May 18, 2017: Verse of the day

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God’s Gifts to Jesus

John 17:2

“For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”

The second verse of the prayer recorded in John 17 gives a reason for Jesus’ request that is found in the first verse (the request to be glorified by the Father). The reason is that glorification and the authority over all flesh already granted to him go together. As I read this verse, however, the part that strikes me most is its repetition of the verb “to give” or “grant.” It occurs twice of the Father’s gifts to Jesus: the gift of power [or authority] over all flesh, and the gift of a people. It occurs once of Christ’s gift of eternal life to those whom God has given him. As we study this verse we will find that the three are connected, and will be led into the very heart of the relationships of the Son to the Father and of both to us in salvation.

Gift of a People

I do not know if you have ever had difficulty finding an appropriate gift for someone, particularly for a person who apparently has everything, but I confess that I have. And sometimes it bothers me. I can imagine myself giving a bottle of shampoo to a man who wears a wig, though I did not know it, or giving a recording of the Bach B Minor Mass to a person who hates classical music. The fear of doing something inappropriate is what makes us hesitant so much at the counter when buying a present for someone just before Christmas.

I do not think, however, that God the Father had a problem when he was considering the first of these great gifts for his Son Jesus. For what could be more appropriate for God the Father to give the Son than a people who should be conformed to his own blessed image and be his brothers and sisters throughout eternity? A mansion would not be appropriate, for all the mansions of heaven already belong to Christ and are going to be prepared by him for those who are his own. A world such as this, even a galaxy of such worlds, is not appropriate, for Jesus shared in the making of the worlds that already exist, and he could make billions more at any time, if he so chose. Nothing that we can possibly imagine would be a more appropriate gift to that One who is himself the Lord of glory than a people of his own—a people who had been created in his image, who had fallen into sin, but who were now to be redeemed by Christ and called to him in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we read this and the other verses that speak along these lines, we find ourselves facing what the old Reformed theologians called a covenant between God the Father and God the Son, according to which God would give to Jesus in salvation that vast company for whom he was specifically to die.

Moreover, this was not only an appropriate gift for Jesus; it was a satisfying one as well, for it is often recorded of Christ that he took joy in or rejoiced over his people. One great example of this is in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 53, that great chapter in which the suffering and death of Christ for his own is most clearly spelled out, it is said that the Lord should look upon the fruit of his suffering and be satisfied: “Though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (vv. 10–11). The satisfaction was in knowing that his death would secure our salvation.

The theme of Christ’s satisfaction is also in the New Testament, as in Hebrews 12, to give just one example. We are told there to look to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (v. 2). In what was Christ’s joy to be found? Clearly in the knowledge that by his death he would secure the salvation of all whom God had given him.

Do you think that the promise to Christ that a certain people, given to him by the Father and surely to be saved by his suffering, was also a comfort to Christ on the verge of his crucifixion? It must have been. Otherwise, why would the phrase “who you have given me” (twice with slight variations) appear seven times in verses 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, and 14?

We all find ourselves repeating an idea or phrase when we have been faced by something particularly trying or traumatic. Sometimes people facing a dreaded operation keep repeating, “It will all be over in just a few hours,” or “I know it will turn out all right.” When competing in sports, we sometimes repeat something we should recall in order to perform well: “Keep your chin down,” “Keep your forearm stiff,” “Remember to breathe deeply,” or some such point of personal instruction. It was the same with Jesus. The cross was no easy task for him, particularly since, when he was made sin for us, it involved a real, though temporary, separation from the Father. In the Garden, on this same evening, he even prayed in agony that this cup be removed from him, if such could be the Father’s will. This was hard, but in his trial he received comfort in knowing that his suffering would result in the salvation of his people. Of these he had said earlier, “All that the Father gives me” (John 6:37). His death was to provide the objective and judicial basis upon which these who had already been given to him should come.

There is no greater gift, no more appropriate gift, no more satisfying gift for Jesus than this, the gift of the church to the One who would die for it. If you have believed on Christ as your Savior, you should know that you are one who was thus given to Jesus before the foundation of the world and about whom he was thinking and receiving comfort as he died.

Authority

The second of God’s gifts to Jesus according to John 17:3 is power or, as the word exousia should better be translated, authority. The gift is authority over all flesh to do with as he will. It is a great authority, for it is on the basis of this authority that he can give eternal life to all whom God has given him.

There are several very important things about this authority. First, its scope. The text is speaking of this when it says, “For you granted him authority over all people.” All means everyone, everyone who has ever lived or who will ever live. It means the rich as well as the poor, the supposedly sophisticated persons of our culture as well as the savage in the jungle, the strong as well as the weak, the intelligent as well as the not-so-intelligent. It means the other person. It means me. No one is excepted from the scope of this universal authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore he may do with them as he wishes. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Moreover, it is not just all men and women, past and future, who are subject to his authority. It is angels and demons, those in heaven and in hell as well. This truth is clearly taught in that great passage on Christ’s exaltation—Philippians 2:9–11. “Therefore, God exalted him to the hightest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Here three distinct categories of intelligent beings are mentioned: those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth. This refers to angels (whose natural dwelling place is with God), men and women (who dwell upon earth), and those fallen angels or demons (who were cast out of heaven at the time of their original rebellion and who will one day inhabit hell, which has been prepared for them). There are two different kinds of acknowledgment, of course. The holy angels and those who have been redeemed from among men and women will acknowledge Christ gladly. They will rejoice to confess him Lord. Others, the fallen angels and those who have not believed from among men and women, will not acknowledge him gladly. But they will acknowledge him, being forced to this by the sheer fact of his triumph. However the acknowledgment is made, either willingly or reluctantly and with hatred, the acknowledgment will be made, and the full scope of the authority and power of the Lord Jesus Christ will be vindicated.

It is wise for us to ask, not how we may escape that authority (for we cannot) but rather in what way that acknowledgement of his rule shall be made by us. Willingly and with joy? Or grudgingly and with hatred? If we do not come to believe in and love the Lord Jesus Christ here, we will not do it on that great day when all are called before him.

The second important thing to note about the authority of Christ portrayed in this verse is its depth, for it is not just that Jesus has been granted authority over all, important as that is, but also that He has been granted authority “over all flesh”(kjv). Flesh is the most recalcitrant thing in the universe.

In common English usage the word “flesh” refers almost exclusively to the fleshy parts of the body and is related to the “skin.” Yet this is not what the word means in the Bible. To be sure, it can at times mean “skin.” But generally it means the entire individual—composed of a body, soul, and spirit—which since the fall is constantly motivated by a sinful nature. We see the first instance of this broader definition in the early chapters of Genesis when Adam says, after God has brought the first woman to him, “ ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (2:23–24). This last phrase does not mean that the man and the woman were to be united sexually only, though that was an important part of their union, but rather that they were to be united on each level of their being—body, soul, and spirit—so that they would thereafter be what we might conceivably call one organism. The word “flesh,” therefore, denotes the whole of man’s being.

In this first case the word “flesh” is used in a favorable sense. But with the coming of the fall in the next chapter this initial and favorable usage changes. Now the word continues to refer to the whole of man’s being, but a being that is sadly dominated by man’s depraved sinful nature.

Let me give an illustration. We may think in terms of an airplane flying at 35,000 feet. The pilot is the soul. The fuselage is the flesh. The thrust of the engines is the spirit. In that form each part of the airplane is good and is functioning as the designer intended it to function. But if the engines stop, the entire plane is in trouble, for now the fuselage, which was an asset when the engines were running, becomes a liability and will soon draw the plane to destruction. To be fleshly in the biblical sense means, therefore, to be dominated by the body without the ongoing thrust of the spirit. Sometimes it is said that we are dominated by our “old man” or “old nature.” Sometimes the Bible speaks of the deceitfulness of our heart.

Here are some texts. “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ ” (Mark 7:21–23). “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

With this background we can appreciate something of the depth of the authority of Christ over all flesh, for the point of this word is not merely that Jesus has authority over all intelligent beings, though that is true, but also that he has authority even over that stubborn and rebellious nature that now so totally dominates men and women. I am glad that he does, for if he had not had that authority over me to turn me from my path of rebellion and quicken my dead spirit so that I might respond to him in faith, I would never have believed. I would be under condemnation and soon to perish in my sin. But in grace he turned me to himself, as he has countless others.

Universal and Specific

This leads to the third of the gifts mentioned in the text. We are told that Jesus has been given authority over all so that he might in a specific way give eternal life to as many as God has given him. The authority is universal. It cannot possibly be greater either in scope or in depth. Nevertheless, the exercise of that authority in the matter of salvation is specific, for it is shown in the giving of eternal life to those, and only those, whom God has given him.

This is the problem of the verse so far as natural, human thinking goes. We do not really doubt or question the statement that Jesus has authority over all—at least no Christian does—for this is what a Christian confesses when he calls Jesus Lord. But it is quite another matter to say that he gives eternal life selectively and that only to those who have already been given to him by the Father. How can this be? Is God partial? Is this really the way God operates in salvation?

We must be ready to say that we do not fully understand these things, particularly when we are asked the why of God’s actions. Nevertheless, we must always say that this is the way God operates and that he is just in doing so, whatever our thoughts in the matter may be.

Jesus faced precisely these objections on more than one occasion during his ministry, and sometimes they were violently expressed. For example, on the occasion of his opening his ministry by a reading of the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, he got into a discussion of the nature of God’s electing grace, and the people who heard him were offended. Earlier he had pointed to himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1–2, and they were not particularly upset about that. In fact, we are told that they actually “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). But then he explained that God does not always work where we expect him to or according to our standards of justice or propriety. He said, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (vv. 25–27). These verses illustrate God’s authority over all so that he might show mercy on whom he will. And at this statement, not at the earlier one but at this, the people were “furious. … They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff” (vv. 28–29).

Which is worse, the fact that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and unable to come to Christ unless Jesus first gives eternal life to us, or the fact that we naturally hate these truths when they are spoken to us? It is hard to say. But what is best is to say that God in his grace has given some to Christ and that Jesus has in turn given them his own life that they might be saved.

Are you such a person? I cannot say that you are or are not, apart from your response to Christ, and neither can you. But I can say that if you find stirrings of spiritual life within you so that you are becoming increasingly aware of your spiritual need and are finding Jesus to be the One who is attractive to you as the Savior, and if you are turning to him, then it is because these great gifts of God have already taken place where you are concerned, and you are being brought inevitably to Jesus. God has given you to him. Jesus is drawing you. Come to him. Find him to be your Savior.

Knowing the True God

John 17:3

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

One of the things that has always interested me in my study of the Word of God is the number of ways in which one may speak of salvation. In fact, it has been more than interesting. It is important because it is often the case that Christians get locked into one particular way of talking about salvation and thus cannot change, even when the person to whom they are talking fails to understand their terminology. That needs to be corrected.

In evangelical circles the most common way of talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ is by the words “sin,” “atonement,” “the new birth,” “believing on Jesus,” and related concepts. It is no surprise that this is so, for these are the dominant biblical terms, and they are correctly at the heart of our Christian proclamation. But what if these words were missing from the English language? Or what if, which is nearly the same thing, these words and what they mean are missing from the thoughts of someone to whom we are speaking about the gospel? Can other terms be used? My study of the Bible indicates that they can. Thus, to give just one example, it is possible to speak of the will of God, our rebellion against that will, and God’s activity in Christ and through the Holy Spirit to get our wills in line with his once again. The rebellion of our wills against God’s will is sin; this is what the Bible calls Satan’s sin (Isaiah 14). Salvation is that by which God again establishes his perfect and holy will in us so that we are drawn to Christ and begin to seek after holiness. Heaven may be described as that place where the wills of those who are there, after having been disrupted by Satan, are harmonious.

Our text in John gives another set of terms for salvation. It says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (17:3). Here the operative term is knowledge—“that they may know.” Knowledge of God is salvation. By contrast, not knowing God and not wanting to is sin.

True Knowledge

When we speak along these lines we must be careful to define what we mean by that knowledge that is salvation, for there are several uses of the word that are not what the Lord meant in this expression and that, far from suggesting salvation, actually are used biblically to explain why men are guilty for failing to come to God for it.

There are four senses of this word that are inadequate. The first is that sense of knowing by which we actually mean awareness. It is what we have in mind when we say, for example, that we know the United States is governed by a president and a congress and that the headquarters for both are in Washington. This is not a very profound kind of knowledge, nor is it necessarily detailed. It is the kind of awareness a child might have as a result of something he or she has been taught in school. The Bible speaks of this kind of knowledge in Romans 1, saying that all who have ever been born into the human race have this knowledge and are guilty before God because, having it, they do not come to him. More precisely, Paul speaks of the wrath of God being revealed against men “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:19–21). These verses are not speaking of a knowledge of God in the sense intended by Jesus when he linked a knowledge of God to eternal life, otherwise all would be saved. Rather, they speak of the most rudimentary kind of knowledge. It is awareness only, but it makes us responsible.

The second inadequate meaning of the words “to know” or “knowledge” involves information. To return to the earlier illustration, we may say not merely that we know there is a president and a congress but also that we know much about them. A reporter covering the Washington beat would have much knowledge. But the type of knowledge would be the same. In spiritual terms this would be the kind of knowledge of God possessed by a theologian who, while he may know much about God, is not necessarily born again.

The third view is knowledge by experience. But this, although better than either of the other two, is still not enough. We might think of this as the experience of a person who goes out into the fields around his house on a summer night and looks up into the twinkling heavens and returns, saying, “I have experienced God. Do not give me any of your theology. I don’t want words. I have experienced the real thing.” We may believe that such a person is imagining his experience, particularly if it has nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ; but he is not necessarily imagining it, nor is his experience without meaning. He actually may have experienced something very profound and moving. Still, moving as this may be, it is not what Jesus meant when he spoke of eternal life consisting in such knowledge.

Fourth, even in its highest form this knowledge is not merely knowledge of God alone, for it always involves knowledge of ourselves in terms of our relationships to him. Knowledge of God and of ourselves go together.

What is this knowledge? It is a personal encounter with God in which, because of his holiness, we become aware of our sin and consequently of our deep personal need and then, by his grace, are turned to Christ who is our Savior. This knowledge occurs only where God’s Holy Spirit is at work beforehand to make it possible, and it always changes us, issuing in a heart response to God and true devotion. This is involved even in Christ’s brief statement, for he stresses that the knowledge of which he is speaking is knowledge of the true God and of himself as Savior.

The True God

This brings us to the matter of knowing the true God as opposed to a false or imaginary God. It causes us to ask: Who is this God? What is the effect on us when we come to know him?

There is a story in the Old Testament that is helpful at this point. It is the story of God’s revelation of himself to Moses. Moses was certainly aware of the true God prior to this time. He had been born into a godly home. He had undoubtedly heard of God’s calling of Abraham and of His subsequent dealings with him and the other patriarchs. He even believed in God’s promises to deliver the Hebrew people from their Egyptian bondage, for he put himself forward as the vehicle of that deliverance by killing an Egyptian. Still it is probably true that Moses had never had a personal encounter with God in any full sense of the term until God revealed himself to him in the burning bush on Mount Sinai.

Moses had been going along minding his own business when he noticed this bush. It was burning, which was unusual but not miraculous. The astonishing thing, which he became aware of gradually as he stood watching, was that the bush did not burn up. He went closer. After a while a voice came to him out of the bush saying, “Moses! Moses! … Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exod. 3:4–5).

What is the first thing that God revealed about himself to Moses? The first thing that God revealed about himself was his holiness. Here God was obviously calling Moses and desiring him to come close and listen to what he had to say. But the first words Moses heard were: “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals.” And the reason given was that even the ground was holy by virtue of God being in that place. Holiness! That is the first and most important thing that fallen men and women have to learn about the true God, and accompanying that they have to learn that sin bars their access to him. Moses was apparently aware of this instantly, for we read in the next verse: “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (v. 6).

Let me ask in a personal way: Have you ever had the experience of being afraid to look on God because of his holiness and your sin? I do not mean: “Are you always afraid of God?” or “Do you not know that you should be afraid of God?” If you have also believed on Jesus Christ, you have learned that God has made provision to blot out your sin through Christ’s sacrifice and that you can therefore come to him boldly and joyfully on that basis. What I do mean is: Have you ever been really disturbed knowing that you must ultimately deal with One in whom is no sin at all, who cannot tolerate sin in any form and who must judge it? If you have not really known God in that way, then I suggest that in a sense you do not know even the first thing about him, at least not deeply. Consequently, you do not really know much about the depth of your sin or the true measure of God’s great grace.

God’s Knowledge

The second thing that God revealed about himself to Moses was his own knowledge of things or, as we would say in more precise language, his omniscience. In this account God spoke to Moses, Moses hid his face, and then God began to tell what he had seen and heard concerning the condition of the people of Israel in Egypt. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians. … Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them” (vv. 7–9). “I have seen. … I have heard. … I am concerned,” and therefore, “I have come”—these are the words God uses. They speak of omniscience. And if Moses did not get the point in this declaration—because he was hiding his face and undoubtedly trembling in his shoeless feet—he soon got it later, for God showed that he knew all about Moses too, his strengths and weaknesses—and about what was coming, for God foretold difficulties, saying that Pharaoh would not willingly consent to Moses’ demands, in fact, that he would strongly resist them and would let go eventually only after God had done many wonders in Egypt.

Why is it important to know this about God? Why is it important to know that he knows everything? The answer is in two areas. First, we must know that God is omniscient so that we will not be tempted to try to fool him with some exalted portrayal of our own deep devotion or loyalty. If we could, we would try to convince God that we are serious about following him when actually we would be going our own way. We would try to appear good, when we are not; loving, when we are actually motivated by hatred or antipathy; humble, when we are filled with pride.

God is not fooled by such things. He is not fooled by anything. Consequently, we are to learn that, whatever our relationships to others may be, our relationships with God must be based on total honesty, as he is honest. We must know that “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).

The second area in which knowledge of the omniscience of God is important to us concerns our trust in him. If God did not know everything, if something could at any moment rise up to surprise him, then God could not be trusted. For however good his intentions, the unexpected thing might cause him to change his mind or actually change him so that he would no longer be the God we knew originally. His promises could not be trusted, for he might decide to break or change them on the basis of this new knowledge. He might even change his attitude toward us, for we might surprise him by the sin we commit and thus cause him to look upon us with abhorrence or even apathy. If God does not truly know everything, any of this is possible. On the other hand, if God does know all things both in the past and future, then nothing unforeseen can change him. He has seen the end from the beginning. He has taken all into consideration. Nothing we can ever do will surprise him. Thus, his promises can be believed, and he can be trusted to remain the same in himself and toward us forever.

Our Sovereign God

The third thing that Moses learned about God was his sovereignty. This was personal too, for it was expressed to Moses in terms of God’s demand that he return to Egypt with God’s message to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” Moses did not want to do it. He was like the rest of us who do not want to do anything difficult and who often are content only when God blesses us while allowing us to do nothing. Moses made excuses, but they were not valid. He asked for signs; God provided them. At last God intensified the tone of his orders, and Moses, who eventually ran out of excuses, succumbed.

Have you learned this about God, that the God of the Bible, the true God, is a sovereign God who will be obeyed and who will most certainly see his will rather than ours done in the universe? There is no other God. Any god less than this is not God. So why do we fight him? Why do we find this matter of doing the will of God so unwelcome?

Knowing God

Here we come to the true problem in the knowledge of God, for the problem is not that God has not revealed himself in at least a partial way or that we do not have the physical ability to seek after him for salvation, if we would. The problem is that we do not want to do this, and the reason we do not is that we find the true God, who is there to be known, threatening. His holiness is threatening. His knowledge is threatening. His sovereignty is threatening. All that can be known of God is threatening, profoundly so when we are yet in our sins, but also sometimes even after God has brought us to faith in himself through Jesus Christ.

God knows this. He knows that we do not know him and do not want to know him. Therefore, he has taken steps to reveal himself to us in spite of our sinful dispositions against him. He has done three things.

First, God has revealed himself in history. This special revelation is in addition to that general revelation of himself in nature of which all have an awareness but to which none will respond. This revelation consists of direct supernatural interventions in earthly affairs. In the Old Testament this was centered in God’s actions on behalf of the nation of Israel, in their deliverance, guidance, and preservation. In the New Testament it centers primarily in Jesus, the fullness of God’s personal revelation. This One died for us. He paid the price of our sin. He shows the nature of God to be love, while at the same time he satisfies God’s justice.

Second, God has revealed himself in writing. This has two purposes: one, that we might know what God has done and, two, that we might understand it. We would not even know what Jesus had said, as in the case of this particular text, for example, if God had not caused these things to be put down on paper and be preserved throughout the years of church history to our own generation. Nor would we understand these things, even if they were recorded, had God not given an interpretation along with the facts.

Finally, God also reveals himself to us personally, applying these truths to us by the work of his own Holy Spirit. So great is our sin, so warped our knowledge, that even with the interpretation of his acts in Scripture we would not know God or understand his ways, apart from this activity. What light does this throw on our knowledge? It shows it to be God’s gift, for notice that in John 17:2–3, Jesus speaks, first of all, of his gift of eternal life to as many as God has given him and then, secondly, that this eternal life is to be found in spiritual knowledge. This makes knowledge itself God’s gift. And so it is, for no one would ever know God in the fullest sense unless God first revealed himself and then made the reception of this knowledge possible.[1]


The Right He Possesses

even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. (17:2)

In keeping with God’s eternal plan of salvation, the Son was given authority over all flesh (mankind) to grant eternal life to all those whom the Father had given Him. That authority, being granted to Him by His Father, was made possible through the cross. Though He submitted to His captors and allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross by wicked men, in reality it was He who had the authority. In dying for the sins of those who would believe in Him, He was given the right to grant eternal life to them.

Jesus, the Son of Man who is about to be glorified and thus will fulfill his earthly mission, here anticipates his exalted, authoritative position subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection. This authority enables him to bestow eternal life on all those whom God has given to him (cf. 6:39–40). God’s granting of authority to Jesus (cf. 1:12; 5:27) marks the inbreaking of a new era (cf. Isa. 9:6–7; Dan. 7:13–14). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18), including the authority to judge (John 5:27). (Andreas Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], 486)

Though His authority extends over all creation (cf. Matt. 28:18), it is clear that redemption applies only to those who have been chosen for Him by the Father. Only those whom the Father has given Him (vv. 6, 9, 24; 6:37, 39; cf. Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1–2) will receive eternal life. Christ’s authority to grant them that life is another aspect of His victory over the world through His death (cf. 16:33). That Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life is a central theme of John’s gospel (cf. 3:15–16, 36; 4:14; 5:21, 24, 40; 6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 54, 68; 10:10, 28; 11:25; 14:6 and the apostle’s purpose statement for writing his gospel in 20:31), and one he reiterates in his first epistle (1 John 5:20).

Throughout His ministry, Christ manifested the divine authority His Father had given Him in a multitude of ways (cf. Matt. 11:27; 28:18). His teaching was characterized by divine authority (Matt. 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32); as were His healings (Mark 5:38–43; Luke 4:39; 9:1; John 11:43), exorcisms (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:15; Luke 4:36), and other miracles (cf. Mark 8:26–27; Matt. 21:19; John 21:3–11). He claimed the right to violate traditional Jewish customs (cf. Matt. 5:21–22, 27–28; 15:1–9; Luke 6:1–11; John 5:9–17), to cleanse the temple (cf. Matt. 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; John 2:14–16), to forgive sins and offer salvation in His own name (Matt. 9:6, 8; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), to receive worship from others (Matt. 14:33; 15:25; 28:9), and even to judge the world (Mark 13:26–27; John 5:22–23). It was because His authority clashed with that of the Jewish religious leaders that they were so often angered by Him, and ultimately plotted His death.

His death, too, was under His own authority. As He declared in John 10:17–18, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” As the time of His crucifixion approached, Jesus did not relinquish the authority that His Father had given to Him. Rather, He anticipated the full authority He would have as a result of the cross. Following His resurrection, He knew that He would ascend to heaven where His Father would seat “Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He [would] put all things in subjection under His feet, and [would give] Him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20–22).

The fact that Jesus Christ alone was given the authority to grant eternal life, through His death on the cross, also underscores the exclusivity of the gospel message. It is only through Him that eternal life can be received. As Jesus had said earlier that evening, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Though many may claim to offer eternal life (Matt. 7:13–14; 24:5), only the Son has actually been given the authority to grant it. As John the Baptist explained, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:35–36).

The Relationship He Offers

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (17:3)

In contrast to the pluralistic claims of contemporary religious culture, eternal life comes only to those who know (the Greek word implies not mere intellectual knowledge, but a deep, intimate love relationship; cf. v. 25; 10:14–15, 27) … the only true God (Jer. 10:10; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:20; cf. 1 Cor. 8:6) and that is possible only through Jesus Christ whom He has sent (cf. 5:23, 36, 37; 10:36; 1 John 4:10, 14). As Peter boldly declared to the Jewish leaders, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

The essence of eternal life is participation in the blessed, everlasting life of Christ (cf. 1:4) through union with Him (Rom. 5:21; 6:4, 11, 23; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3–4; 2 Tim. 1:1, 10; Jude 21). It is the life of God in the soul of man (Gal. 2:20). Because believers have Christ’s life in them, they also possess His peace (John 14:27; 16:33; cf. Phil. 4:7), love (John 15:10; cf. Rom. 5:5), and joy (John 15:11). The life that God predetermined to give the redeemed is a life of shared communion with Him.

Eternal life refers to a quality of life, and not just a quantity of life. It is much more than living forever; it is enjoying intimate fellowship with God both now and forever. It cannot be reduced merely to endless existence, since the unredeemed in hell will also live forever (cf. Matt. 25:46 where the same word, aiōnios, describes both the eternal life of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked).

Because eternal life is a quality of life, it is not only a future possession, but also a present reality. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” John wrote, “so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Thus, believers enjoy eternal life even now as they experience the rich blessings that come through their personal and intimate fellowship with Christ (John 15:1–11; 1 Cor. 1:9; Eph. 1:3; Phil. 3:8–11; 1 John 1:3; 5:20). Of course, they will most fully experience that life in the age to come (Eph. 2:6–7), when they see Christ face-to-face (1 Cor. 13:12) and worship Him in the perfect, unending glory and joy of heaven (Rom. 8:19–23, 29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:3–4).[2]


[1] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1251–1262). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 250–253). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

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