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The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:2

Charles Ross was a Free Church of Scotland Minister in the mid 1900s, serving in Aberdeen and Tobermory.  In a lovely commentary on John 13-17, the account of Jesus’ time in the Upper Room with his disciples, he quoted others who had said of John 17, “This chapter is the simplest to all the Bible in words, but the most profound in meaning.”[i]

It takes us, as we saw in our introduction to this chapter, deep into the prayer life of the Saviour in a way that no other passage of Scripture does.

In the opening verse, Jesus prays that the Father would glory him, the Son, so that he, the Son, might glorify the Father in his being glorified; referring, of course, to his imminent crucifixion.  Now as we move into verse 2, which is a continuation of that first sentence, we see the purpose for which Jesus was going to be glorified and by which he would bring glory to the Father.

“…since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (17:2)

The glory that the Son will bring to the Father through his death on the cross is that through his death on the cross he will give eternal life to those the Father had given to him.

“since you have given him authority over all flesh”

The idea of “given” is immensely important in this prayer.   In Scripture, importance is signified by repetition of language, and the word give, given or gave is the most repeated word in this prayer, occurring no less than seventeen times.  The first occurrence is with reference to the authority given to the Son by the Father over all flesh.

There are two truths to note here.  First, the fact that Jesus had been given this authority by the Father does not make him in any way, shape or form, lesser than, or inferior to, God the Father.  In the Godhead, there is a trinity of persons who are co-equal, con-substantial (having the same nature) and co-eternal.  In terms of honour and authority, they are co-equal and there is no inferiority of persons within the Godhead.   The Son has the same power as the Father (John 5:21) and deserves the same honour (John 5:23).

Jesus mentions the giving of authority here to stress the specific, delegated, authority he has been given, given in eternity past and before time began, in order to carry out the task of salvation.

Don Carson writes, “…v2b refers to the Father’s gift, in eternity past, of authority over all humanity, on the basis of the Son’s prospective obedient humiliation, death, resurrection and exaltation. It is nothing less than the redemptive plan of God, for the second part of the verse makes the purpose of this grant clear: it is that the Son might give eternal life to those the Father has given him.” [ii]

Secondly, Jesus’ authority extends to “all flesh”.  The Greek word used here is used in different ways in the New Testament, and its meaning in each case is determined by the context.  Here it clearly refers to all people and is a common Jewish way of referring to all of humanity.

“…to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Although the gift of authority is “over all flesh”, or people, the actual purpose of that gifted authority is more limited and restricted in its scope, namely “all whom you have given him”.

Here we are brought face to face with the biblical doctrine of divine and unconditional election.  The language could not be clearer or more unambiguous, yet there is scarcely a biblical truth more hated by fallen human nature.    Eternal life, which we shall turn to shortly, is a gift that is given to all those the Father has given to the Son.

Despite being so loathed, there is hardly a doctrine more clearly and repeatedly taught in the Bible.  It goes back at least as far as God’s calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-7) and the choosing of the younger Jacob over Esau (Romans 9:11-13).  Put as simply as we can, the doctrine of election teaches us that out of “all flesh”, all of whom, without exception, are sinful, rebellious and hell-deserving, God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses some whom he will save by gifting to them eternal life.

Let me draw your attention to just three of many Scriptural verses that explicitly teach this.  First, Paul in Ephesians 1:4-5, says, “…he (the Father) chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Then John tells us that the new birth is “…not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh now of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13).

Could it be more explicit than in the words of Jesus, spoken shortly before the prayer we are studying here?  “You did not choose me but I chose you”.

What this doctrine of election does – and this, of course, is why it is so repulsive to our fallen nature – is that it removes from us any involvement in, or credit for, our salvation.    In our fallen and unregenerate state we are, says the Scripture, not just weak and helpless, but dead (Ephesians 2:1).   Not only did we not want to come to Christ for life, we could not even if we had wanted to.  Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44)

The simple, unarguable truth is that if God had not chosen me, I would never have chosen him.  I had neither the ability or the inclination.

While we think about this, it strikes me how strange it is that those who resist the doctrine of election, and say that salvation is entirely down to human choice and decision, nonetheless almost always pray for their unconverted friends and family as if they were powerless to make that choice.   Why else would they pray for God to reach down and touch them, to open their eyes to the truth, to convict them of their sin etc etc?   To use labels which are not always helpful, I have lost count of the number of Arminians who become Calvinists when they are praying for the unsaved!

“…to give eternal life”

So, what is this eternal life that is given to all whom the Father has given to the Son?  Well, in the Bible eternal life is the very opposite of the wages of sin deserved and earned by sinners, namely eternal death, as in Romans 6:23.  Literally, the phrase means the ‘life of the age to come’, in other words, resurrection life; but John and the other gospel writers teach us that it can be experienced and enjoyed in this life. 

Now, in our next study, we shall that Jesus himself gives us a fuller, deeper and more personal definition of eternal life as it relates to himself, but that will have to wait for now.

By way of summary, in verse 2 of the real Lord’s prayer Jesus expresses the ground and purpose of his prayer, “Glorify your Son”.  It is so that the plan established in eternity past might at last be carried out; that exercising the authority over all humanity given to the Son, through his dying on the cross, he might bring glory to the Father through giving eternal life to the elect, those given to him in eternity past. 

When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he brings glory to his Father through his act of selfless obedience, and through his death the Father is further glorified as those given to the Son by the Father are brought to saving faith in the Son and the Father who sent him.

So, once again, observing the Master pray-er in prayer, what can we learn?   There are at least two important truths to take to our hearts.

First, a reminder that our salvation, our being given eternal life, was not a last-minute, back of the envelope type of idea that God came up with.  It was planned and sealed in eternity past, before time itself began or the world existed, and certainly before we were created, never mind had a hand in making a decision for Christ.  In the words of Murray McCheyne we were “chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee”.

Second, and following from the first, we have great certainty that because my salvation was not the result of a choice made by me or some work done by me, then I am secure for time and eternity.  As the great hymnwriter Toplady expressed it, “The work which HIS goodness began, the arm of HIS strength will complete.” (emphasis added).  Even better, the inspired words of Paul, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you [he] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)


[i] Ross, C     The Inner Sanctuary     London: Banner of Truth, 1967   p201

[ii] Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John Leicester: IVP, 1991  p555

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