Most Christians are familiar with John 3:16—

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It was out of love for “the world,” more specifically people in the world, that God sent His Son to save them. It was out of the same the love that the Son was obedient to His Father’s will; a will that found Jesus Christ suffering and dying on the Cross.

That singular outpouring of love and compassion happened over 2,000 years ago. What is Jesus doing now? In “the real Lord’s Prayer,” John 17, Jesus tells us exactly what He is doing at this very moment.

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9)

Jesus’ work on behalf of sinners is completed. He died for them! There is nothing more to be done for sinful man. Now, Jesus is concerned with His own; He is praying for them and interceding for them in the presence of His Father.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

1. A special request

As Jesus prayed for His disciples, He made two very important requests:

All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 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. (vs. 10, 11)

(1) Jesus prayed for His disciples, and for all believers, to be protected. In the strict context of this prayer, Jesus acknowledged that He was about depart this world but that His disciples were staying behind. Out of concern for them, He asked His Father to protect them in His absence. In the larger context, this is a concern Jesus has for all His people. Today, we are protected by God because He knows who we are; we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. When God looks down at the billions of people living on the earth, He can see all those who belong to Him, and because we are sealed by the Spirit and Jesus is praying for us, we are living under divine protection.

(2) Jesus prayed that we would “be one.” Jesus prayed that the Church would be in unity. He didn’t pray for unanimity and He didn’t pray for some kind of ecumenical movement. He wasn’t praying that all Christians would join the same church. His prayer—His great concern—was that all believers should be “as we are,” that is, Christians should live in the same kind of unity as that of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

What makes this request so powerful, apart from the fact that Jesus made it, is that the Father answered it. He answers every single prayer His Son prays. What does true unity look like? It happens when all believers, sealed by the Holy Spirit and made part of the family of God, assemble and have fellowship around the Cross. It has nothing to do with church doctrine or denominations. When we, as believers, have fellowship together, we need to understand that it is Christ that draws us together; we meet together because of Him; we have Him in common. This is not organizational unity but rather a unity based on relationships.

In the midst of this beautiful prayer, Jesus says this:

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (vs. 12)

It must have been with a tragic memory that Jesus mentions Judas Iscariot. The Greek words for “lost” and “destruction” are cognates and refer to a “final perishing.” The same noun is used in Mark 14:4—

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?”

Here it is translated “waste,” with the idea that something was not used properly and was ruined or lost. Judas was such a person. He was lost and his actions doomed him. The KJV translates the second half of verse 12 slightly differently than the NIV:

and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

The “son of perdition” could point to two things: the person’s character, as in the example of Psalm 57:4, or a person’s destiny, as in Isaiah 34:5. In the case of Judas, given what we know about him, Jesus is probably referring to both. He certainly was a man of dubious character who, in the end, followed the dictates of that character.

We now come our Lord’s request concerning His disciples:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (vs. 15)

This is a great verse for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it shows Jesus knew how life was going to be for His friends, and for us, as well. His was no “pie-in-the-sky” theology! Jesus knew full-well the state of the world and what it was going to be like for them. For his part, John understood:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:18, 19)

Verses 14 and 16 give the reason for this request:

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. (vs. 14)

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (vs. 16)

None of Jesus’ disciples—then or now—are “part of this world,” Jesus is not part of this world, and therefore, since the world hated Him for that reason, so the world hates all those who follow Him for the same reason. Protection is absolutely necessary, given the hostility of the world to believers.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (vs. 17—19)

The idea of “sanctification” is something a lot of believers don’t understand. The simple fact brought out by Jesus’ prayer is that believers are not of this world, we are set apart from this world. This being “set apart” is what “sanctify” means. And Jesus tells us, as He prays to His Father, how we are sanctified: through the Word of God. The Word of God reveals the mind and the will of God, and as we read and study it, we discover what God wants of us and from us, and especially how He wants us to live. And those things are the things that set us apart from the rest of the world.

These two verses also reveal that Jesus has very distinct purpose for us: to be witnesses for Him in the world. He set Himself apart to be identified with us, and so it is only proper that we set ourselves apart to be identified with Him.

Up until now in His prayer, Jesus has been praying directly for His disciples, and indirectly for us—that is, we simply apply what Jesus has said regarding His disciples to our lives today. But with verse 20, His direction changes:

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

It’s hard to believe, but some 2,000 years ago, Jesus was thinking about us! Jesus prayed for us then, and He continues to pray for us today, in Heaven, as our great Intercessor. His request, verse 21, is simple and already been answered: unity. Even while there are many denominations and shades of orthodox Christianity all over the globe, every born again person is a member of the Body of Christ.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. (vs. 21, 22a)

These are two remarkable statements! “I in them and you in me” is what true Christian unity is all about. Only God’s Holy Spirit can make us all one in Christ! And in verse 23, Jesus makes a statement that should encourage every believer:

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Did you catch that? God loves us as much as He loves His Son! Statements like that one boggle our minds. What do with that knowledge? We ought to return that love in kind. We ought to treat God as the loving Heavenly Father He is, not like the inconvenient house guest He feels like sometimes.

God created the material universe, including the almost infinite variety of living things, both living on our planet and all those supernatural beings, but only man was given a free will, and even though man squandered and is squandering that free will on sin, God wants our fellowship. Of all the creatures God has created, He made us so He could have fellowship with us. No wonder He loves us so much!

As Jesus concludes His great prayer, He mentions something very precious to Him: His Father’s love:

I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (vs. 26)

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus had said things like this:

I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:7)

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)

People, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, have this desire to know what God looks like. Jesus made it plain that the Father looks like the Son! There should be no doubt about what God thinks about things or what His opinion is concerning certain things because we have the historical record of Jesus’ thoughts and attitudes.

But beyond that, we read about the importance of the Father’s love. Jesus wanted us to experience the Father’s love as He did. We talk a lot about God’s grace and His mercy and His power to save, but in His prayer, Jesus made sure to ask His Father that His love would rest in all believers. If we correctly assume that God answered that prayer, then all believers need to be asking themselves a very pointed question: Am I manifesting God’s love? If not, why not?

Jesus Christ is our great High Priest, a truth bought out in the letter to the Hebrews. As such, He is praying for us right now, and God the Father is answering all of Jesus’ prayers right now. If we fail in our efforts to live for God, the fault is ours, not God’s. We have the advantage to live lives that continually reflect God’s glory.

And so he is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through him, because he lives forever to plead with God for them. (Hebrews 7:25, GNT)

There is no way we possibly fail with that kind of prayer support behind us.

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