This week, we return to the 17th chapter of John’s gospel where John records this prayer of Jesus to his Father only a few hours before his crucifixion. We saw last time that Jesus begins his prayer with God’s highest priority because he repeatedly asks that he and the Father would be glorified—receive glory. We also saw (as we will see in this week’s section as well) that Jesus’ prayer reveals and celebrates the glory that God receives from his sovereign role in the salvation of sinners.
That is—that eternal life for sinners is something Jesus alone can give, but those to whom he can give eternal life is limited by those sinners the Father gives him to be saved. God’s complete control over who is saved glorifies both the Father and the Son. Finally, Jesus defines eternal life in an absolutely God-centered, God-glorifying way. Verse three says, 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” That implies that we should not think about eternal life in terms of going to heaven or being spared hell. What makes eternal life so astonishingly glorious is that—eternal life is about knowing the Father and the Son.
After the first five verses where Jesus prays for God to be glorified, in verses six through 19–Jesus prays for those who had been with him during his three years of ministry. Part of what makes this section a challenge to understand is that leading up to the first petition in verse 11 is a kind of self-evaluation from Jesus as to his ministry to his disciples as he looks back on his ministry to the 12. As Jesus is reflecting on his ministry to these disciples, he focusses on that fact that he had his faithfully completed doing the one thing that mattered most to him and is a huge part of him bringing glory to the Father. That is—he manifested or revealed the Father to his disciples. This was the driving passion of his life and ministry and this prayer reveals that he had perfectly accomplished this.
This is what he is saying in verse six when he says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.” The word “manifest” literally means “made visible.” When he says that he had manifested “your name” that phrase in the Bible is synonymous with “your Person”—who you are. So, Jesus is affirming that in his incarnation he manifested or made the invisible God visible which is another way of saying that he “revealed” his Father. The best way to bring glory to the Father is to in some way allow others to see his glory and Jesus continually did that in his ministry to the 12.
This theme of Jesus as the Revealer of his Father runs throughout the gospel of John. In chapter one, John spends the first 18 verses introducing Jesus and what he is about as he previews the major themes in the book. The conclusion of this introduction is in verse 18 where John says, “18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” The fact that John concludes the introduction to this book with Jesus’ mission to reveal his Father tells us it is central to how Jesus sees his life and ministry.
In chapter 14, as part of Jesus’ final teaching before his crucifixion, a bewildered Philip asks Jesus, “8 “…Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Jesus is amazed that, after three years of ministry alongside Philip, he (and the other apostles) doesn’t know the most basic truth about the identity of Jesus. That is—that Jesus is the revelation of God the Father in human form.
Finally, at the end of this prayer in John 17, notice what is Jesus’ concluding request in verses 25-26. “25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known...” It is clear that John presents Jesus as the Son of God sent to glorify God and he did that by manifesting him/revealing him to his followers.
In the next few verses in his self-evaluation of his ministry to the 12 Jesus gives three proofs/ways to show that he had revealed the Father to his disciples. The first proof Jesus cites to show that he faithfully revealed his Father to the disciples is in verse seven. He says, “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you.” That seems unnecessarily redundant. Why does he say, “Everything you have given me is from you?” What’s he’s saying is something like, “I know that everything I have comes from you and I have been careful to communicate that I have nothing of my own, but I have only what I received from you.
This is one of the major themes of Jesus’ ministry to his disciples in John’s gospel. In 5:19, Jesus says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” He says much the same thing just 11 verses later in 5:30. “30I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Again, in John 8:28, Jesus says, “… “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Finally, in 14:10 he says, “10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Jesus had been very intentional in revealing that all that he gave out was what the Father had given to him. He intended his ministry to point to the Father more than to himself.
A second proof that Jesus had fulfilled his mission to reveal or make his Father manifest is in verse eight. He says, “…they…have come to know in truth that I came from you…” Jesus reveals or manifests the Father by affirming that he had come from the Father. This is yet another repeated theme of Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel. In chapter eight Jesus is in a heated dialogue with the Pharisees and says in verse 42, “…If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here...”
Jesus tells his disciples in 16:27, “27…the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Three verses later, the apostles tell Jesus, “30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
A third proof/way that Jesus had faithfully manifested or revealed the Father is in the next phrase in verse eight when he says about the disciples, “they believe that you sent me.” This is a bit different than saying that he came from God. The point here is that Jesus not only came from God, he came at GOD’S initiative, not his own. He was sent from the Father—he was on a mission from his Father to reveal him. Again, Jesus emphasizes this truth throughout John’s gospel. In 11:4, Jesus is praying for the resurrection of Lazarus as he is standing outside his tomb and prays, “…Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus raising a man from the dead in response to his prayer to his Father was a clear indication that he was on his Father’s mission. In John 3:17, Jesus teaches this again. He says, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Finally, later in this prayer he prays for the unity of the church. He prays about the church and says in verse 21, “21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The Father not only wanted Jesus’ disciples to know that he sent him—he wanted the world to know that Jesus had been sent by him.
Those are three proofs Jesus cites that he had been faithful to manifest the Father to his disciples. But HOW did Jesus manifest the Father? We’ve seen from some of these other references in John’s gospel that he did this in part through signs and wonders and in the Father answering his prayers, but Jesus tells us in verse eight the main way he has explicitly revealed the Father to his disciples. “For I have given them the words that you gave me and they have received them…” Jesus manifested the Father to his disciples by teaching them the Word of the Father in the Old Testament. The fact that Jesus makes a point to reference this as the main way he revealed the Father tells us that the best way for us to receive a clear revelation of God is to dig deeply into his word because he has given his word to us for the purpose of revealing himself.
We’ve said repeatedly that the Bible is a book about God. When we read it—is that our motivation—to know him? Do we pray as we read the Bible, “Father, I want to see you and your Son, Jesus in the pages of this book? Reveal yourself to me—show me your glory through what I read of your mercy and patience and power and love.” That should be our motivation in reading the Bible because that is the main reason God has given us his word—to reveal himself to us and in so doing bring glory to himself.
So, we’ve seen three proofs that Jesus had been faithful to manifest the Father to his disciples. We’ve seen HOW Jesus manifested the Father to the disciples—through his word. But a third question is, Why? Why was the Father so intent on Jesus revealing him to the disciples and why did Jesus do that? We get the answer in verse six. Jesus says, “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.”
That makes sense. Jesus manifested the Father to his disciples because HE HAD GIVEN these people, HIS people to Jesus for that purpose. Again, we mentioned this last time in reference to verse two where Jesus says, “…You [the Father] have given him [Jesus] the authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The Father has given authority to Jesus to give eternal life to people, but only those people who he had given Jesus. We saw last time that the Father determines who will receive eternal life based on who HE gives to Jesus to save.
Jesus expands on that here in verse six. He says that, not only are these people God has given to Jesus, these people personally belonged to the Father. Likewise, in verse nine Jesus says, “…I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” The fact that this is the third time that Jesus asserts that those who will receive eternal life are those the Father gives him and who personally belonged to him before he gave them to Jesus means its important. This is a powerful testimony as to how important it is to God for all to know that HE is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. That is—HE determines who he will save. Theologians call this election. God’s people are his own elect people.
When Jesus says to the Father about these people, “yours they were, and you gave them to me” its meaning is clear enough. One scholar says this about this truth. “Let this be personal. How is it that you came to belong to Jesus…Jesus says it is because the Father “gave” you to Jesus. And how is it that the Father could give you to this Son? Jesus answers…” because you already belonged to the Father…Why does it include you? Why are you among those who belonged to the Father before he gave you to the Son? Was it because you had some quality, and God saw this and chose you to be in the group that he would give to Jesus? Did he see that you were willing to come to Jesus or willing to believe on Jesus, and for that reason counted you to be part of those who were his?”
“No. Because in John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In other words, being willing to come to Jesus was not something God saw in you, but something God worked in you. No one is willing to come to Jesus on his own. Only those who are drawn by the Father can come…Because we belonged to the Father, we listened to the truth; and because we belonged to the Father, we believed; and because we belonged to the Father, we were draw by him to Jesus; and because we belonged to the Father we were willing to believe.”
This becomes even more clear when we think about someone who Jesus says did NOT belong to the Father and therefore did not listen to the truth or believe in him. This was a man the Father did NOT draw to Jesus. That is–Judas. Jesus says in verse 12, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Jesus gives Judas the title the “son of destruction.” The title “the son of destruction” means that Judas was not simply a disciple who decided Jesus wasn’t who he thought he was, so he chose to betray him to the authorities.
No—this title speaks of a person who was destined to betray Jesus as the son of destruction. That’s why Jesus didn’t guard him. This word translated “destruction” in the New Testament always speaks of eternal condemnation. The antichrist who is to come is called the “son of destruction” in Second Thessalonians 2:3. “3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,” Judas is placed in the same category as the antichrist. The antichrist does NOT belong to the Father. He belongs to Satan. He is destined for condemnation—just like Judas.
The response that some have had toward this truth about Judas being destined for destruction is to feel sorry for him because he “had no chance.” The way that Jesus speaks of Judas during his ministry however was not that AT ALL! Several times in Jesus’ ministry he acknowledges that one of the 12 would betray him. John 6:70 says, “…Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” Many people have wrongly pitied Judas as some kind of victim, but that doesn’t in the least reflect Jesus’ attitude toward him. Jesus calls him “a devil” and he very much holds him responsible for his actions. He said of Judas in Luke 22:22,” …woe to the many by whom the Son of man is betrayed.”
For our discussion, the point is that Judas had not belonged to the Father and according to Jesus’ prayer here, THAT’S why he did not receive eternal life. If we’re genuinely in Christ, we must always remember to see ourselves within this utterly God-centered perspective. What I mean by that is this. If you are in Christ, it’s because, from eternity past, God chose you to belong to him and HE placed you into Christ. If you are part of Christ’s church, you are part of the Father’s gift to the Son. The emphasis is on the Father’s proactive role in owning us and the Son’s role in receiving us as his gift.
This is not just a doctrine explaining the eternal workings of God in our salvation. This has some glorious implications. For instance–THIS is where we find our worth…that God, for his own sovereign purposes would choose us and present us as a gift to his Son—a gift we know he purchased with his own blood and which he deeply cherishes. Do we see ourselves that way? Does that truth frame our sense of who we are?
To the degree that it does, it’s so liberating because we tend to place ourselves at the center of our universe and then experience the great pressure and stress that comes from that. As we’re so busy running around–feeling responsible to run the world and manage our lives and rescue those around us and fix all our problems, it would do us all a world of good to regularly pause and, in a mid-course correction remember that— “You know—I’m not fundamentally a manager or a rescuer or a problem-solver.” Here’s what I am—I’m part of the gift the Father has given to the Son (deep sigh of relief). I’ve been taken OUT of that performance-based, world system where I had to achieve something in order to feel worthy and good about myself.”
It’s just not about me and what I can do for God—it’s what he has done for me in Christ. The Father gave these disciples as a gift to his Son before they’d done anything all that spectacular. And up to this point, they had (in human terms) been a fairly high-maintenance gift!
Think about these incredibly sinful attitudes these disciples had manifested. “I want to be the greatest, most renown disciple.” “Jesus, we would like for ourselves the position of highest honor next to you in heaven.” “Master, I must rebuke you for thinking you’re going to die a criminal’s death in Jerusalem—you’re quite wrong about that.” “Hey Jesus, how’s about we call down fire from heaven on these lousy Samaritans.” “Jesus, would you just show us the Father?”
Only a gracious and loving Jesus could see these disciples (or us) as a gift when we so often seem more like a curse. Yet, Jesus is thrilled to receive us as a precious gift from his Father and in verse six, Jesus says of these disciples, “…they have kept your word.”
In the second half of verse 11 is the first real petition he asks of the Father about his disciples. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” When people familiar with this prayer think of it, they probably think of Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the church. That’s fair because he prays for it three times in this chapter and we’ll look more closely at that request, later. But Jesus ties verse 12 with verse 11 by citing another truth. In verse 12, Jesus cites a ministry he had been performing for the disciples and asks his Father that, in his absence from them, he would continue. In verse 12 Jesus says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name which you have given me.”
Whether it’s the Father or the Son doing it, what does it mean to “keep” the disciples? What Jesus is praying for here is that the Father would keep the disciples faithful to expressing the Father’s character just as HE had kept them faithful to express God’s character.
But what does Jesus mean by referring to the Father’s name as the name “which you have given to me?” He’s asking the Father that he will keep the disciples faithful to display his character—which he had perfectly manifested to them. We know that part of what he’s asking for in this “keep them in your name” prayer is for the disciples’ spiritual protection because Jesus says in verse 12, “I guarded them, and not one of them has been lost…” The implication is—if the 12 are to display God’s character-most fully revealed in Christ—then the Father will need to guard them as Jesus guarded them as the Good Shepherd.
This is crucial. We cannot manifest the character of Christ unless God keeps us faithful to do that and part of what is involved in that is his protection of us. God not only saves us; he KEEPS us saved. This is a common theme in the New Testament. Paul writes in First Corinthians 1:8, “[The Lord] will sustain you (keep you) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He says to the Thessalonians, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” [1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)]. Jude begins his letter with “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” [Jude 1–2]. In each of those verses we see that the God who calls us to himself in Christ is also committed to keeping us in Christ.
Just as Jesus says the reason that none of the disciples were lost—none of them fell away, so also– no genuine believers will fall away because the Father is keeping us from walking away from him just as Jesus kept the disciples from falling away. The assurance we have is powerful. As God keeps us faithful to express his character—as he protects us from the world, the flesh and the devil, none of God’s people will be lost. None of the 12 were lost and no genuine believer will be lost.
No, if you’re genuinely in Christ, Jesus has prayed that the Father would keep you faithful to manifest God’s name, his character. We know from the disciples’ checkered performance that this doesn’t mean sinless perfectionism on our part, but it speaks to the general pattern of our lives. The Father will keep us faithful and protect us from anything or anyone that could cause us to shipwreck our faith.
Jesus’ prayer for his disciples is riddled with reassuring gospel truth. The gospel is sufficient to keep people saved so we can manifest the character of God. THE GOSPEL is the power of God for salvation—our past salvation, our ongoing salvation and our future salvation. The gospel should form our sense of identity–not our appearance or our age or our gifts or our gender or what others think of us or what honors we have been given. All that is shifting sand—it can be here one moment and gone the next. What enables me to be both humble and confident is the fact that I am part of the gift of the Father to the Son who died for me—my identity is wrapped totally up in God.
Listen to some implications Tim Keller gives for a person whose sense of identity is totally wrapped up in God and what he has done for them in the gospel. He says, “When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that, while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial. When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’”
“My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am …simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me, and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.”
Do we hear the security in that? We are SAVED by God as a cherished gift—a cherished BRIDE the Father has given to his Son. We are KEPT by God so that will glorify him by manifesting his name even when we would otherwise walk away from him. We must bask in that security and allow it to soak into our souls and give us the peace and rest we’ve been given in Jesus. May God give us the confidence to know that we belong to him—that he will keep us faithful and that our identity is rooted not in what we can do for God, but in what God has done for us in Christ for his glory and our joy.