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John 17:6-19 – They are not of the world

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

On Sunday May 13, I attended a Bible studies (lectionary) class at church, which was led by the priest who officiated that day. He did sermons at two services, one addressing the Acts reading for the seventh Sunday after Easter and the other addressing the Psalm 1 reading. He did not bother to address the 1 John reading or the Gospel selection from John 17, where Jesus prayed for his disciples.

The priest is a retired supply priest, but he was formerly a professor of Religion at a seminary. He speaks (Biblical at least) Greek and Hebrew. He is, therefore, quite knowledgeable in what scholars have figured out about Christianity. However, over the years he must have presented so many sermons on John 17 that he felt it was not worth venturing onto those holy grounds again.

In the lectionary class (very sparsely attended), this highly educated priest offered one bit of interest about John 17. He explained that the Greek word “kosmos” (“kosmou, kosmō, and kosmos” written variations), which is translated as “world” (eleven times in verses 6 – 19), was intended to be meant as “the system” that makes up the “world,” rather than simply “world.” He then demonstrated how “the system” could have been the translation:

“Those whom you gave me out of the system.” (John 17:6) “I am not praying for the system.” (John 17:9) “I will remain in the system no longer, but they are still in the system.” (John 17:11) “I say these things while I am still in the system.” (John 17:13) … and so on.

This scholarly priest then led us to infer that this translation would allow the reader to realize that Jesus was not praying for his disciples to withstand the system that was hard on Jesus and his disciples. It was not the world, which is God’s Creation and a wonderful place, but the system that made it hard to be like Jesus.

I pointed out that the “system” cannot be read as “nature,” as if animals and plants were systematic, so “world” had to be a focus on “humanity,” in general. In the study known as “World” History, there is no focus on the history of dinosaurs, but on civilizations. I hinted that the “world” to Jesus would have been a direct implication of the government of Rome – an Empire – and that within Jerusalem – the Temple elite. I then said my view of not being in the “world” was a statement of Jesus having been sent by the Father for Spiritual purposes, not matters of the flesh.

The priest seemed to negate the Spiritual element, because “kosmos” is a word that is of the flesh, which is part of the system. I countered that the soul is Spiritual AND what brings life to the flesh, in the “world,” and Jesus and his disciples were sent to serve the role of baptizing the soul with the Holy Spirit.

At that point, the priest said he had to go prepare for his next sermon (the one on Acts), so our friendly discussion ended. Still, his thoughts made me see this reading in a new light, on a deeper level.

When one realizes how Jesus said to Pilate, after he asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33, ESV) “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36, ESV) The words written by John are “kosmou,” “kosmou,” and “enteuthen.” The word “enteuthen” means “of here, from this place, or this side or that side.” Several translations deduce “not from here” as a repetition of “the world,” while other translations stay true to the translation “of this place.”

The point that dawned on me is that Jesus was not sent by the Father to be a “king of the Jews,” which would be like a ruler, as was Pilate (Governor). He was not sent, nor were his disciples planned to become kings, emperors, or other rulers of the “world.” The entirety of the Christian movement was never meant to be a system of rules by which humanity was governed.

As such, Jesus was not sent to have one of his boys be elevated to pope status, where he then would have to stop being an Apostle and start making judgments over people who would appear before him, charged with being a rebel and claiming to be Jesus Christ incarnate Spiritually, through love of God and the cleaning of one’s soul by God’s Holy Spirit. If that were the case, Jesus would have rebelled against Rome and Jerusalem and the “world” would have transformed into Heaven on earth.

The power of this epiphany is that Jesus did not come to have priests stand at a lectern and make judgments about whatever political party he or she hates and believes is evil. Jesus was not sent into the world to make decrees that are foolish and impossible to enforce en masse. For example, the priest, in his sermon about Psalm 1, inferred that the administration of Donald Trump causes (assuming those who voted for Trump) bigotry and racial hatred. Simply by making such a blanket statement, the priest becomes a bigot and has racial hatred towards those who he condemns – rightfully or wrongfully.

The prayer for Jesus’ disciples was Jesus praying for his disciples today. Apostles are not sent to change the “world,” because to even attempt that means one must become of the “world.” We need to become Jesus Christ, so his kingdom is within an Apostle (each and every Apostle and Saint). Thus, we need to strive to be of the Holy Spirit, as a cleansed soul that becomes a worldly example of righteousness, without telling anyone one’s personal opinions.

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