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“The Other Prayer of Jesus”

John 17:1-26
Bob DeGray
March 7, 2004

Key Sentence

Jesus prays that we would know God for our good and his glory.


I. Glorified that we may know God. (John 17:1-8)
II. Protected from the world by the word. (John 17:9-19)
III. Unified that we may reflect the Godhead. (John 17:20-26)


        A few years ago Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book that became wildly popular, called “The Prayer of Jabez”. Based on just two verses in 1st Chronicles, Wilkinson derives a prayer pattern for our time from the words of that obscure, ancient character. And there’s nothing wrong with such an approach as long as we keep it balanced with other model prayers: the prayer of Jeshoshaphat, the prayers of David, the prayers of Paul, and most especially, the prayers of Jesus. Hank Hannegraf, ‘the Bible Answer Man’ responded to ‘The Prayer of Jabez with ‘The Prayer of Jesus’, based on the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, there have been many helpful books written on the Lord’s prayer, but I don’t know of any since Puritan days on the other prayer of Jesus, his so-called ‘high priestly’ prayer in John 17, which is our text for today. This prayer is not so much a model for us as it is a comfort for us, as Jesus prays that we would know God for our good and for His glory.

I. Glorified that we may know God. (John 17:1-8)

        Let’s jump right in. Remember that Jesus just spent several hours with his disciples in the upper room, teaching and preparing them for his departure. Having said all they can bear at this time, he now prays in John 17:1-8 that He be glorified so that they may know God. Listen to verses 1-5 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

        The themes of this prayer have been developed throughout the book of John. The gospel begins, in John 1:14, with the truth that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we have seen his glory.” The upper room discourse began when Jesus told the disciples “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” His glorification through suffering is at hand, and he prays that the Father give glory to the Son that the Son might bring glory to the Father. Jesus knows that both will be glorified by the atonement, when Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice for sin. By his shameful suffering and death Jesus shows his matchless glory and grace, and because of his obedience, honor and praise is given to his Father who sent him.

        Notice that Jesus came with a mission and the authority to complete it. Back in John 10 he had said “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life__only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” Now he says the purpose of that authority is “that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”

        Jesus is here to rescue people from death by his work on the cross. No other purpose could possibly justify that humiliation and shame. But the eternal life Jesus promises is not so much endless days as an intimate sustained relationship. Verse 3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Real life, abundant life and eternal life are found in knowing God - not just knowing about him, but knowing him in relationship, knowing his Son Jesus. This was promised in Old Testament as a chief characteristic of the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

        Jesus came to this hour and went through this suffering and bore our sins so we could have a loving relationship with a Holy God for eternity; so we could know God. This is obviously for our good, but it is also for God’s glory. Jesus says “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Quite often in these chapters Jesus has spoken of his suffering as if it was complete. He has unshakeable confidence that he will do the Father’s will in this matter and complete the work the Father sent him to do. For the joy set before him he will endure the cross, despising it’s shame, so that he might again reign in glory at the Father’s right hand.

        Verse 5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” This verse implies first that Jesus is about to return to the presence of the Father. Daniel the Prophet may have seen this moment when he reported “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” Second, this glory he is about to receive is the glory he had before the world began, that is, before creation. Probably the key thing Jesus had forsaken in becoming a man was the glory he had eternally shared with the Father and the Spirit. He emptied himself of that glory, but it was restore at his resurrection when he ascended to the Father.

        In verses 6 to 8 Jesus expands on the thought that the Son and the Father are glorified as people believe in the Son and know the Father. "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

        It’s all about knowing God through Jesus. He says “I have revealed you” In the prologue John wrote “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” The disciples have received this revelation and in response, Jesus says, “they have obeyed your word.” Certainly they have not yet learned to fully obey all of Jesus’ commands, but they have obeyed the most basic command of this gospel, John 6:29, to believe. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Unlike almost everyone else before the resurrection, they have received Jesus’ words as from God and have forsaken all to follow him.

        Now, at the end of Jesus’ ministry and just before his death the disciples know that everything Jesus has comes from God. They may not have yet understood that their Messiah had to die and rise again; they many not have grasped how he was to fulfill the Old Testament. But they knew Jesus was sent from God and taught God’s truth. And they believed. That key word, believe, has gotten a little rare in the these chapters, but it’s still the theme of John’s record, and both he and Jesus keep coming back to it. John will sum up the Gospel in chapter 20 by saying that these things “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus is revealed and God is known and eternal life is received by believing.

II. Protected from the world by the word. (John 17:9-19)

        So Jesus has prayed that he will be glorified so we may know God. His death, resurrection and ascension are for our good and God’s glory. His next prayer is that as believers we might be protected, set apart from the world by the Word. John 17:9-12. 9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

        Jesus prays specifically for his followers, those who have been given to him out of the world, the realm of moral evil. Nonetheless they are still the Father’s, because the Father and the Son share all things. Jesus never lets his listeners, John’s readers, forget that he and the Father are one. He came into the world to do the Father’s will, and now he has nearly finished that work and returns to the Father. But his disciples will remain in the world, so he prays “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name” This is the only place Jesus addresses God as Holy Father. In verse 25 he calls him ‘Righteous Father’. Both titles emphasize the transcendence and perfection and glory of one who nonetheless is not only Jesus’ Father but ours. Those who have listened to me pray will know that one of my characteristic titles for God is Holy Father, and I guess this is where I get it. It’s awesome that as redeemed people we can address Jesus’ Father the same way he did.

        Jesus’ request is that God keep or protect his people. The New International Version says ‘protect them by the power of your name’, which is a bit of a paraphrase for words that literally mean ‘keep them in your name’. God’s name can stand for his power in the Old Testament. It can also stand for his character and his majesty and the honor associated with those things. So to be kept in his name is to be aided in such a way as to preserve his honor, display his character and benefit from his power. One of the prayers I often pray is “Lord, let me represent you well.’ That’s what Jesus is asking: keep them and protect them by your name for your name’s sake.

        The goal of this keeping is that the disciples may be one as the Father and the Son are one. We’ve heard Jesus claim over and over to be in the Father and the Father in him. Now he uses that unity as a model for believers. We are to have an essential unity, using ‘essence’ in it’s old meaning of a shared substance, a shared core. We call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ because as believers we have received the family genetic that the Father and the Son have shared since before creation. We are one because we are one in Christ, sharing his name, his character, his person, his victory, his joy, his peace and his eternity.

        In a sense, the prayer Jesus prays is simply that God will continue the work Jesus began: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe in the name you gave me.” There is no doubt Jesus has drawn the disciples into God’s character, revealed to them his person and allowed them to benefit from his power. He has kept them safe, a word that means ‘guarded’, so that ‘none has been lost.’ With one exception, of course, ‘the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’ John has been careful all along to distinguish Judas from the other disciples, because he is, literally ‘the son of perdition,’ referring both to his character as emulating Satan, and his destiny as doomed to judgment. The reference to fulfilled Scripture assures us that this defection by Judas was foretold, not a failure by Jesus. The Scripture is probably Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” which was used of Judas in John 13.

        In verses 13 to 19 Jesus continues to pray for the disciples "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. 14I 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. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.“ Once in a while Jesus prays intending to be overheard, as at the raising of Lazarus. He prays partially for the benefit of his listeners. I’m not recommending this as a practice for us, because it results in prayers not really directed at God at all. But Jesus does it appropriately, and I for one am glad he did pray this prayer out loud.

        Verse 13: “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” In the immediate context Jesus is praying that we be kept in God’s name, guarded and protected. The outcome of that will be joy, or rejoicing. As we see what he has done, as we remain in his love, as his words remain in us, as we receive his peace and his Holy Spirit, as we become more and more convinced of the truth that out of love he sacrificed himself, and that risen he reigns, we can hardly help but be filled with joy. I mentioned last week that this joy is not mere earthly happiness, almost always extinguished by suffering or difficulty. The joy of Jesus is what sustains us though trials. There is inside every believer a faucet supplying joy and peace. Occasionally the flow will diminish, but that ought to be the exception. On any given morning in our quiet time, on any given Sunday at worship, really any time, we can focus our hearts on Jesus and find joy. Perhaps the best way to do this is by focusing on his Word. Jesus says “I have given them your word.” His words, spoken to the disciples and recorded in Scripture are the pipeline that supplies the fountain of a joyful heart.

        But this joy distinguishes us from the world, and Jesus says “the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” The disciples have aligned themselves with the Son and with the Father. To the extent they cling to this allegiance, they infuriate the world, which loves only its own. Nonetheless, Jesus is not praying that God would take them out of the world, though he himself is about to leave it, but that God would protect them from the evil one. This is the second use of ‘keep’. First he prayed that we would be kept in God’s name, now he prays that we would be kept from the evil one. It’s the same thing we say in the prayer he taught us: ‘deliver us from the evil one.’ Even though Jesus’ death and resurrection are an utter defeat of the ruler of this world, they do not rob him of all power to inflict damage on the Lord’s followers, especially if left unprotected. But the Father hears this prayer, and we are protected, so that our obligation is not to be withdrawn from the world, nor to be consumed by the world but to remain in the world, providing a witness to the truth as partners with the Holy Spirit.

        But Jesus prays for more than safety. He also prays that we be transformed into holiness. Verse 17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” The word sanctify basically means ‘make holy’. Holiness, of course, is one of the key characteristics of God. He is transcendent, other, distinct, separate from his creation, untainted by its sin, so that the angels in his presence always say “Holy, Holy, Holy!” In the same way people and things that are set apart for him and for service are holy - whether an article for use in the temple or a person set apart for sacred duty. And ideally, when someone is dedicated to God and his purposes, that person will do only what God wants and despise all God forbids. That’s what it means to be holy as God is holy. So Jesus is praying that would be whole-heartedly set apart to God’s service and morally pure for that task. And the means of that purification, which we know to be a gradual process of the Christian life, is the truth of his word.

        Jesus says ‘sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth.’ The source of the truth God uses to sanctify us is Scripture. In practical terms, no one can be set apart for the Lord’s use without learning to think God’s thoughts after him, without learning to value what he values and despise what he forbids. And we learn these things in The Bible, which means we need to read and study and memorize and meditate on the Scriptures. Paul tells us that they are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness; that is, they are profitable in the process of sanctification.

        And the purpose of sanctification is mission. Verse 18 “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” As Jesus was set apart and sent into the world to do the Father’s will, so he sets apart his own followers and now sends them into the world to do his will. Jesus explains “for them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” It might sound odd to hear Jesus say that he sanctifies himself or makes himself holy, since he shared holiness with the Father and the Spirit from eternity past. But Jesus is talking about his mission. By accomplishing this mission of self sacrifice and sin bearing Jesus sets himself apart for us. In fact, in the Old Testament it was relatively common to say of a sacrificial animal, not that it was sacrificed, but that it was consecrated to God, set apart for God. So Jesus is saying that he offers himself as a sacrifice that we may be truly holy, made fit for God’s service. He does this by shedding his blood on the cross in payment for our sins, so that we receive forgiveness and cleansing.

III. Unified that we may reflect the Godhead. (John 17:20-26)

        So in the first section Jesus prays that he be glorified in order that we might know God. In the second he asks that we be protected, kept safe in God’s name, protected from the evil one and sanctified by the truth of his word. Finally, Jesus prays that we be unified to reflect the unity of the Father and the Son. John 17:20-23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

        Until now Jesus seems to have been praying for his disciples, the ones hearing his prayer. Now he says “My prayer is not for them alone, but for those who will believe in me through their message.” That’s us. By direct spiritual descent we are those who believe because of the disciples. Through the Scriptures they wrote and through an unbroken line of believers, the good news about Jesus has come to us, and we have believed. So Jesus was praying for us. I think this implies that what he has already prayed was not for for the disciples alone. When he prayed for their protection he was praying for ours, when he prayed for their sanctification he was praying for ours. We make no mistake in applying those verses to ourselves.

        But the more specific prayer is found in verse 21: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” The concern of Jesus’ heart is that his people live out the unique bond created for them by his sacrifice: that we be neither divided or conflicted, but unified. That’s why his new command was ‘love one another,’ because love leads us to a unity like that of the Son and the Father. We’ve learned in John that the Father was in the Son, directing him and working through him. At the same time the Son was in the Father, depending on him and obedient. They are distinct yet they are one. In the same way, as believers, still distinct, we are to be one with each other, in purpose, in love, and in action, and with God, so identified with him and dependent on him for life and fruitfulness that we can truly say that ‘in him we live and move and have our being.’

        The outcome of this unity, like the outcome of our love for one another, is witness. When the world sees it, they believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus was more than a good man who died a bloody death - that he was the Father’s sacrifice and the world’s Savior. When we have love and community, people see Jesus. It’s not for no reason that the believers in Antioch were called Christians, little Christs, for in their love and unity people saw Christ. An illustration of this comes from a pastor named Ernest Gordon. During World War II he was captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp in Malaysia. The Americans in the prison came to the point where they were reduced almost to animals. They were starving, and they stole food from others who were starving. In their desperation the prisoners decided it would be good to read the New Testament. Because Gordon was a college graduate, they asked him to lead. By his own admission he was a skeptic, an agnostic. Those who asked him to lead were unbelievers as well. But as he read through the New Testament, some of the men put their faith in Jesus and were made new. They quickly began to love and care for each other, and the rest of the prisoners saw this community of love, and soon there were no unbelievers left.

        Jesus prays that this will be the case “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Our unity and community shows God’s love as almost nothing else can. Therefore it is something to be consciously cultivated and carefully conserved and never lightly thrown away even if we have real differences of opinion on how a situation, a doctrine or an application of Scripture should be handled.

        Jesus completes his prayer in verses 24 to 26 "Father, I want 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. 25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I 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."

        Up to this point in the prayer Jesus has been asking for things, as we often do in prayer. But now he reveals his heart, his own desire. And what is it? “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” This guy loves us, folks, and he wants to be with us. Those of you who have been listening to me for very long know that this is one of the themes of Scripture I’m most attracted to, as epitomized by Revelation 21 where the promise is made that now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” That’s what Jesus wants, that’s what he prays for.

        Furthermore he longs for them to see his unveiled glory: “I want 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 is not the glimpse of glory we saw in the incarnation, or the mist of glory that the disciples saw on the mount of transfiguration. This is his heavenly unveiled glory, the glory Paul anticipated when he said “we shall see him as he is.” It’s a glory that waits, because unless we’ve been entirely sanctified we can’t handle it, and we won’t be entirely sanctified in this life. But this is the goal Jesus is working toward throughout this prayer - that we would know God, for our good, our protection, our sanctification, our unity, and for his glory - that we might see that glory.

        Verses 25 and 26 summarize what Jesus has already prayed. Jesus says that the world does not know God, but that he, Jesus has revealed God to these disciples, and to those who will believe because of their message. Therefore believers now know that God has sent Jesus, because Jesus reveals God to us. And that knowledge continues to grow, as through the Holy Spirit Jesus continues to make the Father known. Why? Verse 26, the last thought of this prayer: “In order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.” This is the heart desire of our Savior. Much as it may amaze us, everything he has done has been motivated by an almost unimaginable love, and culminated by the establishment of a permanent relationship with us, he in us and we in him. That relationship, extended into eternity is without doubt for our good, and it brings him eternal glory.