John 17:3
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
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(3) And this is life eternal.—For these words, which are more frequent in St. John than in any other of the New Testament writers, comp. John 3:15-16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 5:39; John 6:27; John 6:40; John 6:47; John 6:54; John 6:68; John 10:28; John 12:25; John 12:50; 1John 1:2; 1John 2:15; 1John 3:15; 1John 5:11; 1John 5:13; 1John 5:20. The thought of the previous verse is that the Messianic work of Christ is to give eternal life to those whom God has given Him. The thought of the following verse is that He has accomplished this work. In this verse He shows in what its accomplishment consists—viz., in revealing to men the only true God through Jesus Christ.

That they might know thee the only true God.—Better, That they might recognise Thee as the only true God. (Comp. Notes on John 1:9; John 14:7.)

And Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.—Better, And Him, whom Thou didst send, Jesus, as Messiah. Eternal life consists in the knowledge of the Father as the only Being answering to the ideal thought of God; and in this knowledge manifested in Him, whom God anointed and sent into the world-to declare His attributes and character. Only in the Word made flesh can we hear the voice of mercy, forgiveness, love, fatherhood; which comes to men as the breath of life, so that they become living souls.

17:1-5 Our Lord prayed as a man, and as the Mediator of his people; yet he spoke with majesty and authority, as one with and equal to the Father. Eternal life could not be given to believers, unless Christ, their Surety, both glorified the Father, and was glorified of him. This is the sinner's way to eternal life, and when this knowledge shall be made perfect, holiness and happiness will be fully enjoyed. The holiness and happiness of the redeemed, are especially that glory of Christ, and of his Father, which was the joy set before him, for which he endured the cross and despised the shame; this glory was the end of the sorrow of his soul, and in obtaining it he was fully satisfied. Thus we are taught that our glorifying God is needed as an evidence of our interest in Christ, through whom eternal life is God's free gift.This is life eternal - This is the source of eternal life; or it is in this manner that it is to be obtained. The knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ is itself a source of unspeakable and eternal joy. Compare John 11:25; John 6:63; John 12:50.

Might know thee - The word "know" here, as in other places, expresses more than a mere speculative acquaintance with the character and perfections of God. "It includes all the impressions on the mind and life which a just view of God and of the Saviour is fitted to produce." It includes, of course, love, reverence, obedience, honor, gratitude, supreme affection. "To know God as he is" is to know and regard him as a lawgiver, a sovereign, a parent, a friend. It is to yield the whole soul to him, and strive to obey his law.

The only true God - The only God, in opposition to all false gods. What is said here is in opposition to idols, not to Jesus himself, who, in 1 John 5:20, is called "the true God and eternal life."

And Jesus Christ - To know Jesus Christ is to have a practical impression of him as he is - that is, to suffer his character and work to make their due impression on the heart and life. Simply to have heard that there is a Saviour is not to know it. To have been taught in childhood and trained up in the belief of it is not to know it. To know him is to have a just, practical view of him in all his perfections as God and man; as a mediator; as a prophet, a priest, and a king. It is to feel our need of such a Saviour, to see that we are sinners, and to yield the whole soul to him, knowing that he is a Saviour suited to our needs, and that in his hands our souls are safe. Compare Ephesians 3:19; Titus 1:16; Philippians 3:10; 1 John 5:20. In this verse is contained the sum and essence of the Christian religion, as it is distinguished from all the schemes of idolatry and philosophy, and all the false plans on which men have sought to obtain eternal life. The Gentiles worshipped many gods; the Christian worships one - the living and the true God; the Jew, the Deist, the Muslim, the Socinian, profess to acknowledge one God, without any atoning sacrifice and Mediator; the true Christian approaches him through the great Mediator, equal with the Father, who for us became incarnate, and died that he might reconcile us to God.

3. this is—that.

life eternal, that they might—may.

know, &c.—This life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ (Job 22:21).

thee, the only true God—the sole personal living God; in glorious contrast equally with heathen polytheism, philosophic naturalism, and mystic pantheism.

and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent—This is the only place where our Lord gives Himself this compound name, afterwards so current in apostolic preaching and writing. Here the terms are used in their strict signification—"Jesus," because He "saves His people from their sins"; "Christ," as anointed with the measureless fulness of the Holy Ghost for the exercise of His saving offices (see on [1874]Mt 1:16); "Whom Thou hast sent," in the plenitude of Divine Authority and Power, to save. "The very juxtaposition here of Jesus Christ with the Father is a proof, by implication, of our Lord's Godhead. The knowledge of God and a creature could not be eternal life, and such an association of the one with the other would be inconceivable" [Alford].

Those who deny the Divine nature of Christ, think they have a mighty argument from, this text, where Christ, (as they say), speaking to his Father, calleth him

the only true God. But divines answer, that the term only, or alone, is not to be applied to thee, but to the term God; and the sense this: To know thee to be that God which is the only true God: and this appeareth from 1Jo 5:20, where Christ is said to be the true God, which he could not be if the Father were the only true God, considered as another from the Son. The term only, or alone, is not exclusive of the other two Persons in the Trinity, but only of idols, the gods of the heathen, which are no gods; so 1 Timothy 6:15,16, and many other Scriptures: so Matthew 11:27, where it is said, that none knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son; where the negative doth not exclude the Holy Spirit. Besides, the term alone is in Scripture observed not always to exclude all others, as Mark 6:47. Our Saviour saith, it is life eternal to know him who is the only true God, that is, it is the way to eternal life, which is an ordinary figure used in holy writ. He adds,

and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; by which he lets us know, that the Father cannot be savingly known, but in and by the Son. Knowing, in this verse, signifies not the mere comprehending of God and of Christ in men’s notions; but the receiving Christ, believing in him, loving and obeying him, &c.

And this is life eternal,.... That is, the beginning and pledge of it, the way unto it, and means of it, and what will certainly issue in it:

that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. The knowledge of God here spoken of, is not the knowledge of him by the light of nature, and works of creation; for a man may know God in this sense, and not know him in Christ, nor anything of Christ; yea, may know God and profess him in words, and in works deny him, as the Heathens did; nor is eternal life known hereby, nor connected with it: nor is it such a knowledge of God as is to be obtained by the law of Moses, in which God is represented as a righteous and incensed Being; nor is there in it any discovery of God, as a God of love, grace, and mercy in Christ; nor any revelation of a Mediator, Saviour and Redeemer; nor can it either show, or give to persons eternal life; and yet what is here said of the knowledge of God and Christ, the Jews say of the law (d),

"one man said to his friend, let us dash them against that wall and kill them, because they have left , "eternal life"; (the gloss upon it is, "the law";) and employ themselves in a temporary life, the gloss says of this world, which is merchandise.''

More truly does Philo the Jew say (e), that

"fleeing to the Divine Being, "is eternal life"; and running front him is death.''

But this is to be understood of an evangelic knowledge of God, as the God and Father of Christ, as the God of all grace, pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin, and of Christ Mediator; not a general, notional, and speculative knowledge; but a practical and experimental one; a knowledge of approbation and appropriation; a fiducial one, whereby a soul believes in Christ, and trusts in his blood, righteousness, and sacrifice for salvation; and which, though imperfect, is progressive. The Arians and Unitarians urge this text, against the true and proper deity of our Lord Jesus, and his equality with the Father, but without success; since the Father is called the only true God, in opposition to the many false gods of the Heathens, but not to the exclusion of the Son or Spirit; for Christ is also styled the one Lord, and only Lord God, but not to the exclusion of the Father; yea the true God and eternal life; was he not, he would never, as here, join himself with the only true God; and besides, eternal life is made to depend as much upon the knowledge of him, as of the Father. The reason of this different mode of expression, is owing to the character of Christ as Mediator, who is said to be sent by the only true God, about the business of man's salvation. Nor is it of any moment what the Jew (f) objects, that Jesus here confesses, that the true God is only one God; nor does he call himself God, only the Messiah sent by God; and that the Apostle Paul also asserts the unity of God, 1 Timothy 1:17; and therefore Jesus cannot be God: for Christ and his Father, the only true God, are one; and that he is the one true God with his Father, he tacitly suggests here by joining himself with him; and what the Apostle Paul says of the one and only wise God, may as well be understood of Christ, the Son of God, as of the Father; since all the characters in the text agree with him, and of him he had been speaking in the context.

(d) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 21. 1.((e) De profugis, p. 461. (f) R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 55. p. 445.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the {b} only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(b) He calls the Father the only true God in order to set him against all false gods, and to include himself and the Holy Spirit, for he immediately joins the knowledge of the Father and the knowledge of himself together, and according to his accustomed manner sets forth the whole Godhead in the person of the Father. So is the Father alone said to be King, immortal, wise, dwelling in light which no man can attain unto, and invisible; Ro 16:27; 1Ti 1:17.

John 17:3. The continuative δέ adduces, in keeping with the connection, a more precise definition[187] of ζωὴ αἰώνιος (not a transposition of its idea, as Weiss holds), and that with a retrospective glance to the glorification of the Father in John 17:1. On ἐστίν, comp. on Romans 14:17; John 3:19.

In this consists eternal life, that they should recognise (ἵνα, comp. on John 6:29) Thee as the only true God (as Him to whom alone belongs the reality of the idea of God, comp. 1 Corinthians 8:4), and Thy sent one Jesus as Messiah. This knowledge of God here desired (which is hence the believing, living, practical knowledge, καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι, 1 Corinthians 8:2), is the ζωὴ αἰώνιος, so far as it is the essential subjective principle of the same, unfolding this ζωή out of itself, its continual, ever self-developing germ and impulse (comp. Sap. John 15:1; John 15:3), even now in the temporal evolution of eternal life, and at a future time, besides, after the establishment of the kingdom, in which faith, hope, and love abide (1 Corinthians 3); the fundamental essence of which is in truth nothing else than that knowledge, which in the future αἰών will be the perfected knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:12), comp. 1 John 3:2. The contents of the knowledge are stated with the precision of a Confession,—a summary of faith in opposition[188] to the polytheistic (τ. μόνον ἀληθ. θεόν, comp. John 5:44; Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9) and Jewish κόσμος, which latter rejected Jesus as Messiah, although in Him there was given, notwithstanding, the very highest revelation of the only true God. It is in the third person, however, that the praying Jesus speaks of Himself from John 17:1 forwards, placing Himself in an objective relation towards the Father during the first intensity of this solemn mood, and first at John 17:4 continuing the prayer with the familiar ἐγώ; He indeed mentions His name in John 17:3, because in the connection of the self-designation through the third person, it here specifically suggested itself, in correspondence to the confessional thought.

Χριστόν] is an appellative predicate: as Messiah, comp. John 9:22. To connect it as a proper name with Ἰησ. (Jesus Christ, comp. John 1:17), to ascribe to the evangelist an offence against historical decorum (Bretschneider, Lücke, De Wette), and to see in this a proof of a later reproduction (comp. Tholuck and Weizsäcker, p. 286; also Scholten, p. 238), would be to accuse the writer, especially in the report of such a prayer, of a surprising want of consideration. Luthardt also takes Χριστόν as a proper name, which he thinks was here, in this extraordinary moment, used for the first time by Jesus, and thereby at the same time determined the use of the word by the apostles (Acts 2:38). So also Godet, comp. Ebrard. But Jesus prayed in Hebrew, and doubtless said יֵשׁוּע חַמָּשִּׁיהַ, from which expression a proper name could by no means be recognised. The predicative view of Τ. ΜΌΝ. ἈΛ. ΘΕΌΝ and of ΧΡΙΣΤΌΝ is also justly held by Ewald.

Although Τ. ΜΌΝΟΝ ἈΛΗΘ. ΘΕΌΝ refers solely to the Father, the true divine nature of Christ is not thereby excluded (against the Arians and Socinians, who misused this passage), all the less so as this, in accordance with His (Logos) relationship as dependent on the Godhead of the Father, forms the previous assumption in ὋΝ ἈΠΈΣΤΕΙΛΑς, as is certain from the entire connection of the Johannean Christology, and from John 17:5. Comp. Wetstein, and Gess, Pers. Chr. p. 162. Hence it was unnecessary,—moreover, even a perversion of the passage, and running counter to the strict monotheism of John, when Augustine, Ambrose, Hilary, Beda, Thomas, Aretius, and several others explained it as if the language were: ut te et quem misisti Jesum Christum cognoscant solum verum Deum. Only One, the Father, can absolutely be termed the μόνος ἀληθ. θεός (comp. ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεός, Romans 9:5), not at the same time Christ (who is not even in 1 John 5:20 the ἀληθινὸς θεός), since His divine entity stands in the relation of genetic subsistence to the Father, John 1:18, although He, in unity with the Father, works as His commissioner, John 10:30, and is His representative, John 14:9-10.

[187] No formal definition. See the apposite observations of Riehm in the Stud. u. Krit. 1864, p. 539 f.

[188] An antithesis which might present itself naturally and unsought to the world-embracing glance of the praying Jesus, on the boundary line of His work, which includes entire humanity. But He had also thought further of the ἐξουσία πάσης σαρκός, which was given to Him. This likewise in opposition to Weiss, Lehrbegr. p. 56, who considers the antithesis foreign to the connection.

John 17:3. αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ αἰώνιος ζωή ἵνα … On ἵνα in this construction, see Burton, 213, and cf. John 15:8; ὅτι in John 3:19 is not quite equivalent. In Isaiah 37:20 God is designated ὁ Θεὸς μόνος, and in Exodus 34:6 ἀληθινός; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:10. He is the only true God in contrast to many that are “called gods,” 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. But cf. especially 1 John 5:20. It was by making known to them this God, and thus glorifying the Father, that Christ “gave men eternal life”. The life He gave consisted in and was maintained by this knowledge. But to the knowledge of the Father, the knowledge of “Him whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ,” was necessary, John 1:18, John 14:6. As in John 1:17, so here, Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν is the double name which became common in Apostolic times, and not (as Meyer and others) “an appellative predicate,” “Jesus as the Messiah”. Whether Jesus’ naming of Himself as a third person can be accounted for by the solemnity of the occasion (“der feierliche Gebetstyl,” Lücke), or is to be ascribed to John, is much debated. Westcott seems justified in saying that “the use of the name ‘Jesus Christ’ by the Lord Himself at this time is in the highest degree unlikely.… It is no derogation from the truthfulness of the record that St. John has thus given parenthetically, and in conventional language (so to speak), the substance of what the Lord said at greater length.”

3. And this is life eternal] More exactly, But the life eternal is this. ‘The life eternal’ means that which has just been mentioned; and ‘is this’ means ‘this is what it consists in:’ comp. John 3:19, John 15:12.

that they might know] Literally, in order that they may recognise; comp. John 6:29, John 15:12; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6. The eternal life is spoken of as already present (see on John 3:36, John 5:24, John 6:47; John 6:54); hence ‘may,’ not ‘might.’ Moreover it is the appropriation of the knowledge that is specially emphasized; hence ‘recognise’ rather than simply ‘know.’ Comp. Wis 15:3.

thee the only true God] i.e. ‘Thee as the only true God.’ For ‘true’ see note on John 1:9 and comp. John 4:23, John 6:32, John 15:1 : ‘the only true God’ is directed against the many false, spurious gods of the heathen. This portion of the truth was what the Gentiles so signally failed to recognise.

Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent] Better, Him whom Thou didst send—Jesus Christ; or, Jesus as Christ. This portion of the truth the Jews failed to recognise. But the words are not without difficulty, even when, we insert the ‘as;’ and the run of the Greek words is rather against the insertion of ‘as.’ If ‘Christ’ were a predicate and not part of the proper name we should expect ‘Jesus, whom Thou didst send, as Christ.’ Probably in this verse we have the substance and not the exact words of Christ’s utterance. That He should use the name ‘Jesus’ here is perhaps improbable; that He should anticipate the use of ‘Jesus Christ’ as a proper name is very improbable; and the expression ‘the true God’ is not used elsewhere by Christ and is used by S. John (1 John 5:20), We conclude, therefore, that the wording here is the Evangelist’s, perhaps abbreviated from the actual words.

John 17:3. Ἔστιν) is; not merely brings with it.—γινώσκωσι, that they may know) Knowledge in the matter of our salvation is of the greatest moment: John 17:26, “The world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known,” etc.—μόνον, the only, the alone) The Son and Holy Spirit are not excluded by this word. Comp. μόνος, ch. John 8:9, “Jesus was left alone, and the woman.” But those meant to be excluded are the false gods, with the idolatrous worship of which the world was crowded. And Jesus in this place speaks of Himself, as the Apostle of the Father [ἀπέστειλας: Hebrews 3:1].—ὃν ἀπέστειλας, whom Thou hast sent) The aspect (relation) under which (the ground upon which) Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged. His being ‘sent,’ presupposes the Son to be one with the Father.—Χριστὸν, Christ) A most open (plain) appellation, which subsequently became altogether prevalent.

Verse 3. - The life eternal, of which Jesus has just spoken, is this (cf. for construction, John 15:12; 1 John 3:11, 23; 1 John 5:3), that they might know - should come to know - thee, the only veritable God. All ideas of God which deviate from or fall short of "the Father" revealed to us by Christ, are not the veritable God, and the knowledge of them is not life eternal. The Father is here set forth as the fens Deitatis. This does not exclude "the Son," but is inconceivable without him. The Fatherhood expresses an eternal relation. The one element involves the ether as integral to itself: "I am in the Father, and the Father in me." There is a knowledge of the Father possible even now. "Henceforth, he has said, ye have seen him, and known him;" yet not till the veil is lifted, and we see face to face, shall we know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2), shall we see him as he is. And him whom thou didst send, Jesus the Christ (not Jesus to be, or as Christ, but rather "Jesus the Christ," as the expansion and explanation of the more indefinite term, "him whom thou didst scud"). Why does our Lord add to this expression one that at first sight seems so incompatible with the idea of this prayer? It has led so careful and reverential a commentator as Westcott to remove the difficulty by supposing that the whole verse is a gloss of the evangelist, expressing the sense of what our Lord may have uttered at greater length. We are loath to admit this method of exegesis, especially as the sole reasons for it are the supposed strangeness of our Lord's here using a phrase so unaccustomed, and thus giving himself not only his Personal Name, but his own official title. It is unusual. The phrase does undoubtedly belong to a later period for its current and constant use. Yet it must not be forgotten

(1) that this is a unique moment in his career, and unique expressions may be anticipated;

(2) that it was calculated to strengthen his disciples, to allow them to hear once from his own lips the solemn claim to Messiahship (see Godet);

(3) that John himself at once adopted it as his own (Acts 3:6, 20; 1 John 1:3; 1 John 2:1, 22; 1 John 3:22; 1 John 4:2, 3; 1 John 5:1-20; Revelation 1:1, 2, 5); moreover,

(4) in 1 John 5:20 Jesus Christ is, himself lifted up into the region of the ἀληθίνος, and the apostle adds, "This is the true God, and eternal life" (Hengstenberg). It is from these very words that some critics imagine that the evangelist, rather than the Lord himself, framed the clause;

(5) yet it is quite as rational to suppose that the words uttered by Jesus dwelt like a strain of sacred music in the memory of the apostle. Moreover,

(6) the knowledge of the only true God is really conditioned by the knowledge of him who was indeed the great Revelation, Organ, and Effluence of the Father's glory. The fullness of this knowledge is the end of all Christian striving. Paul said, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus... and that I may know him" (Philippians 3:10). How much is there yet to know!

(7) Finally, as our Lord is rising more and more into the glory of an utter self-abandonment, and into the glory which he had with the Father from eternity, the human nature which he still inhabits becomes almost an appendage of his Divine Personality, and he might with awful significance, when referring to the object of human faith and knowledge, say, "Him whom thou hast sent - Jesus the Christ." Moreover, on any hypothesis of the composition or framing of an intercessory prayer for the Logos Christos to utter, there is an equal difficulty in the insertion into such prayer by St. John of this reference to himself as the Christ. The knowledge of the Father as the only true God, in opposition to the heathen traditions and philosophical speculations of the world, coupled with a corresponding knowledge of the only adequate expression of the Father's heart and nature, sent forth from him, as One promised, consecrated, and empowered to represent him, is life - ere half life. John 17:3Life eternal

With the article: the life eternal. Defining the words in the previous verse. The life eternal (of which I spoke) is this.

That (ἵνα)

Expressing the aim.

Might know (γινώσκωσι)

Might recognize or perceive. This is striking, that eternal life consists in knowledge, or rather the pursuit of knowledge, since the present tense marks a continuance, a progressive perception of God in Christ. That they might learn to know. Compare John 17:23; John 10:38; 1 John 5:20; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8.

"I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ

Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee

All questions in the earth and out of it,

And has so far advanced thee to be wise.

Wouldst thou improve this to reprove the proved?

In life's mere minute, with power to use that proof,

Leave knowledge and revert to how it sprung?

Thou hast it; use it, and forthwith, or die.


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