PASSAGE: "After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed" (John 17:1-5).
QUESTION: Why would Jesus pray for himself in the third person, particularly when he says, "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ"? Why wouldn't he simply say "me"? And then, why would he switch to the first person towards the end of the prayer? And more generally, why does he speak of himself in the third person so often (usually when he is referring to the Son of Man)? This has been a source of confusion for me for some time.
COMMENT: First of all, it's essential to remember that the gospels are not an accurate record of exactly what Jesus said. No one was taking notes. They were written many years after the events described, and were based on oral traditions that had been passed from those who were actual witnesses of Jesus' ministry to others who told not what they saw but what they had been told themselves. Throw in the challenges of translating from the Aramaic that Jesus spoke to the Greek in which the gospels were originally written, and then to Latin and finally to English, and you have a sense of how difficult it is to assume any kind of literal accuracy. The fact that they are recognized as “scripture” means that they are spiritually true to the message of Jesus and the universal truth he shared.
So, I agree, it is entirely unlikely that Jesus referred to himself as “Jesus Christ” in this heartfelt prayer, as if he were concerned that God might not know who was speaking! The larger question of why we have Jesus so often speaking in the third person, however, is rooted in an essential understanding of what, exactly, he was saying. Briefly put, he is not talking of himself when he speaks of the Son. Or not talking only of himself. He is speaking of the Christ—the Presence and Power of God that is the true identity of each of us. He personally was able to understand, embrace and express the Christ so perfectly that his true spiritual identity and his human expression became one—Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus Christ. He calls us not to worship him for what he achieved but to “go and do likewise”—to become fully the Christ in expression ourselves. As we embrace our own Christ nature, we “glorify God” by expressing the Christ in every choice we make, creating healing, empowerment, love and abundance at every opportunity.
It is powerful to reread even the most familiar passages from the gospels with this new awareness that Jesus is not referring exclusively to himself as the Son of God, or Son of Man. He is describing the Christ Presence of God—in himself, yes, but also in each and all of his followers. "What I have done you will do, and greater things besides, because I go to the Father" (John 14:12). Jesus showed the way, and pointed out, in the third person, the Christ Power within us that will allow us to follow, once we embrace it and express it as he did.