What Is The Glory That Jesus Gives Us in John 17? Answer: The Holy Spirit

The miraculous thing is that God does not share his glory with another; but he shares it with us in Christ in whom the fullness of God dwells.

What does this mean? And to complicate things, how does this fit with Isaiah 42:8 which reads, “my glory I give to no other”? The answer requires paying close attention to the argument of John, the order of redemptive history, and reflecting theologically on the meaning of both. I argue that “glory” in John 17 means “Holy Spirit.”

 

In John 17, Jesus promises to share the Father’s glory (that he too possesses) with his disciples. He prays, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22).

What does this mean? And to complicate things, how does this fit with Isaiah 42:8 which reads, “my glory I give to no other”?

The answer requires paying close attention to the argument of John, the order of redemptive history, and reflecting theologically on the meaning of both. I argue that “glory” in John 17 means “Holy Spirit.”

To make this argument, I will outline, augment, and strengthen Gregory of Nyssa’s (335–395) argument for this position in his letter: “On ‘Then Also the Son Himself Will Be Subjected to the One Who Subjected All things to Him.’”

1. Christ Gives the Holy Spirit to His Disciples

When Jesus is glorified, he will share that same glorification with us. John clarifies Jesus’ words about living waters by explaining: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The order here is important. Believers will receive the Holy Spirit after Jesus is glorified. The connection between Spirit and glory here seems strong. After his resurrection, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22; Gregory, “Be Subjected” §21). After this precursor of the gift, the full gifting of the Spirit occurs during Pentecost (Acts 2).

The language of “give” and “receive” concerning the Holy Spirit in John correlate well with Jesus’ statements in this Gospel. There he prays that God would “glorify me” with glory that he had in the presence of God in eternity past (John 17:5).

He also prays that after he receives the glory that this same glory would be given to the disciples: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). The perfect tense here (“have given”) serves to mark these words linguistically as salient and to indicate the completeness or surety of the gift.

2. Christ Claims the Glory Pre-Existed and Only God Preexists

Gregory rightly affirms that nothing existed before the foundation of the world except the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Gregory, “Be Subjected” §21). Yet Christ says that the glory existed before the world’s foundation (John 17:5). Glory cannot exist outside of God, or else it would be a second thing.

God alone preexists and this characteristic shows him to be God. Another eternal thing would equal God in its eternal nature. But that cannot be true since God alone is eternal. He “alone is immortal” (1 Tim 6:16).

If only God pre-existed, then it follows that glory would refer to either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Since the Son prays to the Father in John 17, the only other referent could be the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is “Glory.”

3. Christ’s Prays for the Spiritual Unity of Believers—Something the Spirit Accomplishes

Lastly, Jesus prays in John 17 for the disciples to be united as Christ is to the Father; but that can only happen by means of the Holy Spirit who spiritually unites us (Gregory, “Be Subjected” §21).

It is worth quoting Jesus again to see the connection between the gift of glory and the unity with the triune God:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:22–23).

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