Our Origin, Mission, and Destiny (as seen in John 17)
by Inglis Fleming
As seen in John 17
John 17 stands alone. Its character is quite unique. In no other part of the inspired writings is truth presented in quite the same attractive form, for in it we are allowed to draw near and hear expressed in prayer the desires of the Son of God for those whom He has now secured for Himself by His atoning death. Surely no Christian heart can be unmoved as it meditates upon this unfolding of the longings of the Saviour, for they are for us, even though they first of all had in view the disciples who surrounded Him. This is shown in verse 20, where we read, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.” His eyes of love looked down the long centuries and He saw every one of His own before Him and prayed on their behalf.
The Setting of the Chapter
In the end of the sixteenth chapter the Lord spoke of His rejection. He was in the world which was formed by His hands, but it knew Him not; and in its ignorance of Him it hated Him and was about to crucify Him. He was going away, and His own were to be left in THE WORLD OF HATRED. He warns them that in the world they would have tribulation, “But be of good cheer,” He says, “I have overcome the world” (16:33). The seventeenth chapter is linked with this statement, for its first verse opens with, “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven.” Then in the beginning of the eighteenth chapter we find ourselves again in the world of Christ’s rejection, for we read, “When Jesus had spoken these words” (referring to the prayer of the seventeenth chapter), “He went forth over the brook Cedron” (the same brook over which David passed when he had to leave Jerusalem because of the treachery and rejection be experienced at the hands of his people (2 Sam. 15:23), and entered into the garden of Gethsemane, where His betrayal into the hands of His enemies was consummated.
It is the world, hating and hateful, then, that is in view on both sides of our chapter. Men in their rebellion against God, doing their own will, refusing the Son of God, and refusing and hating His disciples also.
In the seventeenth chapter there is another world—THE WORLD OF LOVE—and into this we are introduced. The love of the Father to the Son, the love of the Son to the Father, and the love of the Father and the Son to those who love the Son are before us here. We come out of the cold and darkness of man’s world into the warmth and sunshine of divine love. And how different is the atmosphere we breathe; how different the thoughts that fill our minds; how different the effect upon our spirits. Here we find that we are infinitely precious to the Son of God, and His delight in us springs most of all from the fact that we are the Father’s gift to Him. Seven times over He speaks of us thus.
(1) We are given to the Son that He might give to us eternal life, and that thus we might know the Father and Himself. “That He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him” (v. 2).
(2) We are given to Him out of the world, to which we had formerly belonged. “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world” (v. 6).
(3) We are given to Him as those who had been the Father’s in His eternal counsels. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me” (v. 6).
(4) We are given to Him, and prayed for by Him, as those who, though given Him, still belong to the Father. “I pray for them . . . which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine” (v. 9).
(5) We are given to Him; and He prays for us that we may be kept by the Father in oneness. “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are” (v. 11).
(6) We are given to Him and are kept by Him. “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost” (v. 12).
(7) We are given to Him, and are to be with Him in order that we may see His glory which the Father has given Him. “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24).
Thus the past, if we may so put it, the present, and the future of the Christian are all brought before us in the chapter. These form, as we may say, our history in three volumes, and give our origin in the past, our mission in the present, and our destiny in the future.
Our origin is in verse 6.
Our mission is in verse 18.
Our destiny is in verse 24.
Volume I. Our Past: Our Origin
“Thine they were.” Little indeed do our souls grasp the greatness of the thoughts expressed in those three short words, but we may well bask in the sunshine of them and let their blessedness gladden our hearts. “Thine they were.” We were in the Father’s thoughts before the ages of time began to be. We were embraced in His counsels for the glory of His Son. Those counsels were that His Son should become Man, should accomplish redemption (when sin had come in), and, having died, should become, as risen, the Head of a new race to whom He should give eternal life, and who should be His companions, sharing with Himself all the joys He Himself should know as Man before the Father’s face.
“Thine in eternal counsel,
Before the worlds were made;
Thine—and Thy love-gift to Him
Who all our ransom paid.
Thine, blessed God and Father,
Accepted in Thy grace;
Thine, as Thy sons in nearness
To joy before Thy face.”
We were present before His all seeing eye while ages rolled along their way. The Father’s heart went out to us as His own, we were His, but the secret that we were His was undivulged.
The creation of angels, of worlds, of men took place; sin entered and marred God’s fair handiwork; dispensations changed and God’s dealings with men altered; but the secret was still not disclosed. And then into a ruined world the Son of God came and found nothing but rejection and shame as His portion at man’s sinful hands. The Lord of glory was crucified and slain. All God’s plans appeared to be frustrated. The devil seemed to be triumphant. But God is above all. He takes unexpected ways of fulfilling His will. He makes the wrath of men to praise Him, and the remainder of it He restrains (Ps. 76:10). Through the death of His Son the door was opened for the carrying out of all His blessed designs. And now at last is the secret revealed, and we learn that we were as to our past compassed by the deep affection of the Father and were the subjects of the thoughts of the Father and the Son. The question of the lost and ruined condition in which He found us, and the necessity of His death for us—to redeem us from Satan’s bondage—do not enter here; here the eternal counsels of the blessed God are laid bare, and well may we bow our heads and worship as we contemplate it all.
Volume II. Our Present: Our Mission
“Thou gavest them Me.” This is our present. We are HIS, and He gives us His own place before the Father and before the world. Such is His delight in us as the Father’s gift of love to Him. Yes, the Son’s place—that is, the place He has as Man—is our place. He has Godhead glories which we can never share; but all that He can share with us He does share with us. He has NO RESERVES FROM US. He keeps back nothing which He can communicate. His love “gives not as the world, but shares all it possesses with its loved co-heirs.” This, then, is our present portion, and in the joy of it we can overcome the world, for by it are all the world’s joys eclipsed, its pleasures exceeded, and its delights excelled. Christ’s peace is ours (chap. 14:27). His joy is ours (chap. 15:11). The words the Father gave Him He has given us (chap. 17:8). The glory given to Him He shares with us too (chap. 17:22), and the love wherewith He is loved is the love wherewith we are loved also (chap. 17:26). These all speak of our place before the Father.
But what is our mission in the world? What is our business on earth? It is to be here in Christ’s interests. He has wrought for our interests. They are fully secured. He has freed us from all need of anxiety as to ourselves so that we may be undividedly on His behalf as long as He leaves us here. In verse 18 He says to His Father, “As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” And His prayer is that we may be kept from the evil of the world through which we have to pass while we carry out His intent in sending us. He has gone on high, has separated Himself from the world actually and entered into the Father’s presence, in order that our hearts, following Him and delighting in His joys, may be kept from the evil of the world, and in the power of the Holy Ghost reproduce something of the grace and beauty of Himself. Whatever earthly calling we may pursue, however we may gain our livelihood, our object in life is to be to His praise and glory. We are here to live for or, if necessary, to die for Him.
Volume III. Our Future: Our Destiny
Our past was linked with Him in the eternal counsel of the Father, our present is linked with Him in blessing before the Father and in testimony before the world, and our future is linked with Him also. We are to be in glory with Him eternally. Thus in purpose in the past, in privilege in the present, and in our portion in the future, we are indissolubly bound up with Himself.
How affecting it is to hear Him say of us, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” This is love’s request. Love is never satisfied save by the presence of the loved one. Nothing can compensate for the absence of that one. How wonderful that the Son of God should value our company: to ensure this—that we should be His companions for ever—He became Man; to ensure this He went into death; to ensure this He has gone into glory and lives for us there; to ensure this He will come again to receive us unto Himself, that where He is we may be also (John 14:3).
We know the heart of Christ. It has been proved to the full. Calvary’s cross is its complete expression. He gave Himself there for us. As to His work within us, we may say with assurance that He who has began the good work will complete it. For the joy of His own heart He will accomplish all His blessed designs for us. His own, as the Father’s treasured gift to Him, are being kept by Him until He shall come for them; and then in His likeness and glory they shall be to the everlasting joy of His heart of love, and the abiding proof of the Father’s love to Him.
Well may we say:
“Lord Jesus, come,
And take Thy Father’s gift—
The people by Thy cross made Thine,
The trophy of Thy love divine.
Lord Jesus, come.”