Calvary Road Baptist Church


John 17.1-5 

My text is John 17.3: 

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 

As I have on numerous occasions, I reiterate that John chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 are a record of the greatest conversation found in the Word of God. Chapters 14, 15, and 16 are a record of the Lord Jesus Christ’s conversation with His eleven remaining apostles, His final discourse to them before His arrest, unjust trials, and brutal treatment, and crucifixion by the Romans, in explicit fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies.[1]

Coming to John chapter 17, we conclude the greatest conversation ever held, with the Lord Jesus Christ turning His attention from His eleven remaining apostles to His heavenly Father. To refresh your memory, verses one through five records the Lord Jesus Christ’s prayer to the Father on behalf of Himself: 

1  These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

2  As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

3  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

4  I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

5  And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 

Let us circle back to verse three: 

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 

In verse one, the Lord Jesus Christ requests that His Father glorify Him so that He might glorify the Father. In verse two, the Lord Jesus Christ reiterates the authority the Father has given to Him from eternity past, which is authority over all flesh and is the basis of the Lord Jesus Christ giving eternal life to as many as have been given to Him by the Father.

Now that we come to verse three, there are five comments that I would like to make by way of explanation that I think would be of benefit to you as you seek to meditate upon this verse, reflect upon its meaning and application to your life, and cultivate both an appreciation and a gratitude to express toward God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ should you be one who the Father has given to His Son.

How does a person know that the Father has given him or her to the Son? If you have already, or if there ever comes a time in your life when you repent of your sins and turn to Christ in faith believing, you will come to the assurance, based upon the teaching of God’s Word, that God has indeed given you to His Son.

That will be the basis of great comfort to you because of what the Lord Jesus Christ said in John 6.39: 

“And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” 

As well as the four times here in John chapter 17 that the Lord Jesus Christ makes mention to His Father of those who have been given to Him. Let us now return to the Savior’s comments in our text, John 17.3. 

COMMENT #1: “And this is life eternal” 

It is important to note that the Lord Jesus Christ does not refer by the phrase “life eternal” to never-ending existence in eternity. Every human being who has ever lived has come into existence with an eternal and undying soul and will experience never-ending existence. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ does not here make mention of the duration of anyone’s existence.

It is taken for granted that every human being who has ever lived and will ever be born will experience never-ending, conscious existence. The issue to which the Lord Jesus Christ refers here is the issue of the quality of one’s eternal existence, not quantity, not mere duration. Unfortunately, we sometimes mistake life for existence versus nonexistence. This is because people draw erroneous conclusions from their misconceptions about physical death.

While physical death is the end of existence for animals, such as dogs and cats, and birds, because they have been designed for existence in this world only and not the next world, the same is not true of human beings. God’s design for human beings has always been for everlasting existence. Sadly, when came the spiritual death of Adam and Eve because of their sin, the physical death of Adam and Eve and every heir of that pair since then has required every individual to prepare for eternity consciously.

Most born, who live, and then die, die unprepared for the eternal state. To pass from this life to the next life unprepared is to pass, first, into Hell and then into the Lake of Fire. But some take advantage of their life on earth to prepare for the inevitable. In doing so, in considering the claims of Christ as the only Savior of sinful men’s souls and then trusting Christ for the forgiveness of sins, preparation for the next life in this life is successful. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ meant when He referred to “life eternal.” 

COMMENT #2: Please focus your attention for a moment on the word “they” in verse three. 

To whom does the Lord Jesus Christ refer when He uses this pronoun? The word “they” in English is derived from the form of the Greek word ginώskw the Lord uses, which is ginώskwsin, which is a present active subjunctive third person plural form of the word. Thus, the notion of “they” is bound up in the form of the word translated “they might know.” There are two groups of people referred to in verse two that might be the group to which the word “they” in verse three refers.

The first group that we find in verse two are those referred to as “all flesh,” meaning the entire human race, every human being who has ever or will ever be born. The second group is those referred to as “as many as thou hast given him.”

This second group would be known as the elect because the occasion of the Father giving these individuals to the Son must be eternity past. Why must this giving of individuals have taken place in eternity past? Because the verb that is translated “thou hast given” is the aorist subjunctive form of the verb, viewing this as a completed action and not a process that occurs over the span of time. You might recall from my message last Sunday morning, dealing with John 17.2, that the aorist tense of a Greek verb has to do with action occurring in past time

Thus, this giving of individuals by the Father to His Son cannot occur when a sinner trusts Christ. Why? Because this verb action occurs in eternity past, not in the present or in the future. Therefore, those the word “they” refers to in verse three cannot be a reference to every human being who has ever lived or whoever will live. “They” must refer, and can only refer, to those who will come to know God and Jesus Christ; the elect.

You need to ask yourself whether you are included in the “they” of verse three. Suppose you are someone who made a decision long ago, but no reasonable person would describe your present lifestyle and devotion to God and commitment to Christ as that of a disciple of Christ. In that case, you are likely not really a Christian. But if you really are a Christian and growing in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, you already know that you are included in this group. If you are not a Christian, there are only two ways to find out the answer to this question: if, before you die, you turn from your sins and trust Christ as your Savior, you will know that you have always been included in this group referred to by the word “they.” You did not discover this blessing until you trusted Christ. The other way to find this answer is when you die without Christ, and in Hell, you lift up your eyes being in torments.[2]

Then, and only then, will you know for sure that you were not included in that group of people referred to by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 17.3 as “they.” Of course, by then, it will be eternally too late. 

COMMENT #3: A third thing to notice in our text is the phrase “the only true God.” 

Of course, since the time of Abraham, the Jewish people have known there is only one God. Likewise, humanity has known there is only one God since the time of Adam and Eve, though sinful humanity has rebelled at this truth and turned to the worship of idols, false gods. But when God gave the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai, He gave the Jewish people a recitation known as the Shema. The Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6.4: 

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” 

Let us remind ourselves that the Old Testament is not the only place where this truth is found. First Corinthians 8.4 reads 

there is none other God but one.” 

Then there is First Timothy 2.5: 

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 

Therefore, it is well established throughout God’s Word that there is only one true God. What the Lord Jesus Christ reminded His eleven remaining apostles of here is not only that there is one God, one true God. No Jewish person of that era would have questioned that reality. But the Lord Jesus Christ also, in His prayer to His Father, acknowledged that He is true. Truthfulness, trueness, is a divine attribute. God is true. The Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, John 14.6. The Spirit of God is true, John 14.17, John 15.26, John 16.13, and First John 4.6. And the Word of God is true, Psalm 119.160. The importance of this reality cannot be overstated.

Thus, we refute the accusations of the Muslims and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim that by our Trinitarianism we believe in three Gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. We embrace the Shema. We also embrace the Apostle Paul’s two declarations. But we also recognize that the one God exists as three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

COMMENT #4: What is life eternal? 

According to the Lord Jesus Christ, life eternal is not so much to exist eternally. Neither is it to appreciate the reality that God is, that God is unique and that God is true. Only the complete fool denies that reality. Instead, it is to know Him. The Greek word used here, I have mentioned before, is ginώskw, which means knowing by experience.

This immediately sets the God of the Bible apart from the false God of Islam, whose name is Allah. Do not think me harsh in my statement since I reflect the declarations of the imams and the mullahs of Islam. They insist that the Quran and the hadiths teach a god, known as Allah, who is unknowable.

To believe in a god who cannot be known means you cannot have life eternal, for life eternal is to know God and to know Him by experience. But that is not all. Notice that the Lord Jesus Christ used the word “and.”

The verse reads “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” Thus, to have life eternal, to possess life eternal, you must not only know God. You must also, at the same time, know Jesus Christ. Indeed, the way you come to know God is by coming to know Jesus Christ, since He said, in John 14.6, 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the father, but by me.” 

John 14.7 reads, 

“if he had known me, ye should have known my father also.” 

This is yet another claim to deity by the Lord Jesus Christ and another indication of His uniqueness as the only Savior of sinner’s souls. This is reinforced by the Apostle Peter, in his first epistle, where he wrote, referring to Christ, 

“Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory.”[3] 

The question, of course, is how a person comes to know Jesus Christ, and by coming to know Jesus Christ, comes to know God the Father, for that is how a sinner comes to life eternal. 

COMMENT #5: The final phrase of John 17.3 reads, “whom thou hast sent.” 

Here the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates praying truth to God in prayer. It is a beautiful characteristic found throughout the Bible that God’s people, including God’s Son here, most usually include praying God’s truth to Him. He certainly remembered that He sent His Son. There can be no doubt about that. So, the Lord Jesus Christ uttered these words because they were words that were pleasing to the Father and because they were words instructive to His apostles who overheard His prayer.

This statement reiterates that the Lord Jesus Christ is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession,” Hebrews 3.1. It supports His great authority to, in turn, send forth apostles to represent Him as He represents God the Father. It supports His great authority to, as well, issue the Great Commission, which serves as our Church’s marching orders, Matthew 28.18-20. 

There is so much in John 17.3 to benefit us.

We learn a bit more about life eternal, referring to more than just the duration of one’s existence.

We learn a bit more about the elect, who were given by God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ for them coming to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, and thereby possessing (or being possessed by) life eternal.

As well, our doctrine of the Trinity is reinforced. The uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Savior and access to God the Father is buttressed. And we are reminded, afresh and anew, that our Savior was sent by God.

Allow me to close by asking once more. Do you know the only true God, and Jesus Christ? Have you been introduced?

You were born into this world not knowing God and not knowing Jesus Christ. Therefore, to possess life eternal, and to know God and His Son Jesus Christ, there must have been a time of that meeting.

No one has always known Christ and always known God. And no one comes to know Christ and to know God by virtue of words spoken into the ear of a child or water sprinkled on the forehead of a child.

So, I ask. When was that time you came to know Christ? Where was that time you came to know Christ? What was the occasion of that meeting when you came to know Christ? These are questions you want to reflect upon to take this matter of your life eternal seriously.

Some governing principles associated with coming to know Christ are as follows: 

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” 

That is Isaiah 1.18. In that verse, the LORD establishes that any saving encounter that occurs involves reason. In other words, you must be thinking and rational. That rules out infants, doesn’t it?

Thus, a salvation encounter requires the coming together of two thinking individuals, you and God, with you consciously and conscientiously turning to Christ by faith.

Faith? Yes, God’s dealings with human beings have always been based on faith. So with Abraham, so with David, and so with every other individual who has come to be a child of God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

But have no fear. The faith needed is supplied by God’s Spirit, through the ministry of the Word, as a gift by which means salvation is then given.[4] As you read or hear God’s truth, the Spirit of God imparts to you the faith God requires for you to turn from your sins by trusting Christ for the salvation of your eternal and undying soul.

That is the eternal life the Lord Jesus Christ prayed about in John 17.3, to know God the Father, the only true God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. That is a portion of the prayer of Christ that we are privileged to overhear, or to oversee in Scripture, that we might learn, that we might be profoundly blessed and that you might be saved.


[1] Herbert Lockyer, All The Messianic Prophecies Of The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pages 146-158.

[2] Luke 16.19-31

[3] First Peter 1.21

[4] 2 Corinthians 4.13; Romans 10.17; Ephesians 2.8

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