We are studying Jesus and how John portrays Him in his gospel.
Just a reminder that throughout this book John has followed a certain cycle in presenting Jesus as the divine Son of God:
- First he details the miracles and teachings of Jesus throughout His ministry.
- Next he records how Jesus challenges His audience and followers to believe in Him as the divine Christ.
- Then he shows how the people react with belief or disbelief to the words, actions and claims of the Lord.
It has been no different in this last scene where Jesus teaches and encourages His Apostles one last time before His death. Even at this critical moment as He prepares them for His departure, He continues to challenge them to believe in Him, but this time He urges them to keep on believing because His suffering and death as well as their own rejection and persecution will put a lot of pressure on their faith.
He has warned them of the persecution to come and has promised them that the Holy Spirit will be sent to them to comfort, empower, and enable them to carry on the ministry He has charged them with.
Jesus has even given them an overview of what the Holy Spirit will accomplish through them and through their spiritual descendants who will carry forth the word of the gospel until He returns.
In a cryptic way He says that despite their crisis of faith and persecution, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of the sin of disbelief, of seeking to be right with God without the cross of Christ, of failing to prepare for judgment, even after the judgment and condemnation of Satan was made public through the revelation of Scripture. These things the Holy Spirit will accomplish through them and those that follow them in the faith.
Having completed His teaching and encouragement, Jesus, a presider at the Passover and their leader, takes this final opportunity to pray for His Apostles before He is arrested and led away to be killed.
When they leave the upper room and go to the Garden of Gethsemane, He will then pray for Himself and His own struggle, but for now He prays for them and John, an eyewitness, records the prayer said by the Lord.
The High Priestly prayer – 17:1-26
This section has been referred to as the "High Priestly" prayer by David Chytraeus (16th Century Lutheran scholar) because in it Jesus exercises His High Priestly office in taking on the sins of the people and offering up prayer and sacrifice for those sins.
The essential difference, of course, is that Jesus did not need to offer first a sacrifice for His own sins, as Jewish priests needed to do, because He was sinless. Jesus did not offer an animal as sacrifice but rather He was both priest and sacrifice in offering Himself up as an atonement for sin.
Jesus could relate to sinful men as priest because He too bore a human body. As the divine Son of God, however, His prayer was perfect and heard in the throne room of grace because of His perfect righteousness. If the prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16b), then imagine what the prayer of a perfectly righteous God/man can do?
With all of this in mind, let us break this passage down.
For study purposes this chapter/prayer can be divided into three main sections:
- Vs. 1-5 – Prayer concerning Himself and the Father in heaven.
- Vs. 6-19 – Prayer concerning the Apostles at His side.
- Vs. 20-26 – Prayer concerning all future believers.
In this way Jesus prays for Himself and all mankind in these few verses.
1. Jesus' prayer for Himself – vs. 1-5
There are many kinds of prayer (thanks, praise, repentance, lamentation, etc.) but this prayer is one of supplication, of asking. Jesus asks God for various things for Himself, the Apostles and all future Christians.
Vs. 1 – 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,
Having finished teaching His Apostles and giving them comfort, the Lord ends their time in the upper room and the Passover meal with a prayer as was custom. He has told them that the time for His departure was near and He repeats this as He opens His prayer.
The "hour" is not only the time for His death, but the time for all of the things He came to do. These are to be fulfilled in His death, resurrection and ascension.
He asks God to glorify, exalt, lift up the Son so that the Son may do the same for the Father. Jesus will be glorified at this time because it is the hour of His death and especially His resurrection.
- John 20:31 – Resurrection confirms all of His teachings as true. Resurrection confirms all of His claims as true.
- Colossians 1:16 – Resurrection confirms His position over all men and all angels.
The Father is glorified in resurrection.
- Romans 1:4 – Resurrection reveals His power.
- Romans 3:21-26 – Resurrection reveals His righteousness.
- Romans 5:8 – Resurrection reveals His love.
Jesus asks the Father to go through with His plan for His death and resurrection because this will result in glory for both the Father and the Son.
Vs. 2-3 – 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.
This moment of glory is not a self-serving action for God. What will take place will be done to serve mankind. As a result of the death and resurrection, forgiveness will be available, and along with that forgiveness will come the righteousness that produces eternal life for the forgiven. The Father and Son will be glorified in their combined effort to grant human beings the gift of eternal life.
Jesus received the authority or power to offer this through His death and resurrection from the Father. He now asks the Father to complete the plan for the good of man.
Jesus also summarizes the experience of eternal life not simply as human life without end but a new kind of life experience, one where a person will have an ongoing knowledge or intimacy (to know) with the true God and His true Son. The Father and Son will be glorified and man will share in that glory as well by His association with them.
Vs. 4-5 – 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.
Jesus, once again repeats His request and this time makes a specific reference to His divine nature. He specifies that His glory is connected to His divine nature, before He took on human flesh. His glory will be seen without the interference and limiting handicap of a human nature. This refers ahead to His resurrection and manifestation in His glorified spiritual state before He returned to heaven.
2. Prayer for the Apostles – vs. 6-19
Jesus' prayer for the Apostles is in two sections: how He feels about them and what He wants for them.
A. How Jesus felt about His Apostles
Vs. 6-10 – "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.
Jesus reviews what He knows to be true concerning His Apostles. They were chosen by the Father (they could refuse His choice of them, like Judas did, but they accepted the choice). They were given the words of the Father through Christ. They have received and believed the Father's words concerning Jesus. In doing so they have glorified, exalted, honored Jesus in themselves through their faith.
Because of this, Jesus specifically prays and asks special things for them. He does not ask for the world, but because they believe in Him and have His word, He asks for them. This prayer and its request are born of deep love and affection for His Apostles.
B. What Jesus wants for His Apostles
Vs. 11 – 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.
As in other places, Jesus summarizes in this verse what He desires for His Apostles and then explains it in the following ones. Jesus is leaving them to return to the Father so He asks the Father to protect them in and by the Word. The term "name" comes from a word that means authority. God's authority and character are synonymous with His Word and these ideas are all rolled into a single word, "name." "Name" and "word" are interchangeable. The knowing, understanding and keeping of God's Word is the basis of unity between the Father and Son.
Jesus prays that the Apostles will be kept from spiritual harm and enjoy the same unity as He does with the Father as they know, understand and obey the Word. We see from this part of the prayer how important the work of the Holy Spirit will be: He leads them to knowing and understanding the Word (John 14:26; John 16:13). He enables one to overcome sin, which is disobedience to the Word (Romans 8:13).
Vs. 12 – 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.
While Jesus was physically present He spoke and taught them to obey the Word and as a result the only one lost was one whom the Scriptures foretold would do so. It is not that God forced Judas out, it is that God knew in advance how Judas would react and wrote about it long before as a way of confirming the Scriptures' divine source.
Vs. 13-16 – "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."
Whatever interactions concerning their salvation and their safety that the Father and Son may have had to which the Apostles would not know (it was only between the Father and Son), this information is now public (to the world). They can hear for themselves what God the Father and the Son want for them and this knowledge and experience should provide not only comfort but great joy. Jesus bears witness before the Father in heaven that these men are believers: they are not of the world; they are worthy of His care and protection; they share His own rejection and persecution from an unbelieving world.
He does not ask that they go with Him now in a glorious resurrection and ascension a few days hence, they must stay, they have a great work to do. Rather, He asks that they be protected against the wicked schemes of the devil who will certainly try to destroy the young church and its leaders in years to come.
Vs. 17-19 – 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.
To "sanctify" means to set apart for God's exclusive use. Thus the priests in the Old Testament were "sanctified" or set apart for exclusive service to God in the temple.
In verse 17 Jesus summarizes a request He has made and explained before. He asks the Father to "set apart" the Apostles for the exclusive ministry they are to undertake. He asks that this "setting apart" be done through the truth that is God's Word.
We know that Jesus has already promised this and explained how it will happen: through the Holy Spirit.
- John 14:26: He will bring into remembrance.
- John 16:13: He will lead to all truth.
- John 14:16: He will comfort, strengthen and enable.
Jesus separates Himself fully through the cross, resurrection and ascension. In the same way the Holy Spirit will come and set them apart as well through His work in and for them.
Jesus was set apart or commissioned by the Word to bring the Word of God to men; now after He has completed His mission, He sends the Apostles out into the world by the authority of the Word to bring the Word to the World. The same Word that sent and empowered Him will now set apart, send and empower the Apostles through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
3. Jesus' prayer for future disciples – vs. 20-26
Jesus has asked the Father to protect, commission and empower His Apostles to complete their mission as He is about to complete His own. He now looks further into the future and offers a prayer for all those generations of believers who will come after because of the ministry of the Apostles. Here he is praying for us. This is what He asks for.
Vs. 20-21 – "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.
He prays that the growth and unity of the church will provide an ongoing witness to an unbelieving world. He does not mention it, but the opposite is certainly true: going away from the Word leads us away from God and each other and this makes us ineffective in reaching lost souls.
Vs. 22-23 – 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.
What "glory" did the Father give the Son? It cannot be divine glory because the Son is already God and cannot be added to in any way. The "glory" is the divine presence in a human body, and a divine mission for this body. John says in John 1:14, "And we beheld His glory" in referring to Jesus' bodily presence.
Jesus shared His presence in physical form in order to become one with His Apostles. He became one of them while retaining His divine nature. Through their witness of His physical presence in His ministry of teaching and miracles, His physical death, resurrection and ascension, the Apostles will be able to share this glory with others.
They will be able to share the very real love of God experienced between the Father and Son, with themselves (because God was physically with them) and also with others through their witness. In this way the unity of the Father and Son has been experienced by the Son in human form with the Apostles; and later by the Apostles and other Christians; and finally between Christians themselves.
We all carry a part of Jesus' experience with His Apostles in our relationship with other Christians because we share His Word.
Vs. 24-26 – 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 builds on the idea that disciples share the experience of Him by asking the Father to bring all believers to heaven so they can experience firsthand the divine presence of Jesus. Now we know Him through the writings of the Apostles, then we will know Him from personal experience. We will see what the women and the Apostles and the 500 saw and heard and touched after His resurrection.
Jesus finishes by reiterating that the world knows nothing of the things He has spoken of. He has known, obeyed and shared the Word. He has also shared it with His Apostles. He will share it in the future with them through the power of the Holy Spirit who will shed the knowledge and love of Him within themselves until He comes.
Jesus completes His prayer with the implicit promise that they may not be able to behold His glory soon, but through faith He will be within them to love and comfort them, and not only them but all believers. It will ultimately be this love by and of Christ that will be the strongest bond producing unity.
Jesus finishes up this teaching and encouragement section by praying:
- That the Father honor and glorify Himself and the Son by going through with His plan to save mankind at the cost of His own life.
- He reaffirms His love for and confirmation of the Apostles' faith and asks God to protect that faith as they go out on their gospel mission.
- The Lord ends with a request that the church grow and maintain its unity until such time that the vision of Christ seen through faith in the Word becomes a reality when Christ exalts the church to be with Him at the right hand of God in heaven forever.