Unity in Christ does provide an environment for the gospel message to make its clearest impact, and lack of unity among Chris followers frequently drives people away. Are you helping to unify the body of Christ, the church? You can pray for other believers, avoid gossip, build others up, work together in humility, give your time and money, exalt Christ, and refuse to get sidetracked by arguing over divisive matters.
This and other insightful *Life Applications are in today’s reading.
Jesus Prays for Himself / 17:1-5
John 17 contains Jesus’ great intercessory prayer. It is not the prayer of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane but an open conversation with the Father about his followers. This prayer brings to a close Jesus’ discourse in 13:31–16:33. It expresses the deepest desires of Jesus’ heart for his return to the Father and for the destiny of his chosen ones. Jesus asked the Father to grant the believers the same kind of unity that he and the Father enjoyed from eternity—a unity of love.
17:1 Jesus began his petition by praying for himself: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you.” Jesus knew that his “hour” of suffering had come—several times previously in the Gospel, John had pointed out that Jesus’ time had not come (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). But the time for Jesus’ glorification had arrived. If the Father would glorify the Son in the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Son could, in turn, give eternal life to the believers and so glorify the Father. Jesus asked the Father to restore to him the full rights and power as Son of God (as described in Philippians 2:5-11).
17:2 Jesus made his requests to the Father, knowing that from eternity past the Father had given him authority over everyone in all the earth so that he could give eternal life to each one the Father had given him.
17:3 Jesus defines eternal life as to know experientially the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one he sent to earth. We find eternal life only by knowing the one true God. This knowledge is ongoing and personal (see also Matthew 11:27).
*LIFE APPLICATION: KNOWING GOD
How do we know God? Jesus explained knowing God as the essence of having eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive when we enter into a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. We cannot know God unless we have eternal life; and at the core of eternal life is intimate knowledge of God.
Eternal life means having the capacity for intimacy with others who have eternal life. Jesus is the source of eternal life. Our first step toward eternal life includes realizing we don’t have it. That sense of separation, rebellion, lostness, or inadequacy before God is defined as “sin” in the Bible. When we admit our sin, turn away from it and then to Christ, Christ’s love lives in us through the Holy Spirit. Eternal life is not just being around forever; for believers it means eternity with God, their loving Father.
17:4 In this statement, Jesus affirmed that he had brought glory to the Father on earth by doing everything God wanted him to do. The last phase of Jesus’ revealing work was about to be accomplished through his death on the cross. Jesus spoke of his work as though it had already happened—his obedience to death on the cross was a certainty. Jesus requested again to be returned to glory based on the certainty of his completing the work of the cross.
17:5 Looking beyond the Cross to his resurrection and ascension, Jesus asked the Father to restore the glory he had shared with the Father before the world began. In saying this, Jesus gives us a glimpse of his relationship with the Father before the beginning of time. Jesus wanted to return to the glory he had with the Father before the world was created (see 1:1, 18). Jesus would enter into that glory as the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus’ return to God was not simply a return to his preincarnate state, since Jesus would have his resurrected body. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension—and Stephen’s dying exclamation (Acts 7:56)—attest that Jesus’ prayer was answered. He returned to his exalted position at the right hand of God.
*LIFE APPLICATION: GET TO WORK
Jesus gave us a remarkable example in his prayer. He asked the Father to glorify him because he was completing the work God had given him to do (see John 4:34). He prayed confidently as the obedient Son. Do our prayers lack confidence because we are not committed to do what God wants? Jesus’ work was to reveal God to his disciples and to enable them to continue that work through others to the present day.
How do we bring glory to God? By completing the work he has given us to do. What is God’s work for us?
- Show mercy, justice, and humility before God (Micah 6:8).
- Pass on the gospel and make disciples to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20).
- Care for those who are needy around us (James 1:27).
- Do good and share with others (Hebrews 13:16).
- As we practice obedience in these areas, God will strengthen us.
Jesus Prays for His Disciples / 17:6-19
This prayer is one of several mentioned in the Bible that focused on the disciples. Before choosing the Twelve, Jesus spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). During their ministry together (John 6:15; Luke 10:18-22), we assume Jesus’ prayers included his disciples. We know that before the final days, Jesus had been praying specifically for Peter (Luke 22:32). The Scriptures also tell us that part of Jesus’ present activity is to pray for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus made it clear that although we have direct access to the Father (16:26-27), we are still the objects of his loving concern.
17:6 After praying for his own glorification, Jesus turned the direction of his petition to his disciples. These were the men God had selected to give to his Son as his disciples (see 15:19). To these men, given to him by the Father out of the world, Jesus had expressed the reality of the Father’s person to them (see 1:18). And they had kept his word. Their faith wasn’t perfect, and they would fail their Savior in the coming hours; but their commitment was in the right place, and they would return to this faith and to obedience to God.
17:7-8 The disciples had received Jesus’ words as coming from God; as a result, they had come to believe that Jesus had been sent from the Father (see 16:28-30). Before Jesus instituted God’s plan of salvation by dying on the cross, he introduced it to his disciples. They had to believe the words of Christ to benefit from the work of Christ. Jesus effectively demonstrated that what he said came from God. The disciples were not in a position to accept the saving purpose of Jesus’ death until they had accepted the fact that God had sent him. Once they knew God had sent Jesus, they were ready to learn that God had sent him to die! Jesus was declaring that the disciples were ready for the next lesson, as difficult as it might be.
17:9 We know that God loves the world (3:16), but at this time Jesus was focusing on the disciples, not the world. These disciples were the object of Jesus’ affection and Jesus’ prayer. He was not praying for the world, because the world was hostile and unbelieving. Instead, he was praying for those the Father had given him.
17:10 Jesus’ words reveal his oneness, closeness, and equality with God the Father. These disciples belonged to both him and the Father, and they were the ones in whom Jesus would be glorified on earth after he had returned to the Father. The disciples’ lives would reveal Jesus’ essential character to those who had not yet believed, so Jesus was present in the world through them.
*LIFE APPLICATION: HOW CAN WE GLORIFY CHRIST?
While you cannot predict exactly how Jesus will receive glory through your life, you can remove any hindrances to his glory.
- Get rid of any immorality. The moral quality of your life must not even tarnish Jesus’ good name. Is Jesus honored by your life?
- Get rid of pride. Focus on Christ so that he receives honor and acclaim rather than you. Does he get the credit?
- Get rid of ambiguity. Your words and actions must clearly show that you are his disciple. Does anyone know you are a Christian?
17:11 Jesus would be departing the world to rejoin the Father; the disciples would stay behind to carry out God’s plan by spreading the good news of salvation. Such a mission would arouse great hostility from the evil one, so the disciples needed special protection. Jesus asked that the Holy Father would keep them and care for them. The prayer itself indicates confidence in God’s ability to “keep” his children, while at the same time allowing the disciples to hear Jesus’ desire for how they are to be kept. Jesus prayed that they would be united just as he and the Father are united. They should have a unified desire and purpose to serve and glorify God. Then they would have the strongest of all possible unions.
*LIFE APPLICATION: STILL IN THE WORLD
We, like Jesus’ original disciples, still live in the world. What is “the world”? It is a system of values typified by Satan himself, centered on power, deceit, and self-will. While we’re in the world, Satan wants to neutralize or destroy us. In 1 John 2:16, John explains that “the world” is the cravings of sinful human beings, the lusting of the eyes, and the boasting of what one has and does. As Christ’s disciples today, we are on a collision course with the world’s values. We need God’s protection more than ever because it is so easy for us to emulate the world’s character.
The fact that we are in the world does not grant us license to become of the world. We must not betray Jesus by loving the world. We must recognize and resist the pervasive attractions presented to us through advertising, self-help psychology, public opinion polls, and charismatic public figures. We must be sure that we allow Christ—not the media and the world around us—to define who we are.
17:12 Jesus’ physical presence had provided the obvious point of unity for the disciples. The more they were “in Christ,” the more they were united and protected. Jesus had kept them safe as a precious gift given to him from the Father; here he gave an account of the job he had done. All of the disciples had been guarded—not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold. The one was Judas Iscariot who, by his own volition, betrayed Jesus. Thus, Jesus sadly identified Judas as one who had rejected the protection offered.
The place of Judas among the disciples and his choice to betray Jesus highlight the balance that we find throughout the Bible between the awesome sovereignty of God and the freedom he allows people to exercise. We would tip the balance toward error if we would say that Jesus intentionally withheld his protection of Judas to expose him to the temptation of Satan so that the betrayal could happen. We would also be in error if we would say that the temptation of Satan was stronger than Jesus’ ability to protect Judas. Judas was not a puppet on a string. Judas shared the protection offered by the presence of Jesus all during their time together. Judas made his decision to betray Jesus, and by so doing he removed himself from Christ’s protection. He passed the point of no return and thereby fulfilled the scriptural prediction.
The extent of God’s protection over us every single day is beyond our comprehension. His sovereignty is complete, including his choice to allow us to actually be able to effectively reject him. God could have created persons whose choices didn’t really matter. Instead, because of his love for us, he created us with enough freedom to live in relationship with him.
17:13 Jesus had told his disciples many things about his coming death—hardly a joyful topic. But after these events would take place—especially after the Resurrection—the disciples would be filled with joy, for they would then understand that Jesus had conquered death and Satan and had brought eternal life to all who believe in him.
17:14 The world hates Christians because Christians’ values differ from the world’s, and because Christians expose the world’s values for what they are—absolutely worthless. Because Christ’s followers don’t cooperate with the world by joining in their sin, they are living accusations against the world’s immorality. The world follows Satan’s agenda, and Satan is the avowed enemy of Jesus and his people (see 15:18; 16:2).
17:15-16 Jesus did not pray that God would take them out of the world to protect them from the hatred and persecution to come, rather that they would be kept safe from the evil one—that through difficult circumstances they would not fall prey to the devil. The only way believers can be witnesses to the world is to be witnessing for Christ in the world. We must carry our message, trusting God for his protection. Jesus was not a part of the world’s system, headed by Satan (indeed, he had been tempted to that end and had refused—see Matthew 4:1-11). Neither are believers a part of the world because they have been born again (3:3).
*LIFE APPLICATION: A BRAND-NEW GAME
Imagine a young boy’s experience as a baseball fanatic. He plays the game, collects the cards, memorizes statistics, and idolizes the players. In fact, all the boys in his neighborhood follow his leadership. But then a new boy moves next door and introduces a new game none of them have ever played. His personality draws the other boys to him. Soon, along with the new game, there is also a new leader, with new rules and new loyalties. The former leader feels alienated, angry, and confused. He regards the new game as an intrusion and the new leader as an enemy. He is torn between his desire for friendship and his fear of betraying “his” game. He wants to be loyal to the old game.
The world sees our allegiance to Jesus Christ in the same way. Christ threatens to shatter the neighborhood structure. His rules are different. His words are attractive. But loyalty to Christ means disloyalty to the world. We can understand the world’s confusion, but we should never forget that we were also part of that life. But precisely because we have been there, we need to build bridges and find common ground with unbelievers so they can see the difference Christ makes in our lives. But we must never return to the old game.
17:17 Three distinct views have emerged to explain what Jesus meant by “make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth.” (1) The truth found in God’s word will make us pure and holy. (2) The central truth of God’s saving love sets into motion God’s work in us. (3) The process of passing on (preaching, teaching) God’s truth would have a purifying effect in the disciples’ lives. These views are actually complementary, describing different aspects of becoming pure and holy (called sanctification): the second view highlights the initial pouring of God’s grace into our lives through the truth of the gospel; the first view summarizes the ongoing effects of the applied truths from God’s word; and the third view emphasizes that progress in sanctification will be seen in our desire and practice of communicating the gospel. God’s word, then, works as a divine cleansing agent that God uses to bring about our sanctification.
17:18 Jesus came into the world on a mission for the Father; so he sent these disciples into the world on a mission by the Son. That mission was to make God known. This is an important and exciting theme in John’s Gospel. The Father sent the Son into the world, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to the disciples, and the disciples are sent by the Father and Son into the world.
It is up to us to carry on Jesus’ mission—to make God known to others. Because Jesus sends us into the world, we should not try to escape from the world, nor should we avoid all relationships with non-Christians. We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and we are to do the work that God has sent us to do.
*LIFE APPLICATION: SET APART
A follower of Christ becomes sanctified (set apart for sacred use, cleansed and made holy) through believing and obeying the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). He or she has already accepted forgiveness through Christ’s sacrificial death (Hebrews 7:26-27). But daily application of God’s Word has a purifying effect on our minds and hearts. Scripture points out sin, motivates us to confess, renews our relationship with Christ, and guides us back to the right path.
17:19 Jesus set himself apart to do the Father’s will like a priest consecrating himself to make the sacrifice. His final act of dedication was his offering himself on the cross (see Hebrews 10:10). The purpose of that death was so that the disciples (and all believers) might be entirely God’s possession. Jesus died to set us apart for him.
Jesus Prays for Future Believers / 17:20-26
The pattern of Jesus’ prayer provides a helpful outline for us. He prayed for himself, for those close to him, and for those beyond his immediate sphere who would be affected by the ministry of his friends.
17:20 After praying for his disciples, Jesus prayed for all who would ever believe in him because of their testimony. In a sense, everyone who has become a Christian has done so through the apostles’ message because they wrote the New Testament and were the founders of the Christian church. So Jesus was praying for all the believers who would ever exist. He was praying for you and others you know. And he was praying for those he wants us to reach! Knowing that Jesus prayed for us should give us confidence as we work for his Kingdom.
17:21 There are three requests in verse 21, and they hinge on one another. In the first request, the Lord asked for unity—that they will be one. This all-encompassing petition includes all the believers throughout time. This oneness does not readily fit the idea of one unified church structure. Rather, this unity becomes most visible through love, obedience, and commitment to the Father’s will.
In the second request, Jesus prayed for a unity among the believers that is based on the unity of Jesus and the Father. Christians can be unified if they live in union with God. For example, each branch living in union with the vine is united with all other branches (see 15:1-17); or each part of the body is united with the other parts so that when one hurts, they all hurt, and when one rejoices, they all rejoice (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
This union with the Father and Son would result in people all over the world believing that Jesus had been sent by God as the world’s Savior—and not only believing, but receiving this Savior as their own. This is the third request.
*LIFE APPLICATION: BECOMING ONE
Jesus’ great desire for his disciples was that they would become one. He wanted them unified as a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love. Unity between believers is not often mentioned as the catalyst for someone becoming a Christ follower. However, unity in Christ does provide an environment for the gospel message to make its clearest impact, and lack of unity among Chris followers frequently drives people away. Are you helping to unify the body of Christ, the church? You can pray for other believers, avoid gossip, build others up, work together in humility, give your time and money, exalt Christ, and refuse to get sidetracked by arguing over divisive matters.
17:22-23 Jesus further explained this oneness in terms of mutual indwelling: “I have given them the glory you gave me.” Jesus was still referring to all his followers, not just the immediate disciples. The phrase is a promise. Jesus gave all true believers his glory by completing his mission of revealing God (17:4-6). Jesus’ work was not only to speak and model the character of God. His ultimate purpose was to present both the splendor and character of God (God’s glory) in such a way that God would become personally real to the disciples. They, in turn, were to pass on what they had received to others who would also believe. Those who, in fact, received the glory would become unified by their shared relationship with Christ. Complete and perfect unity between God and believers results in worldwide belief. When we demonstrate this oneness, we will convince the world that the Father sent the Son, and that the Father loves believers deeply and eternally, just as he loves the Son.
*LIFE APPLICATION: VISIBLE UNITY
Christian unity begins in the heart of individual believers. Are we willing to be unified with others who may be completely different from us other than the fact that we both follow Jesus Christ?
Unity in Christ grows as local church groups practice Christ’s teachings. This unity can expand as groups of local churches discover they can practice larger efforts in obedience to Christ. Because Satan’s power is directly challenged by these examples of unity, we can expect resistance. We can also expect simple resistance from people who confuse human loyalties and traditions with the command to obey Jesus. To achieve Christian unity, we need Christ’s help and the Holy Spirit’s restraining power.
To promote unity in Christ, take these steps:
- Focus on the nature, attributes, splendor, and holiness of God. Filling our minds with God will keep us from being occupied with ourselves.
- Keep mind, heart, and ears open while keeping the mouth closed longer. Realize that not all believers use the same terms, nor speak the same “language.” Impulsive conclusions can prevent us from getting along with those who share allegiance to Jesus Christ.
- Steer clear of persons who closely measure everyone else by their standards. We may be the next to be “dissected” and judged.
- Remember that Jesus died for persons, not principles or a system.
- Stay out of endless arguments over various denominational methods and church traditions. Satan uses these to distract the church from obeying its commission. Better to fail as we obey than to neither fail nor obey!
17:24 Jesus wants all believers (the eleven disciples and all others) to be with him where he is so they can see his glory. What wonderful assurance Jesus’ prayer gives us to know that the Lord of heaven wants us to be with him. This request impacts our present experience and future hope. In the present, we unite with Christ in God the Father (see 14:6; Colossians 3:3). In the future, we will be with Christ in eternal glory and enjoy with him the love he experienced with the Father forever.
*LIFE APPLICATION: OUR RESOURCES IN CHRIST
John 17 contains a storehouse of resources God makes available to us as disciples of Jesus. What more could we ask for? What else could we need?
- Jesus give us eternal life (17:2).
- Jesus prays for us (17:9, 20).
- The Holy F ather protects us (17:11).
- Jesus gives us the words of God (17:8, 14).
- Jesus sets us apart for special service (17:17-18).
- We are unified with God and Christ (17:21, 23).
- We have God’s love (17:23-24, 26).
- Christ is in us (17:23).
- Jesus reveals God to us (17:26).
Because we have these wonderful resources, we can persevere in our faith.
17:25-26 Jesus addressed his Father as righteous Father because God’s righteous judgment reveals that the world’s knowledge of God is incorrect and that the disciples’ knowledge is correct. Just as Jesus had chosen the name “Holy Father” (17:11) to present his request for protection of the disciples, so here Jesus added righteous as a highlight to the gulf that exists between the world and God. Jesus knew he was the living connection between the lost world and his loving, righteous Father.
The world failed to recognize that Jesus was God’s communication to them. The disciples did recognize this, for they had come to believe that Jesus was the one sent from God. Jesus, who knew the Father personally and intimately, had revealed the Father to his disciples and would continue to do so. Thus, Jesus could say, “I have revealed you to them and will keep on revealing you.” Finally, Jesus asked the Father to love the disciples with the same love he (the Father) had for his Son.
Jesus asked that the Father’s love would be in believers and that he himself (Jesus) would be in them. This expresses the heart of the Father’s desire, which is to have his Son in his people: “I . . . in them.” And because it is the Father’s desire, he will make sure it is accomplished. How do you understand your relationship with God the Father? Is his love in you?
*LIFE APPLICATION: FAULTY KNOWLEDGE
The world does not know Jesus truly, for its information comes from biased sources. Consider where most people get what they know about Jesus:
1. Television/cinema—These media constantly portray God, Christians, evangelists, and the Bible in connection with perversion, mental illness, child abuse, and dishonesty. Religious characters are stereotyped as deranged or weak and often are objects of destructive humor.
2. History—Accounts are written blaming Christians for most of the evils in the world. They highlight serious failures of Christians (the Crusades, the Inquisition, genocidal acts) so as to imply that God and the Bible prompted these injustices. Many of these acts were done in ignorance or blatant disobedience to God’s revealed commands. Often injustices were done as by-products of political moves by people who used the Bible to justify their sinful desires.
3. Religious training—Some people were forced to adopt a church’s or religious school’s “view” of God without opportunity for questions or real understanding. Required religious instruction can cause students to rebel. They not only resist the system but dismiss what may well be the truth. Wrong views taught by well-meaning teachers, or even right truths conveyed to children in an unloving manner can devastate a person’s adult understanding of God. Those who “haven’t paid much attention to God since Sunday school (or confirmation)” should be challenged to think again.
4. Philosophy—In philosophy, God is reduced to a concept for purposes of discussion and understanding. Unfortunately, many attempt to keep him in that state. As long as God is nothing more than a concept, people will invent any number of creative ways of “seeing” him. When we allow God’s revelation, the Bible, to guide our thinking about God, many of the philosophies of the world will be shown to be in serious error about God.
Believers need to be aware of the mistakes and biases against Christianity that they will face in the world. One of our bridge-building efforts with nonbelievers will be to guide them in questioning their sources of knowledge about God.
— Life Application Bible Commentary
— Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary