In John 17, Jesus made these two statements: “I have finished the work which you gave me to do.” And, “Now I am no more in the world.” He was still here, and still had the cross to endure.
Do you think these words pivot off what Revelation so surprisingly tells us, that Jesus was “Slain from before the foundation of the world”?
Above and behind all the contingencies of time that seem so contingent and uncertain to us, Jesus lived and walked in a whole other place. He walked in the works that had been finished already before the foundation of the world. He walked, lived and labored out of the rest (Heb 4:3, 11). ).
With the cross still before Him, and even before He would plead that the cup be somehow removed, even while knowing this would be impossible, since for this cause He came into the world. This seeming contradiction between a predestined inevitably and the Son’s appeal as though some lingering ignorance of an unavoidable certainty had come over Him.
This is no contradiction at all!, as some wicked gainsayers have suggested. On the contrary, this is the nexus of the glory of the incarnation, of the One who so emptied Himself to be exalted, as a man!, to the highest preeminence, even equality with God! Precisely here is the greatest demonstration of the perfect convergence of a fully poured out humanity in a final act of perfectly voluntary submission to the will of His Father in the face of the unbearable and incomprehensible.
Consider: He knew He was not just about to die but take on Himself the full punishment of divine wrath due the sin of the world. Certainly He would ask the cup be removed, “if possible”. He wouldn’t be human if He did not stagger beneath the weight of all that His prophetic senses could only contemplate with an intensity beyond our capacity to imagine. Let’s ponder this for a moment.
He knew He was asking the impossible, but the scripture wanted us to see the glory of a fully submitted humanity that would not be human if it did not shudder and shrink in horror at what now lay just before Him.
In the words of the grand old hymn, “did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?” I would ask, did e’er such humanity and deity meet, or the Father’s love and glory more surround?
If we could only know the power of weakness, we could begin to understand the glory of that one word, “nevertheless”. “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” When that heart of utter submission dwells in a person, it is a piece of incarnation, as it reflects living witness to the mystery of the incarnation itself. Why? Because this kind of love, and voluntary submission in the face of such sacrifice on behalf of another, particularly an enemy, is “impossible with man”. This is why martyrdom is so central to the faith. It is not human heroics; it is submitted love. But back to the point.
It is so amazing to contemplate that the one who could say outside the grave of Lazarus …
And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. John 11:42
comes now to Gethsemane, with a request that though gloriously heard, could never be granted, and Jesus knew it only too well. Still, His very humanity required expression in the impossible request, and the scripture was unwilling that we should fail to hear it.
But lest anyone vainly imagine that for something to be an inevitable and predestined certainty that it is somehow automatic or mechanical, look again. Jesus did nothing by external constraint or necessity, but only by the liberty of the Spirit. It was very necessary that no man take His life from Him (though men would be the witless agency), but that He lay it down “FREELY” of His own accord. Freedom, the God kind of freedom, is also at the very heart of a predestined incarnation of the Spirit of liberty.
Even while seeing, I know I don’t see. The glory of this is blinding. It would take a very uncommon revelation to begin to even conceive, let alone grasp.
The reason for this is very much to your question.
As no one else has ever walked, Jesus walked in perfect, unfettered faith in works that were finished (predestined) — already accomplished, before the foundation of the world. He lived in the past tense in the sense that He saw His future as already accomplished. Still, He prayed and groaned and travailed in prayer for the birthing and coming forth of God’s predestined future.
No contradiction here, just our mortal minds faced with the incomprehensible power of God to balance freedom, responsibility, and a fixed and unalterable predestination. And aren’t we glad God is in control of every sparrow that falls? Pity those who are afraid to embrace their best friend — the predestining power of God.
Imagine rising up in the morning, knowing you will be walking in works that were predestined before creation? Jesus lived with this consciousness. He lived each day as predestined, and in that sense past. Each day was predicted by a certainty that could not be stopped, though all hell should make it all the more glorious in the futile attempt.
We live in all the uncertain contingencies of the natural world around us, we struggle in suspense of all the maybes and what if’s of this life. Jesus lived in the consciousness that everything, literally everything concerning Him was on a predestined timeline. Is there something here for us?
The free actions and seemingly free decisions of men, enemies and disciples alike, would all fall into perfect service of a predestined plan that was perfectly ordained and utterly impossible to thwart or alter. In the words of my beloved brother, Art. “How’s them apples?”
How does that work? Exactly! We cannot grasp such a concept. Why strain and break our brain. Such paradox should not be cause for debates over philosophical, theological questions over freedom and determination, but amazement and worship at the power of grace to win the battle despite all the gates of hell, freedom and contingency notwithstanding. We can only bow and worship at such wonders that defy comprehension.
It all had to be just so, with no part (cog) missing or out of its appointed place, because the whole original purpose for creation depended on it. And not only the cross at just some eventuality along the way, but by a predestined set time under the equally ordained (pre-set) circumstances, with every player in place, yet with no violence to the will of responsible individuals. But precisely at this time, under no other possible set of circumstances. How do you do that? Only God!, which is precisely the point.
I’m now coming to the verse that I think speaks most to your question, but first one more verse that is very much like it.
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He rises from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself …
Here is the Lamb of God’s grand exit from this world, and what does He do? He stoops to wash our feet! Take that in. This is astonishing! This is His statement that will only begin to be conceived or understood in retrospect.
Jesus said and did a lot that would only be understood in retrospect, but oh, the glory of looking back in hindsight at all that the Father was so perfectly controlling to the tiniest detail. What part could have been left out? Even the human editing of every word of the four gospel accounts is part of a perfectly sovereign, utterly superintendence, right down to the finest detail. As Jesus said, “not one jot or tittle can pass from the Torah unfulfilled.” Now that’s micro-management! Yes, God is all about the details and the small print. He guards the jots and the tittles as all a piece with the ‘seamless garment’ of the sacred trust of our divinely sent canon, perfectly supervised in its preservation and transmission.
Only Jesus could see how a perfectly predestined future was not put in doubt by the necessity of the indispensable, equally predestined travail of holy intercession that was no less voluntary, but constrained by the grace of the Spirit. We must note how nothing of what God ordains is dispensable. Prayer is the ordained means to all of God’s ordained ends. There is no conflict between a predestined outcome and the equally predestined means to its birthing into the creation, even though the works were finished before the foundation of the world. Big thoughts for our little minds! But back to the verse that is to your question.
“And now I am in the world …” These are words that look at the present from the eternal perspective above time, that sees by the “Spirit of prophecy” what is to come as though already accomplished. This is a common characteristic of Hebrew prophecy. Scholars call it the “prophetic past tense”. This is a common characteristic of Hebrew prophecy which can accomodate temporal conditionality and contingency based on response with an absolute predestination that assures a certain response at a certain, foretold time. That’s sovereignty!, where nothing of the tension is lost, but nothing is left to uncertainty. This is because the whole, with all its moving parts, is being perfectly controlled towards a predestined end, and that end, and the perfectly foretold process leading to it, is never put at the mercy of mere foresight alone.
The logic of all that the scripture says of God’s attributes in the Trinity of persons concerning an eternal purpose that had no beginning in time but always existed in the Godhead (as one brother put it, “from all eternity, there was a cross in the Godhead), leads us to conclude that the Father and the Son were enjoying the end of the timeline as already finished before it started. It was done before it began. That’s what this language, especially here in John is intended to convey. Now for those final two verses that bring this out most perfectly, also here in Jn 17, in what has been called, “Jesus’ high priestly prayer”.
I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (Spoken as already finished when the cross still lay ahead)
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
If that isn’t glorious Trinitarian language, I don’t know what would be!
From His perspective, Jesus has already been here and returned to the Father. This glory that the eternal Son had with the Father before the creation always existed in full finished certainty and fellowship of mutual enjoyment, and all on the basis of what was now, just about to be accomplished in time.
In the words of Fanny J. Crosby, “I scarce can take it in!” Think about it. The cross, and all the things of time that would be constructed around this great, eternally centermost event that was not only known and predestined in God, but the object of eternal, pre-temporal fellowship and enjoyment of infinite glory in the Godhead before anything had been created. It was finished before it began, but it all depended on that one center-most event of time — the cross.
Seen this way, Jesus’ last words from the cross. “It is finished!”, takes on a meaning that reverberates through all time and eternity from the Alpaha to the Omega.
That is who He is. He’s everything! All things have been put in His hands and only the Father Himself can weigh His worth!!’