And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. John 17.3.
Having expressed all His desire to His heavenly Father in these words, “Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee”; having pleaded His commission, and the universal and unlimited power given to Him that He might fully discharge His trust-even to give eternal life to as many as the Father had given Him-our Lord now expresses most fully wherein eternal life consists, and the means whereby it is to be obtained and enjoyed. And this He does in the hearing of His disciples that they might fully understand what a privilege the Father’s love had purposed for them and for Him; for them, that they might know the only true God; and for Him, that He might be the means for their attaining to it: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Thus He manifests and magnifies the glory of the Father by declaring that eternal life consisted in the knowledge of Him; and thus He magnifies the grace bestowed on Himself, in that power over all flesh was given to Him in order that He might give eternal life to as many as God had given to Him.
Life and Death
Life is the perfection of being; eternal life is the perfection of life;
all life has its fountainhead in God; He is, and He alone, the living One; natural life, spiritual life, and eternal life, all flow from Him. Natural life is His creation; spiritual life is His inspiration; eternal life is His gift, possessed and enjoyed in union with Himself, and in the knowledge and fruition of Himself and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. As all life flows from God, so is it supported and maintained by God. This is true of natural life: “Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust” (Ps. 104:29). It is true of spiritual life-separation from God is the death of the soul; as God said to Adam:
“In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2.17), spiritual death followed upon disobedience, because sin cut him off from communion with God. It is also true of eternal life- this is the life of God in the soul; it flows from union with God, and is maintained in the communion and fellowship of God with us and we with God, in the knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Oh, how great and inestimable an existence is life eternal-the gift of God’s love, the end of Christ’s coming! “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10.10); the fruit of the indwelling power, energy, and operation of the Holy Ghost, in the knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Eternal life is not a faculty-however divine that faculty might be-bestowed on us apart from God; but a principle laid up in Christ for us, “hid with Christ in God,” and imparted to the soul by the Holy Ghost, in the knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The Father Himself is the source and fountainhead of it; Jesus Christ is the channel; and the Holy Ghost the communicating power. Faith is the heaven-born faculty in the soul, by which we see, hear, taste, receive, know, and enjoy God, and Jesus Christ whom God hath sent. We read the record given to faith thus: “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5.11). The text is our Saviour’s own definition of life eternal: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Let us carefully examine this statement: (1) Here is the most excellent knowledge conceivable, for it is knowledge which imparts the life of God to the soul. (2) Failing this, all other knowledge is ignorance. (3) For unfallen beings the knowledge of God alone is sufficient for the enjoyment of eternal life. Angels that never fell can possibly enjoy Him in the immediate vision of His glory; but for sinners, there is no knowledge of God but as associated with the knowledge of Jesus Christ whom He has sent. (4) Observe how plainly the equality of the Father and the Son is set before us in this matter of eternal life:
“This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
The Knowledge of God
The more we know of God the more this eternal life shall energize our souls; the more we know of God the more happiness and peace, and joy, and power, and holiness, and love, and rest, shall be possessed by us, till “we know even as also we are known.” On the other hand ignorance of God is the death of the soul. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph. 4.18). It was in order to dispel this ignorance, and impart to us the knowledge of God, Jesus Christ came; and that through Him we might be made partakers of eternal life-so He states in this address to His Father.
Observe what light is thrown by this passage on Genesis 2.16,17, where we are told God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God did not forbid our first parents to eat of the tree of knowledge with a view of depriving them of any good they might obtain by partaking of its fruit; but only to debar them from the evil. All that was good they had, all that was enjoyable they had; there was no need to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in order to add to their joy. God Himself was their abundant good-all that they attained by their disobedience was the knowledge of evil, involving condemnation and eternal death. Hence we learn how the love of God provided a means to cancel the condemnation and bestow life eternal, in the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Even the beginning of this knowledge here on earth is eternal life, commenced in grace: for he that believeth hath eternal life, and the consummation of it in heaven by-and-by will be the fruition of eternal glory.
Let us give our attention to the nature and character of this most excellent knowledge; and may it be the one aim and end of our lives to attain unto it! For this the Scriptures were written; they are the means of attaining to this knowledge. For this the Holy Ghost came down from heaven, to enable us to study the Scriptures with minds enlightened, and understandings quickened, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” “His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who hath called us to glory and virtue; whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.3,4).
What a comment is this on the Saviour’s words, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Yes, truly, in the knowledge of God we become partakers of His divine nature. And again in Colossians 3.10, we are told that we are “renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created” us. This knowledge not only imparts the life of God, but stamps the image of God upon us; and the more we know Him, the more we shall be like Him; and when we know as we are known, we shall be altogether like Him.
In Daniel 11.32, we read: “The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” What an excellent knowledge this is! Again, Ephesians 1.17, the apostle prays that “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” In 2 Peter 1.2, we read, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord”; not only grace and peace be bestowed upon you, but be multiplied unto you in the knowledge of God.
These passages seem to open out to us what that eternal life is which we have in the knowledge of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ. Again, Philippians 1.9, “This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge.” In the knowledge of God we get our love to God; and not only so, but as we know Him, our love abounds more and more-love to God, and love to man. What an excellent knowledge this is! In Psalm 9.10, we read, “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” The knowledge of God begets trust in Him. Then in that beautiful passage in 2 Timothy 1.12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Lastly, in 2 Peter 1.8, it is stated that it is this knowledge which causeth us to be neither barren nor unfruitful: “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus we have fruitfulness as well as love, strngth, and confidence, abounding grace, and wisdom, through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
How great and glorious our God must be, since it is eternal life to know Him; indeed, our text implies not only that the principle of eternal life is in the knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, but also that the knowledge of God is the aim and object of its existence, and the consummation, and rest, and crown of all its attributes and all its aspirations. How deep, experimental, and appropriating must this knowledge be, which introduces an eternal life of grace and glory into the soul of its possessor; and how divinely secure its possession has been made: “Thou hast given him power aver all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”
Oh, for a more abundant knowledge of the living God! To know Him is life eternal, to be acquainted with Him is peace; His favour is better than life itself, fellowship with Him is salvation. The vision of God is glory; His Word is the foundation for our faith, and hope, and joy, and God Himself is our portion for ever and ever. With Him is the well of life: “In thy presence is fulness of joy; At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16.11). Oh to know Him!-to know Him in His Fatherhood; to know Him as the God of love; to know Him as delighting in mercy; to know Him as the truth itself; to know Him as having so loved this sinful world, that “he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
The Preciousness of Christ
How precious is this sent One-the Lord Jesus Christ; His Person, God-man, the Daysman, to lay His hand upon us both; how precious to know Him in His offices-High Priest in heaven, laying Himself out in all His fulness to transact our affairs with God, sending down the Holy Ghost to be our Comforter, a well of living water, springing up within us into everlasting life (cf. John 4.14). The King of grace, and the King of glory-what a precious, precious Christ He is! It is eternal life to know Him. How precious His engagements!-undertaking for us; coming down into our nature to accomplish our salvation; paying the debt for us; abolishing death for us; and then rising in the power of an endless life to impart that life to us, so that, as Paul exclaims: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
How precious His commission-to give eternal life in the knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and to rule all things in heaven and earth, so that nothing might hinder our possession and enjoyment of it. Oh, for more of this heaven-born knowledge! it is the one thing we need; it would dispel all our fears; it would scatter all our doubts; it would well-nigh dry up all our tears; and it would give us joy unspeakable and full of glory. Why are we so ignorant? Alas! alas! is it not because our faith is so feeble?
Faith has a high prerogative; it is the principle in the soul which lays hold upon God, and approaches and enjoys the knowledge of Him, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. Oh, that the Lord would increase our faith! It was in order that He might establish and increase our faith, the Lord uttered these words in the hearing of His disciples: for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
What a lifelong study these words unfold to the believer born of the Spirit and taught of God! Sweet to study Him here-it is life begun; it will be glory to study Him hereafter, when we shall know even as also we are known. The knowledge of which Christ speaks is not an intellectual, speculative, theoretical knowledge of doctrines; but an experimental, heart-affecting, life-influencing acquaintance with the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
The Lord utters these words to His Father in the hearing of His disciples, that they might understand that His mission was to remove all the obstacles which could by any means interfere with their enjoyed vision of God. For this “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”; that He might be made sin for us, and by giving Himself for us, might thus put away forever that which formed the real barrier. For this the brightness of the Father’s glory was revealed, that His unveiled face might be seen-because a veil of unbelief had covered our hearts-and for this the Holy Ghost was sent, and-“God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4.6). It was a deep sense of these things which made the great Apostle of the Gentiles count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. No attainment here on earth seemed to satisfy him. Still his cry was evermore,
“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.”
Now, everything is to give place to, and shall make way for, this great end; every obstacle interposed by the world, the flesh, or the devil, between God and our hearts, Christ will take away; all other considerations are secondary to this great purpose, and shall in no wise hinder it. Christ is commissioned to give eternal life; and this eternal life is the knowledge of God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. If clouds arise from our own souls, Christ will remove them; whatsoever oppositions from self, Christ will remove them; if we set up idols in our hearts, Christ will remove them; self-ease, Christ will conquer; if pleasure, Christ will thwart it. Thank God He will! His purpose is that we are to know God-to enjoy and possess Him; and all things that come between us and God, whether they be enemies from without, or unbelief and ignorance from within, the Lord Jesus Christ is commissioned, and has undertaken, to remove. And we may say confidently with the apostle Paul: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8.38,39).
What a panorama of glory this subject opens out to us! Here we have God manifesting Himself: the Father loving; the Son undertaking; the Holy Ghost indwelling; knowledge increasing; ignorance dispelling; heaven opening; Satan falling; man rising-till he loses himself in the fruition of life eternal, knowing as he is known, and evermore enjoying all the fulness of God.
Taken from, Our Lord Prays for His Own; Thoughts on John 17. Chapter 4.