"Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24) are the recorded words of the Incarnate Son, uttered in intimate and solemn intercourse with His Father. We would not seek to make ourselves "over-wise" in matters relating to the Deity, nor would we pry into matters unrevealed; but a question in connection with this passage has recently been forced upon us. Was the Son speaking of the love which rested upon Him as the Son before the foundation of the world? or was He speaking of the love which rested upon Him then, but was altogether apart from and prior to His being the Son? More briefly, did He speak of being loved before the world's foundation as the Son, or as an Unnamed, Unknown Person in Absolute Deity?
Our reluctant hearts are driven to this abstruse inquiry because it is stated by some that the Son was only such "in manhood," and, therefore, could not have been loved by the Father before the foundation of the world as the Son.
We believe, however, that this scripture itself and its context answer the question conclusively for all simple minds. They teach us that the Lord claimed the love of the Father as a love which was peculiarly and exclusively His own from all eternity, He being then and always the Beloved Son of the Father. For Who is it that is represented here, pouring out His heart in intercession with the Father for His own who are in the world? "Thou lovedst Me." Who is speaking? Is it One unknown to the Father as Son before the days of His flesh? Let this scripture itself answer.
Who is the Speaker in John 17?
Examining the scripture, we see (1) that the evangelist describes the Speaker as Jesus (ver. 1); (2) that the Speaker describes Himself to the Father as "Thy Son" and as "Jesus Christ" (vers. 1-4); and (3) that the Speaker (ver. 5) claims to have had glory with the Father before the world was, and to have been then with the Father, not as His Servant, but as His Son.
The Speaker, therefore, is the Eternal Son, the Son ''from everlasting," the Son "before the world was," and now He seeks that He may be glorified as the Incarnate Son in heaven. Let us tarry to contemplate these great truths a little further.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God
(1) In John's historical narrative, the Holy Spirit records that Jesus was speaking: "These things Jesus spoke, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said . . ." (John 17:1). The name, Jesus, without any addition of title, is a characteristic feature of the Fourth Gospel, where it is found much oftener than in any of the others. It occurs about 250 times in John, and only about 350 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke taken together. Here then we read, "Jesus spoke;" it was Jehovah the Saviour, as that name means; it was "Jesus Christ, the Son of God." How marvellous that we should be permitted to hear the words of Jesus addressed to the Father!
Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father
(2) In the first part of His intercession, we find that the Lord Jesus speaks, using the third person, to the Father about Himself as the Son and as Jesus Christ. He said, "Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may also glorify Thee. . . . And this is the eternal life, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." He designates Himself "Thy Son" and "Jesus Christ."
This passage is most instructive to us. The words in the third personal form convey to us in a marked and emphatic manner the special character in which the Lord presents His intercession. He does not plead as Son of David or as the Son of man for Israel or the Gentiles, but as Son of God for those given Him in the hour of His denial by His earthly people.
Before the Father, with eyes lifted to heaven, on the point of His departure unto the Father, the Lord Jesus in His intercession takes the place of the Son of the Father ("Thy Son"). He is not interceding as the Son of man, nor as the Messiah. He is addressing not Jehovah, but the Father. His pleadings are not for Israel that they may be blessed nationally, nor for created things that they may be purged from the blight of sin. Old Testament promise and prophecy dealing with these spheres of reconciliation and with the worldwide display of divine righteousness and glory are placed in abeyance on account of His own rejection by the world. Nevertheless, as the Father's Son He has personal rights and privileges which are unaffected by this sinful unbelief of man, and in virtue of these rights, He is now interceding for His own company — for those who received Him (John 1:10-13).
Accordingly, the Lord Jesus presents as the basis of His intercession His own personal relationship of Son to the Father, a relationship anterior to the world's existence, and, therefore, independent of the divine plans for the world's complete regeneration, though, as Son, He will in due time be its sole channel of blessing, all things being placed in His hand.
The prophetic revelation of administrative righteousness in the world must wait its fulfilment; but the Father's love is not stemmed in its outflow by man's obduracy, for it is made known by the Son, Who ever dwelled in it, never more nor less so than He did in manhood. Moreover, this love was made known by Him to a circle which had received no prophetic mention in the Old Testament programme of the world's history; but this circle of lowly believers is now linked up with the love enjoyed by the Son before the foundation of the world.
But the Son had on earth already revealed the Father's name and the Father's love to those whom the Father had given Him out of the world. For this company the Son prays, describing them as the Father's gift to Him (vers. 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24; also John 18:9; John 6:37, 39). And He makes request on their account to the Father because, having glorified the Father on earth, He looks to be glorified by Him in heaven, while they would be still in the world.
But in His prayer to the Father the Son speaks in the full consciousness of His own equality with the Father, as One able to pronounce upon the completeness of His own work, and to estimate the glory that work had in the Father's eyes. What was that work? That "they might know Thee." And in order that His own might have this knowledge of the Father, the Son had given them eternal life.
It is not, therefore, as the Mediator between God and man, nor as the Servant of Jehovah that the Lord Jesus is speaking, but as the Son, in the essential glory of His own Person as the Son of the Father, Who had glorified the Father on earth in respect of His manifestation of that love which had no beginning, for "God is love."
Having then, in manhood, revealed that love on earth, He, the Incarnate Son, now seeks to be glorified in heaven. As another has said "He was Son before time began; He had, therefore, of course, glory with the Father before the world was. But He had taken the place of servant in manhood on earth, and now asks that the Father should glorify Him along with Himself with the glory which He had along with Him eternally. A man to everlasting, He would receive all from the Father, albeit Son from everlasting; and when glorified it is that He may glorify the Father. Such is perfect love and devotedness" to the Father — the unique love and devotedness of the Son.
The Glorification of the Incarnate Son
(3) From verse 4 the form of diction is changed to the first person, and the words used in speaking of Himself by the Lord Jesus from this point onward are "I" and "Me." In verse 1 He requested, "Glorify Thy Son"; now it is, "Glorify Me, Thou Father, along with Thyself, with the glory which I had along with Thee before the world was" (ver. 5). There is, as we have noted, a didactic significance underlying the variation in the phraseology of the two utterances, but they were both uttered by the same Person. They show that the One about to be glorified would enter the glory He had along with the Father "before the world was," and that the Speaker was the Son in manhood.
With deepest reverence let us con over these words again that we may learn more of their true import, while we mark their intimate connection. First, the Lord Jesus says, "Glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may glorify Thee" (ver. 1). Consumed with zeal for the Father's house, the Son, Who had glorified the Father on earth, now sought to be glorified on high that He might from thence continue to glorify the Father.
Having introduced Himself as the Son (ver. 1), the Speaker with the same uplifted eyes, with the same gracious lips (ver. 5) said, "Glorify Me." There is not a syllable to suggest that there is a change of identity of the Speaker in these closely connected utterances, the second of which reaches back to the eternal ages. For the Speaker desired of the Father definitely, emphatically ("Thou Father") that He Himself might be glorified "along with [para] Thyself," at Thine own side; and, further, this glory was the very same glory the Speaker had "along with [para] Thee," at Thy side, "before the world was."
The language of this petition forbids us to think that this glory of the Speaker was not eternal, since the glory is not one which He began to have at some past period, nor one which He would have for the first time when this prayer should be fulfilled, but it is the glory which He "had" before the world was.
Considering this glory yet further, we learn that the Speaker's glory was not one derived from creatorial activities, since it was possessed by Him "before the world was." It is the glory, external and anterior to the creation, which blazed in infinite excellence "before the world was." It is the self-contained, ineffable glory which the Speaker had when, distinct personally from the Father, He was along with the Father "before the world was." It is the transcendent glory which the Father abiding in the mutually complacent love of the Godhead beheld in the Uncreated Eternal Son, Who was in His bosom before the foundation of the world.
"Before the world was." What perfections shine in every word of the Son! The world is the arena where sin dishonoured God, and where, according to purpose, the glory of God will eventually be displayed with even greater brilliance than at the creation. But the advent of the Saviour of the world was attended with such an outbreak of man's hostility that the divine schemes for the redemption of the world from its bondage to sin and Satan were postponed.
The Son, therefore, "knowing all things that should come upon Him," turns to what was in the beginning before the world even existed — the things associated with His own glory by the side of the Father, and the love the Father had for Him. As the Incarnate Son, He sought that He might enter that glory at His ascension, and be displayed in it along with the Father. But while the Son, leaving the circumstances of His humiliation, entered that glory at His ascension, it is from the wording of the petition clear that the Speaker "had" that same glory in the beginning. For if the
Father Whom the Speaker addressed was Father before the world was, then the Speaker, Who was with Him before the world was, was His Son before the world was.
Some who admit "the Person was there" in the beginning assert that it is going beyond scripture "to give Him a personal name or designation." But here scripture itself, that is, the Holy Spirit, gives Him the name of Son. The Speaker, or the Person speaking, in verse 5 discloses that He was with the Father before world was; and the same Person in verse 1 describes Himself to the Father as "Thy Son," that is, the Son of the Father; while in both verses the Speaker directly addresses the "Father" by name.
This scripture therefore presents to us, that it might become an element of our worship, a marvellously unbroken continuity in the ever-blessed Person of the Son. Before the foundation of the world the Son is at the Father's side in His own characteristic personal glory, beloved by the Father as such. In the incarnation of the Son, the union of the two natures of God and man is so absolute that the Personality of the Son remains intact, and He in manhood is as ever "over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5). Then at the ascension, the Incarnate Son assumes His own pre-incarnate glory, but the Person is the same. The Son is the "I AM," unchangeable and absolute, in the beginning, now, and evermore; and we fall on our faces before Him in adoring worship.
The Son's Glory before the World was
When the Son speaks of His eternal glory along with the Father, His personal dignity and worth in our eyes are not diminished, but enhanced beyond degree. We gladly worship the Son even as we worship the Father, knowing that the Incarnate Son is now glorified along with the Father with the glory He had in His Personal Being from everlasting.
It was not that the Lord asked "to be re-invested with" that glory, as if He had "left, as to outward form and position, the glory of Deity." Could there be Deity without the glory of Deity? Nor can we properly speak of the "outward form and position" of Deity, save with reference only to what appeared to men's eyes. Glory may be present, though invisible to human sight. The glory of Jehovah passed by Moses, hidden in the cleft rock and covered with the divine hand. Jehovah in His glory was there, but Moses saw only the "back parts" (Ex. 33). The glory of Deity may be veiled or concealed from men, but is never obliterated so as to require renewal or restoration. As the Essential Being of the Godhead is unchangeable, so is His Essential glory.
Scripture is silent as to the Son surrendering the glory proper and peculiar to His Person. Indeed, the very fact that He was the Eternal Son in manhood imparted its unique quality to His service. His obedience as far as death, the death of the cross, was magnified beyond all comparison because He was "in the form of God," retaining the full glory of Sonship.
The very words we are considering provide a vivid illustration of this spirit of obedience: "Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me." He Who humbled Himself waits the Father's pleasure for His exaltation. The Son, become a servant, Who glorified the Father on earth, yet abstains from glorifying Himself in heaven. Though possessing full personal rights to the glory He had with the Father before the world was, He submits, in accordance with the perfection of the Incarnate Son, to the good pleasure of the Father for His glorification on high.
There is, therefore, exquisite moral glory in the petition itself. Never could such a plea ascend to the Father from other lips than His. As Son, He asks that, as Man, He may be glorified in heaven with the personal glory which was His from everlasting. Moreover, this plea He grounds, not upon His own personal glory and eternal relationship as Son, but upon His glorification on earth of the Father, and the completion of the work given Him to do, concerning which He is Himself competent to express a true judgment before the Father. "I have glorified Thee . . . I have finished the work."
Such language would be extravagant for anyone not in the glory of Sonship before the world was. But it was then that the Son was along with the Father, exhibiting in Himself the full excellence of that glory peculiar to Himself as the Son, while the Son in that glory was the ineffable delight of the Father. How inspiring to the hearts of those begotten of God to know that the eternal love in the bosom of the Father found perfect response in the heart of the Eternal Son! What glory the eyes of the Father saw in the Son throughout that past eternity when God was all! What profound complacency filled the Father's heart as He contemplated the glory of the Son before the world was! And not less so when He beheld that Son in manhood, His Only-begotten Son in Whom He was well pleased!
How sweet that we should be given this glimpse into the inscrutable past by One on earth Who alone knew it! For we now know that before all ages and generations the love of the Father rested in an unbroken and delighted tranquility upon the Son Who was along with Him in His personal glory. That personal love and personal glory, the Son possessed and enjoyed "from everlasting," before all worlds. Now, having glorified the Father on earth, as the obedient Son in manhood He desires to be glorified with that glory which was ever His as the Eternal Son of the Father.