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Home For Middle Easterners Why you can know God and have eternal Life

Why you can know God and have eternal Life

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Commentary on John 17 verse 3  from

IVP New Testament Commentary on John's Gospel 17

 

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"And this is eternal life that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent."  John 17:3


Context

 

John chapter 17 completes the chiasm of the farewell discourse spelled out in 13:31-35, with a return to the glory mentioned in 13:31-32 (see comment on 13:31). This passage concentrates on the relation of the Father and the Son and the glory they share. The Father is seen as the one who "gives" (used thirteen times of the Father in this chapter), highlighting his grace and his role as source of all. Jesus focuses specifically on the Father's gift to the Son of disciples. The Son continues to show himself to be the revealer sent from the Father, but he is seen also as a giver--he gives his disciples the Father's word, glory and eternal life.

This prayer gathers many of the key themes found throughout the Gospel. Indeed, "almost every verse contains echoes" (Dodd 1953:417). The Son's work in the disciples is developed through the themes of faith, knowledge, love, indwelling, oneness and God's name. There is also an emphasis on the world, including its separation from God, God's love for it and the disciples' mission to it.

As with much of the farewell discourse, this material is complex and can be outlined in several ways (cf. Brown 1970:748-51; Beasley-Murray 1987:295-96). Jesus begins with a petition for the glorification of the Father and the Son (vv. 1-5), after which he prays for the disciples gathered around him, first describing their situation (vv. 6-11) and then praying that they be protected and sanctified by God (vv. 11-19). Jesus then prays for all who will become believers through the witness of the eleven, that they may share in the divine oneness (vv. 20-24). He concludes with a summary of his past and future work (vv. 25-26). Jesus Prays for the Glorification of the Father and the Son (17:1-5) Jesus begins his prayer where his keynote address began, with the relationship between the Father and the Son (5:19-23). The oneness-yet-distinctness continues here as Jesus "lifts up his eyes toward heaven" (v. 1, obscured in the NIV) to the Father who is distinct from him and to whom he is obedient.

Comments on John 17:3

esus pauses to reflect on the meaning of the term eternal life (v. 3). This verse is commonly viewed as a parenthetical statement added by John, like a footnote (Barrett 1978:503). But it flows quite naturally even when understood as Jesus' comment on what he has just said, much as verses 6-8 will comment on verse 4. Jesus' reference to himself in the third person seems strange, but the Old Testament contains examples (e.g., 2 Sam 7:20 ). The phrase only true God is not attributed to Jesus elsewhere, but it is similar to John's own language (1 Jn 5:20 ). Likewise, nowhere else does Jesus refer to himself as Jesus Christ, but this expression is very common outside the Gospels. Indeed, this double reference to the one true God and to Jesus is similar to texts in Paul contrasting the Christian faith with pagan polytheism and idolatry (1 Thess 1:9-10; 1 Cor 8:6 ). So the language probably comes from a later date (though cf. Mt 11:27).

Most scholars today would say the thought itself is from the later church, but this begs the question of Jesus' identity and how much of the later church's understanding derives from Jesus himself (cf. C. F. D. Moule 1977). B. F. Westcott is probably closer to the truth when he says John is giving "in conventional language (so to speak) the substance of what the Lord said probably at greater length" (1908:2:244). Such is the case throughout this Gospel.The Son's ultimate mission is to give eternal life, that is, knowledge of the Father and the Son (v. 3). "The notion that knowledge of God is essential to life (salvation) is common to Hebrew and Hellenistic thought," though knowledge does not mean the same thing in every source (Barrett 1978:503). For John, this knowledge is closely associated with faith (which enables the appropriation of eternal life; 6:47; 20:31) and includes correct intellectual understanding, moral alignment through obedience and the intimacy of union (cf. Dodd 1953:151-69). That is, it refers to shared life, and because it is the life of God that is shared it is eternal life. Eternal (aionios) means unending or timeless, but it refers to not just the quantity but also a certain quality of life. In Hebrew eternal life is literally "life of eternity, age" (hayye `olam, Dan 12:2 ), a expression used in contrast to temporal life and also in the contrast between this age and the age to come. Indeed, the word eternal is related to the word "age" (aion). This association with the age to come is most significant in John.

For in Jewish thought, life in the age to come is characterized by a restored relationship with God, and that is precisely what Jesus speaks of here. The life of the age to come is already present in Jesus and made available to his disciples, and at the heart of it is an intimate relation with God. "The only life is participation in God, and we do this by knowing God and enjoying his goodness" (Irenaeus Against Heresies 4.20.5).

This stress on knowledge sounds Gnostic. In a sense it is, and early Christians believed they had the true knowledge, as opposed to that which is "falsely called knowledge" (tes pseudonymou gnoseos, 1 Tim 6:20 ). Clement of Alexandria (died in A.D. 220), for example, constantly referred to Christians as the true gnostics, and his view of knowledge at core was very much in keeping with our verse. While some of the language and thought of this Gospel is similar to Gnosticism in its various forms (for which see Rudolph 1992), the fact that this knowledge comes through the historical deeds of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, that it is grounded in faith, that it is available already now within history and that it is not concerned with self-knowledge and cosmic speculation sets it off from Gnosticism itself (cf. Schmitz and Schütz 1976:403-5). Any revealed religion will be gnostic--the issue is whether the knowledge claimed is true or false.

The statement in verse 3 is also strikingly similar in form to the central affirmation of Islam, "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet." Both religions claim to honor the only true God, a theme from the Old Testament as well (e.g., Ex 34:6 LXX; Is 37:20), and both speak of the great revealer of God. But they differ radically in what is said of this revealer. Jesus is a prophet--indeed, the revealer of God par excellence. But this verse, in keeping with the whole of this Gospel, says Jesus is far more than just a prophet. For eternal life is not just a knowledge of God as revealed by the Son; it includes a knowledge of the Son himself. Thus he shares in deity, since "the knowledge of God and a creature could not be eternal life" (Alford 1980:875). This amazing statement, therefore, affirms both the equality of the Son with the Father and his subordination as son and as the one sent.

Jesus has prayed that he might glorify God in the future, but now he speaks of the glorification of the Father he has already accomplished in his ministry (v. 4). His work is not complete before his death (10:18; 19:28, 30), but he says, "I glorified [edoxasa, aorist] you on earth, having completed [teleiosas, aorist] the work. . . ." The NIV translation is grammatically possible, but it misses the eternal, confident perspective evident in Jesus' statement that his work is already over. The glorification of the Father has been the distinguishing feature of his life throughout the Gospel, a glory characterized by grace and truth (1:14). The work was given to him by the Father. So the character of the works revealed the character of him who gave them to the Son to do, and in this way the words and deeds of Jesus revealed the Father's glory. But also in the Son's obedience itself is seen the glory of God, since his humility, obedience and sacrifice reflect the love that is the laying down of one's life.

 Interested in listening to an excellent talk on John 17:1-5

by Eric Alexander - Link here

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 23 March 2015 08:31  

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