John 17 is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, offered just before He led the disciples over the Brook Kidron to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1). This prayer reveals Jesus’ deep awareness of His impending mission on the Cross. Though the time in the Garden shows His very real anxiety regarding the horrible physical, mental, and spiritual suffering that lay ahead, Jesus entered this suffering with a profound awareness of the Father’s will and what constitutes the Father’s glory and holiness.
Eight times in John 17 Jesus spoke of “glorified, glory” (17:1,4,5,10,22,24). Keep in mind the Old Testament understanding of glory as we consider this prayer. Among other things, the glory of God is the reality of God’s established will; that is, what God desires brought to fruition. And in the Hebrew (or Aramaic) that Jesus spoke, the word for glory has the sense of weight, significant presence.
Jesus included in His prayer the reality of sanctification, that is, the application of divine holiness to humanity. He uses a form of the word sanctify three times in John 17:17-19. To sanctify or be sanctified suggests a call to a life separated for obedience to the will of God (glory). It is to live in spirit, attitudes, actions, and relationships so that God’s glory is manifested in and to a fallen world.
God’s holiness, like God’s love, is the essence of the divine nature and character. Holiness does not begin with a set of rules or regulations, but instead begins with a life-transforming relationship with the Living God. That relationship is not based on our self-understanding of holiness, which is prone to self-justification and imaginations rooted in our iniquitous state. Rather, John 17:17-19 shows that holiness is predicated on the revelation of divine truth, the Word that God has given to Israel and the church. To fulfill the Father’s glory, Jesus sanctified Himself for the sake of all He came to redeem (John 17:19)!
This is why the New Testament confesses that Jesus is “the brightness of (the Father’s) glory and the express image of (the Father’s) image” (Hebrews 1:3). In Hebrews 2 the connection between glory and holiness (sanctification) is expressed in terms of Jesus’ suffering and what that suffering accomplished:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:9-11).
The suffering and death of Jesus made the way for sinful humanity to return to the glory of the Father’s will in creation, to truly live as people made in the moral and spiritual image of God. To enter into “the way” by faith in Christ, is to be “set free from sin (and) have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). It is a life ruled by the Word of God, for the sake of God’s glory in this world. Thus, Jesus connected His prayer for sanctification with the mission of the redeemed in being sent into the world as witnesses of a redeemed humanity (John 17:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
The early church quickly recognized the meaning of the death of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s prophetic words to Israel to bring about reconciliation to a world where the glory of God was absent. In Jesus, God’s glory had a hidden and revealed presence. The hidden presence was what Jesus accomplished on the Cross where the rulers of this age could not comprehend what was accomplished in the death of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:17 through 2:8). The revealed presence was in the resurrection of Jesus, a resurrection brought about by “the spirit of holiness” that in power affirmed that Jesus truly is the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
As the people of God, we affirm holiness because its reality calls us to the Creator and His original will revealed in Genesis 1, 2. The activity of our Holy God in the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son points us to the glorious consummation promised in the future.
When we learn to view holiness from the vantage of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we discover the great liberty and joy we have as God’s beloved children. We discover that holiness is not a divine measuring rod under which we feel continual disapproval, but evidence of the grace and mercy provided by the blood of Jesus to fulfill the glorious purpose of our lives.