I would be pleased if you would answer a question which my son-in-law keeps asking. The passage is in John 17:5, ‘And now, O Father glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’ Also verse 24. These are Jesus’ own words, and I must say I’m at a loss to know what to answer.
First of all, what did Jesus mean by praying to His Father, “Glorify thou me with thine own self”? An alternate translation of this phrase might be, “Glorify thou me in thy presence” or “at thy side.” Several of the new translations incorporate this thought, as: “Honor me in your own presence” (Phillips); “Glorify me at your side” (Beck); “Invest me at your side” (Rieu). Jesus had glorified God “on the earth,” now He prays that God would glorify Him in heaven, in His own presence.
It was a special request which God did indeed honor.
The last phrase of this text, “with the glory which I had with thee before the world was,” is taken almost universally as a guarantee of Jesus’ pre-existence, but we cannot feel that such was Jesus’ intent because of the enormous weight of evidence on the other side. The phrase reads as translated in the King James Version: “…with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” This phrase in the original Greek might be literally translated, “Before the world to be” (see Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott).
Were this the only passage of Scripture we had on this subject, we might feel uncertain; but in view of Jesus’ plain statements that He was the Son of God, that He was not the Father, and Moses’ statement that He was to be raised up from among his brethren (Deut. 18:15)–not sent down from heaven-it seems conclusive that Jesus was talking about the “world to come” (Heb. 2:5) which is, literally rendered, the “world to be,” the eternal Kingdom, rather than anything Jesus had previously experienced in heaven. Supporting this view is the fact that the word translated “world” in this passage is not the earth on which we stand, i.e., He is not referring to the creation of the earth, but to the cosmos, which means the “arrangement” of governments or people upon the earth, one’s surroundings.
Jesus was looking forward to receiving the boon of immortality, to being glorified in His Father’s presence with the glory that God had planned for Him–a plan which had indeed existed from the very beginning: His place in the Divine scheme had been foreknown from the earliest time. Even in the first book of the Bible it was revealed; He was to be the honored recipient of tremendous favor, the future King of the whole earth. Now the time was near for Him to receive the reality of that which had been His by promise, the glory for which He was destined by virtue of His holy and upright life, the glory with which He would be vested before He should return to be King of a new creation, the world to come, “the world to be.”
Verse 24 reads: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Again we must observe that the word “world” which Jesus used here is not the earth but the cosmos, the arrangement of things upon the earth.
If we take this verse as it is often understood, we have a contradiction with Jesus Himself. In this verse He seems to be saying that He wishes His disciples to behold the glory which He has had from His Father “before the foundation of the world,” yet John 7:39 says plainly that at that time “Jesus was not yet glorified” Again, if He was praying for His disciples to “be with me where I am,” so that they could see the glory which He had always had, this again would be contradictory because they had been with Him for three years, and why had they not seen His glory if He already had it, as verse 5 is often misinterpreted to say.
No, Jesus is not contradicting Himself. He was praying in verse 5 to be glorified in His Father’s presence, and in verse 24 He was longing to share that glory with His disciples. And He was saying also that God genuinely loved Him–because of His righteous character–before the inception of the “world to come,” that world over which He would have dominion and in which His disciples could and would see His glory.