This all-important final conversation that initially began in an upper room around a Passover table continued as Jesus and these men make their way through Jerusalem heading east towards the Mount of Olives. In fact, John 18 will open with them exiting the Temple, trekking across the Kidron Valley, before entering the Garden of Gethsemane.
While Jesus has finished His discourse declaring in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” — before leaving the city Jesus takes a moment and prays with them. This prayer is recorded for us in John 17.
Before we dive into the text itself there are a few things you should keep in mind… First, what we have here is completely unique. Not only is John the only Gospel writer that records this particular prayer, but it’s a one-of-a-kind. Though Jesus was known to pray often, this is the longest, most extensive record of any of His prayers recorded in the Bible.
Pertaining to the sacred nature of this unique passage Scottish theologian John Knox remarked that John 17 was the “holy of holies in the temple of Scripture.” Indeed, as we take time to work our way through these 26 verses and in doing so unpack this intimate moment Jesus has with His Heavenly Father, we’re about to venture onto holy ground.
Secondly, one of the main reasons this prayer demands our attention is for what it reveals to us about Jesus. It’s been said, “You can learn a lot about someone when you hear them pray” and this prayer is no exception. In just a few hours Jesus will be betrayed and brutally executed; and yet, before this happens He takes a moment to intercede for His disciples. The themes and subjects weighing on Jesus’ heart reveals a deep love for His followers.
The other reason this prayer is so important is that it teaches us much about prayer itself. You see prayer — more than being the divine right of every child of God — is an essential component to our relationship with our Father in heaven. In a profound sense prayer is the fundamental way we move from the physical realm into the spiritual.
As infants grow into children we know they ultimately learn how to speak by listening to their parents talk. In much the same way, as we listen to Jesus, we’ll learn how to pray effectively.
If you’re a note taker, the prayer itself can be divided into three sections: verses 1-5 Jesus prays for Himself, verses 6-19 Jesus prays for His 11 disciples, and then in verses 20-26 Jesus will specifically pray for all of His disciples extending throughout the millennia. Yes, it’s amazing to consider, but Jesus is praying for you the night before the crucifixion.
John 17:1-3, “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’”
Notice the posture of Jesus as He prays… John recalls how Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven and said.” One of the interesting misconceptions of prayer is that we stipulate a person shut their eyes. And yet, in Jesus’ prayer his eyes were open looking up to heaven.
The reason this detail is significant is what it tells us about Jesus’ present outlook. Though an incredible trial was coming His direction, He intentionally kept His perspective upwards! Jesus chose to keep a heavenly perspective in the midst of His earthly circumstance.
As the Psalmist declared in Psalms 121:1-3, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills — from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Never forget the key to navigating a storm is to keep your eyes fixed to a navigational point located in the heavens.
I’m also struck by Jesus’ first word of His prayer… “Father!” In the Disciple’s Prayer Jesus told us to begin our prayers, “Our Father who art in heaven…” Here Jesus models this for us by approaching God with a term of respect, but also endearment… “Father!” The term itself is warm and conversational. Jesus is relating to God on the basis of their relationship.
One Biblical scholar noted how up until Jesus no other major religion had ever presented prayer using such terminology. Even in Jewish culture it was taught God was to be approached with a reverence and respect. Case in point, the Jews even refused to verbally utter the name of God — simply referring to the consonants YHWH. Sadly, the problem with this approach is that it kept God at an arms length, distant, and unknowable.
It’s incredible that Jesus not only dismissed such a notion by coming before God using the term “Father,” but He specifically used a term relatable to the human experience.
Friend, regardless of the type of man your earthly father happened to be — and some are better than others, please know you have a heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally, is proud of you throughly, and is one who desires nothing more than to take care of your needs. As your “Father” God is both available, accessible, and completely relatable.
Jesus continues, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” Jesus knew what was coming and instead of praying for escape He prays for the strength to endure in such a way that His life would bring His Father glory. It’s a monumental thought to consider, but the way Jesus died would bring His Father and Himself glory.
With this in mind, it’s important to point out Jesus was not in survival mode. Even knowing the horrors ahead He wasn’t desperate. Jesus knew what was coming was necessary. And it was in light of this reality that His chief concern — what He prays for — was that His life would bring God glory! Are you concerned that your life will also bring God glory?
Speaking of Himself Jesus adds, “You have given Me authority over all flesh, that I should give eternal life to as many as You have given Me. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
As Jesus is speaking with His Father and requesting the strength to endure the cross, He’s reminded that the “eternal life” of mankind was at stake. Jesus had been “sent” from heaven to this earth for the singular task of satisfying the debt of sin so that we might be saved. In fact, Jesus had been “given authority over all flesh.” He was more than able!
In a world considering, “What is eternal life?” the Biblical answer is clear — knowing “Jesus Christ!” It’s interesting, but this is the only place in the Bible Jesus speaks of Himself using this phrase. He’s literally referring to Himself as the Messiah — the promised Savior!
Friend, if you desire “eternal life” the key according to this text is to “know Jesus!” In the Greek there are two words for “knowing”. The first is to know by intuition — I know it because I know it. The second — which is used in this passage — is to know by experience. Jesus is saying the only way to possess “eternal life” is to have a relationship with “the only true God” through Him! Again, there is no wiggling around the claim of exclusivity.
Not only is “eternal life” presented here as a gift of God (“that He should give eternal life”) meaning it has to be given and received and not earned or rewarded, but we find this life presented in the present tense. Eternal life is a life given today that last for eternity!
John 17:4-5, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
What an amazing declaration… First, Jesus affirms, “I have glorified You on the earth.” Jesus is saying His entire life had been a testimony of His perfection and complete sinlessness. Everything Jesus did and said brought glory to His heavenly Father. But that’s not all… Jesus then declares, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
Consider for a moment how Jesus had finished the work? Aside from the fact that Jesus could have only said this if He’d already surrendered to the cross to come, it should be pointed out that in order to “finish the work” you have to know what the work was to finish.
You see, Jesus came to earth being “sent” by His Father completely aware as to what His calling had been. He knew what He was supposed to be doing — the task at hand and He now testifies He’d done it. Everything Jesus did and more specifically everything Jesus didn’t do was filtered through the prism of His heavenly calling and particular mission.
As a point of application I should ask you… What work has God given you to do? As our example to follow it’s critical you consider Jesus never allowed opportunities unrelated to His calling to deter or distract Him from the task or the work God had given Him to accomplish. May we all be able to declare, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do!”
“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Seeing the finish line ahead Jesus longs for home! In fact, the implied tone of this declaration oozes a particular homesickness. Jesus is ready to be home in heaven and return the intimate oneness with His Father the incarnation had robbed Him of.
John 17:6-10, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.
For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You (of the same substance) and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.”
In transitioning His prayer from Himself unto these 11 disciples Jesus affirms that during the two and a half years He’d spent with them He’d throughly “manifested His Father’s name!” Literally, He is saying everything God the Father was Jesus the Son made manifest.
The implications of this statement is that the Old Testament God is completely knowable simply by examining the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, this word “manifested” means to put on display or literally to take what was once hidden and present it openly for all to see.
What this means is that if you want to know God’s heart towards the sinner — His heart towards those who hunger or who are sick — How He feels about the demoniac, the outcast, or downtrodden… Look no further than Jesus! In Jesus God was manifested on this earth!
In describing these men Jesus affirms a few things about them… One, they’d been given to Him by the Father… “They were Yours, You gave them to Me.” Two, Jesus says, “They have kept Your word” — obedient. Three, Jesus says they knew Who He really was (“they believe that You sent Me) and where He’d come from — “That I came forth from You.”
Finally and most amazingly, Jesus says, “I am glorified in them!” In light of the fact Jesus has just said His life had brought His Father glory, the fact He now says these men were bringing Him glory was radicle. Jesus is saying, in the same way His life had brought glory to the Father in heaven, the lives of these disciples were bringing Him glory!
Christian, the proper way to evaluate your life is not by what you do or accomplish, it’s not your success or failure… Instead, it’s whether or not Jesus is being glorified in you! The reality is while the world cannot see Jesus, His glory in the world should manifest through us!
In the context of the disciples receiving the Word of God, Jesus makes a most interesting statement. He says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me.” In this prayer Jesus is establishing a contrast between the world and the word!
When Jesus talks about “the world” keep in mind He’s referring to a corrupted culture — a worldly system that is fundamentally godless and in rebellion. While in the Garden of Eden God established a perfect culture, Satan and subsequently man’s sin completely corrupted it.
The very moment this world embrace the lie instead of the truth and man bought into the notion he could be his own god — a love for self supplanted a love for ones fellow man. Even when culture had become so toxic and wicked that God was forced to hit “reset” and destroy the world with a global Flood, it didn’t take long for the culture of Babel to reemerge.
Ever since, this worldly system known as Babylon the Great has stood in total opposition to the Kingdom of God. Biblically speaking, the day is coming when the Kingdom of God will be brought to earth by Jesus and completely destroy the whore of Babylon (Revelation 18).
Practically speaking, what this tells us is that no culture on this fallen planet is sacred.… Every political, financial, or educational system in this world has been tainted by sin. Whether it be capitalism or communism, free-markets or socialism, democracy or totalitarianism every system falls short! This is why Jesus says, “I do not pray for the world!” What’s the point?
Knowing my audience largely leans right I do need to say one thing… While communism enables the greed of a few men in power, capitalism enables all men to pursue greed.
My point is any system devised or controlled by sinful man falls woefully short. Capitalism isn’t more noble than Marxism for neither one is rooted in Godliness. You see Jesus is neither a free-market apologist nor is He a socialist supporter. Instead, He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who’ll usher in a Kingdom that is fundamentally not of this world.
The truth is “the world” is a common theme in this prayer that Jesus speak against because it opposes Him and those who follow after Him. The fact is this world stands in opposition to everything the Bible has to say about life, sex, marriage, gender, parenting, finances, and purpose. The world throws parades to celebrate behaviors that grieve the heart of God.
Christian never forget, instead of seeking to be friendly with the world, the church has been called to represent a Kingdom fundamentally in opposition to her. We stand against this world because it bubbles forth from the bowels of hell and robs people of the life God desires. We testify not only of a coming destruction, but of an opportunity to be saved!
You see in contrast to “the world” Jesus prays for these men who had accepted His Word! Knowing the pure Word would stand in opposition to the fallen world, Jesus knew conflict between the two would be constant. Jesus wants them to stand on truth in a world of lies.
Understand, this fundamental conflict between the word and the world is why the world wants nothing more than to change the word of God. For the sake of time I’m not going to unpack this point any further other than to say this… Concerning the Word of God one of two things always happens — Either it changes you or you seek to change it!
John 17:11-12, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition (this being Judas Iscariot), that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
“Now I am no longer in the world…” While Jesus was physically in the world when He prayed this, the reference appears to imply He was connected to a spiritual reality. Remember, prayer allows you to transcend the physical and enter the throne room of heaven!
“I have come to You… Holy Father.” While true “Father” was the most common term Jesus uses, this happens to be the only time Jesus says, “Holy Father.” In just a few verses Jesus will pray, “Righteous Father.” As Jesus continues this interaction with His Father through prayer it’s clear the intimacy and passion He’s experiencing continues to deepen.
“Keep through Your name those whom You have given Me…” Again, knowing what was about to happen to these eleven men in a matter of a few short hours, Jesus’ specific requests of His heavenly Father was that He would “keep them.” In the Greek the word “keep” means to attend to carefully or simply stated to take care of.
And for what purpose did Jesus make such a request… “That they may be one as We are.” Knowing opposition was coming Jesus’ chief desire was for them to remain unified. And note this unity had a pattern — “To be one as We are.” Our unity should be similar to the triunity.
Always know there is a huge difference between uniformity and unity. Oneness is not sameness. True unity and oneness from a Biblical context exists within a diversity. Father, Son, and Spirit are One God in three unique persons with three distinct, but equal roles. In the same fashion marital oneness can only be yielded in the diversity of male and female.
While the world desires unity, its method to achieving this actually pursues sameness. Instead of the acknowledgment and appreciation of what makes people distinctly different, it demands uniformity. And yet, the church should stand in contrast to this! While a unified people the beauty of the church is our oneness made manifest in our differences.
John 17:13-15, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”
“But now I come to You…” Jesus is getting to the purpose of His prayer — In addition to their unity, Jesus prays “that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves!” It’s fascinating to me that Jesus prays that His followers experience “His joy!” Understand, Jesus’ joy was found in an unbreakable relationship and connectedness with His Father in heaven. Earthly sorrow or trial could never rob Jesus of joy because it was tethered to an unshakable heavenly source.
Even though Jesus acknowledges “the world would hate” these men, He continues… “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” Though Jesus knew leaving His disciples on this earth would be risky — the world would hate them and the enemy would attack, it was worth it! You see Jesus had a purpose and a plan in keeping His disciples in the world. We testify of His resurrection!
Though limited in time, this line “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world” directly challenges the concept of Christian isolationism. We’re not to be insulated from the world. We are called to be in the world in order to manifest Jesus’ light in the darkness.
John 17:16-19, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
Because we’re in the world but not “of the world,” Jesus prays that the Father would continually “sanctified us by His truth” then adding, “Your word is truth.” To begin with, Jesus is clear the process of sanctification is a work of God in our lives and not something we can do or conjure up on our own. Furthermore, the process takes place through His word! God works in us through His word! Ephesians 5:26 describes the “washing of water by the word!”
Aside from this amazing reality, the idea of being “sanctified” means we’re actually set apart for God’s pleasure and for His purposes. Sanctification means to be set apart from something (the world) for something else (His good pleasure). Never forget, the process of sanctifying is not to get the most out of you, but to make the most out of you!
“I have sent them into the world.” Jesus is making it clear He didn’t leave these men behind… Instead, He “sent them into!” In the Greek this word “have sent” is “apostellō” or our English word “apostle” meaning one who was sent. In the Latin translation we have “missio” from which we get the word “missions.” Jesus is saying, “I’ve sent them on a mission!”
Notice Jesus places our mission into the context of His mission… “As You sent Me, I also have sent them.” The point is we are sent on a mission as Jesus was sent. Jesus wasn’t sent as a philosopher. Didn’t come as an inventor or discoverer. He wasn’t sent as a conquer. Instead, Jesus was sent as a normal man to a common place to manifest God’s presence.
John 17:20-23, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (future tense including all of us) that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Not only does Jesus reiterate His desire that every generation of Christians be unified, but He takes it one step further! He prays, “That they all may be one in Us… that the world may believe!” Jesus is saying a byproduct of our divine unity should be the salvation of others!
Here’s why this should result… Our unity should be supernatural. The basis of what unifies different people must be something greater than what would naturally divide. Jesus isn’t saying we’re to have a unity of institution, but of relationship. Friend, it’s only when we’re all getting closer to Jesus that as a byproduct we grow closer to each other.
John 17:24-26, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave (to give once and for all) Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared (past tense) to them Your name, and will declare it (future continual tense), that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
As Jesus is winding down this prayer He says, “I desire that they (that’s all believers throughout all generations) may be with Me.” Jesus is longing for the consummation of all things… “That they may behold His glory!” How amazing to know Jesus “desires” to be with you and to call you home to heaven! May I ask… Do you desire to be with Him?
Jesus closes His prayer asking “that the love with which His Father had loved Him may be in us, and He in us.” On numerous occasions this very night Jesus has spoken to these men about the love they were to have for one another. In fact, while they were around the Passover table in John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” There is no question such a love is only possible with the indwelling of Jesus in our lives through His Holy Spirit.
In regards to the crucial component of love in the Christian life, David Guzik remarked, “Take love from joy and you have only hedonism. Take love from holiness and you have self-righteousness. Take love from truth and you have bitter orthodoxy. Take love from mission and you have conquest. Take love from unity and you have tyranny.”
As we close up this section, there is one overarching point I want to make. Jesus prayed and He prayed a lot! He prayed daily. In fact, He was in constant prayer with His heavenly Father. Here’s why Jesus prayed with such frequency and why we need to adopt the same approach… “The shortest distance between two people is prayer!”
Jesus prayed because it instantly closed the distance between Himself and His Father. If He couldn’t physically be in His Father’s presence, the next best thing was prayer! Amazing! This morning if you feel distant from the Lord may I ask when was the last time you prayed?
And beyond this and in the context of Christian unity, again I reiterate, “The shortest distance between two people is prayer!” If you’re wanting to connect with others in your church… If you’re longing to develop a genuine, Christ-infused, Holy Spirit-driven type of relationship with fellow Christians — the quickest way to accomplish this is to pray with one another.
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