JESUS’ FINAL PRAYER John 17
“I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours” (John 17:9).Our prayers reveal our priorities. In Jesus’ final prayer, He showed His concern was for all believers—present and future.
Definition of Key Terms
The words “glory” and “glorify” occur over and over in John 17. In the secular world of the first century, glory was “the high opinion of others.” A person’s glory thus was rooted in the assessment by others of his actions or accomplishments. In Scripture, however, “glory” is not linked with human assessment. It is instead linked with the revelation of God’s majesty. God’s qualities are glorious in and of themselves. Jesus glorified God simply by doing God’s will, and thus revealing what the Father is like. How then do we glorify God? In two ways. First, by recognizing His works and praising Him for the qualities His acts reveal. And second, by “bearing fruit” (15:8). The stunning thought here is that as you and I live in intimate relationship with the Lord, He acts in and through us, thus revealing Himself to others. Like Jesus, we can glorify God by being channels through which the Lord reveals His beauty to mankind.
Jesus asked God to glorify Him, now that His mission of glorifying the Father was complete (17:1–5). Christ asked the Father to preserve His 11 disciples (vv. 6–12). He then prayed for all future believers (vv. 13–26): that we might be one with Him (vv. 13–23), see Jesus’ glory (v. 24), and love Him completely (vv. 25–26).
Understanding the Text“
Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You” John 17:1.
The prayer recorded in John 17 has been called Christ’s “High Priestly Prayer.” It is the prayer of one about to offer Himself on the altar as a sacrifice for humankind, and it’s filled with expressions of love. This prayer is also filled with expressions of Christ’s purpose in permitting Calvary. This verse states the first, and perhaps most important purpose. Jesus went to the cross to glorify the Father, and that the Father might glorify Him. In view of the New Testament meaning of “glorify” (see DEFINITION), what Jesus had in mind was the whole sequence of events that were about to take place. These events—the capture, the trial, the journey to the cross, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—comprise the ultimate revelation of God’s unimaginable love for lost humanity. In this, the ultimate revelation of God’s love, grace, and power, these qualities of our God are fully displayed. In this ultimate revelation of the Father and the Son, Each glorified the Other, for Father and Son were united in the plan to save humankind. Today anyone who wishes to know God need only look to Calvary. There, in the cross, the love, the grace, and the glory of God burn forever bright. “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” John 17:2–3. Merrill Tenney suggests that “life is active involvement with environment; death is the cessation of involvement with the environment.” A worm has an earthly life, in that its environment is the dirt in which it lives. It has no capacity to interact with an environment of water or air. Similarly human beings have biological life that enables them to interact with the biosphere: the realm of life on earth. But human beings have no native capacity to interact with the realm of the spiritual and eternal. Unless they have come to know God through Jesus Christ, and have been given eternal life by God. What an insight into the nature of our “eternal life.” It is not simply endless. It is the capacity now to be involved with God: to speak to Him, to be guided by Him, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. We live with our feet on the ground. But our native environment now is eternity, and our primary relationship is with God. “You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word” John 17:6–8. Jesus’ prayer now focused on the 11 disciples who had been His companions through His years of ministry. What a beautiful picture John drew. The 11 were God’s gift to Jesus. And they demonstrated that fact by obeying Jesus’ word. Some would see here an interplay between predestination and human responsibility. God gives individuals to Jesus. They reveal their election by obedience. But it’s best not to be drawn into that debate. The 11 were God’s gifts to Christ. What we need to ask is, what made them valuable and beautiful gifts? The answer to that question is found in the text. To be a beautiful gift a person (1) obeys Jesus’ words (v. 6), for he accepts Jesus’ words as God’s own (v. 8); and (2) knows with certainty Jesus came from God the Father (v. 8). Jesus deserves the most beautiful gift we can possibly give Him. We can be that most beautiful of gifts ourselves, if we trust Jesus completely and obey His words. “Protect them by the power of Your name” John 17:9–12. The Greek word, tereo, when applied to persons, has the general meaning of “preserve.” Jesus was about to leave, and His disciples would seemingly be alone in a hostile world. We may be alone. But we are not unprotected! God the Father has committed His name (which means “all that He is,” and here emphasizes His omnipotence) to preserve us from harm. This is no guarantee of protection from physical suffering. Jesus Himself suffered and died. No, God’s protection is far more significant than that. What God is committed to do is to preserve the oneness relationship that exists between the believer and Jesus (v. 11). Nothing on earth can tear us away from our Lord. We are safe, for God has committed all that He is to protect and preserve our relationship with Christ. “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction” John 17:12. There is a slight difference in the word Jesus used when speaking of His own “protection” of the Twelve. God was committed by Jesus’ prayer to preserve (tereo) the 11. Jesus when on earth defended (phylasso) them from external attack. That defense operated while 11 of the Twelve gradually found their way to full faith in Jesus—and while Judas worked his way to rejection and betrayal. While the shade of difference in the Greek words is slight, there is a vast difference between Christ’s protection of His disciples from outside attack while they were making up their minds about Him, and God’s preservation of the 11 who had achieved the certainty of their faith (cf. vv. 7–8). Don’t let Judas’ loss frighten you. No one who has a settled faith in Jesus is in danger of losing his or her eternal life. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” John 17:16. To be “of” the world is to have our roots in the complex of motives and passions that rules sinful human society. Because of union with Christ, the Christian’s roots are in heaven. We live in the world, but our motives and our perspective on life is shaped by our relationship with God. It’s helpful to be clear on the nature of a “worldly” person. Worldliness is not a matter of do’s and don’ts, but of attitudes and perspectives. If our priorities and values are like those of non-Christians in our society, we are worldly. “Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth” John 17:17. To be sanctified is to be set apart, or dedicated. It’s not enough to “just believe.” God calls all who believe to complete dedication to Him and His ways. How does a believer become sanctified? By the working of God’s Word in his or her life. Scripture is not just a statement of standards by which we are to live. It is a powerful, active agent God uses to call us closer to Him, and to guide our steps. Don’t expect your life to change if your Bible gathers dust on some shelf. “For those who will believe in Me through their message” John 17:20–26. This is the third section of Jesus’ prayer: a section whose focus is you and me. What does Jesus want most for you and me? He wants us to be one in Him (vv. 20–23, see DEVOTIONAL), He wants us to be with Him and see His glory (v. 24), and He wants us to be filled not only with love but with Christ Himself (vv. 25–26). What does it mean that Jesus prayed these things for us? It means, simply, that we have what He prayed for! It is impossible to imagine that God the Father would not answer Christ’s prayers. Thus we are sure that this prayer has been, is being, and will be answered. You and I are one with Jesus, and can experience this oneness. We will surely be with Jesus and see His glory. And Christ today is present with us, to fill our lives not only with love, but with a sense of His presence. So claim the promises that Christ’s prayer guarantees. And enjoy being a Christian.
Being One(John 17:20–23)
I learned a new word the other day playing a game called Balderdash. The word was “Martext.” It describes a preacher with poor delivery and fuzzy thought processes. When you think about it, it’s easy to see where the word came from. Such a preacher would mar any text he preached from! I suspect that John 17:22 has been marred by preachers as much as any text in the Bible. It records Jesus’ prayer that all believers “may be one as We are One.” Many preachers have taken this text as a call for Christian unity. I have no statistics on how often this text has been used when denominational groups meet to consider merger, but I’d bet it’s served as a proof text about 99.9 percent of such times. The only problem is, Jesus wasn’t praying for Christians to be one with each other. He wasn’t asking for organizational or even experiential unity in the body of Christ. What Jesus asked is that all believers be one with Him! We know this from the passage itself. Jesus’ relationship with the Father is the model of the oneness Christ prayed for. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father in Him (v. 21). They are bound together: by shared nature, by mutual love, by oneness of purpose, by a single, harmonious will. Jesus lived His life on earth in union with God the Father, and His actions here revealed God to us all. And now, wonder of wonders, Jesus asked that we may have the kind of relationship with Him that He has had with the Father! Jesus asked that we might be bound to Him: given a new nature that is like His, a capacity to love that reflects His own, a place in God’s plan and purpose, and knowledge of God’s will. Equipped with these gifts, found in Him in the same way He is in the Father, you and I like Jesus can display God’s glory to the world. We can be channels through which God reveals Himself to other men. What’s wonderful is that this prayer has been answered. We are one with Jesus, our lives bound up in His. Christ’s desire for us, now that we are one, is that we might “be brought to complete unity” experientially, that through us “the world [may] know” that Jesus is the Father’s Son.
Being one with Christ means you and I can live our lives on earth in union with God.
“Christ is my form, my furniture and perfection, adorning and beautifying my faith as the colour, the clear light, or the whiteness do garnish and beautify the wall. We cannot spiritually conceive that Christ is so nearly joined and united unto us, as the colour or whiteness are unto the wall. Christ therefore, saith He, thus joined and united unto me and abiding in me, liveth this life in me which I now live; yes Christ Himself is this life which now I live. Wherefore Christ and I in this behalf are both one.”—Martin Luther