Jesus' Prayer-John 17:1-26

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Key Verses: Jn 17:24

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am..."

There are three words that may help us "balance our Christian lives" ("Ortho" in Greek means "right," "correct," "true," or "straight."):

  • orthodoxy (right or correct beliefs/doctrines/theory/opinion).
  • orthopraxy (right or correct practices/action/activity)
  • orthopathy, (right or correct suffering/emotions/passions).

This may be like saying that we Christians need to get at least three things right: God, our life, and our emotions. Among the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12), we might add "Blessed are the balanced." In Jesus' magisterial prayer we see Jesus expressing the full range of his orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy.

  • He expressed profoundly his core being and beliefs in his eternal relationship with the Father.
  • Because of this inseparable relationship with the Father, he would soon be glorified by being pouring out his life in obedience to the Father unto death, even death on the cross.
  • At this most angst filled moment of his life, he displayed nothing but an outpouring of love for his Father and for his disciples and the church, even for us.

Someone stated that meditating on John 13 - 17 (Jesus' Upper Room Discourse) is like going into the holy of holies in the temple of God, for Jesus poured out his heart to God, to his disciples and even to us as future believers, the last night before he died a horrific death. May God bless you to express profound orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy as we contemplate Jesus' prayer.

The evening before the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther died in 1546, he had this prayer read to him three times in succession. John Knox, who brought reformation to the church in Scotland, on his death-bed in 1572, asked his wife to read him John 17. During his last sermon before his death, Philip Melanchthon, a German reformer, collaborator with Martin Luther, stated he received great comfort from John 17.

This well loved prayer of Jesus is a fitting conclusion to his upper room farewell discourse with his disciples in John 14-16. In some respects this prayer is a summary of the entire Fourth Gospel to this point. Its principal themes include:

  1. Jesus' obedience to his Father (Jn 17:2; 8:29; 5:19).
  2. The glorification of his Father through his death/exaltation (Jn 17:5; 13:31-32).
  3. The revelation of God in Christ Jesus (Jn 17:7-8; 14:7, 10-11; 1:14, 18).
  4. The Son gives eternal life (Jn 17:2; 5:21).
  5. The inseparable love relationship of the Father and the Son, and with the disciples (Jn 17:21, 23; Jn 15:1, 4-5).
  6. The joy of the disciples (Jn 17:13; 16:20-22; 15:11).
  7. The choosing of the disciples out of the world (Jn 17:14; 15:16, 19).
  8. The disciples' mission to the world (Jn 17:18; 13:34-35).
  9. The disciples' unity modeled on the unity of the Father and the Son (Jn 17:11,21-23; 11:52; 10:16).
  10. The disciples final destiny in the presence of the Father and the Son (Jn 17:24).

This prayer reveals the following transitions:

  1. The end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
  2. Jesus' grand work for the Father on the cross.
  3. Jesus looks forward to the on going work through the 11 apostles.
  4. Jesus also looks forward to the ministry of all believers in the church.

An outline of this prayer (which might be the "simplest" aspect of this intricate and comprehensive prayer) is as follows:

  1. Jesus prays for himself (Jn 17:1-5): the key is the “Father’s glory.”
  2. Jesus prays for his disciples (Jn 17:6-19): the key is “preservation” (and sanctification).
  3. Jesus prays for the church--the present and future believers (Jn 17:20-26): the key is “oneness.”

This prayer is the highest and most extensive example of “intercessory” prayer. The largest part of the prayer is spent on intercessory prayer for his disciples--both present and future. Jesus was much more concerned about them than about himself. Jesus presented the needs of his disciples to the Father.

I. Jesus Prays for Himself (Jn 17:1-5): the key is the “Father’s glory.”

God's sovereignty is not an excuse for fatalism, but an incentive to prayer for its fulfillment. After Jesus' farewell discourse of John 14 - 16, Jesus prayed (Jn 17:1a). This is the appointed "hour." It is God's appointed time for Jesus' crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension into glory, which has now arrived. This was not an excuse for resigned fatalism, but for prayer. Because the hour has come for the Son to be glorified, he prays that the glorification might take place, that the Father will accomplish the purpose of this appointed hour. As so often in Scripture, emphasis on God's sovereignty functions as an incentive to prayer, not a disincentive.

Jesus' one petition. In his prayer for himself (Jn 17:1-5) there is but one petition: "Glorify your Son" (Jn 17:1). What does it mean to "glorify"?

  1. To do the work the Father sent him to do.
  2. To do the Father’s will.
  3. To live the Father’s character in our life.
  4. To reveal to others the Father’s nature.
  5. To communicate eternal life with others.

In this context the primary meaning of "to glorify" is "to clothe in splendor" (Jn 17:5). The petition asks the Father to reverse the self-emptying entailed in his incarnation and to restore him to the splendor that he shared with the Father before the world began (Jn 17:5). That Jesus prayed for the Father to glorify the Son is a moving expressinn of his own willingness to obey the Father even unto death (Jn 17:9).

Those the Father gives to Jesus get eternal life. "For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him" (Jn 17:2). "...all those you have given him" are the elect. In order to save some/the elect the One who saves them must have absolute authority over all. When Jesus petitions his Father to glorify the Son (Jn 17:1), he does so on the basis of the Father's eternal plan to give all authority to the Son to give eternal life to the elect as a result of Jesus' death and resurrection (Mt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:27-28). Everything and everyone in the universe is subject to this authority, whether it is acknowledged or not.

Eternal life is to know Jesus and be transformed. Eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One (Jn 17:3). The word ‘'know'’ is often used in the Septuagint and sometimes in the Greek New Testament to describe the intimacy of a sexual relationship (Gen 4:1; Mt 1:25). Thus a person who knows God has an intimate relationship with God. This knowledge of the divine is not merely intellectual and not mere information, though it invariably includes information. Rather the knowledge of God and Jesus entails fellowship, trust, personal relationship, faith. If we met someone we truly admired, our lives would surely be affected in some memorable way. Likewise, to know God is to be transformed and be introduced to a life and an experience that we could never ever know otherwise.

"I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (Jn 17:4-5). Throughout his ministry Jesus brought glory to God, beginning with his incarnation (Jn 1:14). Now Jesus would finish the work by his obedience unto death (Phil 2:8). He also asked to be returned to the glory that he shared with the Father before the world began, i.e., before creation. This means that the incarnation entailed a forfeiture of glory.

II. Jesus Prays for His Disciples (Jn 17:6-19): the key is “preservation” (and sanctification).

In this part, let us consider:

  1. What Jesus did for his disciples.
  2. What his disciples did in response.
  3. Why and what Jesus prayed for his disciples.

What Jesus did for his disciples. Jesus' prayer (for his disciples) shows what Jesus did for them:

  1. Jesus revealed the Father (your name) to them (Jn 17:6, 11, 12, 26). The Father’s “name” is mentioned 4 times (Jn 17:6,11,12,26). The word “name” designates a connection with the person, meaning “involvement in all of His attributes and character.
  2. Jesus gave them God's word (Jn 17:8, 14).
  3. Jesus protected/kept them safe in the Father's name (Jn 17:12).
  4. Jesus spoke God's words to them so that they may have the full measure of his joy within them (Jn 17:13).
  5. Jesus sent them into the word as his emissaries/missionaries (Jn 17:18).
  6. Jesus gave them glory (Jn 17:22).

What his disciples did in response. In response to what Jesus did for them, this is what his disciples had done:

  1. They now know that everything the Son has comes from the Father (Jn 17:7).
  2. They accepted and obeyed God's word (Jn 17:6b,8a).
  3. They know that Jesus came from the Father (Jn 17:8b).
  4. They believe that the Father sent Jesus (Jn 17:8c).
  5. They bring glory to Jesus (Jn 17:10).

Jesus' prayer for his disciples. In this part, Jesus turns from his single petition for himself to his several petitions for his disciples.

1.Jesus prays for his disciples because they belong to the Father (Jn 17:6-11a).

2.Jesus prays that his disciples may be protected/kept (Jn 17:11b-16).

  1. Protect/keep them in the Father's name (Jn 17:11b).
  2. Protect/keep them from the evil one (Jn 17:15).

3.Jesus prays that his disciples may be sanctified (Jn 17:17-19).

Jesus prays for his disciples as opposed to others, for they are those whom the Father has given to the Son (Jn 17:6; 6:37). Jesus said, "They were yours" (Jn 17:6), and "they are yours" (Jn 17:9). This gift was not rooted in anything intrinsic to the people themselves, but God gave them to Jesus who chose them out of the world (Jn 15:19). How do we know who they are? They can be described in terms of their response to God's gracious self-disclosure in Christ: "they have obeyed your word" (Jn 17:6b).

In the world, but not of the world. Jesus chose the disciples out of the world (Jn 15:19), so that they are no longer of the world (Jn 17:14). But Jesus did not pray for the disciples to be taken out of the world, but protected from the evil one (Jn 17:15). God’s plan was not to remove them from danger and opposition (to take them out of the world) but to preserve them in the midst of conflict. The place of believers during this lifetime is not to withdraw from the world but to remain in the world and to influence it continually for good, as difficult as that may be.

Jesus prays for our unity, which is the work of the Trinity. "Holy Father, protect them ... so that they may be one as we are one" (Jn 17:11). Jesus shows the kind of profound unity that should be the norm among genuine believers. Subsequent verses indicate that this is to be a reflection of the unity that has existed eternally between the Father and the Son (Jn 17:21, 23), namely, the unity of a common mind and purpose, an unqualified mutual love (Jn 17:26), and a sustained comprehensive togetherness in mission (Jn 17:18), as revealed in the Father-Son relationship characterized by Jesus’ own ministry. Such unity is the result of Jesus' active and ongoing work in the disciples, to protect them by God's name (Jn 17:12) from the evil one (Jn 17:15). This protection is rooted in God's word (Jn 17:14, 17, 20) and involves sanctification (Jn 17:17,19). The kind of unity that is central to Jesus’ high priestly prayer is not organizational but is an all-encompassing relational reality that binds believers together with each other and with their Lord—a unity that can be achieved only through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although individual Christians, and the church in general, tend to fall short of the fullness of unity that the Lord intends, whenever such unity is even partially realized (never at the expense of truth or holiness) the result will always be deep joy (Jn 17:13), a persuasive witness to the world (Jn 17:21,23), and a display of God’s glory (Jn 17:22).

What is God's purpose in sanctifying us? Sanctification is where Christians spend virtually the entirety of our Christian lives. Our conversion happens at a certain point in time. Our glorification will happen when Jesus comes again. What happens in between our conversion and our glorification? Jesus prays that we may be sanctified by the truth of God's word (Jn 17:17). Our sanctification is possible primarily because Jesus sanctified himself through his obedience to the Father to die for our sins (Jn 17:19). What is God's purpose in sanctifying us?

  • Primarily it is that we Christians may "be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29).
  • Practically, God sanctifies us so that we may testify to the world as his emissaries, ambassadors and missionaries (Jn 17:18).

III. Jesus Prays for the Church--the present and future believers (Jn 17:20-26): the key is “oneness,” "unity."

Jesus does not stop at praying for himself (Jn 17:1-5) and his disciples (Jn 17:6-19) but now prays for "those who will believe in me" in the future (Jn 17:20). Jesus’ concern is for his followers’ unity (Jn 17:21-23) and love (Jn 17:26).

Secular oneness and Jesus' oneness. “Oneness” is a favorite thought of many false religions and Eastern cults, Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krishna, New Age, Zen, and others. The secular idea of oneness is comprehensiveness without distinction. It is loosey goosey, nondescript and ill-defined. But the oneness Jesus talks about shows a distinctiveness from the world and an opposition to the world by being obedient to the Father’s plan, proclaiming the Father’s name, and defending the Father’s Word.

"...that all of them may be one" (Jn 17:21) makes the inclusion of all those who believe, from after Jesus’ death up to the Second Coming. This unity would include those alive on earth and those who have died. This suggests that the “oneness” is much more than a physical earthly unity.

How do believers become one? "...just as you (Father) are in me (Jesus) and I (Jesus) am in you (Father). May they (disciples) also be in us (Father and Son)..." (Jn 17:21).

  • Source of unity: the Trinity. "...in us" (the Father and the Son) suggests the source of our unity and our ability to be one. It does not originate from ourselves, from the disciple or the Christian, no matter how mature and holy they may be.
  • Process of unity: drawing/depending on the Trinity. This oneness and unity is a continual ongoing special relationship that the “believers resemble that which exists eternally between the Father and the Son.” It is a drawing on each other, a support from each other, and the same goal for each other, as the Father and the Son.
  • Goal/result of unity: the world may know that the Father sent the Son (Jn 17:21b, 23b). This oneness is the union of plan, of counsel, of purpose, seeking the same objects, and manifesting attachment to the same things, and a desire to promote the same ends, as that of the Father and the Son.
  • Enablement/empowerment of unity: Glory (Jn 17:22) and indwelling (Jn 17:33). The glory that Jesus gives his disciples suggests the revelation and disclosure of the fullness of the Son by the Father (Jn 17:22). "I (Jesus) in them (disciples) and you (Father) in me (Jesus)—so that they may be brought to complete unity" (Jn 17:23a). It is Jesus' indwelling in us that brings us to complete unity. It is not something that can be brought about by any person or church.

Jesus wants the world to know that the Father sent the Son (Jn 17:21b,23b). Jesus wants the world to believe that He was the “sent one,” “that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21b), and "to let the world know that you sent me" (Jn 17:23b). Jesus was concerned that the world would understand and acknowledge that “Jesus” was the sent one from the Father. The whole purpose of unity is to present a united front to the world testifying to who Jesus was and what Jesus did. Some suggest that the “world” knowing “Jesus was the Sent one from the Father” is the same as “believing in Jesus as Savior.” The world cannot know or accept or find or reveal the Father (Jn 17:25; 14:17). The only way the Father can be known or found is through Jesus (Jn 17:6, 26).

Jesus wants his disciples to be with him (Jn 17:24). The word “want” (“theleo”) reveals Jesus’ “wish, pleasure or delight.” This is what Jesus truly deeply wants and desires. Jesus knows the 11 disciples will be going through extreme difficult times in starting the church and Jesus did not pray that they would be removed. However, Jesus’ desire is that all believers would come to be with Him soon. To be our God and for us to be his people and to be with him is a main thrust of the Bible from Genesis (Gen 17:7-8) to Revelation (Rev 21:3).

Jesus loved and glorified his Father and obeyed Him unto death, so that he might extend God's love to the unworthy, that is, to all of his followers. Jesus also loves his disciples and us by praying for our protection, our sanctification, and our unity. Through out your days, may God bless you to grasp and to contemplate and reflect upon this magisterial prayer of Jesus.

Questions:

  1. Jesus' prayer for himself has but one petition. What is it (Jn 17:1, 5; 13:31-32)? What do you think this means? What does Jesus mean by "glorify" the Father? What is the hour (Jn 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:20, 23, 27-2, 31-32; 13:1)?
  2. What does God do, and what does Jesus do (Jn 17:2; 6:37, 44; 15:16, 19; Ac 13:48; Rom 8:29; Eph 1:3-6; 2 Th 2:13; Tit 1:1; 1 Pet 1:2)? What is eternal life (Jn 17:3; 20:31)? What does it mean to "know" (Jer 31:33-34; Isa 54:13; 1 Cor 2:13)?
  3. How does Jesus bring glory to the Father (Jn 17:4; 19:30)? What is the glory Jesus had before the world began (Jn 17:5)?
  4. Who does Jesus reveal himself to (Jn 17:6a; 15:19; Eph 1:4; Rev 17:8)? What is the evidence that Jesus has revealed himself (Jn 17:6b; 6:68-69; 11:16; 13:37)? What do they know about Jesus and how (Jn 17:7-8)?
  5. Who does Jesus pray for and not pray for (Jn 17:9)? Why would Jesus pray for their protection (Jn 17:10-12, 14-16; 15:18-16:4)? Did Jesus fail with Judas (Jn 6:64, 70; 13:10-11, 18, 21-22; Ps 41:9)? What does Jesus want for his disciples (Jn 17:13; 15:11)?
  6. What does "sanctify" mean (Jn 17:17, 19)? How does this happen (Jn 15:3; 16:13)? For what purpose (Jn 17:18; 20:21; 15:26-27)?
  7. What is Jesus’ main prayer for future believers (Jn 17:20-23)? Why is unity so important (Jn 17:11, 21, 23)? How does unity happen (Jn 15:4-5, 7, 9-10; 1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 3:17-19; Col 1:27)? Must unity be observable (cf. Jn 13:34-35)? What does it mean to you for the church to be in unity?
  8. What does Jesus [and believers] ultimately want (Jn 17:24; 14:2-3; Phil 1:23; 1 Th 4:17; Rev 21:3, 22:4)? Who does Jesus know (Jn 17:25)? What does Jesus continue to do (Jn 17:26; Rom 5:5)? (Jesus’ prayer shows us what is in his heart and in the Father’s heart. What encourages you the most or means the most to you after reading Jesus’ prayer?)

References:

  1. Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1991. IV. Jesus' Self-Disclosure in His Cross and Exaltation (Jn 13:1-20:31), D. The Prayer of Jesus (Jn 17:1-26) 550-571.
  2. An Introduction to John 17:1-26. Compiled By Dr. Gary M. Gulan, 1985.
  3. John 17:1-5 (Part 1). Compiled By Dr. Gary M. Gulan, 1985.
  4. John 17:6-19 (Part 2). Compiled By Dr. Gary M. Gulan, 1985.
  5. John 17:20-26 (Part 3). Compiled By Dr. Gary M. Gulan, 1985.

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