"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. 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'" (John 17:1-5).
Let us first notice that this is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. It is more correctly referred to as "the Lord's prayer" than Matthew 6:9-13 is because here Jesus is actually praying and not simply teaching His disciples how to pray. This prayer could be outlined as follows:
At this point during His final evening prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had finished speaking to His apostles. He now proceeds to talk with His heavenly Father in prayer. Prior to this point, His time was not yet ready (cf. 2:4; 7:6,30; 8:20; 12:23), but now the time was just right for Jesus to fulfill His ultimate purpose.
"Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You" - Jesus prays for His own glorification, which ultimately would be fulfilled in His resurrection and ascension to heaven where He would reign at the Father's right hand as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:32-36). In another sense, Jesus' crucifixion itself would bring glory to the Godhead in that it would reveal Their great love and gracious plan for man's redemption.
"As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him" (cf. Matt. 28:18). Those who hear and learn from the Father (via the inspired word) are drawn to the Son (cf. John 6:44,45). Those who hear Jesus' voice and follow Him will be given eternal life (cf. 10:27-29). Jesus is the Savior of those who believe and obey Him (cf. 3:36; Heb. 5:9). Because Jesus was given all authority, He certainly has the right to offer salvation to man on His own terms and conditions (cf. Mark 16:15,16).
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" - Eternal life is obtained by those who come to know the Father and the Son (cf. John 5:24; 15:14). The Greek tense used here indicates that the individual must keep on knowing; that is, continual conformity to the Lord's will is required.
Jesus glorified the Father by submitting to Him and faithfully completing the work that the Father had given Him to do. His sinless death on the cross would make deliverance from sin possible for all the world.
"And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). In order for Jesus to accomplish His earthly mission, He stripped Himself of the glory which had been His with the Father from eternity and "became flesh" (cf. John 1:1ff). Here He asks to be exalted to His former place of glory.
Jesus' prayer continued:
"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; 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" (John 17:6-10).
Jesus prayed fervently before selecting His apostles (cf. Luke 6:12ff), and He considered them to be gifts from God. The apostles were the ones, in particular, whom Jesus had labored with diligently. He had shown them the Father (cf. John 14:9ff), and the apostles had kept God's word. Keeping God's word has always been vitally important in being a servant of His.
The apostles knew that Jesus had come forth from the Father because of His teachings, and they believed, based on His words, that the Father had sent Him (cf. 16:27,30). "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world" - It is not wrong to pray for the world or earthly leaders (cf. I Tim. 2:1,2). However, on this occasion Jesus prayed specifically for His apostles. In 17:10, when Jesus declared that all those whom the Father has were His, He is making a statement only deity could make.
Jesus continued in John 17:11-19:
"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, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. 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. 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."
At this point the scheme of redemption was so certain that Jesus speaks of Himself as no longer being in the world even though He has not yet died and ascended to the Father. However, the apostles would remain in the world and be subject to its trials and persecutions. The devil would relentlessly attack and seek to devour them (cf. I Pet. 5:8). Jesus' presence had served to calm, encourage, and strengthen the faith of the apostles. Now He prays that in His absence the Father will keep those whom He has given (cf. I Pet. 1:5; Jude 24).
"Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" - Jesus had faithfully guarded and kept the apostles safe during His earthly ministry. Of those entrusted into His care, only one perished--Judas Iscariot (the perishing one or the son of destruction). This incident did not occur because of a weakness in Christ, but because of the fact that men have free will. Judas was not predestined to be the one to betray the Christ, rather he chose apostasy for himself. In so doing, he unknowingly fulfilled prophecy (cf. Psa. 41:9).
Another reason why Jesus petitions the Father on behalf of His apostles, besides the fact of His approaching departure, is the hatred of the world. Those who receive God's word and faithfully obey it are destined to be hated (cf. John 15:18ff). "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" - God expects His servants to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matt. 5:13-16). There is a battle to be fought in this world. All servants of God have a mission to fulfill on Earth (cf. Matt. 28:19,20), and it necessitates coming into contact with people. Although it is true that disciples of the Lord must insulate themselves from the wickedness of the world and not allow themselves to be conformed to its image (cf. Rom. 12:1,2), it is not the case that Jesus planned for His followers to isolate themselves from the world. To do such would hinder many powerful influences for good (cf. Phil. 2:15).
It should be noted that Jesus' plea that the apostles be kept "from the evil one" is a prayer for protection, but not of the miraculous sort. They would be set apart (or sanctified, cf. John 17:17) from the devil as they faithfully adhered to God's word. Also, God would keep them from the evil one through His providence (cf. I Cor. 10:13).
"They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" - Jesus and His apostles lived in the world but they were not of the world. Disciples today must realize that their citizenship is not of this world (cf. Phil. 3:20). They must set their minds on things above (cf. Col. 3:2) "and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11).
"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (cf. Psa. 119:151,160). God's word is absolute truth. Jesus prayed that the apostles would be sanctified (i.e., set apart for a holy purpose). This would be accomplished (and is still accomplished) through hearing and obeying the word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17). This is how a disciple becomes all that God wants him to be.
Jesus came into the world "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). This was His mission and purpose. Likewise, Christ sent His apostles (and all future disciples) into the world with the same aim (cf. Mark 16:15,16). Jesus did not pray that the apostles do something that He had not. He set the perfect example in His life by first setting Himself apart through submission to God and obedience to His word.
This section of Jesus' prayer, which centers on His apostles, can be summed up in three desires He had for them:
If God desired these things for those who spread the gospel in its initial stages, surely He wants nothing less in the lives of those today who are honored to continue His work upon earth (i.e., all Christians).
Our Lord's prayer concludes in John 17:20-26:
"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, 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. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave 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 to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."
"I do not pray for these alone but also for those who believe in Me through their word" - Jesus now expands the scope of His prayer to include all genuine believers and not just the apostles. Friends, isn't it wonderful to know that Jesus, who was only hours from the agony of the cross, cared enough for you and I to pray for us?
He desired - "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." Jesus mentioned unity previously in this prayer in 17:11, and it becomes the dominating theme as He nears the conclusion of His petition. Obviously, this subject was extremely important to Jesus since He mentioned it several times in this prayer offered in His final hours.
The unity that exists between the Father and the Son is set forth as an approved example for man. Jesus does not pray that His disciples would share a unity similar to that between He and His Father; rather, He prays for their entrance into that very unity itself. A basic reason as to why the Father should bring about this unity, and why all Christians should diligently work for it, is that it would result in the conversion of the world to the Lord as a consequence of the realization of the divine mission of Christ.
The glory which the Father had given Jesus was that of being the Son of God (cf. John 1:14; Matt. 3:17). Jesus gave this glory to His disciples by enabling them to become "children of God" (John 1:12) through the new birth (cf. 3:3,5). His intent in so doing was to create unity. A true comprehension of our place in God's family as brothers and sisters should result in unity. Contextually, the glory given by the Father to the Son and from the Son to the disciples seems to include love in addition to sonship. Believers who are united as God's children and Christ's brothers (cf. Matt. 12:50) will show the world God's love, and that unity flowing with love will attract the world to the gospel.
Let it be observed here that belief and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. Genuine unity among believers would result in the world believing (cf. 17:21) and knowing (17:23) that the Father sent Jesus.
Those who support denominationalism are working against Jesus' prayer for unity (cf. I Cor. 1:10-13). Denominationalism goes against the oneness Jesus desires. The "attend the church of your choice" slogan comes from the mind of men, not God (cf. Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4; 1:22,23), and it encourages spiritual rebellion. Those who are ignorant and do not carefully search for God's truth will be mislead by such thinking (cf. Acts 17:11). Denominations do not seek unity on matters of faith and doctrine; rather, they seek acceptance and tolerance. They would rather do things their way religiously instead of conforming to the way spelled out in God's book. The tragedy of it all is that religious division (both within the church of Christ and among all groups claiming to follow Christ) is the greatest stumbling block to the proclamation and acceptance of the true gospel. Those who do not believe feel justified in such when they consider the chaos of a divided religious world. Those who are seeking the truth will be repelled by a congregation of the Lord's church that is full of bitterness and infighting. Those who are seeking to be entertained and excited will find denominations that promote such. Those who desire to hear smooth words but not calls for repentance or the rebuking of sin will find denominations to cater to them. The Lord's church at its best, in comparison with manmade churches, is simply not that appealing to most. Religious division is an effective tool of Satan to deceive humanity, but this chaos and confusion of the religious world has never been a part of the divine plan. Only God knows how many more souls would find and obey the truth in a world that, instead of promoting religious division based on the commandments and traditions of men, encouraged unity based on the unchanging standard of God's word! The unity Jesus prayed for will never be achieved until men start genuinely respecting the Bible as the word of God (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17)!
Certainly Jesus desired that His followers would ultimately experience His glory in heaven, but even now, while on Earth, the Father has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). Spiritually, disciples are with Christ and able to behold His glory long before they enter the heavenly home (cf. John 17:24).
"O righteous Father! The world has not known You" - If the world knew the Father, they would not be lost (cf. 17:3). Jesus had revealed the Father while He was here on Earth (cf. 1:18) and He would continue to do so through the Holy Spirit in order that His followers may share in divine love and unity. In this prayer, love and unity are the key attributes Jesus desired for all believers.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.