““I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (John 17:6, ESV)
In the beginning of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, when he starts to pray for his followers, he says two remarkable things:
- I have manifested your name. This is pretty significant, even though at first glance it seems rather pedestrian. However, when we begin to understand the Hebrew thought that lurks behind the prayer, it becomes profound and weighty. In Hebrew culture someone’s name was understood to represent the entire character of that person. The word “manifested” means “to make known, to reveal, to show, to manifest.” When Jesus says that he manifested God’s name to the people, he means that he revealed God’s entire character to Jesus’ followers, which, dear reader, is another way of saying that Jesus is claiming to be God. Bob Utley in his study guide on John points out: “This phrase also theologically asserts that to see Jesus is to see God.”
- Whom you gave me out of the world. Notice what Jesus does not say here. He does not say, “the people who were smart enough to follow me,” or “the people who saw the light and came to it.” He says “the people whom you gave me out of the world.” God gave Jesus these followers. This is a notion that we refer to as election. It is a humbling truth and one that we really—radically individualistic Americans that we are—do not like at all, indeed we go to great lengths to explain it away. Jesus doesn’t seem to be the least bothered by the implication that we were elected by God and not vice versa.
Here’s the thing, somehow God giving Jesus’ followers to Jesus [and we who follow in their footsteps] is not incompatible with our choosing to follow him. I have never heard anyone say, “well, I did not want to follow Jesus, but at the end of the day, I got dragged over the threshold, kicking and screaming” [although to be honest, C. S. Lewis comes close]. God elects, we choose to follow. Can I explain this? No, I cannot. Neither, dear reader, can you, I suspect.
God is sometimes quite mysterious and difficult to understand, that doesn’t make him any less God, nor does it make what he says any less true.