John’s Gospel: Chapter 17:1-16 (“keep them from the evil one”)

(John 17:1-2 ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Jesus concludes his discourse — beginning back in chapter 13 — with a prayer that extends the length of the chapter.

Jesus looks to heaven when he prays. This is not the Western custom, but it was not uncommon among the Jews, who often lifted hands toward heaven, looked up, and spoke toward the sky in prayer.

The Jews tended to envision God up in heaven, whereas we Westerners think of God as being inside us and so we close our eyes — and, of course, both are true. God is wherever you look for him.

I take “authority over all flesh” to refer particularly to all nations in fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to bless all nations. (Compare Gen 9:17; Jer 39:27 with Gen. 18:18, 22:18.)

The Kingdom is dawning! No longer is God the God the Jews. He is the God of all flesh. He is claiming his throne and commanding the entire world to repent and bow before him. All pretenders — Satan and the “gods” of the other nations — are to be cast down and shamed before all.

(Isa 52:7 ESV) 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

(Eze 39:7 ESV) 7 “And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.”

(Dan 7:14 ESV) 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Jesus continues,

(John 17:3 ESV) 3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

We want to read, “And this is how you get eternal life …” but Jesus seems to mean what he says. The NET Bible translators explain,

It is not just unending life in the sense of prolonged duration. Rather it is a quality of life, with its quality derived from a relationship with God. Having eternal life is here defined as being in relationship with the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. Christ (Χριστός, Christos) is not characteristically attached to Jesus’ name in John’s Gospel; it occurs elsewhere primarily as a title and is used with Jesus’ name only in John 1:17. But that is connected to its use here: The statement here in John 17:3 enables us to correlate the statement made in John 1:18 of the prologue, that Jesus has fully revealed what God is like, with Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 that he has come that people might have life, and have it abundantly. These two purposes are really one, according to John 17:3, because (abundant) eternal life is defined as knowing (being in relationship with) the Father and the Son. The only way to gain this eternal life, that is, to obtain this knowledge of the Father, is through the Son (cf. John 14:6).

Eternal life is a life that knows God by knowing Jesus. Does it last forever? Yes, but that’s not really the point. Why would you want it to last forever if not in relationship with Jesus? Why want to spent eternity with God unless God seems like someone with whom you’d want to live forever?

If you’re not drawn toward God by Jesus, then you’re just fleeing hell. We should crave immortality, not for fear of damnation, but because of the appeal of spending forever with Jesus.

Notice the phrase “the only true God.” Again, part of the thought here is the defeat of the false gods. We choose the true God over the false gods because Jesus reveals the truth about God to us.

(John 17:4-5 ESV) 4 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

Jesus now prays to return to the Father’s side. He had been in glory — the very presence of God — before he came to earth. Having accomplished his mission (speaking proleptically, because he’d not yet been crucified), he prays to be taken back to heaven.

(John 17:6 ESV) 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”

Jesus here explains part of his “work” or mission: Jesus was to “manifest” God’s name. “Manifest” means to reveal or make known. Jesus’ mission, therefore, was to reveal God’s true nature.

“Yours they were” at first hearing sounds like a reference to the Jews, the idea being that God had given his chosen people to Jesus. But, then, Jesus says, “they have kept your word,” which was largely untrue of the Jews.

Therefore, I’m inclined to go with “disciples” as the meaning, as they are the ones who’d been true to God’s word — his logos — his self-revelation in Jesus. (And this fits well with v. 9.)

(John 17:7-8 ESV) 7 “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

They have kept God’s word by having faith — faith that Jesus spoke for God and that he came from God. This is not how many preachers want to interpret “they have kept your word,” but that’s what the text says. That is, it’s not about obedience to a book of inferred commands but faith in Jesus.

(John 17:9 ESV) 9 “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

Jesus now begins a portion of the prayer particularly about the disciples.

(John 17:10 ESV) 10 “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

Jesus explains that a disciple of Jesus is a disciple of God, and vice versa. There can be no such thing as a follower of God who does not follow Jesus.

(John 17:11 ESV) 11 “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

Again, speaking proleptically, Jesus addresses his imminent departure from the world, when he’d leave his disciples behind. He prays that God would “keep them in your name.” “Keep them” implies “keep them safe.” “In your name” means “by your authority.” That is, use all the authority that you have, which is all authority, to keep them safe.

But “safe” also means that they remain in God’s name, that is, within his jurisdiction or authority — that they remain within the Kingdom, under God’s auspices, and not fall away.

Moreover, “that they may be one, even as we are one” is to ask that they have a single will, mission, purpose, and message. It’s not enough that they can worship in the same building (our usual definition of “unity”), they must be as united as Jesus is with God — a singular will, a singular mission, a singular purpose, a singular message.

(John 17:12 ESV) 12 “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

Jesus had evidently been charged by God with keeping the disciples safe to the end of his time on earth. He declares that his mission to do this is accomplished — even though he knows that they’ll all desert him at the cross.

(John 17:13 ESV)  13 “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

Jesus explains his purpose. He wants the disciples to be as joyous about what’s about to happen as he is. He wants them to come to see the glory of the gift God is giving the world through Jesus.

(John 17:14-16 ESV)  14 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Jesus explains that the disciples will be hated by the world for the same reason he will be hated. They’ve received his word — God’s message sent through Jesus — and because they’ve received it, they’ve become so much like Jesus that they’ll be hated, too.

But they have a mission to accomplish on earth. They can’t leave to be with Jesus. They must stay behind and do his work. Therefore, Jesus prays that God protect them from Satan.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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