In John 17, we have what is often called the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer. This was not Jesus’ final prayer but it was His farewell message to His disciples. The two main lines of thought are Jesus' desire that the Father receive glory and the welfare of the disciples. However, He did bring out some of the other prominent themes that are recorded in John’s Gospel such as His obedience to the Father; that God was revealed through the Son; the calling of the disciples out of the world to their mission; the discpiles called to unity, and His concern for the believers who would come after.
This is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer recorded anywhere in Scripture. Jesus prayed it on the night He was betrayed, probably in the upper room or on His way to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was betrayed.
Jesus had not yet entered into His high priestly ministry. That would begin when He ascended into heaven. This prayer was a foretaste of that intercessory ministry.
John 17:1-5. “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, 2. as You have given Him authority over all flesh that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Jesus’ prayer starts with the conviction that He has overcome the world. He is looking forward to the cross with hope and joy because of what it will do for sinners and asking that it will bring glory to His Father. This is not a prayer of hopelessness. It’s a prayer of victory.
In verse 1, “Jesus spoke these words,” and “Lifting up His eyes to heaven” indicates He is praying. I can just visualize Jesus in earnest prayer, continuing His submission to The Father.
All through the book of John, Jesus' way of referring to His relationship with God was by speaking of Him as “Father.” “The hour” He speaks of was the hour of His glorification through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus didn’t look forword to it fatalistically as the inevitable. He requested that all who would come to Him might have eternal life and that God would have the glory.
Jesus also asked His Father to glorify Him so He could glorify the Father. The only way this could be was for Jesus to endure the Cross, and that in itself is a testimony to Jesus' commitment to do the will of the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross.
Now that His work on earth was nearing its climax, His request for glory was not selfish. It was a simple request to return to His former place and position of honor at the right hand of God. Jesus did request God's help (that is, His grace) in His sufferings; but His death, His resurrection and His ascension were ultimately for the glory of the Father to magnify God’s wisdom, power and love.
In verse 2, we see that God had glorified Jesus by giving Him the authority to give eternal life to all those the Father had given to Him. This authority had been given Him before Creation and it is recorded in Psalm 2.
17:3. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life is spoken of here in the context of knowing God through faith in His Son. Everyone will live forever somewhere. But, “eternal life,” as Jesus expressed it here, means the complete fulfillment of our being. Believers in Christ will exist eternally in a wonderful place with God. All non-believers in Him will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Jesus said the Father is the only true God and that He can be known only through His Son whom He sent. (John 14:6) We sometimes say that it is a blessing and an inspiration to know certain people. This is all the more true when we know God. Knowing Him changes us and introduces us into a different quality of living.
17:4-5. “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
Everything that Jesus had done in His time here on earth had glorified the Father. This would include His soon to come death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus' crucifixion was a foregone certainty because of His commitment to do the Father's will. Now He asked God to glorify Him by returning Him to His place of honor in heaven from whence He came. He wanted to return to the condition in which He existed with the Father before He came to earth, including His preexistence with the Father and His equality with the Father.
Jesus was concerned for the well-being of those the Father had given to Him and made several requests for them. His prayer indicates that Jesus had greater concern for His disciples' welfare than for His own. Jesus prayed for His disciples before He chose them, during His ministry, and here at the end of His ministry.
There was a very real need of God's grace to sustain His disciples in the future. Jesus knew they would need God's keeping power rather than their own strength and He was asking God to care for them.
17:6."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.”
A ship’s manifest is a record of everything in that ship and manifesting the name of God to people means revealing His very nature to them. Jesus had revealed God to them.
Jesus viewed the disciples as those God had given to Him out of the world, not as those who had chosen to follow Him. Now they belonged to God, and God would protect them.
17:7-8.“Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given 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.”
The Eleven had kept God's word by believing on and following Jesus. Even though they were not consistently obedient, they would be on that “list” for all eternity.
There were a lot of things that the Eleven didn’t understand yet, but they did believe that Jesus had come from God and that His words were God's words. To their credit, they accepted Jesus' teachings even though they didn’t fully understand them, and those they understood, they believed.
As long as we think of Jesus in His human form we miss what really matters. What is important is that we see Him as the Son of God, not the Man of Galilee.
17:9-10. "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.”
Jesus made this request for them because the Eleven had believed on Him. The disciples belonged to God, not to the world. Their welfare was His special interest.
Those who belong to the Father belong equally to the Son and Jesus claimed equal concern for the Eleven with the Father. This is another proof of equality with the Father. Glory had not come to Jesus from the world; it came through the faith of the Eleven.
17:11. “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.”
Jesus was about to leave the world by death and return to the Father. The disciples would need the grace of the Father to be with them in the hostile world. Jesus asked His Father to keep these disciples “in your name.” A better interpretation of this phrase is “by the power of your name.”
If the disciples remained loyal to Jesus after He departed, they would experience a unity that the world cannot know. They would be one with one another as well as one with the Son and the Father if they remained loyal to Jesus. This is true of the believer yet today.
There is an unseen bond between all Christians in the world and with God that the world can’t see and the Scriptures are the basis for this unity of believers with one God.
17:12. “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 Scripture might be fulfilled.”
Jesus had kept these disciples loyal to God and had protected them from harm while He was with them. The only exception was Judas Iscariot who was always the traitor and never believed that Jesus was the Son of God. The Old Testament prophecy that one close to Him would betray the Messiah is found in Psalm 41:9. “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”
His failure didn’t prove Jesus a failure, it proved Scripture trustworthy. Notice if you will that Jesus did not include Judas in His requests for the Eleven.
The term “son of perdition” described Judas' character and his destiny. The only other time the title “son of perdition” occurs is concerning the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Some interpret this to mean that the Antichrist will be the resurrected Judas Iscariot. That’s not possible because God will not resurrect unbelievers until the end of the millennium according to Revelation 20:5, but the Antichrist will appear and carry out his work during the Tribulation that will precede the millennium.
17:13. “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Jesus had protected the Eleven while He was with them in the world, but now He was about to leave them and return to the Father and He wanted them to share the fullness of His joy after He departed.
17:14 “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.”
Their faith and what Jesus had taught them would be the basis for remaining loyal and sharing His joy.
Nevertheless the world would hate them because they were no longer of the world even as the world hated Jesus because He was not of the world. The world likes the like and hates the unlike and the disciples' outlook was not like that of the world's since they had believed in Jesus.
17:15-16. “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.”
Jesus' was not asking the Father to remove them from world, He was asking God to keep them loyal to Himself while they continued to live in the world. They needed God’s protection from “the evil one,” Satan. Even though Satan is now condemned, He still controls the world. 1 John 5:19. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Jesus wanted them to remain in the world as His loyal representatives and today’s Christians are to remain in meaningful contact with the world, trusting in God's protection and witnessing for Jesus.
17:17. “ Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
To “sanctify” here, means to set apart for God's service. Jesus is the perfect example. He devoted Himself completely to God's will. Here He asks The Father to set the disciples apart for God’s service, spreading the truth of God’s Word. Jesus came to reveal God's word to mankind; now the Holy Spirit of God would help His disciples understand it.
The words of God that Jesus revealed and that stand recorded in the Bible are still the key to believers' practical sanctification. We learn God's truth through the Word. We love God's truth with the heart. We yield to the Spirit with the will, and live God's truth day by day. It takes all these for sanctification.
17:18-19. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”19. “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
Jesus had sent the disciples into the world with a mission and God the Father had sent the Son into the world for a mission. In both cases sanctification was involved.
In verses 6-19 Jesus was praying specifically for the Eleven but I believe what He requested for the Eleven is not restricted to them exclusively. Much of it pertains to the believer of today.
17:20-21. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;” 21. “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.”
The change in verse 20 is not from one group of believers to another. It includes all other believers that would come after the Eleven. When Jesus prayed for the Eleven, He also was praying for some things that not only they but their successors would need. All believers in Christ who would follow would need to be sanctified by God's Word to achieve their mission.
Jesus identified future believers as those who would believe through the witness of the Eleven. All Christians have come to Jesus Christ either directly or indirectly through the Scriptures recorded by one or another of the original disciples or apostles.
Jesus set Himself apart to do God's will and He is our example of perfect sanctification. Without the sacrificial death of Jesus there would be no salvation and no mission for us. One of the purposes of Jesus' death was to set believers apart to God and His mission for them was to function as priests in the world. Jesus requested two things from His Father for the Eleven: unity and glorification. Even though the Eleven would fail Jesus soon, they would return to follow Him and would carry on the mission that He gave them.
When a person gets saved, he/she becomes a child of God. This relationship of God to men is perfectly exemplified in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was speaking about personal unity among genuine believers. He was praying that all true believers would be one in their love for one another and their submission to the authority of Scripture and their commitment to their mission.
17:22. “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:”
When men believe the revelation of God that Jesus brought, they share in the unity with one another that the Father and the Son also share with one another.
17:23. “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.”
Jesus wanted the unity among believers to be so great and so clear that the world would believe Jesus' message. The world would also see that God had poured out His love on believers as well as on His Son, Jesus.
17:24. “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.”
Jesus' request included the Eleven with all believers. He wanted them all to share the glory that the Father would restore to Him. That glorification will begin for Christians at death or the Rapture, whichever comes first, and it includes being with Jesus forever. Jesus' will is identical with the Father's will, so we know that God will grant this request.
17:25-26: “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26. 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.”
By calling God His righteous Father, Jesus was affirming that God would do what was right in granting the petitions that He was presenting. This included glorifying the Son and bringing believers safely to heaven where they would behold His glory.
Jesus' mission had not resulted in the whole world coming to know God personally but Jesus had revealed the Father to the Eleven and they had come to know Him and to believe in Him.
The love of the Father would remain in them because Jesus Himself would remain in them. Jesus asked for the unity of all future believers so that the world might see their unity and believe in Him. His greatest desire was for them to be in heaven where they might see His glory and fully experience the love of God.