God Glorifying God & Eternal Life
Passage: John 17:1–17:5
Sermon from John 17:1-5 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on January 4, 2015
We begin the New Year in John 17, which is a most remarkable passage. It’s not only the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture; it’s one where we get to see the sorts of things our Savior prays for us: Father, keep them in your name (17:11); sanctify them in the truth (17:17); make them one even as we are one (17:22). In many ways these prayers bolster our faith even in some of our weakest moments.
It’s also a prayer that continues to shape how I read and put together the entire biblical revelation. Jesus’ prayer stretches from the Father’s plan before there was time all the way to the church enjoying the Son in future glory (17:2, 5, 24). And in addition to this, he makes several stops along the way to reveal further just how the Father’s eternal plan was to unfold in history—including his own life, the witness of the disciples, and the ongoing mission of the church (17:4, 18, 20).
And not only that, but this prayer of Jesus also weaves together a number of bible themes. Nearly every clause of Jesus’ prayer introduces an interrelated theme. The prayer isn’t so much linear as it is circular. Jesus circles around with all his requests, grounding one request in the other. With each verse he adds layer upon layer, such that to tug on any part of one request is to effect the whole tapestry of God’s purpose in Christ. The point is to show us how God’s work of redemption is of one piece.
There’s also theology interwoven throughout Jesus’ prayer that will send you souring into song while simultaneously leaving you humbled to the dust of what you still can’t comprehend about God’s eternal glories in Christ. And that’s one of the other things that amazes me about this passage: through Jesus’ prayer, we glimpse into the inner-communion and mutual passions between persons of the Godhead. We don’t deserve to hear God speaking to God. And yet, in his kindness, the Lord has John include this in his Gospel for our eternal benefit. God the Son praying to God the Father, the Son revealing what his relationship to the Father is like in love and glory, the Son disclosing the innermost passions and purposes the Father has in sending him to earth—and we get to listen in through the hand of an eyewitness and the inspired words of the Holy Spirit.
God is inviting us, “Come and listen to the intra-trinitarian communion this morning, to know God as he truly is.”[1. Much of these interrelated themes were first introduced to me through a sermon preached by my dear brother and fellow elder, Wes Duggins on August 5, 2012. The sermon was titled, "The Self-Originating Love in the Godhead," and the audio can be accessed here.] Let’s read just the first five verses together.
1When 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, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
This is probably oversimplifying all that’s going on in these first five verses; but I want us to narrow our focus to four big-picture observations. And then I want to spend some time thinking about what these mean theologically for our own lives.
1. A God-glorifying Mission
So, first big observation is this—and just know up front that each one of these observations builds on the other; I’m trying to paint one picture of verses 1-5. But first big observation is this: Jesus comes on a God-glorifying mission. And what I mean by that is that Jesus comes, not to add anything to God’s glory but to display God’s glory.
This becomes a fairly obvious point to anybody reading through John’s Gospel. We’re now seventeen chapters into a book consumed with how Jesus, as divine Son, reveals the Father’s glory through everything he says and does. Jesus makes such an assertion himself in verse 4: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” The Father gave Jesus work, a mission; as Jesus comes and finishes that mission, he reveals his Father as glorious. And so it’s not surprising to find Jesus praying with this same goal in mind now that his cross approaches.
What’s so stunning about the request is that it brings into focus where we’re to observe the climactic display of the Father’s glory. He says in verse 1, “the hour has come;” and we’re immediately reminded of that appointed hour that’s been anticipated throughout John’s Gospel—it’s the hour of Jesus’ death and exaltation.
Now, we’ll get to the exaltation piece in a minute, but for now I want to focus on Jesus’ death, because that’s the focus of verses 1 and 4.
We’ve seen this glorification of God linking up with Jesus’ death before. For instance, in 12:23-24, Jesus links the glorification of the Son of Man with his death: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. [And what does he have in mind?] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…” The moment of Jesus’ death is the moment the Son of Man is glorified. And just a few verses later Jesus equates this event with the Father glorifying his name (12:28-29).
Same thing happens in 13:31-32. Jesus’ betrayal and cross are lingering in the background, and then we get this: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” The glorification of the Son of Man in the event of Jesus’ death is the glorification of God. Strange, isn’t it? Rather paradoxical—the most profound display of God’s glory climaxes in the moment of greatest shame.
But Jesus prays like this, because he wants us to understand the cross. He wants us to see more than a man hanging on a stick. Many people will tell you that’s all the cross amounts to—a revolutionary dying for what he believed in; a good example of resolve amidst pressure; the mere results of politics between Rome and the Jews—and none of them seeing any saving significance. But Jesus’ prayer indicates his cross is infinitely more. The cross is where we see the glory of God displayed in the Son as the Father lifts him up for sinners. I mean, think with me here…
Does it not say something about Jesus’ worthiness, that God chose him to be the sacrifice for the world over all others? Does it not say something about Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity, that the Father’s glory is displayed perfectly only when Jesus is lifted up and no other? Who else can pray, “Father, glorify the Son, that the Son may glorify you”? Nobody, because nobody else is worthy.
Does it not testify to Jesus’ faithfulness, that God would decide to grant him the task of bearing away our wrath—knowing he wouldn’t fold under the wave of divine judgment sweeping over his being in place of others? Does it not display something wonderful about Jesus if he could satisfy in three hours the wrath of God that sinners would not be able to satisfy for eternity? This is what Jesus means when he says, “Father, glorify your Son.” Display his worth and greatness, but do it first, not with a crown and the pomp that humanity would expect; but do it with a cross.
And this glorification of the Son—its end isn’t merely for the Son to be seen for who he really is, but for the Father to be seen for who he really is in the Son: “Father, glorify your Son, that the Son might glorify you.” It’s a mutual glorification—Father glorifying the Son that the Son might in turn glorify the Father.
That’s what the cross is ultimately about, God glorifying God, the Father glorifying the Son and vice versa. Of course, the cross is also about rescuing sinners. But ultimately speaking, the cross is about the mutual glorification of Father and Son in the saving of sinners. It’s where the display of the Son’s greatness is simultaneously the display of the Father’s greatness. So, when the Son, who is infinitely worthy and perfectly reveals his Father—when he is lifted up on the cross, God’s intrinsic worth and greatness goes public.
The Father displays his righteousness in that the cross proves he will not tolerate sin. He displays his holiness in that the cross proves he must punish sin. He displays his justice in that sin required eternal death. He displays his faithfulness in that he promised to judge the world if it rebelled; and here we find the judgment of the world laid on the back of Jesus in our place. He displays his humility in that the cross reveals the extent he’s willing to go to spread the enjoyment of his glory to undeserving sinners. He displays his love in that the cross says he did not spare even his most precious possession, but gave him up for us all. He displays his power by breaking the chains of sin and removing the sting of death for a new people who will inherit the new world.
These sorts of things the Father displays about himself whenever he lifts up his Son to die on the cross. Jesus comes on a mission to glorify God, display his greatness.
2. Rooted in a Pre-Temporal Plan
Second big-picture observation: Jesus’ coming on a God-glorifying mission is rooted in a pre-temporal plan. That is, the mutual glorification of the Father and Son on the cross was part of a plan that preceded history. Look at how Jesus grounds his first request: “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
What is Jesus’ confidence that the Father will answer his prayer? His confidence is that the Father has already given him authority over all flesh. Think of the sort of authority we see the Ancient of Days giving the Son of Man in Dan 7:14: “to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” The Father grants this authority to the Son in eternity; and he did so in relation to the particular mission the Son would fulfill. The Son was to use his granted authority over all flesh to give eternal life to a people the Father had given him. Even if they’re not even saved yet within history, there’s some sense in which the Father already gives them to the Son (cf. 17:24).
The Bible calls this people God’s elect. Quite apart from anything in them, God chooses from a perishing humanity to give a people to his Son. John picks up the same idea in Revelation—there’s a people God set apart to belong to himself, and their names are written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 3:5; 13:18; 17:8). Paul says the same in Eph 1:4, where we see God choosing a people for Christ before the foundation of the world.
So the Father gives the Son a people before time begins; and the Son’s mission is to come and ensure their salvation at all costs to himself, and in doing so, glorify the Father. How’s that for shaping your philosophy of history, your purpose for life? All history exists and your life exists, because of the intra-trinitarian plan between Father and Son to display their glory in giving a people eternal life. What else is there to live for?!
3. To Give Sinners Eternal Life
And that leads us right into the third observation: Jesus comes on a God-glorifying mission, rooted in a pre-temporal plan, to give sinners eternal life. That’s clear at the end of verse 2: he uses his authority “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” You get what he’s saying, don’t you? These folks wouldn’t have obtained eternal life without such a decree, without such a commission.
Because of Adam, we were all under the power of sin and guilty before God. Our sins separated us from God. We were strangers to eternal life. This is what life outside the Garden is like for all humanity—apart from God’s grace. We lack fellowship with our Maker. We don’t experience his loving and special presence. We’re under his wrath without any hope for escape.
And here we see that the Son has absolute authority over all flesh without exception. He holds our eternal destinies in his hands; and what does he do? What is his commission from the Father? He gives eternal life to those the Father gave him. He gives eternal life not based on anything we do for ourselves, but solely based on his Father’s will and plan. What should absolutely stun us is that the Father gives anybody to the Son at all. Had the Father not given a people to the Son, nobody would have eternal life. But in his grace, he chooses to give eternal life to multitudes.
He gives it not just to people among the Jews; he gives it to all flesh—meaning, to people among all ethnicities, in all cultures, of all ages, to every level of society. Regardless of how bad you think you might be or other people on earth judge you to be, God chooses to give eternal life to sinners by giving people to the Son.
If you’re not a believer this morning, don’t think for one minute that your past is the ultimate determining factor on whether or not you can enjoy eternal life. That’s to put your sin in the place of God. God is the ultimate determining factor in whether you get eternal life, and Jesus’ prayer says that he gives eternal life to all the Father has given him. How do you know if the Father has given you to the Son? You believe in Jesus. You see Jesus as your only hope of salvation. You cast your sins upon him; you lay your past at his feet, and say, “Wash me! Make me new! Make me whole! Be my life and everything.” That’s how you know: Is Jesus beautiful to you? If he is, God has given you to his Son; and the Son is exercising all authority right now to ensure you gain eternal life—defeating enemies within you and outside you to bring you into life.
And verse 3 tells us what this eternal life is: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” It’s pretty common for us think badly about eternal life. Because most of the time when we hear the word “eternal,” we merely think in terms of duration—and some of that carries over from the older translations that call it “everlasting life.” Now, there’s a lot of truth that eternal life has an everlasting duration for the believer. Once God gives you life in Christ, you never lose it from now into the New Heaven and New Earth.
But when Jesus refers to eternal life, he has far more in mind, doesn’t he? Eternal life is more so about the quality of life one possesses in communion with God himself. You see, another way we think poorly about eternal life is that we come to Christ, in order to get eternal life—as if eternal life is something else separate from him; he’s just the means of getting us there. And the point Jesus is making here is that he is eternal life itself. Fellowship with him and his Father is life. God is the end; he is the ultimate good in the mission of Christ.
And it’s here we find Jesus giving to his people what they could never gain by their own efforts—reconciliation and fellowship with God. And if we tie all the pieces together from verses 1-2, what we actually see is that Jesus’ glorification—his death on the cross—is what serves not only to display the Father’s glory, but to bring us right into the mutual glory of Father and Son.
4. In the Presence of an All-glorious Christ
And that leads us right into our last observation: Jesus comes on a God-glorifying mission, rooted in a pre-temporal plan, to give sinners eternal life in the presence of an all-glorious Christ. Now, I mentioned earlier that Jesus’ hour of glorification refers to his death and exaltation. We already looked at his death. But here the focus becomes his exaltation; and it’s a different sort of glorification. It’s less about the Father displaying glory in the Son, and more about the Father clothing the Son with glory.
Listen to verse 5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” So this isn’t a display of glory, like we saw in the cross; this is a return to glory following the cross. Verse 4 tells us he has accomplished the mission—his cross will wrap it up in a few hours—and now, based on that achievement, he’s asking the Father to essentially vindicate him, to raise him from the dead and then bring him into God’s presence with the glory he had before the world existed. Now, that doesn’t mean Jesus, as divine Son, lacks glory, but that he set aside—for a time—his right to be seen as glorious when he took on his human nature.
Very similar to what we find in Phil 2:5-7 when Jesus, though he was in the form of God, made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. But now, with his human nature intact, Jesus is praying the Father clothe him with glory—the first time since taking to himself a human nature—so that he’s seen by heaven and all mankind as he really is. And I know this is the goal, because of what he says in verse 24: “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
That prayer is then further explained in your Bibles by Revelation 20-22 where all God’s redeemed are pictured beholding Jesus’ glory and enjoying life in his presence. And one of the most unique things pointed out about the manifestation of Jesus’ glory in the book of Revelation is that he still carries the wounds of Calvary. Meaning, the display of God’s glory in the cross continues to bear witness throughout eternity as all God’s people bow and enjoy the Lamb’s glorious presence. When the Father clothes the Son with glory, it’s not a glory that forgets the blood, but a glory that magnifies the blood and fills the saints with gladness forever, because then and only then do they see the full range of all God’s perfections and worth.
Summary & Application
So this is our portrait: Jesus comes on a God-glorifying mission, rooted in a pre-temporal plan, to give sinners eternal life in the presence of an all-glorious Christ. Now, where might these things meet our church this morning?
Remember and Grow in God-centeredness
Well, one way I think it meets us is this: it teaches us to remember and grow in God-centeredness. In other words, your life isn’t about you; we serve a God-centered God, who does everything for his own glory. Even the whole work of redemption is spelled out here in terms of what God does to glorify God, and then and only then is our salvation the result. That’s not to minimize the greatness of our salvation, nor to dismiss God’s love for us. Rather, it’s to explain it. It’s to remind us where his love and our salvation are ultimately rooted. They’re rooted in the plan of a God-centered God, who is passionate for his own glory; and his love is demonstrated in that he made a way for us to enjoy that glory.
We must conform our lives to this reality as individuals and as a church. There are lots of people who say they’re “God-centered.” But it doesn’t take a whole lot of probing before you discover that the only reason they’re God-centered is that they think God is man-centered. And this functionally comes out in our lives too, doesn’t it? Why else do you think we get angry? We get angry because we think God should do things the way we want when we want it. We get impatient because someone has crossed our kingdom agenda—whether that’s a person in line or child out of line. We get jealous, envious of others because we want the glory. We fear what other people think about us because, at the end of the day, we crave the attention that only Christ deserves.
Or maybe we became a Christian, we started serving with great zeal, and then found ourselves stumped by so much suffering, so much hardship, so much sacrifice, so much giving of self involved with this Christianity business. And our passion for God waned. Could it be that our passions were never grounded in the right place to begin with? That instead of being grounded in God’s passion for God, our passions were really grounded in God insofar as he makes me comfortable, he makes it easy, he makes me the center. But that’s not how or why God saved us.
He saved us to glorify himself in the Son. He saved us to make himself look great in the eyes of others. And one basic point of discipleship to which we must continue to turn is this: we serve a God-centered God. And this is what we must teach others also—like our children and new believers—lest we prepare them for thorough disappointment on Judgment Day.
Enjoy Eternal Life by Knowing God in Christ
Something else to consider here is enjoying eternal life by knowing God in Christ. Perhaps you’re a person who seeks Jesus only as a means to an end. Perhaps you’re coming to Jesus even for what you think are good reasons: you want him to deliver you from anger; you want him to deliver you from addiction to pornography; you want him to heal your broken past; you want him to give you financial stability; you want him to fix your marriage struggles. Please hear me say Yes and Amen to coming to Jesus for those reasons. He cares for all those things; he wants us to bring them to him; and he’s able to handle them for us.
But his prayer shows us that experiencing eternal life isn’t coming to Jesus as a means to an end, but as the end. He is eternal life itself. He is the goal. He is the prize. What is a life without anger and pornography, if there’s no Jesus? What is a life with perfect finances and a happy marriage, if Jesus isn’t enjoyed? It’s death—that’s what it is. A personal encounter with God’s glory in Christ is where life is to be found. Jesus cannot be enjoyed merely as a means to something else; we must enjoy him as the end.
Or, maybe you’re a person who only seeks to know about God rather than knowing God. There’s a difference—one is mere intellectual assent; the other is personal. Eternal life only comes to those who know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, personally. Yes, knowing God includes intellectual faculties engaged in discerning what he has revealed about himself in Scripture. But knowing God—as Jesus means here—is not a mere intellectual exercise. It’s not a mere signing of a church confession. It’s not mere apologetics. It’s personal fellowship with God as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ—treasuring him, enjoying him, pursuing him, loving him. Jesus didn’t die to give us a creed; he died to give us God himself; and knowing him in this personal way is what he calls “eternal life.” Creeds are good; apologetics is useful; but only insofar as they drive us deeper into fellowship with God.
Or, you may be a person wavering in your pursuit of knowing God. You don’t like to study or read the Bible that much. You’re not that interested in thinking deeply about God. You just don’t have the time with everything that’s going on, is what you might say. But if eternal life hangs on knowing God in Christ, then don’t these other things we tell ourselves amount to cover-ups of a much deeper problem—namely, the lack of desire to know God or the desire to love other things above God?
Hosea 4:6 says God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. And here Jesus equates knowing God with eternal life. So, we must ask ourselves, “What’s more important than knowing God?” We choose to know a whole lot about other things—things going on in the culture; the precise way a player came down in the end-zone; the latest news hitting the headlines; the latest insights of medicine; the political ideas being bounced around; what she actually posted on her Facebook wall; the most controversial blog topics; what Labron tweeted the other day; what curriculum measures up to our expectations. But we have to ask ourselves, are we first choosing to know God above all else. What’s more important, especially when eternal life is at stake?
I’m not saying that we should resort to a kind of monkish lifestyle, cooped up with our Bibles in isolation. I’m just pressing us into what Jesus says. If eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, how are you actively pursuing him—through prayer and Bible study and good Christian books and fellowship with believers and sharing Jesus with others? There’s nothing more important than knowing God and experiencing eternal life in him. And we know him when we walk with him and listen to his word and stop to pray amidst the craziness. In fact, we’re only as good to anybody else—including our children and spouses and neighbors—we’re only as good to them inasmuch as we’re able to give them the God we’ve come to enjoy in Jesus.
Help Others Find Eternal Life in Christ
So, one more place this meets us: if eternal life is found only through knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, then we must help others enter that eternal life by telling them of what God has done in sending his Son. If this is the Father’s plan and Jesus’ prayer—that the Son give eternal life to all the Father has given him—then our chief passion and prayer and work must be the same. We should evaluate, plan, and sacrifice to help people enjoy eternal life in the Son—and do it all for the Father’s glory. That work can never fail, because God’s mission to glorify himself in the Son among all his people will never fail. Redeemer, the Lord has graciously begun another year for us together. How will you use it to enjoy his glory and to spread his glory for the eternal life of others?
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus