John 17 is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In the fourth Gospel, John does not often describe Jesus praying.
John recounts Jesus’ prayer when He raised Lazarus from the dead — “Father, I thank you that You heard Me” (John 11:41). John 11 describes Jesus thanking the Father for hearing His prayer, but there is no mention of the requests for which Jesus prayed.
John also records the second brief prayer of Jesus in John 12:28 — “Father, glorify Your name.”
In John 17, however, John recounts a lengthy prayer of Jesus on the night before His crucifixion. Jesus’ prayer that night was not focused on His immediate needs. Rather, His prayer centered around His disciples and all those throughout church history who would come to believe in Him.
The night before His crucifixion, the major portion of Jesus’ prayer addressed the mission of His followers. Each subject for which Jesus prayed in this passage has direct correlation to the mission.
First, Jesus prayed that His followers would experience in a full manner the joy of obedience. Missions involves being completely satisfied in Jesus.
Second, Jesus gives the disciples the Word of God. The immediate reference to “Word of God” refers to the teachings of Jesus during His earthly ministry. For Christians today, verse 13 affirms the importance of the Bible. The Bible is a guide to life that aids in our sanctification (holiness), which is necessary for unification and mission.
Third, Jesus warned His followers that the world (unregenerate humanity) will hate believers
because we are not of the world.
Fourth, Jesus prayed for protection for His followers from the evil one Satan and his attacks on the followers of Christ.
Fifth, Jesus prayed for the holiness of His followers. The truth of God’s Word is one source of protection from the evil one. As an old-time preacher stated, “The devil will keep you from God’s Word, but God’s Word will keep a believer from satanic worldliness.”
Sixth, Jesus prayed because His followers have the same mission as Christ — that is, being sent into the world. Jesus sanctified Himself in obedience to the mission of God as one sent into the world.
Jesus not only prayed for His immediate disciples in the upper room, but He also prayed for the unity of believers throughout all history. In a sense, all Christians believe in Jesus through the Word of the original apostles.
The basis of Christian unity is the unity of the Father and Son. Disunity among followers of Christ is a hindrance to the gospel; however, unity enhances and beautifies the gospel message — that they may know God and the truth that God loves them.
John 17:24 describes heaven. Heaven is a place that reveals the glory of Christ. Heaven is being with Jesus. Heaven reveals the love of God.
The statement “You loved Me before the world’s foundation” proclaims that God’s love is eternal.
In order to love, one must have a person to love. The greatest joy for disciples is the experience of the mutual love of believers for God and for other believers.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida