Three Remarkable Gifts
’’Even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’’-John 17:2, 3
The idea of giving is important in this prayer-in fact, in all of the Gospel of John. "Give" in one form or another is used seventeen times in our Lord’s prayer and seventy-six times in the Gospel of John.
Learning to give, and to receive, is an important part of life. John Donne was right: "No man is an island...." We depend on each other and we need each other. Most of all, we need God. Apart from the generous giving of our gracious God, we would have nothing. "A man can receive nothing," said John the Baptist, "unless it has been given him from heaven" (John 3:27).
Three remarkable gifts are mentioned in John 17:2. An understanding of these gifts will help us better understand God’s great plan of salvation and how we fit into it.
1. The Father gave the Son authority.
Here we are introduced to the mysterious inner workings of the Trinity, the plans that were made "Before the world was" (verse 5). It was decreed that, because the Son would suffer and die, He would be granted authority to give eternal life to those who would trust Him. (As we shall see later, those who trust Him are also the Father’s gift to the Son.) It was on the basis of this authority that Jesus prayed to be glorified; for unless He was glorified, He could not share the gift of eternal life. That is why verse 2 begins with "even as." The authority and the glory go together.
Authority is the right to act, to exercise power. If a burglar carrying a gun enters my house, he has power but no authority. If a policeman shows up carrying a gun, he has both power and authority. But somebody had to give that policeman the authority to act. "By what authority are You doing these things," the Jewish leaders asked Jesus, "and who gave You this authority?" (Matthew 21:23).
God the Father gave Jesus Christ the authority to do what He did on earth. (Of course, as the eternal Son in heaven, our Lord possessed all the authority of the Godhead. It is His ministry on earth that we are considering.) To begin with, the Father gave the Son the authority to die and be raised again. "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (John 10:17, 18).
The death of Christ was not an accident; it was an appointment. It was not a mistake; it was planned. It was not martyrdom or suicide. It was the willing offering of the Son of God on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ is the only one the Father has authorized to be the Savior of the world. Anyone else who claims this authority is a liar.
The Father also gave the Son the authority to judge. "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man" (John 5:26, 27). He is both Savior and Judge, for the two go together. Those who will not receive Him as Savior must face Him as Judge. The fact that Jesus ministered in a human body here on earth helps to qualify Him as Judge. No man can ever say, "You don’t know what we experienced!" Our Lord knows man because He is the Son of Man.
When our Lord ascended to heaven to return to the Father, He said to His followers: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). This includes the authority to give eternal life.
Our Lord’s authority extends over "all mankind," or, as the original Greek reads, "all flesh." Man is simply "flesh" and, as such, has no lasting glory. "For all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass" (1 Peter 1:24, quoted from Isaiah 40:6). The first mention in the Bible of "all flesh" is significant: "And God looked on the earth, and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:12). Man is only flesh, and the glory of flesh does not last.
In His grace and love, the Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). He was truly human, yet He was without sin. He entered into our world of "flesh" that He might bring us into the world of "spirit." His association with human nature was not temporary; it was permanent. He took a human body to heaven, and there it shares the eternal glory of God.
2. The Father gives people to the Son.
Jesus Christ has the authority to give eternal life, but He does not give this precious gift to everybody. He gives eternal life to those whom the Father has given to Him. At least four times in this prayer, Jesus identifies the saved as those who have been given to Him by the Father.
Again, we are entering into the mysteries of the eternal arrangement made by the glorious Trinity before the creation of the world. Theologians call this the doctrine of "divine election." God the Father has decreed that God the Son shall receive "a people"-the church-because of His completed work on the cross. God the Son is the Father’s love gift to a lost world, but the church is the Father’s love gift to His beloved Son.
The Scriptures affirm that all three persons in the Godhead are involved in our salvation. This is a part of the eternal covenant made within the Godhead. God’s plan of salvation was not an afterthought. "This Man [Jesus], delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you" (1 Peter 1:20).
Two lines of truth seem to run parallel in the Bible: one, that God has chosen His "elect" from eternity, and two, that these "elect" have made a responsible decision to trust Christ. "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me [that’s divine election], and the one who comes to Me [that’s human responsibility] I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). If we deny divine election, then we make salvation the work of man. If we deny human responsibility, then we make man less than man, a mere robot fulfilling the eternal plan of God. "Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9) expresses divine sovereignty. "Seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isaiah 55:6) expresses human responsibility.
A paradox? Yes. A mystery? To be sure! An impossibility? No! One of my professors at seminary said, "Try to explain divine election, and you may lose your mind. Try to explain it away, and you may lose your soul." Truth is not always at one extreme or the other. Sometimes truth is found at that subtle point of paradox where two opposites meet. At any rate, it is not necessary for a lost sinner to comprehend the mysteries of divine election in order to be saved. He knows that God loves him (John 3:16) and that God is not willing that any should perish (1 Peter 3:9). He knows that the promise of salvation is for "every one who calls on the name of the Lord" (Acts 2:21). If he calls, God will answer him and save him.
We have already noted that all three Persons in the Godhead are involved in our salvation. Perhaps this truth can help us better understand God’s part and our part in the miracle of salvation.
As far as God the Father is concerned, I was saved when He chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Of course, I knew nothing about that choice. As far as God the Son is concerned, I was saved when He died for me on the cross; for He died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This is the message of the gospel, the good news that sinners can be saved. I had known that good news since childhood, but it never really struck home until one night at a Youth for Christ rally. I heard the evangelist as he preached the gospel, and I trusted Jesus Christ and was saved. So, as far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, I was saved that May night in 1945 when I responded to the Spirit’s call.
Now, to emphasize the ministry of one member of the Godhead to the neglect of the others would be wrong. Or to so emphasize God’s part to the minimizing of man’s part would also be wrong. Paul kept all of these things in balance when he wrote: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).
If I did not believe that God was working out His perfect plan in this world, I would stop ministering. The fact that God has an elect people in this world is, to me, a great encouragement for ministry, whether it is preaching, writing, witnessing, or praying. When Paul became discouraged in the polluted city of Corinth, the Lord reassured him: "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9, 10). Jesus called these people "those whom Thou hast given Me."
Of course, the doctrine of election is a great blow to man’s pride. It is unfortunate when some personal workers and evangelists give lost sinners the impression that the sinner is doing God a favor by trusting His Son. Or sometimes they convey the idea that God is paralyzed unless the lost sinner does something to help himself get saved. The sinner chooses-and then discovers that he has been chosen! He believes-and then finds out that his faith and repentance were God’s gift (Acts 11:18). He cannot explain it, but he can enjoy it; and he gladly affirms with Jonah, "Salvation is from the Lord!"
There are five special blessings that belong to those who have been given to the Son by the Father.
(a) Eternal life (verse 2). We will study this gift in detail in the last part of this chapter.
(b) The knowledge of the Father (verses 6,7). The lost world does not know God (verse 25). Only those who have been given by the Father to the Son know Him. To "know His name" means to know His person, to understand His nature. God’s children do not just know about the Father: they know the Father personally.
(c) Christ ’s intercession on their behalf (verse 9). When He was on earth, Christ prayed for His disciples; but today, He is praying for all believers. This is part of His great ministry as our High Priest in heaven. (See Hebrews 7:25; 9:24; and Romans 8:34.)
(d) Divine protection in this world (verses 11,12) . This involves the physical and spiritual well-being of God’s people. It also involves their spiritual unity in Christ. God guards His own.
(e) Eternal glory (verse 24). This is our assurance of heaven. No one will be in heaven who has not first of all been given to Jesus Christ.
How important it is to know that we have been given to Christ! No wonder Peter wrote, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10, NIV). In this present era of "easy believism" and shallow evangelism, there are doubtless many professed Christians who have never been converted at all. A well-known Christian leader told me that he believed half of the people in our churches were not born again. Paul warned the members of the church at Corinth, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
3. The Son gives eternal life to those who are given to Him.
The word "life" is used thirty-six times in John’s Gospel. In fact, John wrote his Gospel so that sinners might trust Christ and receive eternal life (John 20:31). There is no question that eternal life is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.
But what is "eternal life"? Certainly it is more than extended life-living forever, because even the lost will live forever, separated from God. "And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Eternal life is not endless time; it is God’s own life shared with us now. It is not a quantity of time but a quality of experience. In fact, eternal life cannot be affected by time. Like the eternal God who gives eternal life, the gift is beyond time and outside time. When you have eternal life, you have God’s own life here and now-and forever.
The British expositor Dr. G. Campbell Morgan has pointed out that John describes for his readers all the essentials for life. For example, there can be no life without light. "In Him [Christ] was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). Nor can there be life without breath. "He breathed on them, and said to them, ’Receive the Holy Spirit’ " (John 20:22; and see also the Holy Spirit as "wind" in John 3:8). Water is another essential for life: "...whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14). A fourth essential for life is food, and Jesus said, "I am the bread of life..." (John 6:35).
Of course, this gift of eternal life comes through what Jesus called "being born again" (John 3:1ff.). Our first birth was a physical birth, but the second birth that brings salvation is a spiritual birth. Our first birth made us sons of Adam and therefore sinners; but our second birth makes us the sons and daughters of God and forever settles the problem of sin.
In John 17:3, our Lord explained eternal life in terms of "knowing God." But we must not interpret this to mean a mere intellectual acquaintance with God. Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God personally. The history of the Greek word translated "know" indicates that the word means "to know with experience." It is not merely an opinion or a mental acceptance. "To know" something or someone means to grasp the full reality of it or him, to penetrate into the very nature of the object or person. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "to know" also described the intimate relationship between man and wife (Genesis 4:1, 25), and this same meaning is carried over into the New Testament (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34).
How can a sinner get to know God in this intimate, personal, saving way? Only through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus replied, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father..." (John 14:8,9). It is only when we yield to Jesus Christ that we get to know the Father in the experience of eternal life.
Consider the characteristics of this gift of eternal life. Certainly it is the most expensive gift ever given, for it cost Jesus Christ His life. It is an eternal gift. Unlike most of the gifts we receive, which either break or wear out, eternal life gets better and better as the years move on. Eternal life is an essential gift-everybody needs it. If you had to give one gift to everybody in the world, what would it be? Not everyone can read books; not everyone wears the same kind of clothing; not everybody needs money; tastes in food differ from one place to another. The only gift that is suitable for everybody is eternal life, for everybody needs it.
Eternal life is an expressive gift: "God so loved the world that He gave..." (John 3:16). Some gifts are given out of obligation or guilt, or even pride; but eternal life is given as the expression of the Father’s great love for us.
But eternal life is an exclusive gift; only those receive eternal life who have been given to the Son by the Father. There is only one true God; there is only one Savior. Only Jesus Christ has the authority to give eternal life to those who trust Him. How tragic it is when lost sinners refuse to accept this free gift! "And you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" (John 5:40).
The subject of eternal life is so vast that we could go on for many more pages, but I want to close with this observation: When people possess eternal life, you can tell it by their everyday life. When a person says, "I know God!" then he ought to back up that profession with practice. For one thing, he will be obedient to God’s will. "The one who says, ’I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). He will also practice love for the brethren. "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). Saying that we know God carries tremendous responsibilities.
The opposite of eternal life is eternal death, the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Eternal life means knowing God; eternal death means separation from God. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:17).
Have you received the gift of eternal life?
Are you sharing the good news of this gift with others?
Wiersbe, Warren W.: Prayer : Basic Training. Wheaton, IL : Tyndale, 1988
  August 2018  
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