JOHN, Part 29

Jesus’ Prayer, John 17

This is one of the most important chapters in the Bible.  It is also the longest of Jesus’ recorded prayers.  It was His habit to pray when facing a crisis in His life, so it was natural for Jesus to pray as He faced His hour.

The prayer can be divided naturally into three parts:

  • Jesus’ prayer for Himself, verses 1—5;
  • Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, verses 6—19;
  • Jesus’ prayer for all  believers, present and future, verses 20—26.

This prayer has  no real parallel in the Synoptics, although some think its content is vaguely similar  His prayer in Gethsemane.  The prayer reflects the victory Jesus had already won, of which Lightfoot has remarked:

[It was a] victory still to be won on the field of history in the events of chapters 18—20, but already achieved in the sphere of the will and the spirit.

What Jesus prayed for and how He prayed is closely connected to the preceding chapters, especially  the events of the Upper Room.  A careful reading of chapter 17 reveals not a single conditional sentence; this prayer is a kind of consummation of our Lord’s teachings.  It is firm and resolved and forms a solid basis for the comfort and admonitions followers of Jesus needed then and still need today.

We love to talk about “The Lord’s Prayer,” which was really the disciple’s prayer, but this prayer in John 17 is truly the Lord’s prayer!  Only He could pray it.

1.  Jesus prays for Himself verses 1—5

In looking toward heaven, Jesus assumed the typical Jewish gesture of prayer.  The prayer took place closely after the teachings of chapter 16; He stopped talking to the disciples and began talking to His Heavenly Father.  Where the disciples nearby while Jesus prayed?  Some commentators think so, making this prayer yet another teaching opportunity for their benefit.   If you  have ever wondered how Jesus fulfills His office as our Intercessor, stop wondering and simply read Jesus’ prayer here.

“The hour” to which Jesus referred is the hour that had been planned since the dawn of eternity.  A couple of times earlier in the Gospel Jesus had mentioned that His hour had not yet come (see 2:4 and 7:8, for example), but now it had; the time of crisis had arrived, and Jesus knew it.  This is important to remember, for it enhances the power of this prayer; Jesus shows that He knew full well the purpose of His life, the purpose and certainty of His impending death, and the certainty of His resurrection and ascension.

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  (verses 4, 5)

The last phase of Jesus’ mission was yet to occur, but Jesus knew His work was now finished.  The wheels were in  motion that would propel Him to the Cross, and Jesus knew what His future held.  Hoskyns comments on the Son being glorified are interesting:

The glorification of the Son is not to be understood  as the reward of virtue.  The glorification of the Son is the glorification of the Father in the salvation of men.

There is merit in that thought.  The salvation of mankind became possible only after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But there is more here.  Jesus always had the option of dodging the Cross and escaping death.  Yet, with steely determination, Jesus never once wavered in His mission, which He knew would end in His crucifixion.  He had resolved in His mind that He would die for the sins of all people, and for all intents and purposes, it was already done.  Even though His future looked terrifying, Jesus never once faltered in doing His Father’s will.  The single petition of this part of His prayer is that His Father would welcome Him back to the glory He had previously surrendered to come Earth as a man.

While this part of His prayer cannot be considered a model for us, as the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is, there are four parts of it that should cause us to stop and reflect on our lives:

  • “I have brought you glory on earth…”  Everything Jesus while on the Earth brought glory to God.
  • “I have finished the work you have given me to do…”  Jesus did the will of God in the face opposition and obstacles.
  • “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world…”  Jesus’ showed God to His followers, not only in His teachings but in how He lived.  His whole life pointed to God.
  • “I gave them the words you gave me…”  Jesus never taught anything that did not come God.

Looking back over our shoulders at how we have lived our lives, can we pray with the kind of certainty Jesus did?  Have we done the kind things and lived the kind of lives that reflect Jesus’ life?  Or have been living for ourselves, occasionally offering a nod in God’s direction?

2.  Jesus prays for His disciples, verses 6—19

This is the longest part of the prayer; we suppose the disciples needed a lot of prayer!  The fact is, He was far more concerned about them than about Himself.  Remember, Jesus knew what was coming for Him and He knew His final victory was guaranteed.  The disciples, though, had not such assurance, and failure was certain unless God helped them hang on until the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The first three verses of this part of the prayer teach us some important things about how salvation works.  Although concerning the disciples, we can easily apply these verses to all believers.  The disciples and in a broad sense all believers, have been given to Christ by the Father and He reveals the Father to them.  Here we see the sovereignty of God:  God chose the disciples as He continues to choose people today who will serve Him.  Christ enables believers to understand and relate to their Heavenly Father; it as though Jesus “personalizes” God, a heavenly Being who is far, far beyond human comprehension.

In all, Jesus presents three requests to God on behalf of His disciples.

(a)  Protect them, verse 11.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus, speaking as though His crucifixion has already happened, so certain it was, contrasts the Holy Father with the wicked world.  On the basis of His holy and righteousness character, Jesus wanted His Father to “protect” His followers.   The word tereo, “protect,” means a number of things, but in this context it means to “preserve,” with the implication of “protection.”  This is highly suggestive.  In regards to the disciples it indicates that Jesus knew the trials that awaited them.  As far as modern believers is concerned, we continue to need protection and preservation even though our trials and persecution for the faith are not as obvious.

When Jesus mentions “the power of God’s name,” what does He mean?  “Name” stands for the power of God manifested in His person; a “name” represents the authority a person possesses.  God has the authority to protect those He chooses.

(b)  Give them my joy, verse 13

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus not only wanted His disciples to be safe, He wanted them to have joy, specifically HIS joy.  The believer’s joy should not come from worldly things; the joy the world provides is temporary and pales when compared to Jesus’ joy.  What does “the full measure of Jesus’ joy mean?”  Jesus’ joy was the result of knowing that His work on man’s behalf was now finished; He had done the will of His Father and that produced joy in Him.  The beauty of this request is that Jesus wanted His disciples (as He wants us, today) to feel what He was feeling, despite their circumstances.

(c)  Sanctify them.  (verse 17)

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Jesus wanted His Father to “set apart” believers from the rest of the world.  The teaching of “sanctification” occupies a large portion of the New Testament.  Christians may be in the world, but they are not to be part of the world.   The believer is set apart—he is able to live in the world yet not be a part of the world—through the power of the Scripture.  How does this happen?  When we read the Bible (the “word of truth” in John) and when we study it, it reveals the mind of God to us.  As we understand the mind of God, we see how He wants us to live and, as we put forth the effort to live the life He wants us to live, the Holy Spirit enables us to do just that.

In sanctification, as in all things, Jesus is our example:

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.  (verse 18b)

Jesus came into the world with a job to do.  As He lived, He lived in the world but He was certainly never part of it.  He is our example; we are to live as He lived.

3.  Jesus prays for believers, verses 20—26

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.  (verse 20)

This last part of Jesus’ prayer indicates that Jesus expected His church to grow in spite of the failures He knew His disciples would experience.  Indeed, they would fail after His crucifixion, but all that would change after His resurrection and especially after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 gives us a clue as to how important unity was and continues to be for Jesus.  Previously, Jesus had talked about the urgent necessity of the disciples loving one another.  That agape love is the one thing that binds all believers together as they live and work for the Kingdom.  What does this unity look like?  There are four aspects:

(a)  Christian unity is grounded in the ultimate purpose of Christ’s coming into the world, namely, the redemption of sinful man, verse 21.  Christian unity is not based on denominationalism or political affiliation or any other thing apart from the mission of Christ:  to save sinners.  Christian unity has nothing to do with potluck dinners or Christian coffee clatches or any of the myriad of activities that the Church engages in, none of which are necessarily bad, but they should never viewed as the end goal of what Jesus wants for His Church.

(b)  Christian unity must result in perfection, verse 23a.  We use the word “perfect” in the sense of “complete.”  Complete unity is possible only in light of the indwelling presence of God in each believer, and complete or “finished” unity is the goal Jesus has in mind.

The unity that exists between God and the Son is the kind of unity that Jesus expects between believers!  That thought boggles the mind, given the current state of the Church.  This is probably one reason why the Church seems to impotent these days.  The Church, united by means of the Word and the Spirit is a force that cannot be stopped; it is a force that exerts a powerful influence on the world around it.

(c)  Christian unity is meant to be a manifestation of agape love, verse 23b.  The best commentary on this is the text itself:

Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

(d)  Christian unity is full of hope, verse 24.

I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

There is nothing more hopeful than heaven!  Is this not something all humans want?  Can any request be more touching than this one?  Jesus wants His people to be full of hope—hope for the future! Heaven is a reality, it is not a pie-in-the-sky dream.  This is a very real desire of Jesus’; He wants His people to be where He is.

Not only that, He wanted His disciples to see Him as He really is:  in His full glory.  The disciples, and all believers for that matter, are familiar with Jesus as He was in His incarnate life.  We know of His humanity and His humiliation.  But Jesus is so much more than that, and His request of His Father was that believers should enter Heaven to see Him as He really is.  Is this some sort of vanity prayer?  Was Jesus asking for some sort of vindication?  Not in the least.  Remember what John wrote much later in his life:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.   (1 John 3:2)

We, with our puny, finite minds, cannot conceive of how glorious Heaven is and we certainly cannot picture the Son of God as He really is any more than we can picture God Himself in His glory.   The hope of all Christians is not only a home in Heaven, but a home in  Heaven with Jesus, who we will finally see completely unfiltered.   And this gives us hope because we will be like Him.

What a blessing it is, to overhear this prayer.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd

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