Jesus is only a few hours from his death on the cross. The goal towards which he has been moving throughout his ministry has almost been reached. As he comes in prayer to his Father he considers that mission. John 17:2-3embraces the whole sweep of God’s saving plan, beginning in eternity past. The nature of his mission was not primarily to provide an example of godly living or to leave a legacy of profound teaching, but was rather to provide eternal life. We consider John 17:2-3 The gift of eternal life.
1. Authority granted
Christ has prayed to the Father to glorify him (v1). This is in perfect harmony with the thought of v2 ‘just as you granted him authority over all flesh’ (my translation). We have a profound insight into the trinitarian life of God that is ultimately beyond words. By the decree of God in eternity universal authority has been bestowed on the Son for the purpose of carrying out the work of salvation. Note ‘all flesh’ – man in his weakness and transience (as in Isaiah 40:6). The human race has fallen into sin and is in need of salvation. In order to bring God’s answer, Christ exercises authority over all things, including people who never believe in him. His authority is God-given and when he speaks his words have authority (see Matthew 7:29). He is the unique revelation of God and the unique way to God.
2. Life bestowed
The gift of authority has a specific goal – ‘that [the Son] might give eternal life to all those you have given him’ (v2). That goal is the salvation of the people of God (see 1 Timothy 1:15). Not that not all of those over whom Christ has authority will receive the gift of life. This is the profound reality of election. The divine giving of people to Christ (Ephesians 1:4) ensures the completion of salvation: ‘All that the Father gives to me will come to me’ (John 6:37). Giving eternal life is one of the biblical descriptions of salvation – ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10). This is spiritual life, in contrast to the spiritual deadness sin brings. To be in fellowship with God is truly to be alive. The term ‘eternal life’ refers not just to its duration but also to its quality – the life of the ‘Age to Come’, which has broken into the present age. Already the believer ‘has crossed over from death to life’ (John 5:24). Eternal life is a present possession with the best still to come. As the One who died on the cross the Son has authority to bestow life.
3. Knowledge obtained
The Lord then gives what is almost a definition of eternal life – ‘that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (v3). This is not mere head knowledge but a knowing that implies relationship. This is a knowledge which involves the whole person – mind, will and emotions. At heart it is a covenant commitment, binding us in love to the God who ‘loved [us] and gave himself for [us]’ (Galatians 2:20). To know God in this way is life. This is a saving knowledge that transforms sinners into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is ‘the only true God’ and so single-minded commitment to him is required. There is to be no rival, nothing must be allowed to usurp his place, no-one else is worthy of worship. Note the name ‘Jesus Christ’ – the Anointed saviour. Equality with God is implied in this verse. Christ reveals perfectly what God is like. The phrase ‘that they may know’ is in the present tense, indicating a knowledge that is to grow. There is always more to know, a challenge for all who know and love the Lord.