Yesterday my sunday school class examined John 17:4-5. It’s a passage worth reflecting on as you get the week started. My notes on these verses are below, and I hope you find them edifying.
17:4 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.
There are two essential aspects to the nature of Christ that we see here: His divinity and His humanity.
The Humanity of Christ
In verse four we see that Jesus “accomplished the work” that the Father gave Him to do. But why did He have to be human in order to do this? And what specifically does He have in mind here?
Jesus is saying that He has both glorified the Father in His obedience and fulfilling the law perfectly, sinlessly, and so forth during His life. But He is also including all His work here on earth and that includes the cross (contra Morris). This is seen by His comparison in verse 5 “and now” and how this refers to a distinction between heaven and earth and not a distinction between his righteous life and his atoning death (so Carson and Hendriksen).
Hendriksen says, “To be sure, historically speaking, he had not yet suffered on the cross, but he has a right to speak as if also this suffering has already been endured, so certain is it that he will endure it!” (this also reminds me of Paul’s use of the word “glorified” in the past tense in Romans 8:30)
Calvin agrees, “…he speaks as if he had already endured it.” And says that Christ’s prayer is tantamount to an implied request to grant Him the kingdom He has worked to usher in, “since, having completed his course, nothing more remained for him to do, than to display, by the power of the Spirit, the fruit and efficacy of all that he had done on earth by the command of his Father.”
Now the author of Hebrews makes is clear that Jesus had to be a man in order to accomplish the plan of the Father – note that the Father is seen here as initiating the plan (Morris), and it was the “chief delight” of the Son to carry out this plan (Hendriksen).
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10)
And if we keep reading, we see what Christ is aiming at here, because the author of Hebrews also sees the same end:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)
In order to carry out this plan, then, Jesus had to be fully man, because only a substitute could die for our sins. A spotless substitute was needed, someone who bore our likeness and was, in fact, fully human, in order that the justice of God would be satisfied. This sacrifice was once for all, and sufficient to expiate, and propitiate the sins of mankind.
Therefore, when we see Jesus use the word “accomplished” we need to understand that He is saying that His mission was accomplished. He was looking forward to the cross, and indeed past the cross, and knew that the completion of a great work was imminent. The actual Greek text is teleioo, which is a derivation of the root word teleios. Some definitions to help understand what this completion means include to “accomplish, consummate, finish, fulfill, perfect. Complete, mature…to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal. Particularly with the meaning to bring to a full end, completion, reaching the intended goal, to finish a work or duty, to finish a race or course” (NASB key word study bible with Strongs references).
Thus, Jesus was bringing to conclusion His ministry, but not simply ending it, He was fulfilling all that had been predestined to take place. Not only was the teleos of Christ’s to full these things, the entire nature of redemptive history, and indeed the history of the world was driving at this one moment. And, as I mentioned earlier, it was as good as accomplished in the mind of Christ. Such was His obedience and steadfast faith in the Father’s will, and the strength of His desire to bring Him glory.
The Deity of Christ
In verse 5 we see the deity of Christ shine through so clearly that it’s worth pondering the words Jesus uses here. “He yearns to go home to the Father” as Hendriksen says. And this homeward heart call of Christ sets the tone for how we understand His words, I think.
The first thing we notice is that Jesus is very bold and says, “glorify me” to the Father. Foundationally, this means that we can assume Jesus has forfeited the glory He once had before the incarnation (so Carson and also Phil. 2). He wasn’t just a spirit or a god on earth without a mortal body as the Gnostics claimed.
Yet “The earstwhile glory which had been his delight before the foundation of the world had never been absent from his mind” says Hendriksen. This insight brings me to another, which is that God, who delights most in His own glory above all things, set asside what He delights in most, in order to save us, and, of course, yield unto himself all that much more glory. While we trust that God does what He does in order that all his plans find their teleos in His attaining the most glory possible, still we have to admire the depth of His love for His creation when we realize that He set aside what He loved so much/treasured so greatly (namely his glory) in order to become a man and suffer and die for our sakes!
And of course, verse four has established for us that indeed Jesus is fully man. He had to be fully man in order to have “accomplished” all that the Father had for Him to accomplish. That is the presumptive doctrine upon which verse 4, and Christ’s claims to teleos as founded. Yet in the same breath here Jesus requests that the Father “glorify” him – and not just that but adds that this glory will be what He had “with” the Father. In other words, He is asking the Father to bestow upon Him a glory that is of equal splendor as what the Father Himself enjoys. Only God can be equal in glory to the Father. Therefore we must deduce that Jesus here makes a request that He has a right to make. He has a right to this glory, yet He set it aside (Phil. 2) for the sake of the plan of redemption.
Calvin says, “He desires to be glorified with the Father, not that the Father may glorify him secretly, without any witnesses, but that, having been received into heaven, he may give a magnificent display of his greatness and power, that every knee may bow to him (Phil. 2:10).”
There can be no doubt that Jesus is fully conscious that He is God incarnate, and that He is deserving of all the glory the Father has in heaven.
Secondly, notice that His assumed claim to deity (I say “assumed” because He isn’t making a case that He is God to others, rather He is assuming this truth as He prays before God Himself) includes a mention of eternality.
Jesus says, “the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Now in order for one to exist before the world, one would have to exist before time. Time, it is speculated, is a function of the universe/world in which we live and is governed or denoted by the movement of heavenly bodies (the sun and moon and our earth’s rotation around the sun and day and night and so forth). Yet for one that existed before these phenomenons existed could be said to be “timeless”, and because we know that God Himself is timeless, or “eternal”, we can easily see Jesus as understanding Himself to be so as well.
When you combine this assumed claim to equal glory with God the Father together with Jesus’ self-conscious understanding of His own eternality (“before the world existed”) you simply cannot deny that Jesus thought of Himself as The Deity, as YHWY, as the Lord of Hosts. And this claim, this assumption, this self-conscious identification with Himself as God, would be verified to all throughout His ministry and most acutely at His resurrection.
All of this accords so well with Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
And as Henriksen says so beautifully:
Here in 17:5 the Son is looking forward to the glory of rejoicing in the joy of his saved people, the very people whose salvation he (together with the Father and the Spirit) had planned from eternity, before the world existed. God ever delights in his own works. The Son glories in the Father’s glory, and rejoices in the joy of all the redeemed. When they sing, he sings! (cf. Zeph. 3:17).
What Do We Say to These Things?
When Paul pondered the truth of these facts, his reaction was “what shall we say to these things?” He realized that here in the garden was God in the flesh, and yet fully man, bearing infirmities in His flesh, He understood what it was like to be human. Yet, because He was God, He could actually effectively accomplish what He set out to do on our behalf. It’s enough to blow one’s mind!
When Paul contemplated the plan that Jesus had accomplished that was set in motion from before time began (Rom. 8:29-20), his reaction was stunned admiration, but also remarkable comfort. He says:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
Jesus who was going to His Father to enjoy the glory He had with the Father from before time began, would soon share that same glory with us!