Reflections on John 17: Glory and Unity

In “Story Time” I wrote about the longing of Jesus to be with us. This longing is nowhere expressed more deeply than in John 17, His final prayer time before going to Calvary, where He says:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)

Any moment now the footsteps of the mob would come tramping through the darkness and the betrayer’s kiss herald the crux of history and the culmination of Messiah’s mission. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, is pouring out his heart to the Heavenly Father that He has walked with throughout His life on Earth. Before the world was made, Jesus had been there with the Father, sharing the perfect unity of the overflow of love between them, outside of Time, in the Courts of Heaven. And at the creation of the world the Son had been there with the Father again, as the Holy Spirit moved, light and Dark were separated, the land and the oceans were formed, and life was born. Now He was the Life, and the light: the darkness that had entered the hearts of men soon after that glorious time was coming in the belief that His light was about to be extinguished, with one of the most horrific deaths imaginable. The hour had come (John 17:1). And what He is thinking about, and praying to His Father about, is the Glory.

What is this glory, this mysterious manifestation of the presence of God that is on his mind during His last prayer time on Earth? What does it mean to us? It meant so much to Jesus that He specifically asked His Father that we would behold it: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) This is actually His last request. He wants us to be with Him, in His presence, so we can see it. Not so we can just gaze on it in wonder, but so that we can partake of it ourselves, be filled with it, and through it accomplish His purposes as they are expressed in the following verses, and which I return to further into this article:

“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17: 22-23)

The hour had come. This is the moment when we see the Son of Man – the Word made flesh, and the One who, after the resurrection, would be the Firstborn of the New Creation –  speaking to His Father intimately and passionately as the Son of God. This was the moment when the virus of sin that had kept God and Man apart since the fall was finally being dealt with. The Saviour is about to enter the birth canal of the new creation. As He goes to the Cross, one of the least glorious experiences in all of human life, He asks His Father to give Him again the same glory that He had before flesh even existed, and which is also the same as that which He, Jesus, had already given to His disciples. He gives us something of the nature of this glory in verse 5, where He prays: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was,” and we get another clue about it in verse 22, where He refers to: “the glory which You gave Me I have given them.”

What could the Son of Man have given to His disciples that He had possessed when He was just the Son of God, “before the world was?” As He talks to His Father, Jesus reviews what the Son of Man has accomplished. He says He has given eternal life, which is knowing the Father, to those whom the Father has given to Him (vs. 3). He has glorified the Father (vs 4), manifested his name (vs 6) – in other words made it clear that the Father is the one true God whose power and authority are sovereign, and He has declared repeatedly that the Father sent Jesus and is the source of everything that He, the Son of Man, has said and done (vs 3, 7). He has given them the Father’s words, to which they have been faithful (vs 14). And of course He has given them His love: even before He went to the Cross, he demonstrated this love by washing their feet (“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” John 13:1).

What Jesus had as the Son of God He gave to His disciples: the Name, and all that goes with it; the words, the life and the love of the Father. The glory that Jesus had before the world was made was His untainted eternal relationship with His Father; the outpouring of love that completely united them. And this glorious relationship is His gift to us. The cloud that falls, the tangible magnificence of His presence, the blinding light, the life-giving power: these are not the glory itself, but are just expressions of it.

The purpose of Jesus passing the Father’s glory on to us is threefold. The first is for the Body of Christ to be in unity “ that they may be made perfect in one”; the second is that the world will know that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by the Father “ that the world may know that You have sent Me”, and the third is that the world will know that the same love of the Father is waiting for everyone who comes to Jesus: “and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (vs. 23)

We long for the glory of God to fill the church, for the shekinah glory, the shining cloud of God’s presence, to be manifest in our meetings. This does sometimes happen, and  I believe it will happen more often as the heavenly timer winds down; but I think in this, as in many other things, we have understood no more than the disciples who asked Jesus if He was going to return the Kingdom to Israel just before He ascended into Heaven. We tend to believe  – at least I always have – that if the Glory would come in our worship times, we would fall on our faces and get closer to God. I think the truth is actually more along the lines that if we lived more of our lives on our faces getting closer to God, the glory would fall in our worship times. It would be a manifestation of our love relationship with the Father, the Son, and with each other.

Jesus longs for us to be with Him where He is, so that we can see and partake of the glory that He shares with the Father and the love that binds them in perfect unity. Where He is now is in the Spirit, in Heavenly places, where we are already seated with him (Eph 2:6). Our unity with the Godhead, and through that with each other, is a spiritual reality that we apprehend by faith and which cannot be attained in the flesh by tweaking how we “do church.” Unity comes when denominations fade, not when they are bolted together. When Christians from different churches believe the same words, are baptised in the same Spirit, burn with the same passion for Jesus and serve each other with the same love, denominations will disappear in all but name and the world will see the Glory of God in the church. Why? Because the church will be seeing the Glory of God in the Spirit.

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