Jesus’ Use of the Prophets in His High Priestly Prayer

Introduction

The so-called “High Priestly Prayer” from John 17 is one of the most famous passages in Scripture.  Surely this is the case because of the profound nature of the words from the Son to the Father.  The unity between the Triune God is clearly evident in this passage.  Even so, why are the words of Jesus so powerful?  It is the contention of this paper that Jesus’ words are so powerful because he draws upon and alludes to the Prophets and 2 Samuel 7:28 at key places in the prayer, supplementing his own requests by the very word of God.  The purpose of this paper is to explore Jesus’ allusions to the prophetic literature in the High Priestly Prayer, demonstrating that true knowledge of God comes only by his word.  This paper will be useful for a variety of reasons, one primary one being: the way Jesus used the Old Testament brings to light how important the Old Testament is for today.

The High Priestly Prayer

The High Priestly Prayer is an important piece of Scripture because it occurs just before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.  As Janzen notes, the prayer “is unfathomably rich in its implication and inexhaustible in its potential for explication.”[1]  What this particular paper seeks to do is demonstrate that true knowledge of God comes only by the word; this will be demonstrated by exploring Jesus’ allusions to the Prophets throughout the High Priestly Prayer.  For the sake of space, two primary verses from John 17 will be examined: verse 3 and verse 17.  They read as follows:  “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent” (verse 3, emphasis added), and “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (verse 17, emphasis added).  Not only do these two verses serve to confirm the thesis of this paper, but they are also allusions to the prophetic literature (with a reference to 2 Samuel 7:28 as well).  Jesus’ allusions will be discussed below.  But for now, notice that Jesus equates eternal life with knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ (verse 3), and a bit later affirms that the word of God is true (verse 17).  If the word of God is true, and if eternal life comes through knowledge of the one true God, then it must be that knowledge of God comes through the word of God.  This claim will be shown by looking at Jesus’ allusions to the Prophets.

Allusion to the Prophets

Hosea 2:20 says, “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the LORD” (emphasis added).  Of this passage in its context, Hays argues,

Hosea 2 appears to be a poetic reflection on the symbolism of Hosea 1.  Apparently Gomer abandons Hosea, because in Hosea 2 Yahweh speaks of how his unfaithful wife turns to other lovers, refusing to even acknowledge the good things he has given to her (2:5-8).  Yet in spite of all this, Yahweh declares that he will take her back and be her husband again (2:14-20).

So it is evident that there is a covenantal element to knowing God.  Far from being mere intellectual assent to his existence, knowing God involves being betrothed to him in faithfulness.  But how is this knowledge gained?  Hosea 6:3 adds, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (emphasis added).  Here it is clear that knowledge of God inevitably includes who God is and what God does.  It would be insufficient to say that one believes in the existence of God and that is that.  On the contrary, from the High Priestly Prayer and from Hosea, knowledge of God includes covenantal relations as well as knowledge of his being and character.

Furthermore, Jeremiah 10:10 states, “But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.  At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation” (emphasis added).  Jesus is surely alluding to Jeremiah 10:10 when he says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God” (John 17:3, emphasis added).  Here is the third category for knowledge of God, that being the affirmation that he is the only true God.  So, according to Jesus and the prophets, to know God: 1) is eternal life; 2) includes covenantal relations; 3) includes a knowledge of who he is and what he does; and 4) includes the claim that he is the only true God.  This is the necessary content of knowing God.  But how does this knowledge come?  From here, look at Jesus’ allusion to 2 Samuel 7:28 to find the answer.

Allusion to 2 Samuel 7:28

In John 17:17, Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (emphasis added).  It has been shown that God is the one true God, and now it is clear that his word is truth.  And this is most certainly an allusion to 2 Samuel 7:28: “And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant” (emphasis added).  This passage makes it obvious that the truthfulness of God’s word is rooted in the very nature of God himself; that is, the word of God is necessarily true just as God himself is true.  God cannot lie, and, theologically speaking, therefore his word cannot err.

One of the most important things to note at this point is that Jesus has an extremely high view of the Scriptures, particularly of the Old Testament.  In today’s terms, one might say that Jesus believed in the inerrancy of Scripture.  That is, Scripture is true in all of its parts and in everything that it affirms.  From the largest words to the tiniest tittles, Jesus believes the word of God is true.  This has striking implications as well.  According to Jesus, it is eternal life to know God and Jesus Christ.  How does one come to know this?  The “word is truth,” is how Jesus answers that question.

Conclusion

In closing, the High Priestly Prayer is pregnant with meaning and importance.  A crucial piece of this meaning and importance is to be found in Jesus’ allusions to the prophetic literature, as well as his quick allusion to 2 Samuel 7:28.  The point of the High Priestly Prayer may be summed up as asking the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  From this, it is argued that Jesus means for knowledge of God to come through the word of God.  With allusions to Hosea, Jeremiah, and 2 Samuel, Jesus makes it clear that knowledge of God is utterly crucial for the Christian life.  In fact, it is eternal life!  Jesus’ use of the Old Testament betrays his extraordinarily high view of the Old Testament Scriptures; from this it must be concluded that his followers, if they truly want to know God, should likewise be held by the truth of the Scriptures.


[1] J. Gerald Janzen, “The Scope of Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17,” Encounter 67, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 1.


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