Mystical Union: Reading John 17:3

In the ongoing discussion of 3D Theology, our esteemed opponents have taken significant exception to the way we are using John 17:3.  The various objections mostly have to do with how our reading of the verse conflicts with this theological formulation or that one, and are being dealt with in the venues where they were made.   To my eye, one particular point of discussion has been notably absent: discussion of the immediate context.  I’d like to remedy that lack today.

In a sense, this discussion needs to start in 1:1 — and some of the issues that will come up in the ensuing discussion can probably only be resolved that way — but for today, let’s just work through the beginning of this prayer.

  1. Jesus begins by saying that the hour has come, and then makes His request:
  2. He asks the Father to glorify Him.
  3. The purpose for the Father glorifying Him is so that He can, in turn, glorify the Father.
  4. He will glorify the Father because the Father has given Him power over everyone.
  5. The purpose for the Father giving Him power over everyone is in order that Jesus give eternal life to all those the Father has given him.
  6. And what is this eternal life?  It is to know the Father, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ whom the Father sent.
  7. Jesus says He has, in fact, glorified the Father, and finished the work the Father gave Him to do.
  8. On that basis, He asks the Father to return to Him the glory He had before the world existed.

It all hangs together nicely, doesn’t it?  (For those of you who want to talk Greek, some comments are already online here .)

This is to say that eternal life is not a thing.  It is not a widget that Jesus puts in your pocket and then you walk away.  It is not a ticket stashed at the Will Call window by the pearly gates.

Eternal life is knowing the Father, and Jesus Christ His Son.  Jesus is the Life (14:6); the Father has life in Himself and has granted to the Son to have life in Himself (5:26).  Eternal life is ongoing relationship with the One who is Life.  Because He is infinitely faithful and He loves you, if you want a relationship with Him, you’ll have one.  He guarantees it.

Over time, eternal life looks like this:  first, you don’t have it at all; you’re dead in your trespasses and sins.  Then you believe, and you do have it.  Then, as you grow, you have more of it, until you have an abundant life (10:10), and the living water Jesus gave you becomes a fountain of life to those around you (4:14, 7:38).  Stop believing, like Thomas did (20:27), and you’re still a part of the family (1:12-13).  You’re born again; you can’t get un-born (10:28-29).  Eternal life is, well, eternal.  But like Thomas, you can lose a blessing (20:29), and of course you can fail to be a blessing to others.

Simple as that.  God is a Person–know Him.


6 Responses to Mystical Union: Reading John 17:3

  1. Eric Kemp says:

    Brilliant Tim, thank you

  2. Josiah says:

    Good stuff. I’m thankful to have learned similar concepts from the Free Frace movement.

  3. Tim Nichols says:

    Thank you both for your kind words.

    Josiah, me too. In fact most of my issues with the FG movement as a movement initially had to do with visible failures to live up the the high principles I learnt from FG people. I was honestly a little startled to discover that some folks would rather deny the principles than mend the lifestyle.

  4. Josiah says:

    me too.

  5. Hi Tim,

    I read through your posts on what you call “mystical union” and I have a couple questions. First, is mystical union the same thing as 3D theology or are they different? Second, maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see what all the fuss is about over this issue. It sounds to me that you are just explaining and elaborating on John 5:24, 10:10, and 17:3. Why do some people take issue with what you are saying?



  6. Tim Nichols says:


    To address your second question first, you’d have to ask the people in question. While I’m not entirely without answers, what they’ve said to me has not been particularly clear so far, and I’d rather let them speak for themselves at this point in the discussion.

    What I’m calling mystical union is part of what we mean by 3D theology. One of the signal aspects of it is an approach to theological reflection in which the benchmarks are relational rather than content-driven. A man who walks with God and gets some of the content wrong is trustworthy; a man who does not walk with God is not to be listened to when he talks about God, no matter now ‘good’ his content seems to be. He’s clearly getting it wrong, why trust what he says? The obvious question, of course, is how we can discern the state of another person’s walk with God, and the answers are right there in, for example, 1 John 2:3-11, 4:20-21. While we can’t see into another person’s heart, God can, and He tells us how to tell.
    Correct doctrinal content is an important goal toward which we all strive, and a man who loves the brethren and loves God will help others toward that goal, and can be helped himself. There’s good reason to make him part of the discussion. A man who does not love the brethren, though, also does not love God, and there’s no reason to even give him a seat at the table to discuss theology. How could he bring anything but discord and division?

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