Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 17.1-11
7th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Other texts for 7 Easter B: 

The Gospel readings for 7 Easter all come from John 17: Year A -- vv. 1-11; Year B -- vv. 6-19; Year C -- vv. 20-26.

While the prayer is a unified whole, it is usually given 3 subsections based on whom Jesus is praying for.

There are two different interpretations of the second and third parts. If "them" in v. 9 refers to the original disciples, then v. 20 would refer to all believers since those original disciples. Brown interprets the verses this way.

However, O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible), suggests that v. 9 refers to all believers, even us, whom God has given to Jesus; and v. 20 to those who will believe because of the believers' [including our] witness.

Since vv. 9-11 are part of the lesson, the interpreter/preacher needs to decide whether Jesus is praying just for the original disciples or for all of us believers. The second option seems more preachable to me.

By using a prayer form, both the disciples and readers are outsiders overhearing Jesus' words -- and it follows the typical pattern of a farewell discourse. A contrast can be made between this prayer of Jesus and his prayer at Gethsemane in the synoptics -- both coming just before he is arrested. In the synoptics Jesus asks that he might not face the hour of suffering. In John, this hour of "glory" completes the work God has given him to do (17:4).

17 times in this prayer Jesus uses the word "given" (didomi) -- (11 times in our verses!).

13 times God gives to Jesus

This supports Malina and Rohrbaugh's (Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John) presentation of the "patronage" system that was part of the Mediterranean world, and a key to understanding John. There are three characters in this system:

Patrons are powerful individuals who control resources and are expected to use their positions to hand out favors to inferiors based on "friendship," personal knowledge and favoritism. Benefactor-patrons were expected to generously support city, village, or client. ... Throughout the New Testament, God is seen as the ultimate patron.

Brokers mediate between patrons above and clients below. First-order resources -- land, jobs, goods, funds, power -- are all controlled by patrons. Second-order resources -- strategic contact with or access to patrons -- are controlled by brokers who mediate the goods and services a patron has to offer. ... This is clearly a role in which John casts Jesus. Jesus says, "You are from below, I am from above" (8:23). He also makes clear that the Patron (God, Father) has given his resources to the Son to distribute as he will: "The Father loves the son and has placed all things in his hands" (3:35).

Clients are those dependent on the largesse of patrons or brokers to survive well in their society. They owe loyalty and public acknowledgement of honor in return. Patronage was voluntary but ideally lifelong. Having only one patron to whom one owed total loyalty had been the pattern in Rome from the earliest times. But in the more chaotic competition for clients/patrons in the outlying provinces, playing patrons off against one another became commonplace. Note that, according to Luke, one cannot be client of both God and the wealth/greed system (Luke 16:13). ...

In the New Testament the language of "grace" is the language of patronage. God is seen as the ultimate patron whose resources are graciously given and often mediated through Jesus as broker (note John's comment that Jesus or acted with the authority of his patron; 5:27; 17:2). [pp. 118-119]

Besides the image of God (the patron) giving to Jesus (the broker) who gives to disciples (clients); throughout John, Jesus is the "sent" one. Malina and Rohrbaugh point out: "Forty-three times in John we are told that Jesus was 'sent' by God, language that appears only twice in Matthew (10:40; 15:24), once in Mark (9:37), four times in Luke (4:18, 43; 9:48; 10:16), and once in Paul (Rom 8:3). ... 'send' belongs to the vocabulary of patronage" [p. 118].

The "sent" messenger is one beholden to a patron. He acts as an intermediary between the patron and those for whom the message is intended -- that is, he acts as a broker. This is a role Jesus plays throughout John's Gospel. Note also that eight times we are reminded that Jesus will return to his patron (7:33; 13:1; 14:12, 28; 16:5, 10, 17, 28), suggesting that the broker has ready access to and from the patron who sent him. Eventually, Jesus will turn over the broker role to his own favored clients (disciples), who will take up the role on behalf of Jesus: "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (17:18). [p. 118]

In the above lists of gifts, Jesus passes on to the people "the word" and "the glory," which God had given him. Jesus as the broker of God's word and God's glory, now turns the brokerage of these over to the disciples. In addition, there are these two implications: (1) God is the source of everything for Jesus and the faith community; and (2) The relationship between the Father and the Son as illustrated by the "giving" Father, is the same relationship between the "giving" Jesus and the faith community.

I've pointed out in earlier exegetical notes, Jesus' prayer in v. 24: "Where I am they also might be with me," refers more to the relationship with the Father than being at a particular place. Where Jesus is, is in an intimate relationship with the Father. This relationship is described as Father/Son, and also as being one with each other. We are offered the same relationship. This puts us in the position of being glorified by the Father and glorifying the Father on earth by doing the work God has given us to do (part of the reciprocity of being "clients" of the giving God).

"Glory," according to Malina and Rohrbaugh, is very important in an honor/shame society.

Simply stated, honor is public reputation. It is symbolized in good name or eminent family of origin. It is one's status or standing in the village together with the public recognition of it. Public recognition is all-important. In John 5:23 God has acted so that "all" will honor the Son. To claim honor that is not publicly recognized is to play the fool. To grasp more honor than the public will allow is to be a greedy thief. To try to claim honor for oneself is shameful: Jesus speaks a truism when he says, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing" (John 8:54; also 7:18; 8:50). Thus, when Jesus says in 5:41 (also 12:43) that he does not accept glory from human beings, he is rejecting a core value of Mediterranean societies. When he claims in 5:44 that one should seek only the honor that comes from God, he is saying that only God has the wisdom to legitimate an honor gain. This, of course, makes perfect sense for members of John's antisociety, given their experience in "straight" society. [pp. 121-122]

Jesus asks God to glorify him precisely when the world will shame and humiliate him.

The other "gift" from Jesus is eternal life. While this phrase is quite common in the "Book of Signs" (John 1-12), it only occurs in 17:2-3 in the "Book of Glory" (John 13-21). "Love" becomes the word for the believing community in the second half of John.

17:3 appears to be an editorial insertion. The idea of "knowing you, the only true God" could have Gnostic origins, except that:

(1) The knowledge is centered in the historical events of the one God sent, Jesus Christ -- not in some secret understanding. [NOTE: the only other occurrence of the phrase "Jesus Christ" is at 1:17. The only other occurrence of "Christ" in the "Book of Glory" is at 20:31. They are not common terms for John.]

(2) Eternal life is something granted to people on earth, not in some spiritual world.

(3) Knowledge of God has OT antecedents: as part of the new covenant (Jer 24:7; 31:33-34); and a promise of the eschatological era (Hab 2:14).

(4) "Knowing" in the Hebrew understanding -- which also carried over to Greek, can mean "having a(n intimate) relation with". To avoid the sexual example, I've talked about "knowing pain". That doesn't mean reading a book about pain so that one can better understand it. It means experiencing pain -- having a relationship with a painful situation. Thus "eternal life" is experiencing God through the one God sent. It is having a relationship with God through the one God sent. This type of "knowing" a person, is different than "knowing" about a person. One is relational. The other is intellectual.

In v. 4 Jesus mentions "the work" God has given him to do -- what God (the patron) offers us (the clients) through Jesus (the broker). Vv. 6-8 present the work which Jesus did. He reveals God. The proper responses from those whom God had given Jesus are:

(1) "Keeping" (tereo) God's word (logos) (v. 6) -- as I paraphrased last week, "keeping" implies "holding dear," "consider important," such as the relationship one might have with a "keepsake".

(2) Knowing that everything Jesus did came from God (v. 7); knowing that Jesus came from God and believing that God sent Jesus (v. 8). That connection between Jesus and God is vital, especially in the Gospel of John.

(3) Receiving the words (rhema) God gave to Jesus, which Jesus gave to believers (v. 8). [Jesus gives God's logos in v. 14 -- it's also used in vv. 17, 20.] Logos and rhema overlap in meanings. At times they have exactly the same meaning, but other times they are slightly different.: logos can refer to the "message" or "logic" of the message, while rhema can refer to the actual "words" or "rhetoric" that convey the message. Logos is also used of Jesus in ch. 1. How does one "receive" words (whether logos or rhema)? By listening.

The emphasis in the prayer of God giving the believers to Jesus expands no. 2 above. Not only do the believers know that Jesus came from God, so we also know that our faith comes as a gift from God. We are God's gift to Jesus. Or, to use an experience most of us have been through -- choosing up sides for teams -- God has chosen us to be on Jesus' team. God puts us on Jesus' team. God must think that we are valuable assets for Jesus' team. However, the unity theme later in the prayer stresses the need for all of us to be "team players".

To understand vv. 9-11, we might start with v. 12. While Jesus was on earth, he protected (tereo -- the same word for "keep" or "hold dear" discussed above) and guarded (phylasso) the believers. Now that he is leaving, he asks God to do it. Why the need for protection? We live "in the world". One of John's definitions of kosmos is "those at enmity with God" (see also v. 14 & 25). They are the people for whom Jesus does not pray (at least in this prayer). There is a contrast between believers and "the world". However, there are also other definitions of kosmos in this prayer.

It is from the world that the believers have come (v. 6). Here kosmos seems to mean the "secular society" or "people without God" -- not necessarily people who are hostile to God. It is to the world that Jesus was sent and the believers are sent (v. 18). The unity between the Father, Jesus, and believers might cause the world to believe (v. 21) and to know that God sent Jesus (v. 23). Are we to understand kosmos in these verses as the "enemies of God" or the less hostile "people without God"?

Kosmos can also mean "the created universe" -- part of God's good creation (vv. 5 & 24) or simply "the surface of the earth" -- which has no negative connotations (vv. 11?, 13, 18?).

The faith community exists in the world (on this planet?). It was called out of the world (from secular society) and witnesses to that society who may believe and know the truth about God. There also exists the "world" which is hostile to Jesus and his followers; for whom the church needs divine protection.

Jesus entrusts the future of the faith community to God. The church needs to understand that its life rests in and depends on God's care. The future of the church does not rest in the church, but in God. The fact that the church still exists indicates to me that God has protected the faith community from the powerful forces (both from within and without), which have sought to destroy it.

O'Day raises this question: "It is interesting to ponder how the Christian community's self-definition would be changed if it took as its beginning point, 'We are a community for whom Jesus prays'" [p. 798].

After I had a minor health problem, I put myself on our congregation's prayer chain. The problem is gone, but I've kept my name on the prayer chain. I believe that a large part of the effectiveness of my ministry and the ministry of the congregation is dependent upon the people's prayers. We have been assured that Jesus' prays for us. Which means, first of all, that we are in need of prayer. We can't do it by ourselves. Secondly, we are guaranteed help from God. How could God refuse the Son's requests? However, we may not always want God's help that Jesus has asked for. We may want to be part of the world, rather than hated by the world. We may not want to be sent into the world where God would have us go. We may not want the unity that becomes our witness to the world.

Do we want Jesus praying for us? If so, we need to listen carefully to what he has requested from God. We need to prepare ourselves for God to answer.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901

Additional commentary by Mark Vitalis Hoffman 


John 17 is known as the "high priestly prayer" of Jesus. It records the last words of Jesus with his disciples before his crucifixion and serves to sum up the meaning and intent of Jesus' work. It is strictly a prayer for believers. We need to recognize this fact when we preach on this text. John 17 is a description of the believer and the believing community and its relationship to Christ. Unlike the Gospel's purpose as stated in 20:30-31, there is in this prayer no concern about signs and their function in eliciting belief. The signs are a part of the work that Jesus has completed, and they have produced the desired fruits in the disciples. Through Jesus, the disciples now know (seemingly identical in meaning with "believe" for John) that the Father is the only true God and that Jesus Christ is the one sent by him. In believing this, the disciples have eternal life. (cf. 17:3 and 20:31)

In terms of John's two-level drama, the first level reading records the proleptic success of the second level intent. This point is established by the change of focus from the signs to the words (ta hremata - v. 8) of God and the word (ho logos -v. 20) of the disciples. This text, therefore, is written from the second level perspective, from the perspective of one who experiences the word (or words or Word) and not the signs themselves. We, therefore, are fortunate to be able to have a text that shares our same perspective.

Another implication of this perspective we must recognize when preaching on this text is that it is a post-resurrection perspective. All the Gospels, of course, are written from this perspective, but whereas the Synoptic authors attempt to lead us through the life of Jesus without jumping ahead to the conclusion, John assumes the conclusion from the start and writes as though looking back on the story. This difference in writing perspective accounts for the difference in tone between John's and the Synoptics' Passion narratives. In John, Jesus does not sorrow nor pray that the suffering might be circumvented. Instead, as the prayer indicates, Jesus speaks confidently and jubilantly of the completion of his work and his imminent glorification. There is no anguish of separation, for Jesus is in the process of becoming united with the Father and uniting the disciples in him.

To preach on this text during Lent where it properly belongs (i.e., pre-crucifixion) requires us to adopt a Johannine, post-resurrection perspective. So it is perhaps with some wisdom that the contrivers of the lectionary have designated this text to be read post-resurrection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This positioning of the text does have interpretive ramifications - we cannot easily preach Passion in the Easter season -and it is further supported by the first lesson readings which are from Acts 1 in years A and B and the second lesson reading of Revelation 22:12-17,20 in year C.

The lectionary schedule has attempted to make it easier to preach on John 17, and perhaps it has provided the correct interpretive context. (Or is it perhaps a corrective context of interpretation?) On the other hand, John 17 may be challenging such a solution, forcing us to rethink our understanding of Jesus' passion, and causing us to properly understand and proclaim this text as part of the passion story.


One theme that is significant to me is the theme of "the hour has come." This clause has been given meaning throughout the Gospel, and in the prayer it comes to fuller exposition. What does it mean in the context of this prayer? Is it a great farewell scene? Is it a Casablanca-style "Here's looking at you, kids," shrouded in a foggy night and an aura of pain and uncertainty? Or is it more E.T.-style with tears, family unification, an injunction to "Be good," and the promise of "I'll be right here"? Actually, this hour of Jesus cannot be accurately portrayed as a goodbye. There is no dark uncertainty about what lies ahead. Because of what the future holds and because this future is so certain for Jesus, it serves as a bridge to an even greater relationship so that the present pain of separation is transformed. Indeed, the disciples' joy is about to be fulfilled.

So is it a great moment of decision, a crucial hour? Is it one of those moments when we see clearly for the first time that everything that has gone before is but a prelude to this moment which is about to be. We have a heroic ideal of the person who makes the leap into greatness at such a moment, but it is far more part of our experience that it is at such crucial points that a person is most likely to falter. Consider The Lord of the Rings story. After countless adventures and trials that he has overcome, Frodo comes to the crucial moment when he must destroy the ring - but he fails. Or consider Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim. Jim, who has planned and dreamed for the moment when he can prove his courage, comes to the moment of action - and jumps over board to save his own skin. Or consider Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire. His life has been directed towards winning one race, but as he faces that moment, he muses: "I am in pursuit of something, but I don't know what it is that I am chasing. I am scared. I have worked so hard in preparation, but for what? I have ten seconds to justify my existence. I have always been afraid to lose. Now I am afraid to win."

These illustrations only serve to point out that Jesus' hour is different than the ones to which we are accustomed. It is indeed a crucial moment, a moment of the cross, but it is a moment which Jesus faces confidently. He is sure of the work he has accomplished. He is sure of his impending glorification despite the awful event it involves. He is also sure of the fruits that shall be reaped. These are the blessings which shall come to those who believe: eternal life, knowledge of the truth, the prayers of Christ, safekeeping in Christ, unity with one another, fulfilled, joy, glory, being with Christ, the love of God, unity in Christ.

So it is that Christ's hour is also our hour. We also are able to face such moments when the meaning of our life comes into focus as Christ did, with confidence. For what Christ has accomplished he has bestowed on us.