John 17

Note: This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus.

Jesus Prayed for Himself (17:1-5)

17:1 After Jesus said [audible prayer] this, he looked toward [to lift up] heaven and prayed: “Father [Jesus addressed God as Father six times in this chapter], the time [His hour of suffering; cf. Jn. 2:4; 7:6,8; 8:20 re: mention that Jesus’ hour had not come; cf. Jn. 12:23; 13:1; 16:32 re: Jesus saying that His hour had come; Jesus lived on a divine timetable] has come. Glorify [preincarnate glory; what others thought to be shameful (death on a cross) would bring glory to Jesus and to His Father; the cross revealed and magnified the grace and glory of God] your Son [a request to be restored to the full rights and power as Son of God (cf. Phil. 2:5-11)], that your Son may glorify you.

Jesus began His petition by praying for Himself. He looked toward heaven, a common posture in prayer, and tenderly addressed God as Father. The expression the time has come speaks of His impending fate and reminds us that the cross did not come as a surprise to Jesus. His death was part of God’s divine plan, not an accidental tragedy. Jesus would turn the cross, an instrument of abject humiliation and shame, into a divine plus sign (read Gal. 6:14).

Jesus asked God to glorify Him so that He could glorify the Father—something that would be accomplished through His crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus’ primary focus, both in prayer and otherwise, was on the glory of God. We need to follow Christ’s example and seek the glory of God through all our activities, especially in our prayer life.

17:2 For you granted [perfect denotes permanence of the gift] him authority [includes right, ability, responsibility to fulfill God’s purposes for humanity] over all people that he might give eternal life [as Jesus faced certainty of death on cross, He spoke of eternal life (God’s free gift to those who believe on His Son)] to all those you have given him.

As Jesus faced the certainty of death on the cross, He spoke of life—eternal life. Life is a key theme in John’s Gospel (4:14; 6:35; 8:12; 11:25; 14:6). The Father gave Jesus the authority to grant eternal life to all those whom the Father has given Him—that is, to those who truly repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus for salvation.

17:3 Now [introduces explanation of eternal life] this is eternal life: that they may know [experiential knowledge; Jesus did not define eternal life in terms of endless years in Heaven, but as a relationship with God (through faith in Jesus Christ)] you, the only true God [a Person, not some man-made religion; cf. Matt. 11:27], and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent [to send as a personal authoritative representative].

Notice that Jesus did not define eternal life in terms of endless time in heaven. Eternal life is not a relationship with time. Jesus defined eternal life as a relationship with the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ. The phrase “the only true God” refers to the God of biblical revelation, not to some god of man-made religion. The term know refers to knowledge based on a close, personal relationship. We receive the gift of eternal life when we enter into a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

17:4 I have brought you glory on earth by [how Jesus glorified the Father] completing [to reach the goal, to finish; Jesus saw the cross as something already accomplished rather than as a future event] the work [included Jesus’ teachings, miracles, training of His disciples, death on the cross (cf. Heb. 9:24-28; 10:11-18)] you gave me to do.

Jesus affirmed that He had glorified the Father on earth. He did so by completing the work God had given Him to do. Jesus earlier had said that He “came to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). This work would be accomplished by His death on the cross. Even though the cross was still before Him, Jesus spoke of His work as though it had already happened. His words in this prayer anticipated His obedience “to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). In a matter of hours, Jesus would cry out from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus glorified the Father because He was obedient to the Father’s will.

17:5 [request to return to the glory He had with the Father before the world was created (cf. Jn. 1:1,18)] And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before [preincarnate glory] the world began.

The words “and now” indicate that Jesus looked beyond the cross to His resurrection and ascension. Jesus asked the Father to restore the glory He had enjoyed before He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). The words in your presence carry the idea expressed in John 1:18—“at the Father’s side.” Stephen’s dying exclamation (Acts 7:56) attests to the fact that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His exalted position at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3; 12:2).

Jesus Prayed for the Disciples (17:6-19)

17:6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of [“from the midst of”] the world [refers to the world’s unsaved population]. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.

17:8 For I gave them the words [the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus] you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

17:9 I pray [make request] for them [disciples were specific focus of this part of His prayer; Jesus knew the dangers they would face in serving Him]. I am not praying for the world [God loves the world but that was not the focus of Jesus’ prayer, rather He prayed for those through whom the world would hear the message of salvation], but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

Jesus also prayed for His disciples. One of the most encouraging things we can do for others is to pray for them. In the precious moments that remained before His arrest, Jesus did not pray for the world, but for those He would leave in the world to carry on His work. Because Jesus knew the dangers and pressures these men would face in serving Him, He specifically prayed for them. After all, the world would begin to hear the message of salvation through these men whom the Father had given to Jesus.

17:10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine [these words reveal Jesus’ unity, oneness, closeness, and equality with God the Father]. And glory has come to me through them.

These words reveal the unity and complete harmony that exists between Jesus and the Father. There is no rivalry or division between them. Believers should strive for a unity similar to that of the Father and the Son. The disciples belonged both to Jesus and to the Father.

After He returned to the Father, Jesus would be glorified through His followers. Believers are to live “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified” in them (2 Thess. 1:12). The ultimate goal of our lives ought to be to glorify Christ. We glorify Christ through our words and deeds and should seek to remove any hindrances to His glory.

17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world [and certain to be scared; disciples would remain to carry out God’s plan, thus arousing hostility from the evil one], and I am coming to you. Holy Father [only place in John where this designation is used], protect them by the power of your name [they are to be marked with and protected by the divine name] — the name you gave me — so that they may be one [unity] as we are one.

Jesus looked ahead to the time when He would no longer be physically present with His disciples. He asked the Father to protect them. His concern for the disciples did not end with His departure from the planet. His concern continued, and it continues still. He prayed that His followers would be protected from the world’s evil influences and anything that might cause them to tarnish their witness.

Jesus also prayed that His disciples would be one as we are one. Earlier in the evening, the disciples had argued about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). This argument, fueled by self-interests, threatened the unity of the group.

Additionally, Jesus had warned the disciples that Satan would try to sift them like wheat (Luke 22:31). The purpose of sifting is to separate. Jesus therefore prayed for the Father to protect and keep the disciples united in harmony.

17:12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost [to destroy, to perish] except the one doomed to destruction [perdition, damnation] so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

17:14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of [we cannot accomplish His mission unless we are in the world; Jesus’ plan is to reach the world through believers] the world but that you protect [to guard; to take care of; to attend to carefully] them from the evil one [Satan’s agenda is “to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10a)].

17:16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

17:17 Sanctify [to set apart and dedicate a person or thing for the service of God and to dedicate as a sacrifice] them by the truth; your word is truth.

17:18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent [refers to the commission after the resurrection] them into the world.

17:19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prayed for All Future Believers (17:20-26)

17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those [we can insert our own name here and realize that Jesus had us in mind as He prepared for the cross] who will believe in me [it is our belief in Jesus that binds us together] through their [He prayed for those yet to be reached; we must continue to share “their” message] message,

After praying for His disciples (17:6-19), Jesus prayed for all who would believe in Him because of the disciples’ proclamation of the gospel message. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had likened the kingdom of heaven to the pervasive power of yeast (Matt. 13:33). Like yeast, the kingdom of heaven quietly spreads from one life to another—transforming individuals one by one. This leavening activity happens as believers understand and fulfill their responsibility to share the gospel with others.

The message that had its origin in Jerusalem and was originally transmitted by the disciples reached across the centuries and touched my life in 1973. I wish it were possible for me to trace my spiritual genealogy all the way back to the first century to discover which of the disciples started the process that eventually touched my life. Like those before me, I too have a responsibility to pass on to others this great heritage (Rom. 1:14).

17:21 [note three requests] [1] that all of them may be one [Jesus prayed for our unity here and in vv. 22,23], Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. [2] May they also be in us [3] so that [purpose in Jesus’ desire for the unity of believers; lack of unity is a hindrance to evangelism (non-Christians often cite division in the church as a reason for not listening to the message] the world may believe that you have sent me.

Jesus prayed for the unity of believers. The model or basis for this unity is the oneness of Jesus with the Father. The unity Jesus prayed for is a spiritual rather than an organizational unity. Paul urged the Philippians to demonstrate this kind of unity by “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2).

The purpose for the unity of believers is that the world may know that God sent Jesus.  Christian unity makes a powerful statement about the transforming power of God’s love to an unbelieving and skeptical world and facilitates the proclamation of the gospel.

This part of Jesus’ prayer also reminds us that lack of unity among believers is a hindrance to evangelism. Many times the world points to the division in the church as a reason for their lack of interest in the gospel. May we recognize the importance of unity and “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

17:22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:

17:23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity [a powerful witness to the world] to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus wants to share His glory with His followers. However, His followers can only know that glory by traveling the path Jesus traveled—a path of humble service that led to the cross. This glory stands in contrast to the “vain conceit” Paul spoke of in Philippians 2:3. The term “vain conceit” refers to personal vanity or vainglory and refers to those who serve for the purpose of being seen and praised by men (see Matt. 6:1-2). The pursuit of this kind of glory, as opposed to the glory Jesus desires for His followers, is a threat to Christian unity and hinders our witness.

17:24 [Jesus prayed for our destiny] “Father, I want [the Lord of heaven wants us to be with Him; our future hope] those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

This part of Jesus’ prayer looks to the distant past and to the distant future. Jesus reflected on the Father’s love for Him before the creation of the world. Jesus also looked to eternity—to the time when His disciples and all of His followers will spend eternity with Him in the place prepared for them (14:2-3). Only then and in that heavenly place will believers experience and be surrounded by the glory of His presence in the fullest sense. How wonderful to know that Jesus wants all believers to be with Him in heaven. That is a message worth sharing with every person on the planet!

17:25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know [experiential knowledge that comes through a personal relationship] you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.

17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

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