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This verse is often seen in contradiction with the last words of the cross "It is finished" (John 19:30). So which works did Jesus imply in this high priestly prayer, that he mentioned them in perfect tense: finished, completed, having accomplished. Should we not take the perfect tense literally, and consider it a lose idiomatic writing style by John?

John 17:4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (ESV)

John 17:4 I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. (NET)

1

Which work did Jesus mean in John 17:4 about already finishing the work that God gave him?

The work God gave him, from John, KJV:

"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (6:29)

"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." (6:39)

"And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." (6:40)

Did the work, work? Yes. And specifically, the work is a reference to those he spent most of his time with: the apostles (and disciples). We know this because of what is said (below), after 17:4.

"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me, and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. (17:5-8)

The work is faith in Christ and faith in Christ is salvation. The comment isn't loose or idiomatic. It's literal. He finished the work that YHWH gave him to do while he was alive: Faith. Their had to be a first group of believers: the apostles. Believers need the holy spirit for salvation. Christ completes the other half of his work through his death and resurrection: He had to die to resurrect and he had to resurrect to bring the holy spirit. "It is finished" is him knowing he would die and resurrect.

1

The Greek in John 17:4 is in an unqualified past tense called the aorist, which does not refer to the duration or completion of the action. The Greek of John 19:30, however, is in the perfect tense: it is something that has definite, present results.

Also, slightly different Greek verbs are used. The verb in John 17:4 is τελειόω, while John 19:30 uses τελέω. Both have as their root the word τελος, meaning "end", but τελέω carries an additional shade of meaning, perhaps, of accomplishment or fulfillment (cf. All things were now accomplished, John 19:28 KJV).

"The work of the Only-begotten Son Incarnate," as described in one Byzantine Greek commentary (Theophylact, 1055-1107) "is to sanctify our nature; to overthrow the ruler of this world, who made himself out to be God; and to plant the knowledge of God in the creation" (Explanation of the Gospel of John, tr. Chrysostom Press, p.257-58). "But how," continues Theophylact, had He finished this work when it was hardly begun?"

Indeed, Christ has already accomplished the greater part by implanting in us the root of every good: He conquered the devil, and by flinging Himself into the maw of the all-devouring beast of death. From this would follow by necessity all the fruits of the knowledge of God. It is in this sense that He has finished the work. I have sown, I have planted the root: the fruits are sure to follow.

Ibid. *

The use of an imperfect tense here makes sense, though, since the work of salvation would only be perfected through the crucifixion and death of Christ. When John 19:30 was translated into Latin the phrase "consummatum est" - "it is consummated" - was used. Christ's work on earth was complete, but God's full oekonomia was yet to be fulfilled. For this reason, after affirming that he finished the work which You gave Me to do, asks the Father And now glorify Me.


* The full text of Theophylact's commentary on v.4-6:

I have glorified Thee on earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. I have manifested Thy name ...

We learn from this that the Father glorifies the Son in the same manner as the Son glorifies the Father. I have glorified Thee on earth, Christ declares. Quite rightly did He add, on the earth, for the Father was already glorified in the heavens and worshipped by the angels, while the earth lay in ignorance. Having proclaimed the Father to all, the Son now declares, "I have glorified Thee everywhere on earth by imparting the knowledge of God, and I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me." The work of the Only-begotten Son Incarnate is ... [see above]. O Father, glorify Me with Thine own self which the glory which I had with Thee before the world was formed." At that point the nature of flesh had not yet been glorified: it had not been made worthy of incorruption and of sharing the royal throne. This is why the Lord declares, Glorify Thou Me, meaning, "Receive My dishonored and crucified human nature, and raise it up to the glory which I - the Son and Word of God - had with Thee before the world was." After His ascension, Christ in our human nature was seated on the royal throne and now He is worshipped by all creation. Then Jesus explains His words, I have glorified Thee on the earth, meaning, *I have manifested Thy name." How is it that the Son was first to manifest God's name, when Isaiah said, They ... shall swear by the true God [Isaiah 65:16]? As we have often pointed out, God's name was already revealed, but only to the Jews, not to the whole world. Now Christ announces that God's name will also be revealed to the Gentiles, since He has destroyed the devil, the teacher of idolatry, and planted the seeds of divine knowledge. If at any point the pagans already had some knowledge of God, it was only as creator-demiurge, not as Father. The Son revealed that the creator was the Father. Moreover, by His own words and deeds, Christ revealed not only His Father, but Himself.

  • Michael is asking which works are being talked about. – Gigi Sanchez Mar 1 '17 at 23:21
  • It doesn't address which works are in reference here but the answer about grammar is very informative and helpful. – Michael16 Mar 2 '17 at 8:55
  • Gigi (@GigiSanchez) is right. My answer was careless. I tried to address the other part of your question. – user33515 Mar 2 '17 at 14:35
  • It's all good. :-) But it would be nice if you placed the whole sentence from Theophylact, instead of cutting it off in front of "to sanctify" because we don't know if it's necessarily accurate to attribute what he's saying to "work" or "glorification." I see Theophylact quoted on the web, regarding glorification, but he uses his own logic when he quotes scripture -he doesn't quote it specifically regarding "work" or "glorification." – Gigi Sanchez Mar 2 '17 at 16:38
  • Hi, Gigi (@GigiSanchez) - I rephrased what I wrote to include the rest of the sentence as a direct quote. – user33515 Mar 3 '17 at 3:00

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