We’re going to spend some time on John 17 today, one of the most profound and instructional passages in the Bible. We’re going to study what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, sometimes called His intercessory prayer, just before His crucifixion. While Jesus communicates with the Father, Jesus reveals His heart for His disciples and all future believers. This prayer provides us with insights into Jesus’ deep love, compassion, and concern for His followers, both then and now. So, let’s open our hearts and minds and learn from the perfect example of prayer that Jesus sets for us in John 17.
But wait! There’s still more. Before we dive into the prayer itself, let’s first set the context of John 17 within the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is distinct from the other synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke because John focuses on the deity of Jesus and emphasizes His unique relationship with the Father. John presents Jesus as the Son of God, the eternal Word made flesh, who came to reveal the Father and bring salvation to humanity.
In John 17, Jesus is in the final hours of His earthly ministry. Jesus had just celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, where He washed their feet, predicted His betrayal by Judas, and instituted the sacrament of communion. He then proceeded to teach His disciples about His imminent departure, assuring them that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and guide them. Jesus knew that the hour of His crucifixion was drawing near, and His heart was burdened with the weight of the mission that lay before Him.
It is against this backdrop that Jesus lifts His eyes to heaven and prays to the Father in John 17. This prayer is often referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, as it reveals the deep intimacy and communion that Jesus had with the Father. In this prayer, Jesus intercedes not only for Himself but also for His disciples and all believers who would come after them, including us. It is a profound expression of Jesus’ heart for His followers and a revelation of His deepest desires and concerns.
Jesus’ Prayer for Himself (John 17:1-5):
The first five verses of John 17, Jesus prays for Himself:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had a sister-in-law that said Jesus never claimed to be God. True, He never said the phrase, “I am God,” but there are hundreds of passages that, if you read with an open mind, you realize that’s exactly what Jesus was saying. This is one of those passages.
Jesus begins His prayer by addressing God as “Father,” signifying the close and intimate relationship between Him and the Father. Jesus acknowledges that the time has come for Him to be glorified, and in turn, to glorify the Father. Jesus’ reference to “the hour” points to His impending crucifixion and resurrection, which would bring glory to God through the accomplishment of His redemptive work on the cross.
Jesus then speaks of the authority that the Father has given Him over all people, highlighting His divine authority and lordship over all creation. This authority enables Jesus to give eternal life to those whom the Father has given Him. Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the only true God and Himself, whom the Father has sent. Here, Jesus reveals that the ultimate purpose of eternal life is not just living forever but having an intimate, personal relationship with God through Him.
Jesus also declares that He has brought glory to the Father on earth by completing the work the Father had given Him to do. Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was characterized by obedience to the Father’s will and the fulfillment of His mission to bring salvation to humanity. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and demonstrated the Father’s love and grace through His teachings, miracles, and ultimately, through His sacrificial death on the cross.
In verse 5, Jesus expresses His desire to be glorified in the Father’s presence with the glory He had before the world began. This statement reflects Jesus’ eternal preexistence as the Son of God, existing with the Father in perfect glory and unity before the creation of the world. Jesus’ prayer for glorification is not a request for something new, but a return to the eternal glory that He shared with the Father.
We can learn a lot about prayer by studying Jesus’ prayer for Himself.
- Humility: Jesus demonstrates humility by acknowledging His dependence on the Father and His desire to bring glory to Him. Despite being the Son of God and having authority over all creation, Jesus humbly seeks the Father’s will and glory above all else.
- Obedience: Jesus models obedience as He expresses His commitment to finishing the work the Father had given Him to do. Jesus’ life and ministry were centered on fulfilling the Father’s plan and purpose, and He sets an example for us to align our prayers with God’s will.
- Relationship: Jesus’ prayer for glorification reminds us of the eternal and divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. The purpose of eternity is our relationship. Jesus has a unique relationship with the Father and He was on a mission to reveal that relationship to humanity.
Jesus’ Prayer for His Disciples (John 17:6-19):
The< Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17:6-12:
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
There’s an interesting phrase here, “the son of perdition.” The phrase means “man doomed to destruction” and it’s only used twice in the New Testament. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, this phrase refers to the antichrist. In this prayer by Jesus, though, He is referring to Judas Iscariot. Jesus is repeating an earlier phrase that no one can snatch a believer out of the hand of Jesus except for Judas Iscariot, and that was only so prophecy would be fulfilled.
I started going down another rabbit hole for studying. You know, nobody wants to spend a lot of time studying Judas Iscariot. Just uncomfortable. But some things I found interesting; his last name is probably corruption of the Hebrew words “Ish Kerioth” meaning he’s from the town of Kerioth. Judas was the only one of the Twelve not from Galilea. Kerioth was a town populated primarily by Edomites, a people condemned by God for harassing the Israelites during the Exodus. So an Edomite was instrumental in plotting the death of Jesus, just as King Herod the Edomite was instrumental in plotting the death of Jesus as an infant.
Jesus continues in John 17:13-19,
But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus also prays for the sanctification of His disciples through the truth of God’s word. Sanctification refers to the process of being set apart for God’s purposes and being transformed into the image of Christ. Jesus recognizes the importance of God’s word in the disciples’ growth and development as His followers. He affirms that He has given them God’s word and that they are not of the world, just as He is not of the world. Jesus prays that His disciples would be sanctified by the truth of God’s word, which is the ultimate source of truth and transformation.
Jesus knows His disciples need strength; He says He is sending them into the world, and He uses the Greek word kosmos. Kosmos can mean the world or the universe or even the inhabitants of the earth, but one of the translations from the Greek is –
the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ
world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly
the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ
To dwell in Jesus is to remember that we are no longer of this world, but we belong to another. Our home lies elsewhere in eternity with our Lord and Savior.
Jesus prays specifically for His disciples, whom the Father had given Him out of the world. Jesus acknowledges that His disciples belonged to the Father and were given to Him, and they have obeyed the Father’s word. Jesus affirms that He has revealed the Father to His disciples and that they have come to know and believe in Him as the One sent by the Father.
One of the key themes in Jesus’ prayer for His disciples is unity. Jesus prays for the protection and unity of His disciples, that they may be one as He and the Father are one. Jesus desires that His disciples would be united in their faith, love, and mission, just as He and the Father are united in perfect harmony and purpose. Later we’ll see Jesus also prays for believers to also be united.
Once upon a time, I was 17 years old. I know I seem too mature, self-assured, and knowledgeable – and incredibly humble, I may add – to have ever been a gawky 17 year old, but I was. I was in Philmont New Mexico on a 300-mile hike through the mountains as an Explorer Scout.
One of the first things we had to learn is that the abilities of each individual to hike 300 miles over a two-week period varied greatly. Some of us had long strides, some had short. Some could hike easily uphill, others struggled. But our camp gear consisting of water, food, cooking utensils, first aid gear, etc., was divided among all of us. The water was especially heavy since some of our camps had no water, so we had to backpack it in. And when it was your turn to carry the water, then it was impossible to carry the rest of your backpack unaided.
We learned we needed to hike together and help each other out. Separate we might get lost, get weary, but we all needed to stick together and arrive at the next camp site together because we were a team.
One of the central themes of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is unity. Jesus prays for the unity of His followers, both among themselves and with God. He prays specifically for three key aspects of the prayer of unity –
Unity with God
In John 17:1-5, Jesus begins His prayer by expressing His desire to glorify the Father and complete the mission that the Father had given Him on earth. He speaks of the glory that He had with the Father before the world existed and asks the Father to restore that glory to Him. Jesus’ deep sense of unity with the Father is evident in His words, as He declares, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do,”.
Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father serves as a model for us as believers. It underscores the importance of cultivating a deep, personal relationship with God through prayer, worship, and obedience to His Word. Jesus’ unity with the Father was not only a source of comfort and strength for Him during His earthly ministry, but it also empowered Him to fulfill His mission on earth. As we seek to live a life that glorifies God and fulfills His purposes, we must prioritize our relationship with Him and strive to walk in unity with Him.
Unity among Believers
Jesus’ prayer for unity extends beyond His relationship with the Father to include His disciples and all believers who would come after them. In John 17:6-19, Jesus prays specifically for His disciples, asking the Father to keep them and protect them from the evil one and sanctify them in the truth. He also prays that they may be one, just as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). Jesus desires that His disciples be united with one another in love and purpose, just as He and the Father are united in perfect harmony.
This prayer for unity among believers is of utmost importance, as it reflects the heart of God for His people. Jesus knew that His disciples would face challenges, trials, and temptations as they continued to follow Him and share His message with the world. He understood that the enemy would seek to sow discord and division among them, and that the unity of His followers would be a powerful witness to the world of the truth of His message.
The unity that Jesus prays for is not superficial or based on mere external appearances, but a deep, spiritual unity that is rooted in the love and truth of God. It is a unity that transcends differences in background, culture, race, and opinions. It is a unity that is characterized by mutual love, respect, and mutual submission. It is a unity that is grounded in the truth of God’s Word, which is the standard by which we are to live our lives and conduct ourselves as believers.
As followers of Christ, we are called to be united with one another in a way that reflects the love and unity of the triune God. We are to be a community that models the beauty and power of unity to a world that is fractured and divided. Our unity is not based on our own abilities or efforts, but on the grace and power of God working in and through us. It is a unity that is forged in prayer, nurtured through fellowship, and lived out in our actions towards one another.
Unity in Mission
Another aspect of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 is the unity in mission. In John 17:18-19, Jesus prays, “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.” Jesus was sending His disciples into the world to carry on His mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, and advancing the kingdom of God. He knew that their mission would require unity, as they faced opposition, persecution, and challenges.
The mission of God’s people on earth is to be a reflection of the mission of Jesus. We are called to be salt and light in the world, to share the good news of salvation, and to be agents of transformation and reconciliation. Our mission is not a solo endeavor, but a collective one, as we work together as the body of Christ to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. Our unity in mission is essential, as it enables us to work together in harmony, with each member using their unique gifts, talents, and resources for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Unity in mission requires a shared vision, a common purpose, and a selfless commitment to the cause of Christ. It means laying aside our personal agendas, preferences, and differences for the greater good of God’s kingdom. It means working together in humility, love, and cooperation, recognizing that we are stronger together than we are apart. It means being willing to serve, support, and encourage one another as we strive to fulfill the mission that God has entrusted to us.
Why must we be in unity? Jesus tells us that it is for our own protection against the evil one. We are not exempt from facing spiritual battles in this world. Jesus himself acknowledged this truth by praying, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Jesus understood that we would face challenges, temptations, and attacks from the evil one, but he also assured us of God’s protection.
Jesus’ Prayer for Future Believers (John 17:20-26):
Then, fortunately for us, Jesus prays for future believers. As believers, we are not alone in our struggles. Jesus prayed not only for his disciples at that time, but also for all future believers, including us. He intercedes on our behalf, and his prayers for our protection are powerful and effective. We can trust that God is watching over us and will provide us with the strength and courage we need to face any spiritual battles that come our way. John 17:20-26 –
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus expands His prayer to include not only His disciples but also all future believers who would believe in Him through their message. Jesus prays for the unity of all believers, just as He and the Father are one. He desires that all believers may be united in their faith, love, and mission, just as He and the Father are united, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent Him. Jesus emphasizes the significance of unity among believers as a testimony to the world of God’s love and the truth of the Gospel.
Jesus prays for the complete unity of believers, that they may be brought to perfect harmony and oneness, just as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. Jesus desires that believers would experience a deep intimacy and closeness with God, as He Himself has with the Father. He prays that the love that the Father has for Him may also be in believers, and that He Himself may be in them. Jesus’ prayer highlights the profound connection and relationship that believers have with God through faith in Him.
Jesus also expresses His desire for future believers to be with Him where He is and to see His glory, the glory that the Father has given Him before the creation of the world. Jesus longs for the ultimate reunion of believers with Him in the eternal glory of God’s presence. He wants believers to experience the fullness of God’s love and glory, just as He has, and to dwell with Him in perfect fellowship for all eternity.
In Jesus’ prayer for future believers, we can glean several important truths for our own lives.
- Unity: Jesus emphasizes the significance of unity among believers. As followers of Christ, we are called to be united in our faith, love, and mission, regardless of our differences or backgrounds. Our unity is a testimony to the world of God’s love and the truth of the Gospel.
- Intimacy: Jesus’ prayer underscores the intimate relationship we have with God through faith in Him. We are not just distant servants, but beloved children who are deeply connected to God through our faith in Jesus. We are invited into a close and personal relationship with God, experiencing His love and glory in our lives.
- Hope: Jesus’ prayer reminds us of the ultimate hope and destination of believers – to be with Him in the eternal glory of God’s presence. Our ultimate goal is not just the temporal blessings of this world, but the eternal fellowship with God in His glorious presence.
John 17 shows us Jesus’ powerful and profound prayer to the Father on the eve of His crucifixion. Jesus prays for Himself, acknowledging His mission and the glory that He shares with the Father. He prays for His disciples, asking for their protection, unity, and sanctification through the truth of God’s word. And He prays for future believers, desiring their unity, intimacy with God, and ultimate reunion with Him in His glory.
There is an inseparable connection between Jesus and the Father. Jesus’ mission, glory, and love are all rooted in His relationship with the Father, and He invites us to share in that relationship through faith in Him. Jesus’ prayer also underscores the sacrificial nature of His mission, as He willingly goes to the cross to redeem humanity and bring reconciliation between God and humanity.
We can be encouraged by the assurance that Jesus’ prayer has been answered. Jesus prayed for the protection, unity, sanctification, and ultimate reunion of His followers, and His prayers are always in alignment with the will of the Father. We can trust that God hears and answers the prayers of His Son, and that His purposes for His people will be fulfilled.
May we be encouraged and empowered by the truths from Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and may we walk in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
To God be the glory.
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