John 17:2–3 (ESV) … “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
17:2. In the Father-Son relationship of this passage, we also see the sovereignty of our Lord: authority over all people. This is the same word (exousian) found in the Great Commission when Matthew recorded Jesus’ words about having received all authority from the Father. We do not often use the word glorification, but the New Testament applies it to Jesus in order to describe a fuller manifestation of his true nature that would become more acute at the time of the resurrection and ascension.
We should note that the Lord did not request power. Jesus did not take on sovereignty and omnipotence after the ascension. These eternal qualities he possessed then and he still possesses today as a member of the eternal Godhead. The result of this authority over all people and the major purpose of its exercise by the Son centers in eternal life for those designated to receive it. The entire prayer keys to this central idea of eternal life, since that is the result of the glorification of Christ in the lives of people. The Father gives Christ believers. This fact is emphasized no fewer than seven times in this chapter (vv. 2, 6, 9, 11–12, 24).
17:3. We also see here the salvation of our Lord in what has become a major New Testament text on the theology of redemption. What is eternal life? Knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent. John recalled these words (which he probably overheard) in his first epistle: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).
For hundreds of years people have tried to know God without coming through the only door or walking the narrow way. But the Bible offers no access to the Father except through the Son. Any theology of God that leaves out Jesus Christ borders on idolatry (1 John 5:20–21).
Christ’s definition of eternal life is important because it differs from the current concept of endless existence. The word know in verse 3 is ginosko, emphasizing an experiential relationship rather than just necessary information. The verb also appears here in the present tense, suggesting a continuing personal experience and contact with both the Father and the Son. Tenney writes, “However fully man lives in the world, he ultimately reaches the point where nothing is new because he has reached human limits. Only the knowledge of God can give enduring satisfaction, because God alone is eternal. Contact with God will provide the fullest experience, and the experience of God’s eternal being will be eternal life” (Tenney, pp. 245–46).