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John 17:2 (NASB)

even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

What does the Father giving people to Jesus (so that Jesus may, in turn, give them eternal life) mean? Does this passage imply that the Father only gives certain people to Jesus, that He only chooses certain people to believe in Him?

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The main question - What does it mean for the Father to "give" people to Jesus? Jesus goes on to answer that, starting from the very next verse after the one you quoted. I will highlight that, and related statements in the rest of the chapter (all quotes from the A.V.):

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent... 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. I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine... Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are... Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." (up to vs 20)

In that selection, "giving" and being "given" is stated seven times by Jesus, but there are another seven times in the whole chapter. Thus, the entire chapter needs to be studied to grasp what the sense of the Father giving, and Jesus giving amounts to. Only then can this question be answered.

What I suggest is that the sense of continuous flowing between the Father and the Son is fundamental to this chapter. And all of this glorifies God, with the astonishing revelation (vs. 10) that those people the Father gives to the Son glorify the Son! "I am glorified in them" Jesus says! This is all bound up in the concept of "being one". Those the Father gives to the Son "may be one as we are" (vs. 11). So, the Son glorifies the Father, and the disciples of Christ whom God gives him, glorify the Son, which (in turn) results in more glory to the Father, for the Father and the Son are one.

This is where biblical doctrine about the impossibility of knowing the Father or the Son in a saving way apart from Father and Son combining in their sharing of their love to the saved has to be grasped. And vs. 20 is highly significant. Jesus' word to the disciples given to him back then is believed by those chosen disciples, and they in turn state that word to others, who believe it, and are saved. That is why Jesus' prayer reaches into the future to all those who would yet believe because they too were given to Christ, the Father knowing they would believe on Christ through the disciples' word.

Here is a significant quote about the importance of those the Father 'gives' to Jesus throughout the centuries, having to stand in the apostles' doctrine, which is the doctrine of Christ. This is exposition as to what Revelation 21:14 means, that the heavenly city of New Jerusalem has "twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.":

This foundation is the doctrine of Christ without which none has either the Father or the Son 2 John 9

"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath BOTH the Father and the Son."

This is that upon which the entire ecclesia rested by faith in the beginning: 'And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine', Acts 2:42. It is called the evangel, or gospel: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it'- mark that, it; it itself - 'is the power of God unto salvation', Romans 1:16... That which brings the salvation or deliverance is the apostolic doctrine of the gospel, or evangel, called 'the faith once delivered to the saints', Jude 3... 'Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me', II Timothy 1:13 ...In 'the foundations of the apostles of the Lamb' are found 'those things which are most surely believed among us', Luke 1:1" (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p 598, John Metcalfe)

The Father 'gives' to Christ those who will believe Christ's words, which words have come down to us through the centuries as the apostolic doctrine of the gospel of Christ. They belong to Christ by faith, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All who have been 'given' to Christ are identified by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Romans 8:1-27 explains this miracle of grace. Those ones can be called Christians. They have not self-identified as Christians. They have been identified as such by the indwelling Holy Spirit who is given to them as their guarantee of forever being with Christ. Then they have that quiet assurance that the Father has given them to Christ, "joint-heirs with Christ... sons of God".

That's what it means for the Father to 'give' people to Jesus. And, (your secondary question) given how Jesus prayed in John ch. 17 only for those the Father had already, and would yet, give to him - and not for the world - it is plain that those who belong to the world are not included in those who are given to Christ.

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  • Thank you so much for this clear and extremely helpful answer, Anne! What does it mean when Jesus says His disciples were the Father’s and He gave them to Jesus (verse 6)? I think I’m still caught up on the giving aspect when, as you mentioned, Jesus and the Father are also one? Does anything about the disciples’ position change now they are Christ’s (and not just the Father’s)?
    – Gremosa
    Sep 16 at 17:06
  • @Germosa Do you know, that's such an interesting last question, it deserves to be posted on its own! I'd never thought about that till you asked it. Please post it!
    – Anne
    Sep 16 at 18:37
  • Thanks for the encouragement, Anne! I just posted it as a separate question and will accept your answer for this one!
    – Gremosa
    Sep 16 at 19:01
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“Does this passage imply that the Father only gives certain people to Jesus, that He only chooses certain people to believe in Him?”

Yes.

‘certain people’ have been the reality since Adam - Noah, Moses, Aaron, David, the prophets, Disciples, Paul etc.

This is not the age (from Adam until Jesus’ return) for all to come to God. All will have an opportunity for salvation, as God is Saviour, and Jesus died for ALL. There IS a second death, so some will not choose the offer God provides.

The ‘certain people’ are part of God’s plan to do the work of preparing for salvation of all^. In the kingdom there will be kings and priests to govern during the Millennial reign of Christ.

…even us, whom He has called not only out from the Jews, but also out from the Gentiles? Rom 8:24-

Listen to Me, Jacob, Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. 13“Assuredly My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together. (keep reading) Is 48:12

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ Is 65:1

So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Rom 9:18

Jesus is the only way to true life, even the OT chosen ones have their salvation in Jesus just as we do. God calls ‘certain people’ to be co-heirs with Christ. Rom 8:17 These will reign with him.

Who will they reign over? The rest of humanity who will also learn the ways of God (just as those chosen now and in times past) and be able to follow into true life. That is the remarkable plan of salvation Gods that has planned from before the beginning.

+++++++++++++ God doesn't 'harden hearts or minds'. He simply allows the natural and default resistance to right and good (evil) to continue in them for His purposes - for a time.

^ second resurrection explained here

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  • +1 It's interesting how people will give a negative vote for not coming up with a clever argument to negate what the Scriptures say.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 12 at 20:12
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What you have here starting at John 17:1 our Lord's intercessory prayer. He bears His most intimate feelings, intentions, and thoughts are spoken prior to death.

Through His redemptive work, Christ obtained the right to exercise His power to give eternal life. The Father bestows on the Son the power to save those who believe on Him.

Those that know God posses eternal life. The verb "know" is a present active subjunctive indicating a continuous action. Eternal life is a personal relationship with God gained by experiential knowledge of Him.

What I gather from your question is perhaps the subject of "election." I don't personally think that the prayer of Jesus at John 17 has anything to do with "election."

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While the passage in John 17 isn't dealing with election, the Greek grammar in 17:2 doesn't say anything missing in the English translation, nor is this language unique in the gospel of John (6:37; 10:29; 17:2,6,9,11,12,24).

 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (John 17:2, ESV)

Here has both sides.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37, ESV)

We put an undue limitation on God to say that he cannot elect the saved and still allow for people to have a choice. Determinism is an even greater problem with the cause and effect of science. The innate understanding that we make our own decisions has led some scientists to believe that either the universe has intelligence or there is an intelligent Creator; for even chance can't explain freedom of choice any better than throwing dice.

   For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
  neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 
        9       For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
  so are my ways higher than your ways 
  and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

        10       “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven 
  and do not return there but water the earth, 
              making it bring forth and sprout, 
  giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
        11       so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 
  it shall not return to me empty, 
              but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, 
  and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 
                            (Isa. 55:8–11, ESV)

Since we cannot completely understand God, why do we think God cannot predestine individuals to salvation and still give people the freedom of choice, the responsibility of making a choice in particular? Why do people say it can't happen because we don't understand it?

See Exodus 9:12, How is it accepted that the LORD hardens the heart of Pharaoh, then Punishes him for that?

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  • I reworded the conclusion.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 12 at 12:16
  • @steve Glade you got me to make my conclusion clearer.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 12 at 12:28

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