John 17:1-3 (NKJV) 1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
This past week was Father’s Day in the United States. It is a good thing to honor our earthly fathers on their day. However, there is another Father we need to honor even more. That is our heavenly Father. In this verse Jesus points out something we must understand. He came to give us eternal life. Eternal life is not just living forever. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus, his son.
In this verse, he says we must know God, but as he begins his prayer, he addresses God as Father. The God Jesus says we must know to experience life eternal is the Father God. This is a revolutionary idea. The Hebrews were called the children of Abraham not the children of God. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was not their Father in the sense that Jesus means it here. To the ears of the disciples, what Jesus said was a new revelation of God. It would have been strange s at best and would have sounded like heresy at worst.
Before Jesus came to the earth, the focus of the story of the bible was the nation of Israel. The individuals that we read about were overwhelmingly those whose lives had direct or indirect impact on the nation. Although there were exceptions, God moved for kings, priests and prophets. The Old Testament is the story of the nation God created to be the channel for the Messiah to come to the earth. When he finally came, the emphasis shifted to reflect God’s real purpose; saving all people.
For 3 ½ years Jesus ministered in the earth. Why did he do that. His purpose for coming to the world was to die for the sins of all mankind. He could have done that soon after he turned 30. 30 was the age of adulthood in Israel. You had to be 30 to be a priest. By the time Jesus was 30, he had lived as a human long enough to be “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities” as Hebrews 4 describes him. Why not just die then?
Of course, there are many things we could say as to what was happening during those years. However, one of the most important things he was doing was showing the world who God really was. God was limited in how he could deal with man under the Old Covenant. Sin was still in charge of the world. Man was full of sin nature due to his fall in the Garden of Eden. The world saw God through the Jewish religion, especially the Law.
The Law was of God. Paul tells us so in Romans 7 among other places. However, the law was a necessity because of sin. The Law gave access to God for sinful men. It also gave access to men by a holy God. It could never fully reveal the true nature of God. Jesus came to do that.
In the Old Testament, God dealt with prophets, priests and kings. In the New Testament, Jesus dealt with widows, fisherman and farmers. In the Old Testament, everything revolved around the nation. In the New Testament, everything was focused on the individual. I like to think of the story of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.
Luke 7:11 (NKJV) 11 Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.
This is a small city of no great importance. The widow and her son were nobodies in the grand scheme of things. They were not important to the nation of Israel and we have no record of the boy or his mother after this incident. Why, then, would Jesus stop and raise him from the dead? There is only one reason. He was moved by compassion for a widow who had no hope except her son.
For three and a half years Jesus demonstrates the loving nature of God to the world. He heals the sick, raises the dead and casts out demons. He teaches things that people had never heard before. The bible says he taught as one who had authority. When he opened his mouth the heart of God came forth. As we read John 17 we have come to the end of that process. He is about to fulfill his purpose for coming to the earth. He will soon go to the cross and did for the sin of all mankind. There is one more revelation he must communicate to his disciples before he goes.
I believe the statement in todays scripture is what Jesus needed his disciples, and by extension us, to see. He does not call God the healer, the deliverer or the provider. He does not call him the God of Israel or of the world for that matter. In this final prayer for his disciples in front of his disciples he calls God Father. In verse 23 he says something that sounds simple to our ears but would have been revolutionary to theirs.
John 17:23 (NKJV) 23 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.
God is Jesus’ Father. They could probably accept that. However, to say that God loved them as much as he loved Jesus, his son must put them in the same relationship as Jesus. God is their Father as well! This was an unheard-of idea to Jewish ears. There are sixteen references to God as Father in the Old Testament. There are over 130 references to God as Father in the New Testament. There are six in this chapter alone.
Jesus spent over three years revealing the true nature of God to the earth. Just before he leaves, he sums up everything he had revealed to them in one word. Father. God is their Father and he loves them as much as he loves his “only begotten Son.”
In John 16:25-28 he says that the “Father himself” loves the disciples. In John 20:17, after the resurrection he exhorts the woman not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to heaven. Then he makes another revolutionary statement.
John 20:17 (NKJV) 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”
He did not say tell them I am going to my Father but to my Father and your Father. God is our Father. God is my Father. Eternal life is knowing this truth and coming to know him. This is the same word used of sexual intercourse in the bible. It says that Adam knew his wife and she conceived. There is nothing more intimate than that kind of knowledge. Without the sexual connotation, to know our Father on that level is eternal life.
Jesus provided something for us that is more powerful than we understand. In Romans 6 he says that because of the resurrection we can walk in “newness” of life. We have access to a new kind of life. This life causes us to live forever in God’s presence but it is much more than that. It is the living power of God at work in us. However, we will never walk in that life unless we “know God and Jesus whom he sent.” How must we know him? We must know him as our Father.
Fatherhood is under attack in our world. Many fathers fail their families. Fathers are often portrayed in the media as either weak or evil. I have dealt with more problems in peoples lives that come from “father issues” than any other kind. Is it any wonder that the devil wants to pollute the image of fathers? If we cannot receive God as our Father than we will never walk in the fullness of what he has for us. We must know the father but how?