When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:1-11)
“The hour has come”. Can there be a more ominous four words in the English language? They carry the weight of something which cannot be avoided. Something long anticipated. The moment of truth.
Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the shadow of his arrest. Judas has slipped out to prepare his betrayal, and Jesus has been giving final instructions to his disciples. Words which became all the more important as the sun set on Good Friday and his followers faced the grim fact of the death of their leader.
“The hour has come”.
This “hour” is something which has stalked the pages of John’s gospel. Remember the wedding at Cana which ran out of wine? Mary urged Jesus to do something, and he answered: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4). As Jesus taught in Jerusalem, we twice read that he was not arrested “because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30, 8:20).
Then the hour arrived, and its full horror made its impact upon Jesus. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27). This hour was terrible in prospect, and yet it was necessary. It was the path which had to be walked to come to a brighter land. It was a suffering which brought joy. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21).
And so it was that Jesus was in this upper room, the disciples had been instructed and the betrayer had set the trap. As he prepared himself for what was to come, Jesus broke into prayer: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3).
This prayer is revealing, as it tells us the result of what Jesus came to do. The “hour” is the crucifixion, but the clock continues to tick and the hour hand moves on. Crucifixion leads to death. Death leads to resurrection. Resurrection leads to Ascension, which leads to Pentecost, which leads to the pouring out of the very Spirit of God. The “hour” leads to eternal life, which was the purpose of all this.
Now stop. Think. There is something important being said here. There would be no point in all this suffering if Jesus was simply to give us something we already have. No, the fact that Jesus gives eternal life suggests that it is something we don’t already have. All of Jesus’ ministry - the birth in Bethlehem, the teaching in Jerusalem, the healings, Palm Sunday, all of it - was so that he might give eternal life to those whom the father gave him. Let me put it another way, the mark of the Christian is that he or she has received this eternal life.
So what on earth is it? Jesus continues: “and this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. Now, it is important to understand ‘knowing’ is different from ‘knowing about’. It is one thing to know there is a God, but entirely another thing to know that God. I can read a travel guide to Venice, but it does not mean I have felt the breeze brush across the canals.
Charles Spurgeon put it well:
“The Lord is not to be seen, neither can his footfall be heard; but to know God is to be conscious of his presence by an inward sense which does both see and hear, to feel that he is everywhere, on the land or on the sea, and, knowing that he is there, to rejoice in being with him; in fact, to find great delight in this God who is not far from any one of us; to be (let me put it very plainly) on speaking terms with him, to be so reconciled to him that you have no dread of him, no bondage and fear when you think of him.
“You then regard God as your best Friend, whom you love, and in whom you delight, to whom you talk as naturally as you talk to friend or father, into whose bosom you pour your griefs, into whose heart you tell your joys. God is nearer than your most familiar friend, nearer to you than eyes and ears, nearer to you than your own body, for he gets within your soul, which your body can never do.”
This is what lies at the core of eternal life. It is a quality as well as a quantity. It is not simply measured in years, but in richness. This knowing God is an anchor for the soul, and a comfort in all kinds of trouble.
Note also that Jesus continues: “and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. Here is the path to this knowledge of God, this eternal life. Earlier Jesus has described himself as “the way, the truth and the life”. He is the good shepherd who leads his sheep to the Father. He leads us through the “valley of the shadow of death” at the crucifixion, so that we may “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23).
“The hour has come” and a new dawn has flickered into view. The hour has come, and Christ has eternal life in his hands. The hour has come, and with it the moment of truth. The hour has come - will you let it tick by?