Mr. Linke is an elder in the Confessing Protestant Reformed Congregation of Giessen, Germany. The article appeared first in Bekenende Kirche. Translated by Mr. Peter VanDerSchaaf.
The seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John is commonly called the high-priestly prayer. The reason for this is that Jesus Christ comes before God for those who are His, as the head and mediator of the church. He comes before God as their high priest in prayer, in order, first, to bring to Him their concerns, and second, to worship Him in their name.
A prayer is more than a presentation of a wish-list. Certainly, petition is a central component of a prayer to God. The word itself intimates that. But belonging to prayer is also the worship of God. Prayer must have a basis. We lay the foundation for our petitions in that we praise God, and in that we acknowledge His being and works. Only when we know who God is, what He does, and what we may expect from Him can we ask something of Him. Our petitions are, then, grounded on that which we believe about God.
It is no different in the high-priestly prayer. John 17 does not consist simply of a list of prayer requests. Much more, it contains confession and instruction.
For that reason it is important that we listen carefully. It was not for nothing that the disciples were present at this prayer. Just before, Jesus spoke to them; and now He lifts up His eyes to heaven and turns Himself to His Father, as we read in the short introduction in.
The name of God is the content of revelation
We will deal in particular with verses 6-11. The Lord begins this part of His prayer to His Father with the words, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world….” Jesus’ manifestation of His Father has primarily to do with His name.
Names are important in the Bible. They are not mere designations that help us tell the difference between one person and another. Today when we hear a name, we can associate that name with a person. That person pops up before our mind’s eye, and we know whom we are talking about. On the other hand, if we hear a strange name, we normally don’t have any associations. The name tells us nothing about the person who bears it. To be sure, if we were curious, we could look up the meaning of a name in a dictionary; but whether that meaning has anything to do with the person is doubtful.
In the Holy Scriptures this is normally different. In many cases a name was consciously chosen to describe specific characteristics of a person or a place. This is especially true as concerns the names that God Himself gives. We think for example of Abram, to whom God gave the name Abraham (the father of multitudes). We also think of Jacob who became “Israel” (the prince of God). We remember especially Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means “Jehovah Salvation.” This is underscored in, when Joseph received the instruction, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The name reveals the nature. If that is the case with men, how much more true would it be of God Himself! In the Scriptures we find a number of names for God. All of these names have something in common: each of them reveals something of God’s being. Each name shows us something of who and what God is.
In His high-priestly prayer, Christ says that He has revealed the name of God. What does that mean? Did He tell His disciples what God’s name is? That would have been unnecessary. The disciples knew the designations of God. As Jews, they were very familiar with the Old Testament. They knew which names for God were used there. No, to reveal the name of God means much more than that.
In connection with the name of God, there is an especially important Bible text: “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” ().
The expression “I am” has in Hebrew the same roots as the name of God “Jehovah,” which in many translations is given as “Lord” usually in capital letters. Whenever we read the name “Lord” in our Bibles, then we think of “Jehovah” and know that this name means the same as “I am that I am.”
A few chapters later the Lord speaks anew about His name:
And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give
it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord ().
Here we discover why God designates Himself with “I am.” Verse 8 expresses the meaning of this name: “And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.” God is the Unchangeable, the Faithful, and the True. His Word stands immovable. When He, biblically speaking, lifts up His hand to swear, He means it seriously. He does not behave like a man, who today promises one thing, but in the morning offers the opposite. “Why should I worry about whatever I promised yesterday?” When God promises something, or swears, then He certainly carries through.
The central promise to us is that He saves us from our sins, reconciles us to Himself, and will make us to be His children. Nothing else stands behind the promises that were made to Abraham and the other patriarchs. The bringing of His people out of Egypt is a picture of the salvation of His people out of the power of sin. The land of Canaan is a picture of the eternal fellowship of God with His people in His kingdom. Behind the earthly promises stand promises that point to heaven. Behind the earthly fulfillment of the promises stands, just as truly, a heavenly fulfillment. The earthly fulfillment serves as a picture or as an earnest for that which will finally be fulfilled in the actual sense. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob understood the prophecies that they received in this way, asmakes clear.
The promises are fulfilled in Christ
When Jesus says in His prayer that He reveals the name of God, He is proclaiming the truth that God faithfully fulfills His promises. But Christ has done still more. He has not only proclaimed. He has not only pointed to a treasure chest. He has, much more, opened this treasure chest and shared its contents, the treasures of salvation. That Jesus reveals the name of God means that He has revealed Himself as the promised Redeemer of His people.
The fulfillment of the promises of God stands or falls with Jesus Christ. In His person the promises come together and become reality. He is the incarnate fulfillment of the promised Word of God. For the Savior immediately adds, “Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me” ().
Christ was sent by the Father so that the Father’s promises would be efficacious. Christ had given to His disciples the words that He had received from His Father so that they would receive them. That means that Christ communicated Himself to His disciples in a way that made the promises of God effective in them. This truth the apostle John proclaimed in his first epistle in this way, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
John calls Christ the “eternal life.” Not only does Christ proclaim eternal life. Not only does He work eternal life. No, He is Himself eternal life. Some few verses later in the same epistle, the apostle explains what this has to do with us, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” ().
Christ is the fulfillment of the promise. He is that eternal life. But how do we come into possession of this treasure? In that we receive this very Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life.”
In order for us to possess Jesus Christ, He had first to reveal the name of God to us. One could say, He must communicate Himself to us. That Christ communicates Himself to us means, for one thing, that He reveals His being and work to us, but also that He makes us partakers of His being and work. That is the decisive thing. For only when Christ reveals Himself to us so that we lay hold on Him and take Him for our own by faith do we have eternal life.
… to be continued.