Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer: A Temple Discourse

Above is a film portrayal of the prayer of Jesus from John 17, which is a conclusion of his Last Discourse given to his disciples on the eve of the Passover. This discourse stretches from John 13 through chapter 17, with the prayer at the end, comprising chapter 17. This scene comes from a 2003 film entitled “The Gospel of John,” and takes it’s text from the American Bible Society‘s Good News Bible, which loses some of the intricate meaning in Christ’s words, but otherwise I think it is well done. I’m looking forward to the Church’s version when it is added to the collection of Bible Videos, which will use the King James Version directly (here you can see the Last Supper, which is the beginning of the discourse from John 13).

I just finished reading Professor William Hamblin‘s recent paper in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture entitled, “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17.”  It is an excellent commentary on John 17 viewed in the light of the temple. This chapter represents what is often called Jesus’ Intercessory Prayer, but also Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer, suggesting the temple theology that is central to it.

In Hamblin’s paper he discusses six temple themes that are exhibited throughout John 17:

  1. “My Father’s House”
  2. Revelation of the Name of the Father (John 17:6, 11)
  3. Christ as the Manifestation of God’s Glory (John 17:4–5)
  4. Expulsion of the Evil One (John 17:15)
  5. Sanctification or Consecration of Christ and the disciples (John 17:17–19)
  6. Celestial Ascent and Unification (or Deification) (John 17:20–24)

The entire paper is an excellent read about how this whole event and surrounding events symbolized the temple in so many ways. One of the points that stood out to be was in the end about unification and deification. Here Hamblin notes, “I believe it defines the ultimate purpose of his mortal ministry.” He was namely talking about John 17:20–24. That’s quite a statement!

What was the ultimate purpose of Christ’s mortal ministry? Later Hamblin says, “As I understand it, this glorification, ascent and unification language in John 17 and elsewhere in the New Testament is describing the ultimate goal of Christian theōsis. But that is another paper.” I hope, as I’m sure Professor Hamblin does, that this paper is written!

It reminded me of some similar statements from Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, where he likewise made some strong assertions on this wise (most of which are found in his classic book Mere Christianity):

“The Son of God became a man that men might become sons of God.”

“But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us.”

“He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.

“The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

“Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.”

Such language mirrors some of the teachings of the early Christian Saints on divinization, or theosis. These quotations also connote the idea that the deification of man was Christ’s ultimate mission:

  • St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”
  • St. Irenaeus said, “if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods.”
  • St. Clement of Alexandria says that “he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him… becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.”
  • St. Clement of Alexandria says “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.”
  • St. Athanasius wrote that God “became man so that men might become gods.”
  • St. Athanasius wrote: “The Word became flesh… that we, partaking of his Spirit, might be deified.”
  • St. Athanasius wrote: “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods… Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life.”
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we “are called ‘temples of God’ and indeed ‘gods’, and so we are.”
  • St. Basil the Great stated that “becoming a god” is the highest goal of all.
  • St. Gregory of Nazianzus implores us to “become gods for (God’s) sake, since (God) became man for our sake.”
  • St. Augustine said, “To make human beings gods, He was made man who was God.”
  • St. Symeon said, “He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.”

You can read Professor Hamblin’s paper on John 17 here:

http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/i-have-revealed-your-name-the-hidden-temple-in-john-17/

2 Comments

  1. Posted September 9, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bryce for the synopsis. So much imagery in these passages of scriptures.

  2. Sean
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    So many doctrines have been smothered by the centuries. Truths once held sacred as core tenants are now forgotten, dispised, or misunderstood. Theosis IS the core doctrine of Christianity. It always has been from the beginning. Not in the sense of becoming some cosmic being who can blow up planets, but the perfect being who is one with the Father in goodness and love. “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect.”

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