Starting with chapter 13 in the Gospel, John records an extensive discourse by Jesus intending to give his Twelve enough strength to get through the fifty plus days before receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 17 is taken up with prayers, first for himself, then for the Twelve, then for everyone who follows him.
It is the middle prayer that we read today. The passage begins, I made your name known to the people you gave me out of the world. CJB This is the most literal translation of John’s words. I made your name known, is a Hebrew-ism. The ancient idea was that knowing the name of someone was equal to knowing the person. That made more sense in a society where names themselves had meanings. In English, someone named Smith is descended from a blacksmith or some other kind of metalsmith.
This passage is not to suggest Jesus told the Twelve the true and unknown—to humans—name of God, represented by the substitute name Yahweh. The expression simply means that Jesus told them enough about God that they almost knew his real name. I have revealed you, NIV and I have made you known, ESV are both more modern ways of expressing the idea.
Jesus revealed God to twelve men given to him by God. When we read the beginnings of Jesus’s ministry, we have the notion that Jesus selected his followers. Not true. God spoke to Jesus, Take Andrew, and Jesus did what God told him to do. This detail is a reminder not to give Jesus too much credit; God is the source of all power and truth.
To reinforce that idea, Jesus adds, Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. NIV
We, in our religious speech, often refer to Jesus as God, forgetting that, while on earth, he was a human. Jesus listened to God and spoke the Word of God, but he was like Superman near Kryptonite, he had no superpowers. Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead, nor did he raise himself from the dead. That was all God.
Back up to verses four and five. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me alongside yourself. Give me the same glory I had with you before the world existed. CJB That last sentence is crucial in telling us that Jesus was the Son of God before Genesis, but he gave it up to become a human. As a human Jesus did everything that God asked him to do. He gave God glory. He cannot give himself glory. Only God can do it because Jesus is a human.
Jesus goes on in his prayer for the Apostles, Holy Father, guard them by the power of your name, which you have given to me, so that they may be one, just as we are. CJB This strengthens the point that Jesus was human while on earth.
We learn some things from this prayer about ourselves. I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to protect them from the Evil One. CJB God could pluck all the followers of Jesus out of this world and set us down in His presence where we would never again know pain or suffering. He will do that only when the time is right.
Why not now?
I don’t know God’s plan, but I do know that He expects us to live in this sin-filled universe and show non-followers the Glory of God. We are not here to live a life of luxury, but a life dedicated to obeying the Law: love God and love other people.
On their behalf I am setting myself apart for holiness, so that they too may be set apart for holiness by means of the truth. CJB
Some would take this to mean we should live an Amish-style life by not interacting with the world, the opposite of the observation above. Being set apart for holiness is another common Jewish expression. The act was to promise something for Temple use, such as a portion of the harvest or the first-born lamb. A son could also be dedicated to God for His purpose outside the Temple.
That setting apart—dedication to God—meant that the son would do God’s work in the world. John the Baptist was set apart. Jesus was set apart. All of Jesus’ followers for the past 2,000 years have been set apart to do God’s work. The work is to witness to non-believers that Jesus is the perfect human image of God and that by following him we can join him with God.
As a fiction writer, I find this passage liberating. I do not have to keep the story free of the world’s slime. Stories should include sin as well as reconciliation. The characters should be of this world, even the Jesus-followers. The Christian message should not bog down in the catchphrases of the church.
G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown short stories include many offers to repent, but the stress is always on the mystery. The good father even became friends with the jewel thief, Flambeau. Dean Koontz brings in the church frequently (I have only read about ten of his books), though not always favorably. By the way, his Odd Thomas series is a great read.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.