, , ,

Historical Background and Cultural Setting

Continuing with the mandate for unity, this post uncovers New Covenant unity with the focus on the historical background and cultural setting of John 17:20-23…

Jan Paron/October 12, 2012

“God promised to build David a house” (2 Sam 13-14; cf., Act 15:16-17) — not the house from the ancient family of David, but the house of God made up of the people of God from all nations and time, a people born of the water and Spirit of God[1] Just as Jewish scribes carefully examined jots and tittles joined with Hebrew consonants for detailed meaning throughout ancient text; metaphorically, so too must one turn to these same in Scripture to understand unity in Christ with respect to Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament with the house of the living God, the Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of the called from all tribes and nations. If you examine the historical and cultural and literary contexts of John 17:20-23, as well as theological message, you see the initial framework for New Covenant unity.

All Nations Leadership Institute, 2012

All Nations Leadership Institute, 2012

Historical Setting

John 17 contains Jesus’ fourth and parting prayer that closes the  Farewell Discourse[2]  The prayer took place during Passion Week, at which time Jesus sat with His disciples at a meal  immediately before His arrest (Matt 26:17-29). Jesus prays that the “hour is come” (17:1, cf., Matt 26:18; John 7:30; 12:23 and 13:1). He was about to complete His mission. Now, at the threshold to the cross, Jesus submits “as a man to the plan of God through the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension”[3](cf., Isa 55:10-11; John 13:1, 3). This juncture marks Jesus’ transition from His earthly ministry to completion and triumph over the world. Glory is one of the central themes of the Book of John.  His glory fulfills the past and provides a trajectory of future eternal life for those who believe in Him (17:20).

Cultural Background Issues

The Jewish people believed that the “Gentile nations hated them because they were chosen and sent by God and suffered on his account.”[4] On the other hand, the Jews resented Jesus grouping most of them with “the world.” This created great opposition among Jews towards Jesus (cf. John 15:18-19). The author explains that God ‘sanctified’ or “set apart” Israel for himself as holy, especially by giving them his commandments” (Lev 11:44-45).

If God had sanctified His people, or set them apart among the nations by giving them the law, how much more are followers of Jesus set apart by His coming as the law made flesh (John 1:1-18; 17:17).[5] Unity, and thus covenant, now extends to those beyond Israel through the glorification of Jesus at the cross. As God and Jesus are one, the disciples and future generations to come are to be one in Him.

Prior to the crucifixion the disciples fully could not comprehend what Jesus told them about things to come (16:18-19). When He prays for oneness in their presence, it is set against this backdrop. The disciples hear Him, but may not have understood His inclusive vision for unity and oneness that extends to the Gentiles.

Next, literary background and theological message at Seeking the M.O.S.A.I.C. Church: Understanding New Covenant Unity, Pt. 2

To ponder…

  • What is the contemporary understanding of New Covenant unity?

[1] Daryl Cox, 2012, From Calling to Covenant: The Story of David. (Alsip: All Nations Leadership Institute 2012).

[2] Andreas Köstenberger, A.  A Theology of John’s Gospels and Letters: A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

[3] David Bernard, The Oneness View of Jesus Christ. Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 1994), 113.

[4] Craig Keener, The Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1993), 302.

[5] Keener, The Bible Background Commentary, 302.


  • Bernard, David.  The Oneness View of Jesus Christ. Hazelwood, Word Aflame Press, 1994.
  • Cox, Daryl. From Calling to Covenant: The Story of David. Alsip: All Nations Leadership Institute, 2012.
  • Keener, Craig. Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: Intervarsity
    Press. 1993.
  • Köstenberger, Andreas. An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications. 2011.
  • Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary and Theological perspectives. Grand Rapids, Baker Academic. 1999.
  • Köstenberger, Andreas. A Theology of John’s Gospels and Letters: A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 2009.