Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
JOHN CHAPTER 17
John 17:1-5 Christ prayeth to his Father to glorify him,
John 17:6-14 and to preserve his apostles in unity of faith,
John 17:15,16 and from all evil,
John 17:17-19 and to sanctify them with the word of truth,
John 17:20-26 and for the perfect union of all believers, and
their admission to a share of his glory in heaven.
When our Lord had finished his discourses, of which we have had a large account in John 14:1-16:33, he goes to prayer. As he taught us when we pray to direct our petitions to the Father, so in this he setteth us an example; and before he speaketh it is said he
lifted up his eyes to heaven, as his Father’s mansion house who, though he filleth heaven and earth, yet doth in heaven most manifest his glory: and therefore, teaching us to pray, he commandeth us to say, Our Father which art in heaven; not exclusively, as if God were not on earth also; but eminently, as heaven is the place where he most gloriously manifests himself. Lifting up the eyes was a usual gesture in prayer, and but an indication of the soul’s being lifted up, Psalms 121:1 123:1; yet no necessary gesture, for we shall at another time find our Saviour falling upon his face when he prayed, Matthew 26:39 Mark 14:35. The lifting up of the soul to God, wherein the main and spiritual part of prayer lies, doth not necessarily require the lifting up of the eyes. The publican cast down his eyes upon the earth, in the sense of his unworthiness. Our Lord lifted up his eyes, and said,
Father, the hour is come; that is, the hour of my passion, the time wherein thou hast determined that I should die; now make thy Son glorious, by raising me from the dead, by taking me up to heaven, or by giving me assistance from thee to do the work which I have to do, to drink this bitter cup: that so I, being risen again from the dead, and ascending up to heaven, may make thy name famous by publishing thy justice, goodness, and truth, upon the preaching of the gospel to all nations.
I see no reason for any to contend here, that by all flesh the elect only, who shall be eternally saved, are to be understood; Christ’s power undoubtedly extendeth further than to the elect, though to them only for salvation; he hath a power over reprobates and unbelievers to condemn them, as well as over his elect, to bring them to eternal life and salvation. The former part of the text speaketh of the more general power and authority, by which the Father had already made Christ glorious; putting all things under his feet, and causing all knees to bow down unto him; which are other phrases by which the same things are expressed, 1 Corinthians 15:27 Philippians 2:10. This general power our Saviour executeth according to the counsels of God, with respect to their faith or unbelief. As to those given to Christ, that he should die in their stead, and with the price of his blood purchase eternal life for them; Christ executeth his power in giving them eternal life: under which notion (as appeareth from many other scriptures) is comprehended, not the end only, which is eternal life and happiness, but all the necessary means in order to that end; from whence we are to observe, that eternal life is a free gift, that the Son gives only to such as the Father hath given him by his eternal counsels; so that all shall not be saved; for the term
as many as, & c., is plainly restrictive, and limits the gift to a certain number. And to examine our right to it, we need not ascend up into heaven, to search the rolls of the eternal counsels; for all whom the Father hath given him shall come unto him, and not only receive him as their High Priest, but give up themselves to be ruled and guided by him, by the efficacious working of the Spirit of his grace. By such a receiving of Christ, and giving up of ourselves to his conduct and government, we shall know whether we be of the number of those that are given to Christ; and till we find this, we have no reason to conclude it, but to fear and suspect the contrary.
Those who deny the Divine nature of Christ, think they have a mighty argument from, this text, where Christ, (as they say), speaking to his Father, calleth him
the only true God. But divines answer, that the term only, or alone, is not to be applied to thee, but to the term God; and the sense this: To know thee to be that God which is the only true God: and this appeareth from 1 John 5:20, where Christ is said to be the true God, which he could not be if the Father were the only true God, considered as another from the Son. The term only, or alone, is not exclusive of the other two Persons in the Trinity, but only of idols, the gods of the heathen, which are no gods; so 1 Timothy 6:15,16, and many other Scriptures: so Matthew 11:27, where it is said, that none knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son; where the negative doth not exclude the Holy Spirit. Besides, the term alone is in Scripture observed not always to exclude all others, as Mark 6:47. Our Saviour saith, it is life eternal to know him who is the only true God, that is, it is the way to eternal life, which is an ordinary figure used in holy writ. He adds,
and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; by which he lets us know, that the Father cannot be savingly known, but in and by the Son. Knowing, in this verse, signifies not the mere comprehending of God and of Christ in men’s notions; but the receiving Christ, believing in him, loving and obeying him, &c.
I have glorified thee on the earth; by preaching the gospel, by living up to the rule of thy law, by the miracles which I have wrought. God could not be glorified by Christ, by the addition of any thing to his essential glory; only by manifesting to the world his Father’s goodness, justice, mercy, truth, wisdom, and other of his attributes. One way by which he had glorified his Father, is expressed, viz. by finishing the work which he had given him in commission. But how could Christ say this, who had not yet died for the sins of men, which was the principal piece of his work?
Answer. It was so nigh, that he speaks of it as already done: so, John 17:11, he saith, I am no more in the world, because he was to be so little a time in the world. Again, he speaks of what he was fully resolved to do, as if it were already done.
Let the glory which, as to my Divine nature, I had with thee before the foundation of the world, be communicated also to my human nature, that my whole person may be made glorious. From hence is easily concluded, against those who deny the Godhead of Christ, that Christ was glorified with his Father before the world was, which he could not have been if he had not been eternal God. He here begs of his Father, that that glory might shine upon his person as Mediator.
Here he openeth this former phrase, I have glorified thee on the earth: it was done by manifesting the Lord’s name, proclaiming his goodness and mercy, publishing his will, making famous all whereby God can be made known: this Christ did both by his words and by his works. This he had done (as he saith) to all those whom the Father had given him; whom the Father had given him by an act of his eternal counsel, and by inclining their hearts to own and receive him when he came into the world. He tells his Father, that his they were, his chosen ones; and he had given them unto Christ, that he should redeem them with his blood, and take the care of their salvation: and he saith, When I came and revealed thy will unto them, they have not stubbornly and obstinately, as the generality of the Jews, shut their eyes against the light, and rebelled against thy will revealed; but they have heard, received, embraced, and obeyed thy word.
They have thus far made proficiency in the doctrine which I have taught them; that though the Pharisees say, that I cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils, yet they believe, and are persuaded, that the doctrine which I have taught them is from thee, and that it is by a Divine power that I have wrought those miracles which I have wrought; and so I have manifested thy name unto them, and they have received the manifestation and revelation of thy name unto them.
Our Lord here doth both justify himself, and commend those whom in this former part of his prayer he is commending to his Father. He justifieth himself that he had not delivered any thing to them but what he had from his Father; thereby teaching all those who claim the name of his ministers what is their duty, viz. to give to their hearers no word but what God hath given them. If Christ confined his discourses to words which his Father had given him, certainly we ought to do so also. We are not to speak what we list, nor what men would have us we are tied up to God’s word. He commendeth these his disciples, that they had
received them; not only the sound of them in their ears, not only the notion of them in their understandings, but they had embraced and believed them; and had, from the force and, authority of them, given credit to him as the true Messias, who came out and was sent from God. Though they were not yet come up to a perfect faith in him as the eternal Son of God, yet they believed him one that came from God, and was sent of God as the promised Messiah; which seemeth to have been that degree of faith which Christ most insisted upon as to his disciples, until by his resurrection from the dead he declared himself to be the Son of God with power; though all along this Gospel, his discourses, and the miracles which he wrought, had a particular tendency to prove himself one with the Father, and the eternal Son of God; and the disciples had some weak persuasion of this also.
The world seemeth here to signify all mankind, for whom Christ in this place doth not pray; though some interpret it of reprobates, others of unbelievers. Christ afterward prays for the world, John 17:20; that is, for such who, though they at present were unbelievers, yet should be brought to believe by the apostles’ ministry. But to teach us to distinguish in our prayer, our Saviour here distinguishes, and prays for some things for his chosen ones, which he doth not pray for on the behalf of others: these he describes to be such as his Father (whose they were) had given him, either by an eternal donation, or by working faith in them.
In the Greek the adjectives are of the neuter gender, so as the sense is not, All my friends, or all my disciples, are thine also; but, All my things are thine, and all thy things are mine; which is no more than he hath before often said. Christ and his Father have all things common, neither of them have any thing that is not the other’s: they are one, and they agree in one; they have the same essence, the same will, the same attributes, the same friends.
And I am (saith our Saviour) glorified, or made glorious, in them, by their owning, receiving, and embracing me, and accepting me as their Saviour. So as this verse containeth two arguments more, enforcing his petition on the behalf of his elect:
1. His Father’s propriety in them, as well as his.
2. Their love to him, and the glory which redounded to him from their faith and holiness.
The term world in this verse signifies not the men of the world, nor any particular party of them, (as it often signifies), but the habitable part of the earth. Our Saviour saith he is
no more in the world, because he was to continue on the earth but a very small time; but (saith he) these any disciples are like to abide in the world when I have left it; they will stand in need of this help, to be armed against all the temptations they will meet with from the world. I am coming to thee, therefore I commend them to thee, beseeching thee, that thou through thy power wouldst keep those, who, in giving themselves up to me, have also given themselves up to thee; let their owning thy name (which is as a strong tower, Proverbs 18:10) keep them from all the temptations and dangers to which they will be exposed in the world, wherein they are to live and converse; that they may be one, one body, and in one Spirit: that they may own one Lord, one faith, one baptism, &c.; that they may be one in love and affection,
as we are; in some proportion to that union which is between thee and me, though not in an equality. This prayer of our Saviour’s doth both oblige all those who in any sincerity own Christ, to study union both in opinion and affection; and also give us ground of hopes, that there is a time coming, when there shall be greater measure of it than we have seen in those miserably divided times wherein we have lived, and do yet live.
Christ speaks here of himself as one who had already died, was risen, and ascended, though none of all these things were past, because they were so suddenly to come to pass. I have, (saith our Saviour), for all the time that I have abode in the world, and conversed with them,
kept them in thy name, i.e. in the steady owning and profession of thy truth; or (if we read it, through thy name) it signifieth through thy power, and the influence of thy grace. I have not so kept all that came to hear me, but all
those whom thou gavest me by the act of thy eternal counsel; or whom thou gavest me to be my apostles: and none of them is proved an apostate, but the son of perdition: none of them is lost whom thou gavest me by thy eternal gift, none of them whom thou gavest me to be my apostles, but one who, though he was my apostle, and in that sense given to me, yet was never given me by thy eternal gift, as one to be by me redeemed, and brought to eternal life and salvation; for he was a son of perdition: we have this term applied to antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:3. As the son of death, 2 Samuel 12:5, signifies one appointed to die, or that deserveth to die; and the child of hell, Matthew 23:15, signifieth one who deserveth hell; so the son of perdition may either signify one destined to perdition, or one that walketh in the high and right road to perdition, or rather both; one who being passed over in God’s eternal counsels, as to such as shall be saved, hath by his own wilful apostasy brought himself to eternal perdition, or into such a guilt as I know thou wilt destroy him. And by this the Holy Scripture is fulfilled, Psalms 109:8, for that is the portion of Scripture here intended, as is apparent from Acts 1:20, where the apostle applies that text to Judas, who is here spoken of. Other scriptures also were thus fulfilled, as Psalms 41:9, compared with John 13:18.
He speaketh still in the present tense. These words were not fulfilled six weeks after this, for he conversed with his disciples forty days after his resurrection, Acts 1:3; but Christ was now shortly coming, therefore he saith, I come. And, saith he, while I am in the world, I speak these things; I put up this prayer, that the joy of my people may not be diminished by my going from them, but that when they can no longer (as hitherto) rejoice in my bodily presence with them, they may yet rejoice that I am ascended to my Father, that they stand commended to the care of thee, my Father, by this my last prayer.
I take more to be understood here, by Christ’s giving his word unto his disciples, than his preaching the gospel in their ears: otherwise Christ had no more given these his disciples his word, than he had given it to many thousands of others who were yet in the world, and whom the world hated not. The sense therefore is, I have not only preached thy word in their ears, but I have opened their hearts to receive and believe it and bowed their wills to a compliance with it; so as the word dwelleth in their hearts, is ingrafted in them, and they are turned into the likeness of it. And here it is observable, that when any soul is given to Christ by his Father, Christ will most certainly, first or last, give unto that soul his word in that sense; that is, so as it shall receive, believe it, and be turned into the likeness of it. And for this
the world hath hated them, for thy word hath made them to be of another spirit from carnal, loose, and worldly men; they have other affections, other inclinations, other designs and studies;
they are not of the world in that respect
as I am not of the world: though in other respects not so; for Christ, as to his original, was not of the world, which they were, of the earth, earthy.
Christ doth not pray that his Father would take up his saints out of this sinful and troublesome world into heaven, because he knew that they were to be of use to him for a time in the world; but he prays that the Lord would keep them from the evil one, (so some would have it translated), or from the evil thing; by which we must not understand what is penally and afflictively evil, but only what is sinfully evil: and by his example he hath directed us how we ought to pray; not for death, nor absolutely for a deliverance from the evils and miseries of this life; but that we may be delivered from those temptations to sin, to which a multitude of sharp trials and afflictions will expose even the best of men.
This is the same thing which he had said before, John 17:14, which he again repeateth, either to fix it in their memories, that they, calling it to their minds, might direct their lives accordingly, or be thereby fortified against the hatred and malice of the world; for which purpose he told them so before, John 15:19, and again in this chapter, John 17:14: See Poole on "John 17:14".
It is doubted amongst interpreters, whether sanctifying in this place signifieth the consecrating, deputing, or setting the apostles apart, and preparing them for the work of the ministry in which they were to be employed, as the word signifies, Jeremiah 1:5; or the strengthening and confirming their habits of grace, so as they might be able to encounter the temptations they should meet with from the hatred or opposition of the world; or the perfecting of them in holiness. Mr. Calvin saith our Saviour here prayeth that God would appropriate them unto himself. And he showeth how this is done,
through, or in, thy truth; that is, some say, through thy truth engraven and imprinted upon their hearts by thy Holy Spirit, which was promised to lead and to guide them into all truth, John 16:13: say others, through thy Spirit, which indeed is the Sanctifier; and we have met with twice, called, the Spirit of truth, John 14:17. Some say, Sanctify them through thy truth, is no more than, Sanctify them truly, in opposition to that legal sanctification of priests, &c., of which we read in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. Others would have it, to thy truth, that is, to the preaching of thy gospel. But our translation seems to come nearest the meaning; through thy truth, that is, through the knowledge of thy truth; as the Gentiles are said to have had their hearts purified by faith, Acts 15:9. He opens what he meant by truth, adding, thy word is truth; that is, thy word and gospel, which I have preached to them, is truth (the abstract, as some think, for the concrete); that is, it is most true: it is not like the doctrine of false prophets, nor like the doctrine of the Pharisees, which is partly true, partly false; but it is truth itself: and though indeed it is the blood of Christ which cleanseth and purifieth the heart, yet this is applied to the conscience by the Spirit, which is the Sanctifier, in and through the word of God preached and applied to the soul.
That is: My Father, they have not thrust themselves into their employment, they have not run without sending; for as I am thine apostle, as I was sent by thee, so I have sent them. The apostles indeed were not sent for the same end in all things that Christ was sent; who was sent to purchase salvation for men, as well as to preach the gospel: but they were sent in part for the same work for which Christ was sent, and they were sent by him who had authority to send them; and as it is but reasonable for princes to protect those whom themselves send upon their embassies, so it was but reasonable that God should defend and protect those whom his Son had sent out as his ambassadors.
I sanctify myself, here, is no more than, I set myself apart, as a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing in the sight of God: and indeed sanctifying, in the ancient notion of it under the law, did ordinarily signify the setting of persons and things apart to the special service of God; which was done legally by certain ritual performances and ceremonies, and is still done inwardly and spiritually by regeneration, and renewing of the hearts of men and women by the efficacious working of the Holy Ghost. Christ saith, that for his disciples sake he sanctified himself, being both the Priest and the sacrifice.
Christ set apart himself as a sacrifice for his people,
that they might be sanctified: not only our eternal life and happiness, but all the means to it, fell within the counsel of God; hence we are said to be chosen of Christ, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, Ephesians 1:4; and within the purchase of Christ: hence the apostle saith, Ephesians 5:25,26, that he gave himself for his church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water: and our Saviour here saith, that he set apart himself for a sacrifice for our sins, that his people might be sanctified through the truth; that is, by receiving the truth, not in their ears only, but in their hearts, in the love of it, and bringing forth the fruits of it in all holiness of life and conversation.
Three things are evident from this verse.
1. That Christ did not pray for any reprobates, not for any that were and should die unbelievers: he prayed before for those who actually did believe; he prays here for them that should believe; but we never read that he prayed for any others. Now whether he laid down his life for those for whom he would not pray, lies upon them to consider, who are so confident that he died for all and every man.
2. That by persons given to Christ, cannot be understood believers as such; for Christ here prays for those that were not actual believers, but should believe.
3. That faith cometh by hearing; Christ here prays for those that should believe
through their word, that is, the apostles preaching the gospel.
Our Saviour here prays on the behalf of such as should believe on him, that they might be one in faith, and one in brotherly love. Whoso considereth this as a piece of Christ’s prayer for believers, and that St. Paul hardly wrote one epistle to the primitive apostolical churches in which he did not press this by most potent argument, cannot but nourish some hopes, (how improbable soever it appears at present), that all the sincere disciples of Christ shall one day arrive at the keeping of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and likewise look upon themselves in point of duty obliged to endeavour it. To which pitch of perfection possibly Christians might soon arrive, if superiors would, after the example of the apostle, Acts 15:28, lay upon their inferiors no more than necessary things; and equals would learn to contend for truth in love, and to walk with their brethren so far as they have attained; and as to other things, to forbear one another in love; and wherein any of their brethren are otherwise minded, then they are to wait till God shall reveal it to them, Philippians 3:15. But this is not all the union which Christ prays for; he also prays that they might be one in the Father and the Son; that is, that they might believe; for faith is that grace by which we are united to, and made one with, God and Christ; though others interpret it of obedience, or such things wherein God the Father and Christ are one, &c. For although so many as are ordained to life shall believe, yet that they might believe is matter of prayer: this our Saviour prays for, for the further glory of God, which is that which he meaneth by the world’s believing that God had sent him; there being no greater evidence that Christ is the true Messiah, than the general acceptance of the doctrine of the gospel, which he brought throughout the world; for who can imagine, that a new doctrine brought into the world by one of no greater reputation than Christ had in the world, and propagated by persons of no greater quality than the apostles were, should obtain in the greatest part of the world, if he that first introduced it had not been first sent by God into the world, and the apostles had not been extraordinarily influenced and assisted by God as to the propagation of it, after Christ was ascended into heaven?
By glory here some understand the heavenly glory; but then they must understand the oneness mentioned in the latter part of the verse, of the union which the saints shall have with Christ and his Father in glory, in another world. Others understand the Divine nature, of which the apostle in, 2 Peter 1:4, saith, believers are made partakers: this seemeth to come nearer, for the more men and women are made partakers of that, the more they will study the unity of the Spirit. Others understand the power of working miracles, by which Christ is said to have manifested his glory, John 2:11; and the effect of this power is called the glory of God, John 11:40. Others understand the preaching of the gospel, in which the ministration of the Spirit is glorious, 2 Corinthians 3:8; and the faithful ministers of the gospel are called the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 8:23.
That they may be one, even as we are one; our Saviour either again repeats his prayer, that they might be one; or else declareth that he had communicated his power, his glory to them, that they might be one, as be and his Father are one.
I in them; not only as my Divine nature is united to their flesh, but as I have made them partakers of my Spirit, and of the Divine nature; as I have loved them with a special and peculiar love, and am the head, they the members; I the vine, they the branches.
And thou in me, the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in me bodily; I being the brightness of thy glory, the express image of thy person; thou also doing whatsoever I do, and accepting and approving of it, as John 14:10.
That they may be made perfect in one; the Greek is, eis en, into one; in one body, whereof Christ is the Head; which body is the church, keeping a unity of faith; all believing the same things in matter of faith, and those things no other than what thou hast revealed, and I have revealed as from thee. This, O Father, will be a great evidence, both that thou hast sent me, when the world shall see thee bowing men’s hearts to the obedience of the truth of thy gospel; and that thou hast loved them with a tender and everlasting love, as thou hast loved me.
Here our Saviour wills his disciples eternal life; or rather prays to his Father, that he would preserve his disciples unto, and at last bestow upon them, eternal life and salvation; so as the phrase,
whom thou hast given me, is not to be restrained to the apostles, but to be extended to all those who, belonging to the election of grace, shall hereafter be made heirs of glory, and have everlasting life and happiness. This he expresses under the notion of being with him where he is, as John 14:3; which is called a being ever with the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 4:17; and certainly this is the highest happiness, to be where the Son of God is.
That they may behold my glory, is the same thing with, that they may be made partakers of my glory: as to see death, is, in Scripture phrase, to die; and to see life, is to live; so, to behold the glory of God, is to be glorified.
For, saith our Saviour, thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world, both as thy only begotten Son, and as the person in whom thou hast chosen all them, and whom thou hast set apart to be the Mediator between God and man; and therefore I know that thou wilt glorify me, and that thou wilt in this thing hear my prayers, and glorify them also, whom thou hast given to me to be redeemed by my blood.
It is observed, that the servants of God, in holy writ, have used in their prayers to give unto God such compellations as have been suitable to the things which they have begged of God in their prayers, and proper to express their faith in God, for the hearing of such their prayers: Christ here calls his Father by the name of
righteous, with relation to the argument which he here useth, which is from his disciples knowledge of him; under which term (as very often before) is comprehended their acceptance of him, believing in him, love to him, &c. Father, saith he, thou art righteous; it is a piece of thy righteousness to render to every man according to his work, Job 34:11 Psalms 62:12 Proverbs 24:12.
The world hath not known thee; the men of the world hate thee, are ignorant of thee, rebellious against thee;
but I have known thee; I have known thee, and have made thee known, and I have been obedient to thy will; and these my disciples have known me, and known, that is, received, embraced me, as one sent by thee, as the Messiah.
By the name of God, is to be understood God himself, and whatsoever God hath made himself known by his word and gospel, his attributes and perfections. And after my resurrection, I will yet further declare it to them, who are yet in a great measure ignorant and imperfect in their notions of thee; that thy love wherewith thou hast loved me may be further communicated to them, and be derived to them, and abide in and upon them for ever; because I am in them (so some would have it read, though the word be kagw, which properly is, and I, as we translate it). The words are but a repetition of what our Lord hath often said, and illustrated in, John 15:9, by the parable of the vine and the branches; and teach us this lesson, that Christ must be in those souls who can pretend to any share in that love of God wherewith he hath loved Christ: Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 2 Corinthians 13:5.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 17". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25