The Apostle John records in his gospel, chapter 17, the closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth where we find Him praying to the Father in one last time of prayer with his disciples. When He is done with this prayer He walks to the garden where He is betrayed, then taken to a mock trial, beating, and crucifixion. In these final hours of His pre-resurrection life He prays the details of our relationship with Him and God the Father.
Though there is much to study in this prayer, in laying before us His relationship with the Father and the work He accomplished with and for us, He puts on the table a crystal clear statement about “eternal life.” This “eternal life” is the culmination of His work and obedience to His Father. For us it clarifies what our salvation is really all about.
Often people pray the salvation prayer because they are recognizing their guilt and they don’t want to spend an eternity in Hell. Heaven has a nice ring to it and the deal is quite awesome. We are guilty and deserving of Hell and praying a sincere prayer of trusting Jesus’ work on the cross gets us freed from that guilt and a promised entry into heaven for eternity. While all of that is true, when that is the extent of our understanding of salvation we will conclude that it is a static achievement that, once secured, we can move on and “do” life with little or no concern or motivation for spiritual life. We must dive deeper in our understanding of the eternal life that Christ brought us.
Note in Jesus’ prayer that revolves around eternal life, that there is no direct mention of heaven or hell. The focus of the prayer is laid bare in verse 3, “and this is eternal life, that they know you (emphasis mine) the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The remainder of the prayer is about what knowing God and Jesus looks like and the resulting fruit of glorifying God. While this entire prayer is a great study that could take hours and pages, summarized, we need to understand that our daily lives need to be lived to know God and reflect on His greatness and the greatness of Christ and His work on the cross (verses 3 and 4). As we live to know God, our actions will change.
Jesus reveals how this works out in our lives. He first mentions in verse 6 that He glorified the Father by giving us His Word. Later, in verse 17 Jesus prays that God the Father would set us apart (sanctify) us through the Word (truth). Jesus is asking the Father to do His sanctifying work in us through the power of the Word. Back in verse 6-8 Jesus states that He did what the Father wanted Him to do, He manifested the Father’s name in a way that we “came to know the truth” that Jesus came from God the Father. This knowledge of God came through the words that Jesus gave and had recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes this is the point that we veer away from what Jesus is teaching in this prayer. We can look at the Word and see the commands and the lists of do’s and don’ts and miss that it was written to reveal God to us! The point of Jesus’ revelation to us (both OT and NT) is that we might know God the Father and Jesus His Son. We need to have a clear, compelling vision of salvation as a dynamic, endless, fathomless pursuit of a relationship with God.
When we put our focus on our sanctification instead of the God of our salvation, we can find that the “cart is before the horse,” and not far down the road, we find ourselves trying to push the cart all on our own. As Jesus stated, our sanctification results from God showing us himself in the Word (verses 6 and 17). As we gain knowledge of the facts of God, we have the opportunity to experience Him. Several times (verses 6-8, 22-23, 25-26) Jesus speaks of this closeness and oneness with God that He came to give to us.
This “Eternal Life” that Jesus came to give us is a precious gift, paid for by His ultimate sacrifice. What a glorious intersession Jesus gave for us and recorded here in John 17. What does this mean for us? We should be compelled to study and know the Word, so we get beyond the words themselves and experience a relationship with God Himself. Think about it, what difference has your knowledge of and thus experience with God made in your daily purposes, habits, and pursuits of life? How has knowing God impacted the relationships around you? Have those around you been compelled to know your God the way you know your God (verses 20 and 21)? A secular proverb rings true, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” But far deeper than any secular proverb can take us, Jesus says in verse 26, “I made known to them your name and I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”