Chapter 17 is known as Jesus’s high priestly prayer. That is a good title. It matches the appellation of Hebrews 4, and the prayer speaks exactly of Christ’s intercessory work. It does so even as it starts out in speaking of the glory brought to the Son by the Father and to the Father by the Son.
Jesus opens with the statement that the hour has come. He had said this back in chapter 12 as he entered Jerusalem on the donkey announcing himself as both lion and sacrificial lamb. But it has indeed come now to the very threshold, as Judas is already waiting to lead a band of temple guard being assembled.
Jesus prays that God glorify him as he glorifies God. We have discussed earlier what glory means (see John Part 19). As John Piper has stated, glory is God’s infinite worth made manifest. We detailed that into the definition God’s truth, goodness, and beauty expressed in faith, hope, and love, with love being the preeminent means of that expression. Thus, to glorify God rearranges this statement into action form: to make manifest God’s truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love. But the question now is how will the coming hour have God glorifying Jesus and Jesus glorifying God?
By inserting our definition into Jesus’s statement we find him praying, “Make manifest your Son’s truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love so that the Son may make manifest God’s truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love.” The submission to and active pursuit of God’s redemption plan even to (or especially to) death was, in fact, Jesus making manifest God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. This was Jesus’s mission, which he fulfilled perfectly. He had showed the Father (14:9-11). And he especially shows the Father’s truth, goodness, and beauty in the redemption climax of his death that Jesus now approaches. And the Father has glorified Jesus in all the cooperative good that Jesus has done through supernatural means, testifying that he approves of Jesus’s walk. Ultimately and finally, God will prove this in the resurrection, accepting the righteous Jesus to relationship of life.
Jesus goes on to pray that the exchange of glory involves the authority given Jesus over all flesh so that Jesus may give eternal life to all those that God has given to him. This statement requires quite a bit of reflection. The first thing we must dismiss is that this is a proof verse for Calvinism. It is a support verse for Calvinism, but it is not a proof. The difference between exegesis and eisegesis (the extracting teaching from Scripture versus the infusing of a certain predetermined meaning into Scripture) can be subtle. We must start from a basis in Scripture. The exegete uses obvious, clear, foundational revelation from the Bible to conjoin, develop, and reason through to greater understanding. Therefore, reasoning, logic, and philosophy is not merely eisegesis simply because we understand Scripture according to a pattern of reasoning so long as that pattern develops from clearly established biblical truth. As we have discussed kinship theology, we have interpreted many passages along a kinship theology perspective, just as the reformed interpret many passages along a reformed theology perspective. But my kinship theology starts with the revealed understanding that God is love and that love is the most prominent characteristic about God. That idea of love leaps from the pages of Scripture and is not some idea that I have pressed onto Scripture.
From the Reformed perspective, then, a verse such as 17:2 would tend to make the Calvinist shout, “Aha! God gives to Jesus those whom Jesus will grant eternal life. Thus, election is unconditional.” Of course, this does not prove unconditional election. The non-Calvinist would simply respond that those God gives are conditionally elected by faith. The verse does not prove the conditional or unconditional character of election, although if the Reformed position is correct, it could be support for it.
However, in this case, I believe Jesus’s thought is not really on the character of election as to the individual but rather on the extent of redemption. When confronted by passages such as John 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 John 4:14, the Calvinist (and in many, if not most, cases even the Faith Electionist) interprets terms such as “world” and “all” to mean not every individual but rather every people group, tongue, and nation. I, a Faith Electionist, would agree with the Calvinist, for example, on that interpretation regarding 1 Tim 2:4 (although I would not, for example, in 2 Peter 3:9).
The phrase concerning the Father giving the elect to the Son in 17:2 overshadows the “all” in this verse. How do we interpret this all—as all individuals or all people groups? I believe it means all people groups. The reason is based in the first part of the verse. Why does Jesus say that he has been given authority over all flesh? Jesus is emphasizing that he is not merely a national messiah, but rather than his mission is for the world. Thus, it is to people from all nations and tongues that he will grant eternal life.
Although the verse does not speak specifically of the doctrine of unconditional election, it does seem to have a connection to another of Calvinism’s points: limited atonement. The idea is that, since at this point Jesus has not gone to the cross, making atonement for sin, God giving this specific group to Jesus (whether this group is conditionally or unconditionally elected) is God giving those for whom Jesus would die, granting them eternal life. This giving, then, seems to indicate that that subset would be the only ones that Jesus will die for. So we must examine limited atonement (also known as particular redemption or definite atonement; however, I’ll refer to it as limited atonement because of its broader recognition and because it fits in with the “L” in TULIP).
Some reformed like to say that the doctrine of limited atonement goes all the way back to Augustine. But as proof they can point only to statements of Augustine’s like, “But wherefore is there hope? ‘For there is propitiation with Thee’ (ver. 4). And what is this propitiation, except sacrifice? And what is sacrifice, save that which hath been offered for us? The pouring forth of innocent blood blotted out all the sins of the guilty: so great a price paid down redeemed all captives from the hand of the enemy who captured them” (Exposition on the book of Psalms, Chapter 130).
But, of course, proving that Augustine believed in limited atonement using a statement such as this is pure conjecture. If the intent of the passage is not to argue for limited atonement, the statement by itself spoken in other context does not demand understanding of limited atonement. I (one who does not believe in limited atonement) could very well speak this statement or give my endorsement to it because it does not qualify the atonement as limited.
The doctrine of limited atonement found its place in the Reformation. It has been defended by the logical insistence that moves from Christ’s complete paying of a penalty to the unjustness of requiring a second payment from the unrepentant sinner. J. A. Spurgeon (Charles Haddon’s brother) spoke on limited atonement at a conference on Calvinism in 1861. In his discussion, he said, “I ask you, did Christ die for sin at all? It must be answered,–Yes. Then for whose sin did he die? If his own, then he suffered righteously. Did he die for the sins of the whole world? Then justice cannot demand this again. Did he die for part of the sins of the whole world? Then the rest of the sins will still condemn the world; then must have Christ died in vain. We believe that he took all the sins of some men” (emphasis added).
I believe that the whole of the system of Calvinism rests on this point. The controversy has extended since the Reformation because of some difficult questions. On the Calvinist’s side is this argument that it is not justice to demand payment for sin if sin has already been paid for. On the non-Calvinist’s side is the question of why a God of love would limit atoning for sin for no reason. On the Calvinist’s side is the argument to preserve the full justice of God. On the non-Calvinist side is the argument to preserve the full love of God.
Kinship theology, of course, bases its entire understanding of God and his interaction with humankind on the basis of his purpose for everlasting love relationship. By this, it argues that love is the great foundational principle. And therefore, the Kinship theologian cannot be a Calvinist who has no answer to the limiting of God’s love. However, to merely state as much without answering the charge of the injustice of double punishment is not enough.
First, let me rehearse the Calvinist’s problem of limiting the love of God. We talked about this before, and so I will merely state the arguments without discussing them in detail. There are basically three Calvinist responses to why God limits his love by not dying for all. R. C. Sproul says merely, “I don’t know.” Sproul says he must have a reason, but he has not chosen to reveal it. Some Calvinists say that God’s love is different from ours. And some Calvinists follow John Piper’s lead in saying the reason is that God necessarily limits love in order to show the full extent of his glory which includes his wrath.
Piper’s reasoning rings hollow. To say God’s glory necessarily requires manifestation of wrath makes sin necessary (which fundamentally limits God). Further, we defined glory with its primary means of manifestation as love. Thus, if manifestation of glory limits love, we are essentially incoherently saying that love limits love. Finally, elsewhere Piper argues that God’s full and complete wrath was poured out on sin by being poured out on Jesus at the cross. Why then does Piper inconsistently argue that God’s complete wrath must be manifested again?
For those who argue that God’s love is different from ours, I could agree concerning degree, but I can’t concerning type. God’s Word is full of evidence for love as we understand love. Jesus talks of it specifically in terms of what it is and the greatest example of it. We are also told to imitate God’s love. How would any of this be possible if we have decided that true, Godly love is totally opposed to our understanding?
Sproul’s answer that he doesn’t know is obviously not satisfying. While we don’t know everything, to decide on a system of redemption that necessarily has a chasm hole in the fundamental understanding of who God is ought to motivate us to reconcile, not sit back and accept. I cannot accept a system that so grossly changes or ignores the essential character of God as a God of love.
But what of the problem for the faith electionist? Why would God require payment by Christ and then payment again by the unrepentant sinner?
This is actually only a problem that has come up since the Reformation, and it has everything to do with a faulty understanding of the atonement. Through Anselm and then Thomas Aquinas the Roman Catholic Church provided us with the satisfaction theory of the atonement. The satisfaction theory depends on the necessity for punishment, and that is so ingrained in our Christian thinking now that although we use the terms mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we seem not to be able to imagine them without presuming that somehow punishment must still occur.
Anselm argued that punishment had to occur to satisfy God’s offended honor. Thus, Jesus was sent to endure the violence of God’s wrath so that God would feel better again about his honor.
The Reformation took Anselm’s satisfaction theory and revised it somewhat into what we call today the penal substitution theory, changing the fault from simply offending honor to offending God’s justice. In this theory, the guilt for each sin is placed on Jesus, who then suffers the wrath of God against this guilt, resulting in the sins being paid for (expiated) and God being satisfied (propitiated) regarding his justice. Since Jesus paid for these sins, we no longer have to.
It is using this theory as a necessary base that limited atonement comes to the forefront, for if Jesus had the guilt of the sin of the whole world placed on him, and God vented his wrath on Jesus so that all sin of the whole world was expiated and God was completely satisfied concerning his justice, he could not find guilt in someone that he would still send to hell or send someone to hell saying his justice was not already completely satisfied.
But this theory has some of its own definite problems. First is the problem of the resurrection. Jesus is God taking on humanity so that he could be our representative. He came then as a human to be a substitute for humans. If I as a man die with the guilt of my sin on me, I am separated from God—that’s what death means. I am separated at death, and I remain separated forever.
If the guilt of my sin is instead transferred over to Jesus the man so that he is guilty of my sin, and then he dies, what qualifies him for God to raise him from the dead three days later? Yes, he is God, but it is Jesus the man that is raised. Why, when I, as a human, die with the the guilt of my sin on me, God will not raise me from the dead, but when Jesus died with the very same guilt of sin on him, God believes that punishment was enough after three days to end the separation and raise him? There really is no logical answer to this. It is an inconsistency—an injustice.
The second problem for penal substitutionary theory adherents is also one of consistency. When speaking of the atonement, they argue vehemently that sin was completely expiated at the cross. Likewise Jesus made complete propitiation for sin at the cross; God was completely satisfied. But if sin for the elect is completely expiated at the cross and God is completely satisfied at the cross, why does he still consider a person—2000 years later—that has not yet come to Christ (although he will later in life) as born dead and spiritually separated from God until that point of regeneration and conversion? His sin was taken care of completely 2000 years earlier. God was completely satisfied at the cross. Yet God—inconsistently—considers him still spiritually dead and at fault. Some have said this is so because forgiveness occurred at the cross but regeneration (changing the sin nature) doesn’t occur until later. But this is still inconsistent. Without sin there is no guilt. Further, that reasoning has another inconsistency regarding the ordo salutis (order of salvation) that Calvinists’ espouse: regeneration first, then conversion (repentance and faith), and then justification, which includes forgiveness. Sins cannot be forgiven in justification if sins were already forgiven at the cross.
The problem with penal substitution is that it falsely considers transference of the guilt of sin from the sinner to the unblemished Jesus. As we have seen so far, that kind of transference creates impossibilities in the logic. Its main problem is that it fails to treat the purpose and procedure of a sin offering correctly. It fails to understand exactly what is accomplished by Jesus death and how this offering is pleasing to God. We will discuss that next.