living Vine, and we are the branches. So that the Christian is one whose roots are in heaven, but the branches fall down to the earth, and from the branches, fruit is produced. In chapter 16 our blessed Lord is specifically the Giver of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 17 He is presented as our great High Priest with God. It is as though we have been allowed to enter actually within the now rent veil and listen to the pleadings of the Son with the Father, to listen to the intercession of our great High Priest as He speaks to God on our behalf.
This chapter is rightly called the Lord’s Prayer. We generally use that term for the beautiful prayer that He taught His disciples when they came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luk_11:1). He replied, “When ye pray,… pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Mat_6:7-13; see also Luk_11:2-4).
But that is not really the Lord’s prayer. It is a prayer given by the Lord, but He Himself never prayed that prayer. In the very nature of things He could not do so. It is one of the evidences of His sinlessness that He never prayed with anyone. He prayedy»r people but not with them. He could not say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” for He had no debts. He could not say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” for He had no trespasses. This is not His prayer, but an outline putting before His disciples the petitions they might well bring to God and indicating the lines of approach to God.
The Lord’s prayer, recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John, gives us His own blessed utterances. Have you ever wondered what He said when He was out on the hillside all night in prayer while His disciples slept? You can get an idea of the petitions He brought to the Father from this prayer. Remember, our blessed Lord was as truly Man as if He had never been God, and as truly God as if He had never become Man. He was the only absolutely sinless One, yet He took the place of dependence as a humble suppliant in prayer.
In this seventeenth chapter we have Him praying largely for His own: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (Joh_17:1).
Toward that hour He had been looking, not only ever since the beginning of the world but before the world began, when He said in eternity past, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa_40:7-8). He was willing to come into the world, to go to the cross, to settle the question of redemption. Now the cross is before Him. In a few hours more He will be hanging on that tree in the sinner’s place, bearing the sinner’s judgment, and yet He looks on to it in perfect confidence, for He knows that He cannot be holden of death. He is looking on to resurrection. When the Greeks came saying, “We would see Jesus” (Joh_12:21), He said, “Father, glorify thy name. Then came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Joh_12:28). God was glorified in resurrection in the triumph over the tomb at Lazarus’s grave. God is about to be glorified in the resurrection of His Son. When the sin question is settled to the divine satisfaction, the glory of God demands the resurrection of the One who settled that question.
We have here the glory of our Lord presented in two very distinct ways-His essential glory and His acquired glory. When He says in the first verse, “Glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify thee,” we have His acquired glory. In Joh_17:5 He says, “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” He speaks here of His essential glory. He was one with the Father from all eternity. Yet in infinite grace He laid aside the outward signs of glory and came into this world and trod the path as a stranger and a pilgrim. Now He is going back whence He came, and all that has been hidden will be fully manifested-His essential glory as one with the Father.
In Joh_17:1 we have those glories He acquired by coming into the world, and doing His work down here. He never could have been a Savior if He had not gone through suffering. The glory of Saviorhood came only through the cross. In Hebrews we read He was made “perfect through sufferings” (Heb_2:10) not as to character, for He was always perfect in character, but He could not be the Captain of our salvation except through the suffering of the cross.
Then we have His glory as Head of the church. He was ever the Head of creation. In Colossians we read that He brought everything into existence, but it is in resurrection that He is the Firstborn from among the dead, and that He becomes the Head of the church. The risen Man in glory is the Head of the church.
Then there is His glory as the coming King who will reign over Israel and over all peoples to the ends of the earth. This depends on His obedience to the Father’s will down here. He must tread the path from the manger to the cross, and in view of this He is to be proclaimed Jehovah’s King over all the earth.
We shall share with Him in all of His acquired glory, but not in His essential glory. We shall never become part of Deity. He remains alone, therefore, the only One in all the universe who is both God and Man. But we shall share the fruits of His saving work. We are saved, and what He did on the cross has made us members of that body of which He is the Head. We shall reign with Him. We share His acquired glory, but we worship and adore in the presence of His essential glory.
He is still speaking as a Man when He says, “Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” If our Lord had not come from the tomb, then the whole divine program would have been ruined, would never have been carried out.
In Joh_17:2 we read, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”
This is in accordance with His declaration made in the last chapter of Matthew, “All [authority] is given unto me” (Mat_28:18). God has committed all authority unto the risen Christ. “As thou hast given him [authority] over all flesh.”
Fancy anyone professing to believe that this is a reliable record of the utterances of our Lord Jesus Christ on that last night, questioning His Deity. Just imagine any man saying, “Thou hast given Me authority over all flesh, that I should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Me.” This statement involves His own recognition of His Deity, because it is as the divine One that He gives eternal life.
Notice, too, that expression, “As many as thou hast given him.” Seven times that expression or a similar one is used in this chapter. What does this suggest? It clearly indicates that He thinks of all His redeemed as the Father’s love gift to His Son. That is one reason I have no difficulty about the question of the eternal security of the believer. Every believer has been given to the Lord Jesus Christ, and I read, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom_11:29). He never changes His mind. As children, we sometimes gave things to others and then wanted them back after a while. W/hen God gave the church to Jesus long before the world began, He gave every individual who would believe on His Son to Christ for all eternity. “That He should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” We shall notice that expression from time to time. The blessed Lord gives eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him. How many does He give to the Lord Jesus Christ? All who will come to Him. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Joh_6:37).
I have known some troubled souls who have been brought up under a hyper-Calvinism who were distressed about this. One young lady came to me weeping and said, “It says, ‘All that the Father hath given me shall come.’ If the Father has not given me to Jesus, I cannot come to Him. I do not know if I am one of those given by the Father to the Son.”
I inquired, “Do you want to come?”
She replied, “With all my heart.”
I told her, “All you need to do is to come. When you come you can say, ‘I am one of those whom the Father has given to the Son.’ The fact that anyone wants to come tells its own story. It is the beginning of a work of grace in the soul. You would not want to come if He were not working within you. You would be entirely indifferent.”
Now Joh_17:3 : “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” This is not a definition of eternal life. I do not know how to give a definition of eternal life that would be satisfactory. I do not know how to give a definition of natural life. I know what it is to be alive, but I cannot define life. Neither can I define divine life or eternal life. Joh_17:3 gives us the manifestation of eternal life and shows that for which it gives ability. “That they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” That is, we cannot know God the Father and God the Son apart from having eternal life. The natural man understands not the things of God, but God gives eternal life when we believe on His Son that we might know God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That life introduces us into a blessed sphere of relationship where we enjoy communion with the Father and with the Son. No man can enjoy fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ until he possesses eternal life.
In Joh_17:4 the blessed Lord presents two things that may well speak to our hearts. He goes back over His sojourn here on the earth, and says, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” He had not one regret. If anyone doubts the Deity of our Lord, let him think of Christ’s record. He lived down here and never had one regret, never said one word He had to apologize for, never did one thing He later wished He hadn’t done, never made one mistake, never stumbled once on all the rocky pathway from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary. How different from ourselves!
Bushnell calls attention to the fact that in Christ you have piety without one dash of repentance. Think of it. How did your life of piety begin? I am speaking to Christians. Did it not begin with tears of contrition and repentance as you bowed in the presence of the blessed Lord? He was one who never had any failures to confess, never wept over His sins, for He had none, though He did weep over the sins of others. Looking back over His life He said, “I have glorified thee on the earth.” In everything He said and did, He had the Father’s glory in view. “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” What blessed title He had to say, “Glorify thou me, for I have glorified thee.” He spent His entire sojourn on the earth seeking the Father’s glory.
Notice the second thing: “I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” The order here is most instructive. He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps. In 1Jn_2:6 we read, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” I can never walk perfectly as He walked. I am full of failure. But I can at least follow in His steps and seek to walk as He walked, characterized by the same spirit of devotion to God and of separation from all evil. Let me first have before my soul the glory of God and, second, the work committed to me. There is something more important than working. As soon as a man is converted we say, “Put him to work. Give him something to do.” Some people do things they are not prepared for, and work becomes legality. They do not know the blessedness and fullness of grace. There is something that comes before working, that is, the glory of God. It is more important that God be glorified than that I accomplish certain things in the line of service.
I can well understand a dear invalid whom I went to see some years ago. A gentleman who gave much time to visiting among the poor and sick said to me, “I want you to go with me to see one of my favorites.” I went with him. We came to a tenement house set back from the street. We climbed the stairs to a little room. There was a dear mother and her daughter, a young woman of perhaps thirty-two. She was sitting in a child’s highchair. She had been afflicted with infantile paralysis many years before. For twenty-two years that had been her throne, that little highchair. She sat near the window with a little desk before her. She wrote letters to people in affliction and trial all over the world.
I began to express my sympathy. She looked at me with the sweetest smile, and said, “I believe God gets more glory out of my being here in this chair than He would if I could run around. I am content to be here to glorify God.” Then she began to talk of service. I found she was doing a wonderful service sending out letters to other sick ones. She could say, “I know all about what it means to be shut in. I know what it means to be unable to walk, unable to carry out my most cherished ambitions. But I know, too, how wonderfully the blessed Lord can come in and fill the soul, and so I commend Him to you.” She glorified God on the earth and did the work He gave her to do. This is ever the order, but we often reverse it and put work first. The Lord says, “I have glorified thee,” first; then, “I have finished the work.”
Observe from this point on how our Lord speaks as though the cross were already in the past. You see He has said, “I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” In His own mind that evidently took in the entire work of making atonement. He takes on beyond the cross and up to the glory. We are listening to the High Priest within the veil in the Holiest of All, interceding in behalf of His own. It is a resurrection priesthood. After the completion of the work of making atonement, He takes His place as our High Priest in glory. And so He anticipates the cross in these words, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” In other words, “I have accomplished that for which I came to the earth, for which I laid aside my robes of glory. Now I am going back to receive them again.”
When He was here on earth He did not lay aside His Deity. He remained what He had ever been, the Eternal Son, but He took a human body, a human spirit, and a human soul into union with His divine nature. He remained what He had ever been, though now with all a Man’s nature added, thus fitting Him to be the Daysman who could lay His hand upon both God and man.
Some who reject the full truth of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet hesitate about giving up altogether His divine Sonship, have invented a theory that is commonly called Kenoticism. It is based on Php_2:7, “[He] made himself of no reputation,” literally, “emptied Himself” (ekonosin). Men who otherwise seem to be good men, who seem to believe in the divine Sonship of our Lord, can through this theory fit in with a lot of teaching of the day. They say when the Lord Jesus came down to earth He emptied Himself of His divine attributes, and though they confess His preexistence and His divine Sonship, yet they say while He was here on the earth He was just like any other Galilean peasant.
They call Him a peasant, though He was really a mechanic. They admit He lived a pure and beautiful life. But they insist that He had laid aside His divine omniscience and accepted all human limitations. So when He said, “God in the beginning made them male and female,” He did not know any better. He had no schooling beyond His village and believed what the rabbis said. When He spoke of Jonah, He was speaking just as any other uninstructed Galilean would. He made mistakes because He had emptied Himself. What these men overlook is that while He walked this earth the Holy Spirit said of Him, “‘He knew what was in man’ (Joh_2:25). He knew all things.” He was God manifest in the flesh. Now when the work is finished, He goes back to take the glory He had left, not to be reabsorbed into Deity, but to go back into glory as One with the Father.
We have an illustration in history that may help us understand this. Peter the Great, when Czar of Russia, wanted to build a navy. But the Russian people were not a maritime people. As the result of wars he got a seaport for Russia on the Baltic Sea. He said, “I will build a navy.” But his people knew nothing about ships. What did Peter do? He laid aside his royal robes and crown, and invested Katherine, his czarina, with the regent’s authority over the Russian dominion. He dressed as a common working man and made his way to Holland and England. There he veiled his identity and worked as an apprentice to a ship’s carpenter and learned how to build ships. Then he went back to Russia, laid aside his workman’s garb, and arrayed himself once more in his royal robes. He was the same person when he was in Holland and in England as he was in Russia. He had simply emptied himself of the outward dignity of his royal estate. So our Lord, when He came to this earth, laid aside His glory, and came as God clad in robes of flesh. He glorified God, finished the work, and then said, “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (Joh_17:5).
And so He returned to the Father’s presence, whence He had come, and now abides in the heavenly sanctuary as our High Priest, ever living to intercede for us.