John 17: The High Priestly Prayer
This is a continuation of some teaching Jesus has been giving to his disciples on his last night before his crucifixion. In this chapter he stops with straightforward teaching to pray, but of course all of Jesus’ prayers are also a form of teaching.
Let’s go through it, piece by piece. (I won’t be putting links to every single piece, but the entire chapter can be read here.)
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
What Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand—and still wouldn’t understand for a few days—was that him going to the cross and dying in a way that most of his contemporaries would have found to be a very undignified death would actually glorify Him. It seemed like a defeat, and we can easily see why, yet Christians have been praising His name ever since because we now have eternal life, thanks to Him.
“3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
And what is eternal life? Is it (as the name suggests) living eternally? Not really; in one sense, people who end up in Hell will have “eternal life” to the very same extent. Christians’ souls will always “exist,” and so will non-Christians’ souls. No, real eternal life is to know God; to truly know Him. To have a relationship with Him; with God the Father, and with God the Son whom God the Father sent. It’s not just “being alive,” it’s real life, lived to its fullest. We were created to worship God, and unless we’re doing that we’re not living our lives to their fullest potential.
“4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
While on earth Jesus gave glory to God the Father, and pointed others to Him. But Jesus is also God; as much God as the Father is. He set that glory aside, so he could come to earth, but He is now about to do the work He was sent to do, and then go back into the Father’s presence and reclaim the glory He had before.
“6 I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
A few things are crammed in here:
- Jesus “manifested” the Father to his disciples—that is, he showed them who the Father is. As stated earlier, Jesus is as much God as the Father is.
- To whom did Jesus “manifest” the Father? To those whom the Father gave Him.
- Those the Father gave to the Son have kept His word. This doesn’t mean they were sinlessly perfect, but it means that they are [starting to] have faith in Jesus, instead of trusting in their own ability to keep the Law.
- Those the Father gave to the Son now believe that all of Jesus’ teachings and deeds were from the Father. There may still be some issues with that belief, it’s not perfect, but they’re closer now than they’ve ever been.
“9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”
Significantly, Jesus is praying for those who are His—and specifically and emphatically not praying for those who are not. Christianity teaches that there are those who are saved, and there are those who are not. Every human ends up in one—and only one—of those categories. This puts a sense of urgency into Christians’ desire to share the Gospel.
“11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Verse 11 gives a sense of the imminence of Jesus’ departure. Yes, when he said these words, he was still “in the world,” he hadn’t yet died, but it was inevitable and imminent. But we all know that Jesus’ departure from the world didn’t stop his impact on it. For thousands of years we—Christians—have been “kept” by God, through the power of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ immediate disciples (other than Judas, “the son of destruction”) were kept until the end, and so have countless Christians since that time been kept.
“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. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Jesus gave His disciples the Word, and as a result they were no longer part of the world. But as a result of that, the world hated them! That means danger to Jesus’ disciples—to all of Jesus’ followers. So what does Jesus pray? Does He ask the Father to take us out of the world, or to shield us from the danger? No, He prays that the Father would keep us from sinning. Because of all of the danger we’re in, there’s going to be a temptation to give in to the evil one, and forget God, in big and small ways. Jesus prays that we would face that danger without giving in to sin. But, as verse 19 states, Jesus consecrated Himself for our sake, so that we might be sanctified in truth. We can, through the Holy Spirit, refrain from sin.
“20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Maybe I was getting ahead of myself earlier, when I extended Jesus’ intent to go beyond his disciples to extend to all Christians who were to follow, since the prayer then covers that exact point. Jesus’ prayer was extended to Peter and John, who were sitting right there with him hearing his words, but it also extends to me; I believe that the Father sent Jesus; the glory the Father gave to Jesus has also been given to me; I am one with my fellow Christians; Jesus loves me even as the Father loves Jesus.
“24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
As mentioned earlier, Jesus didn’t pray that the Father would remove the disciples (or us) from the world or shield them/us from danger, he prayed that we’d be able to face the danger. But, if I might state the obvious, that’s not because Jesus was a jerk! His desire would have been that the disciples would be with him, to see him glorified in the presence of the Father.
And, if I might state the obvious again, someday that will happen, for each and every one of His followers. We will see God face to face—that means that we will see Jesus as He is. Just… not immediately. The disciples had work to do, once Jesus had left; each and every one of Jesus’ followers ever since then also have work to do. Very few people experience “deathbed confessions,” whereby they come to Jesus and immediately die. The vast majority of us have work to do for God, before He brings us home to see His glory. It might be big, it might be small—the vast majority of the work He has for us is small—but He has tasks set aside for us.