1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. – John 17:1-5 ESV
Chapter 17 contains what has come to be known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” This somewhat lofty designation is based on the role that the high priest of Israel played in mediating the spiritual needs of the people before God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies and offer sacrifices intended to atone for the sins of the people. And God had warned Aaron, Moses’ brother and the high priest of Israel, that he was prohibited from entering the Most Holy Place at any other time.
“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” – Leviticus 16:2 ESV
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this theme as he compares the role of the high priest with that of Jesus.
But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. This is an illustration pointing to the present time. – Hebrews 9:7-9 ESV
During the days of the Exodus, when the Israelites were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle was where the glory of God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. And this sacred place was off-limits to all, including the high priest, except on the Day of Atonement. Even then, the high priest could only enter into God’s presence after performing a series of ritual cleansings to purify himself from sin.
Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. – Leviticus 16:3-4 ESV
Aaron, performing his role as the high priest, was also required to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and a goat as a sin offering for the people. He would take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Then he would do the same thing with the blood of the goat, “sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:15-16 ESV).
These elaborate and mandatory rituals were designed to illustrate the glory and the holiness of God and to stress the unrighteousness of the people. It was not without the sacrifice of blood that the people of God could enter into His presence. Their sinfulness separated them from Him. And there was no way for them to stand before God in their sinful state. So, as the author of Hebrews states, atoning blood was required.
…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV
And according to Hebrews, Jesus had come to replace the old system with a new and better one.
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrew 9:11-12 NLT
So, when Jesus prayed this prayer, He was interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was acting as their high priest, mediating for them before God the Father. But in reality, Jesus would not be fully fulfilling His role as the high priest until He sacrificed His own blood on the cross as a payment for the sins of mankind.
Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:14 NLT
But this powerful prayer provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ heart and mind as He prepared to fulfill His Father’s redemptive plan. He had just told His disciples, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). And then John states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1 ESV). There is no break in the action. John doesn’t indicate that Jesus left the disciples and found a quiet place to be alone. He simply describes Jesus as lifting up His eyes and praying. One moment He had been talking to the disciples and then suddenly, He was talking to God. And John and the other disciples were allowed to eavesdrop on this intimate conversation between Jesus and His Heavenly Father.
Jesus had assured His disciples that they could take heart because He had overcome the world. His mission was as good as done. They could have complete confidence that what He had been sent to do, He would do. And Jesus expressed His complete commitment to fulfill His Father’s wishes by requesting that His glorification take place just as it had been planned.
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” – John 17:1 ESV
Jesus is not just focusing His attention on His future resurrection and ascension. In other words, He’s not expressing His desire to get the crucifixion over with as quickly as possible so He can enjoy a restored relationship with the Father. For Jesus, the cross was a central part of the glorification process. By offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind, He would be faithfully fulfilling the will of His Father, performing the final act of obedience that would mark His life as pleasing to God.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV
Jesus knew that it was necessary for His death to proceed His glorification. The path to future glory passed through the shadow of the cross. It was just as He had told His disciples.
“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24 NLT
His death would produce new life – not only for Himself but for all those who placed their faith in Him. His crucifixion would result in His own glorification but also that of His followers. The apostle Paul reminds us of this incredible reality.
And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 BSB
Ultimately, Jesus was expressing His desire to bring glory to God. He knew that by sacrificing His life on the cross He would be expressing His Father’s love for mankind. The willingness of God to offer up His Son on behalf of sinful, undeserving humanity would end up glorifying Him by demonstrating His goodness and grace.
This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. – 1 John 4:9 BSB
Jesus was the means by which God would extend His offer of eternal life to sinful humanity. And Jesus knew that He had been given divine authority to extend this offer on behalf of His Father.
For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. – John 17:2-3 NLT
Everything that Jesus had done and said up until this point had brought glory to His Heavenly Father. He had done nothing of His own initiative or for His own glory.
“I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me.” – John 8:50 NLT
He had come to earth in order to point people to God. The sole purpose behind His incarnation had been to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). There were no other means by which sinful men and women could find access to and a restored relationship with God.
Jesus indicates that He had done all He had been commissioned to do.
“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 ESV
His miracles and messages had all been in keeping with His Father’s will. And now, it was time to complete His mission and return to His Father’s side.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:5 ESV
Again, Jesus knew full well that the path to His glorification led through the cross. He would have to be “lifted up” before He could be raised up to His former place of glory at His Father’s side. The apostle Paul describes well this path of humility and suffering that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ glorification.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV
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