In John 13-16, Jesus informed His disciples of His mission to reveal God and reconcile those the Father had given Him. In His intercessory prayer in John 17, Jesus synthesized some of the macro themes of Scripture’s storyline.
(1) In John 17:3, Jesus described the Father as the only true God, reinforcing Israel’s understanding of monotheism. The opening verse of Genesis, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” laid the foundation for Israel’s understanding that there is only one God. In Gen 1:2 and 1:26, the concept of God includes multiple persons. God’s promises to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-16) were made in and of Himself. When God called Moses and led Israel out of Egypt, God established His supremacy over the gods of the Egyptians (Exod 3:1-15; 8:18-19). After the exodus, Moses sang, “LORD, who is like You among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises performing wonders?” (Exod 15:11). In the first commandment of the Decalogue, the Lord told His people, “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Exod 20:3). Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf in Exodus 32 contradicted God’s revelation of Himself to His people. In Deut 6:4, Moses said, “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One.” During the reign of Ahab, in 1 Kings 18, God showed His supremacy as the only true God by answering Elijah’s prayer when Elijah organized the two altars on Mount Carmel. After the Lord consumed the soaked altar, the people cried out, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!” (1 Kgs 18:39). Daniel portrayed Israel’s God as the one true God, the Ancient of Days, and noted that certain figures like the son of man (Dan 7:13-14) and the angel Michael (10:10-11:1; 12:1-4) had a special relationship with God. In John 17:3, Jesus said that eternal life consisted of knowing the Father and the One the Father had sent, Jesus Himself. In what followed in Jesus’ prayer, Jesus portrayed the Father as unique and above all while also describing His own uniqueness as the One sent by the Father to reveal the Father and return to the Father. In John 17, Jesus qualified Israel’s concept of monotheism in relation to His incarnation. The Father sent Jesus, His divine Son, to reveal Him and secure redemption for all those whom the Father had given to Him. Jesus’ prayer reinforces Jewish monotheism while also presenting Himself as a Person distinct from the Father, but equal in divinity.
(2) In John 17:5, 11, and 13, Jesus spoke of going to the Father out of the world, reflecting Old Testament imagery of God’s transcendence over the world. God’s speech acts of creation in Genesis 1 portrayed Him as distinct from and over what He created. God’s word of judgement through Noah in Gen 6:9-8:22 reinforced the theological framework of the early chapters of Genesis. God was distinct from the world but had a personal interest in human behavior and the ability to alter the natural elements as He wished. When the Lord appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exod 3:1-15, the Lord revealed Himself as holy, distinct from creation. In the second commandment, the Lord told His people to avoid making any idol that could represent Him (Exod 20:4-6; Deut 5:8-10). God’s transcendence over creation was reinforced when His glory temporarily filled the tabernacle Moses and Israel made in the wilderness (Exod 40:34-38) and the temple Solomon constructed in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:10-13). When Solomon dedicated the temple, he confessed that though God dwells in the heavens, the temple was also a special place for His name to be represented among His people (1 Kgs 8:27, 30, 43, 49). Isaiah said that God’s throne is in heaven and earth is His footstool (Isa 66:1; Acts 7:49-50). Jesus asked the Father to glorify Him in His presence (John 17:5), because He was leaving the world and going to the Father (John 17:11, 13; 14:2-4, 27-31). Jesus asked the Father that those who believed could be with Him and the Father and see His glory (John 17:24; 14:6).
(3) In John 17:15, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect the disciples from the evil one, referencing Satan’s destructive powers in the Old Testament. In Gen 3:1-7, Satan slandered God’s good word to Adam and Eve, tempting them to eat the forbidden fruit so that they would be like God in knowing good and evil. The Lord said that Eve’s sin would result in hostility between humanity and Satan. The Lord allowed Satan to test Job, afflicting Job’s family and his person (Job 1:6-2:10). The Lord allowed Satan to tempt David’s pride and David initiated a census of his warriors, inciting the Lord’s wrath on David and Israel (2 Samuel 24). In one of Zechariah’s visions, the prophet saw Satan accusing Joshua the high priest until the time when the Lord intervened to rebuke Satan and remove Joshua’s guilt so that the priest could perform his duties in the pure clothes the Lord provided for him (Zech 3:1-5). In John 17:15, Jesus prayed, “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.” In the flow of Jesus’ prayer, protection from the evil one included sanctification by the word of God’s truth (John 17:17).