The Hardest Words to Pray

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, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 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)

Although Jesus is praying for himself, he is not doing so in a self-centered way. His opening words revolve around two closely-connected matters that relate not only to him but also to his Father. They are “the hour” and “the glory.” He knows that the “hour” has come and that his Father does, too, and that they both are well-aware of its importance in terms of “the glory” to be revealed.

Time and again during his earthly life, Jesus had been aware that this hour had not come. Twice he resisted family pressure on the matter (2:4; 7:1–8), and twice he was protected from the evil intention of his foes because of that fact (7:30; 8:20). But two harbingers of it had just crossed his path, and each was a portent of death and glory to him. On the one hand, some Greek-speaking Jews had come to the Passover from Galilee and wanted to see him—a foretaste of the Gentile harvest (12:20–33) that would result from his death. On the other hand, the traitor Judas Iscariot had left the Upper Room to bring it about (13:31). Both events convinced him of the imminence of the hour, and he spoke accordingly to his disciples. It was at one and the same time the hour of glory and of “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). It coincided with “the cup” of the cross (Mark 14:35) on the way to the crown. So he said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (13:31). “The hour” is therefore fraught with great significance and consequences—on earth and in heaven, for the world and for hell.

But what is glory? And what does it mean to glorify? The word glory is common in both testaments and is familiar to Christians. But what does it mean? A. M. Ramsey has indicated that the word contains “the greatest themes of Christian Theology,” bringing together “in a remarkable way the unity of the doctrines of Creation, the Incarnation, the Cross, the Spirit, the Church and the world-to-come.”​[1]

By way of a working definition, it can be said that “glory” refers to “something or someone revealed in some way or other.” It has associations in the Old Testament with “weight” and in the New Testament with “light,” so it is connected with honor and splendor. Whenever the word occurs in the Bible, the questions to be considered in order to appreciate it are: Who or what is being revealed, how or by what means is that done, and (sometimes) why? It is used of the created and governed universe (Ps. 19:1–6), the prestige of nations (Isa. 16:13), the transient dignity of man (Isa. 40:7), and the permanent majesty of the Lord (Isa. 40:5).

But there is another revelation of God that no one can see that exceeds them all in its fullness and finality. It is in the “Word made flesh,” the full actualization of the Shekinah of the tabernacle, the incarnation of “grace and truth” (1:14–18). This means that Jesus is the full and final disclosure of all that God is (see also 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:3), and he will be so even in the new heavens and the new earth, which will be lit up by the glory of God shining in “the Lamb, its lamp” (Rev. 21:23).

So what does this amount to with reference to his request? Jesus (the man) prays that through all the shame and horror of Gethsemane to Golgotha, the Father will reveal him magnificently in his true messianic divinity. As his ever-true incarnate Son who could not and would not think, speak, or act independently of him (see 5:19), Jesus declares that he is determined to reveal the Father as the only true God by accomplishing what he has been sent to do on earth—and in his mind and spirit, it is as good as done. On that basis, all that Jesus asks for in relation to himself is that the Father will be true to him, attesting him as his “Christ” to all the elect, and exalting him, now incarnate, to his immediate presence by way of resurrection and ascension.


Adapted from Hywel Jones “The High Priestly Prayer,” Modern Reformation, July/August 2019. Used by permission.

Notes

  1. ^ A. M. Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1949), 5.
Photo of Hywel R. Jones

Hywel R. Jones

Hywel Jones is Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Wales in 1963 and has ministered in several pastorates in Wales and England. Hywel and his wife, Nansi, have been married for more than 50 years. They are blessed with three children and five granddaughters. 

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