KJV - 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
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As indicated by the doctrine of the Trinity (the subject of the Athanasian Creed), Jesus has always been co-eternal and co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as one God in three Persons. Jesus Himself had also previously proclaimed (in John 10:30) that He and the Father were one. However, during His earthly incarnation, and as noted by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus voluntarily surrendered some of His powers and prerogatives to God the Father (even to the point of experiencing the separation from the Father noted in Matthew 27:46, as well as physical death), in order to carry out the will of the Father on behalf of all of humanity -- the possibility of having eternal life in God's presence through faith in Christ's atoning death. In that sense, in the human context of the words that Jesus spoke as cited in the question, Jesus could legitimately refer to God the Father as the only true God, since Jesus was at that very time in the process of subordinating His own will to the will of the Father (as Jesus also indicated in His prayer to God the Father in Matthew 26:39).
In the quoted passage, Jesus is praying out loud for his disciples to hear him. Jesus is praying as a human being, the Son of Man. Jesus is also praying as the Son of God, to his Father in heaven. Jesus knows that his Father is the only true God. This revelation is repeated many times in the Old Testament. God declares that he is the only true God and there is no other. His people declare that “The Lord our God, the Lord is One”. Does that mean that Jesus is somehow not God? Does he not know he is God? Jesus' view of himself is revealed in the following verse from the same passage: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Jesus knew the glory he had with his Father before the world began as God the Son. He knew he existed eternally and co-equally before the world began. Jesus was returning to heaven to sit at the right hand of his Father and would again receive the same kind of glory he had before the world began. Jesus knew he would exist eternally and co-equally with his Father again after his return to heaven. This is confirmed by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:10-12: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Good question, Judith! This is how Jesus defines salvation, especially if we add what is clearly implied: "sent" to be the Savior of the world (John 3:16; 4:42; 6:33; 1 John 4:14; 5:20). Ryrie Study Bible In John 17:3 Jesus prayed, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." JFB -- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2) says of verse 3, thee, the only true God means the sole personal living God; in glorious contrast equally with heathen polytheism, philosophic naturalism, and mystic pantheism. We believe in one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Ever present help in need, praised by all the heavenly host; By Whose mighty power alone all is made and wrought and done. --hymn by Tobias Clausnitzer (1668) And if a person gets saved as I was, he or she would know by personal experience that what Jesus said is true, there is only one true God. I do know this in my heart!
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