In John 14, our Lord was speaking words of comfort to His disciples, but they also heard Him say, in John 14:28, “You have heard Me say, 'I am going away and if I go away, I will come back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I.”
Chapter 16 of Johncloses the Upper Room Discourse and in John 17 we have the great intercessory prayer of Jesus. Following this prayer, He and eleven of His disciples left the upper room and walked to a garden called Gethsemane. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the brook Kidron, where there was a garden which He entered with His disciples.” John 18:1
John 17could be called "The Longest Prayer" for two reasons: First, it is the longest recorded prayer of our Lord and in it we learn much of His relationship with God, His Father. It also contains the innermost thoughts and concerns of His mind for the disciples and all those who believe in Him who would come after them.
Second, this prayer covers the longest scope of time because it stretches across the centuries and includes even the believer of today. Verse 20. "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;...”
Jesus prayed essentially about three things. He prayed for Himself that He may be glorified, then He prayed for the eleven apostles to be protected and sanctified, and finally, He prayed for His followers down through the centuries that they all may be one in Him.
This whole prayer is a beautiful illustration of our Lord's intercession at the right hand of God on our behalf. It is truly "The Lord's Prayer."
There isn't one word against His people, no reference to their shortcomings and failures. He associates Believers fully and equally with Himself and God the Father.
All His references relate to spiritual things and heavenly blessings. He doesn't ask riches and honor for His own but that we be kept from the powers that control the world, kept separate from them, and to be brought home to heaven safely when the time comes.
John 17 is truly the Lord's prayer, and it is His personal prayer for all who are truly born again.
The first five verses of the prayer are His prayer for Himself. 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.”
To glorify something or someone means to bring out attributes and values that may not have been recognized, and this is what Jesus wished.
John began his gospel by saying, "... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. His glory was the fact that He was "Full of grace and truth." All His inner qualities of grace and truth became visible here on earth. Our Lord is praying that by means of the cross the world will know that God has given Him "power over all flesh," that He has Lordship, sovereignty, and the right to rule over all the nations of the earth.
This is explained further in Philippians 2:8-11. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefor, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
After the Lord’s resurrection, He appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee and said "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me," Matthew 28:18.
He holds the reins of the nations and all the forces at work on the earth in His hands and He even has power over the powers of darkness. What an encouraging word for all believers! The apostle Paul wrote that on the cross Jesus "disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him," Colossians 2:15. So His prayer concerning Himself has been fully answered. Jesus was glorified in the cross and His Lordship was revealed.
Our Lord also states something that is most important to the individual. It is through the cross that He will gain the right to give eternal life to all whom the Father brings to Him. Verse 3. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God.” That is the eternal life that everyone longs for in their heart. So the cross reveals Him as the Savior of mankind and also His Lordship over all things. He is the source of eternal life to all who come to Him. That is Jesus' reason for asking to be glorified, not only because it will bring glory to the Father, but it will complete His work on earth: All that He has accomplished here on earth will find its completion in the cross.
In anticipation of the cross, He says, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do." His coming death and resurrection would complete that work.
In verses 4-5, Jesus prays to be glorified and return to heaven: "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." His glory would be as the Creator. Before He came to earth He was not the Redeemer, He was the Creator of all nature and all the marvels of the universe. Now He asks to return to the glory of "upholding all things by the word of His power," Hebrews 1:3.
Verses 6-8: "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.” Jesus had made God known in a new and different way. He had revealed the true nature of God to His disciples and to all who believed on Him.
“They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8. 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 disciples and many others came to know God in a personal way they had never known Him before through Jesus.
Verses 9-19 are our Lord’s prayer for the eleven disciples. First, He prays for them because they belong to Him: then He prays that they may be kept from the enemy, comprised of the world and Satan, and then He prays that they may be set apart to Him.
The first portion shows His concern for them. John 17:9-12. "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. 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 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 Scripture might be fulfilled.”
First, Jesus prays for these disciples because they are His: they are a gift from the Father. He has spent 3-1/2 years with them and He knows them and they’re precious to Him. We pray this way too; we usually pray first for those we love.
Notice that He "does not pray for the world." He makes this distinction because the world, secular society, hasn’t been given to Him in an intimate way by the Father like the disciples were. This doesn’t mean that Jesus had no concern for the world. John 3:16 tells us it was the world that drew Him from heaven to earth and that He died for the world. He also spoke a prayer for the world when He was on the cross. He said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Jesus was leaving His disciples and He asked God to keep them "in Your name." The name of God stands for all God's resources, power, and ability. He asked God to keep these men safe from the world's hatred and Satan while He is absent. They had been kept in the Father's name when He was with them and now He wants the disciples to experience a fellowship like He has with the Father “that they may be one as We are.”
While He was on earth, He was able to keep those who were true disciples. He said "Not one of them is lost except the son of perdition." Judas was never truly a believer. He may have appeared to be outwardly, but inwardly he never yielded his heart to Christ.
John 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."
He was speaking of the revelation of truth which He came to give while He was still in the world so that they might know His joy and that it might be fulfilled in them.
Verses 14-15. “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. 15. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one."
Jesus saw the danger these men faced. He understood that the world would hate them, fight them, and undermine them every way it could because He had given them the Father's Word - Scripture. The Word of God is the primary object of Satan’s hatred. If he can’t destroy it, he tries to minimize its impact. Jesus tells the apostles they will be hated because they speak the truth.
He prays that they will be kept in the midst of the world, not isolated from it. This is very important. We are clearly not to isolate ourselves from the world. When He sent these men out to preach, Jesus had said, in Matthew l0:16, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves," No shepherd would ever send his sheep where there were wolves without going with them to protect them. Our safeguard is the provision the Shepherd has made to be with us and in us in the form of the Holy Spirit, to maintain the relationship that enables Christians to be in the world, but not of the world. He assures them that the devil has no claim on them.
Jesus continues His prayer to the Father concerning His own in Verses 16-19, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18. 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.”
Our Lord's request for these men is that they be sanctified, set apart to be instruments of God, to do the work of God right where they were. He was God's instrument among the people here in the world and now the believer of today is to continue that work. That is our sanctification. That is what we are "set apart" for. His death on the cross was His sanctification. "For their sake I sanctify myself." He willingly went to the cross "that they also may be sanctified in truth." The death of Christ on the cross enables believers to be useful instruments in the Kingdom of God.
This next section is in three divisions: Jesus prays for the unity of the church, its ultimate destiny, and for true love and fellowship one for another.
John 17:20-23. "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. 22. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 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 said, "I do not pray for these alone [referring to the eleven apostles], but also for those who believe in me through their word; that they may all be one." This is all inclusive. This prayer extends clear across the centuries of time and for all the millions of people who have come to believe through the written and spoken word of the apostles. The first element of His prayer is that all Christians may share the truth with the apostles who gave us the Word and the church is to rest on the apostles' witness.
This is the optimum of spiritual unity. "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 Holy Spirit indwells the believer so we share the same life as the Father and the Son. That is what makes us brothers and sisters with believers everywhere in the world.
That is the unity our Lord prays for. When we meet with other believers, regardless of what our local label may be, we belong to one another because we share the same life together. That is the true life the world cannot recognize. It is the inner glory of love: "The glory which You gave Me I have given them." The Son's glory was the love of the Father and Jesus says that same love "I have given to them, that they may be one." That is why we are to love one another because it creates the oneness the Lord desires.
Then he prays for the church's ultimate destiny.
Verses 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."
Now He prays for the church to be with Him and it’s promised in First Thessalonians 4:16-17. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." Just to be with Him will be heaven. "To behold His glory" is our ultimate destiny.
Our Lord concludes His prayer
with a final request for the church:
Verses 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."