The Priest: Christ’s Supplication

John 17:1-26


The Passover was concluded with the chanting of the Hallel Psalms. Slowly the small group made their way down the narrow stairs from the upper room, through the winding streets of Jerusalem, and across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. Somewhere between the upper room and Gethsemane, possibly near the East Gate, Jesus paused to pray. Lifting His eyes heavenward, Jesus began His high priestly prayer for Himself, the disciples and the Church yet unformed.

Before us is the priestly intercession of the eternal Son of God, in the form of a servant, passionately petitioning the Father just prior to His betrayal. Most likely the disciples stood motionless, attuned to every word the Lord uttered in the Father’s presence, yet understanding little of its prophetic significance. The privilege is ours to draw near and listen to the Lord’s supplicating ministry as He begins, “Father, the hour is come . . .” (v. 1).

Christ Prays For Himself

The Son’s Glory (vv. 1-5)

The hour had come for Jesus’ departure, thus he prays, “. . . glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (v. 1). He says, “thy Son” not “the Son”, taking no glory for His ministry, but giving it unto the Father.

How did Jesus manifest God’s glory? First, He did it through His earthly ministry (v. 4); in His person (Jn. 1-14; Heb. 1:3); miracles (Mt. 9:8); and “power over all flesh” (v. 2). Second, He did it through His finished work on the cross (v. 4; Jn. 19:30). Third, He did it through His resurrection. Jesus prayed to be returned to the heavenly relationship He enjoyed with the Father before His incarnation: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (v. 5). When Christ took on flesh, it involved the veiling of His preincarnate glory (Phil. 2:5-8), a glory which was restored after His resurrection. Fourth, He did it through giving “eternal life” (v. 2) to all that the Father had given Him. Notice that the believer is a gift to Christ from the Father; six times Jesus mentions those believers given to Him by the Father (vv. 2, 6, 9, 11-12, 24).

Jesus describes what is involved in the reception of eternal life. Salvation comes through knowledge of “the only true God, and Jesus Christ . . .” (v. 3). It is a knowledge of the “true God” as opposed to the pagan polytheism of the world. It is knowledge and reception of Jesus Christ whom the “only true God . . . hast sent” (v. 3). The conjunction “and” connects both the Father and the Son – the Father cannot be known apart from the Son (Jn. 14:7-12). Here is the only place where Jesus calls Himself “Jesus Christ” (v. 3), a strong affirmation that He is the true Messiah.

There is a threefold significance to the word “sent” (v. 3). One, it points to His deity – Jesus is the second person of the triune God, who came from the Father (v. 8; Jn. 16:28). Next, it points to His incarnation (Gal. 4:4). Finally, it points to His mediatorship. He is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession [confession]” (Heb. 3-1). The word “apostle” means “one who is sent”. Christ is the High Priest whom the Father sent to provide eternal life for all who will believe.

The Shared Glory (vv. 10, 22, 24)

Jesus shared His glory with the believer: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them. . . ” (v. 22). This is not the eternal glory which He possessed before His incarnation, being coequal with the Father. This is the divine glory manifested through His human nature during His earthly ministry. The believer receives this glory at the time of regeneration through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing the commitment of His disciples, Jesus proclaims, “. . . I am [have been] glorified in them” (v. 10). By receiving Jesus, the disciples were glorified in Him, and He would be glorified as they bore His name to the world. Ultimate glorification will come when the believer receives his glorified body from the Lord (Rom. 8:30).

Jesus prayed that the believer would be able to behold His glory (v. 24). The word “behold” literally means “gaze upon as a spectator”. Someday the believer will gaze upon the shining glory of Christ when he stands before Him.

Christ Prays For His Followers

The Lord turns from Himself to intercede on behalf of His disciples. In the verses which follow, Jesus reveals His inner thoughts and intense love for His own as He is about to be separated from them.

The People (vv. 6-10)

It must be noticed that He did not intercede for all men: “. . . I pray not for the world. . . ” (v. 9). The non-believer has no access to the promises of God, nor the interceding priestly ministry of Christ. He says, I only intercede for “. . . the men whom thou gavest me out of the world. . .” (v. 6). Also, His intercessory ministry reaches into the future to include all believers who directly or indirectly come to the Lord because of the disciples’ ministry (v. 20). The believer should take great comfort in knowing that Christ interceded for him on the night of His betrayal.

Jesus says concerning those He prays for, “. . . thine they were, and thou gavest them to me. . .” (v. 6). True, all men belong to the Father by creation, but the believer belongs to Him by divine election (Eph. 1:4). The elect have been given to the Son through salvation (Jn. 6:37, 39) and are kept and cared for by Him eternally (Jn. 10:27-28).

Jesus has given two things unto the disciples. One, He manifested the Father’s name to them (v. 6), meaning He unveiled God’s character and perfection. This Jesus did through His perfect life and sublime teaching (Jn. 14:9-10). Next, He gave them “the words” (v. 8) which the Father had given Him – the divine message of salvation and holy living. The disciples “received”, “believed” and “kept” (vv. 8, 6) both the name and word which the Lord imparted to them.

The Petitions (vv. 11-19)

With His earthly ministry drawing to a close, Jesus says, “And now I am no more [longer] in the world. . . ” (v. 11). For soon He would leave the disciples and return to Heaven, but they must remain “in the world” (v. 11), cut off from His physical care and counsel.

First, He prays, “. . . Holy Father, keep [put a guard around] through thine own name those whom thou hast given me. . .” (v. 11). He hands His disciples back to the Father for their safekeeping. The purpose for this keeping is “. . . that they may be one, as we are” (v. 11), says Jesus. This is not an organizational, ecclesiastical or denominational unity, but a spiritual unity in the body of Christ. The spiritual unity is modeled after that within the Godhead. Naturally, the disciples are not one in the same sense as the triune God. But since they are partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), spiritual oneness is possible.

While Jesus ministered in the world, He kept all the disciples in the Father’s name, but Judas, who was called “the son of perdition” (v. 12). There are those who say, “See, it is possible to lose one’s salvation,” using Judas as an example. Notice, the text does not say Jesus kept all “except”. It says, “but”, showing that Judas was never a true believer as predicted centuries before (v.12; cp. Ps. 41:9).

Then why did Jesus mention the “son of perdition” in His prayer? He did it for a number of reasons: to show that true believers are kept by God; because He knew Judas would betray Him; and because this was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Second, knowing the discouragement that His disciples would feel after the crucifixion, Jesus prays, “. . . that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (v. 13). Although He is about to be crucified, Jesus is full of joy – a joy which comes from His perfect fellowship with the Father and complete obedience to His will. The joy Jesus provides is sufficient to strengthen no matter how severe the the world’s persecution. This joy is only obtainable when one abides in Him, drawing spiritual sustenance, as a branch draws from the vine (Jn. 15:1-11). This type of joy “no man” (Jn. 16:22) could take from them.

The third petition Jesus offered for His disciples is twofold. He prays that the Father would not “. . . take them out of the world . . .” (v. 15). He knew that the world would hate them, because they were not of the world (v. 14). But it was necessary for them to remain in the world as a witness, establishing and expanding His ministry. Next, He prays that the Father “. . . shouldest keep them from the evil [the evil one]” (v. 15). Knowing the weakness of the disciples old nature, and the power of the devil to entrap them in sin, Jesus asked the Father to keep them from the devil’s power.

A number of comparisons can be made between the world and the disciples which apply to the believer today. The world is hostile to the true follower of Christ; if it hates the Master, it will hate the disciple. The disciple is controlled by Christ, the world by Satan. Although the disciple is in the world, he is alien to all it stands for.

Fourth, Jesus prays to the Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth. . . ” (v. 17). The word sanctification means to be “set apart”. There are three basic concepts associated with sanctification. There is a positional sanctification which takes place at the moment of salvation when the believer is set apart for God’s use. There is progressive sanctification. As the believer walks in obedience to the Word of God, he is being sanctified. There is a perfect sanctification which will take place at the believer’s glorification when the old nature is eradicated and he experiences completeness in body, soul and spirit. Here the Lord is praying that the disciples be sanctified in their walk before the world. He is sanctified by means of the truth which is the Word of God. Notice, He does not say God’s Word is true, but truth! Through appropriation of God’s Word, the believer’s life is being changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

For the disciples’ sake, Jesus said, “I sanctify myself” (v. 19). Since He could not become any holier, for He was always perfect, what does He mean by sanctifying Himself? Here He is speaking of self-consecration! Jesus had set Himself apart from all of the world’s temptations and sin’s defilement in order to do the Father’s will. The culmination of His dedication came at the cross. Through His sanctification He provides sanctification for His disciples and all who will believe in the future (Heb. 10:10, 14). The words “might be sanctified” (v. 19) literally mean “have been sanctified”, showing that His disciples were already set apart for service and should live accordingly.

Jesus calls the disciples to the same commission which He manifested before the world: “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (v. 18). He is saying, “Father, the disciples are to be My representatives as I have been Yours.” In another place Jesus said, “. . . the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father” (Jn. 14:12). The disciples’ work would be greater in extent, not quality. Jesus, having returned to Heaven, would expand His ministry through the Church which was scattered throughout the world. The same commission is given in John 20:21, but here Jesus mentions the provisions of peace and power bestowed on the disciples for their mission.

Christ Prays For His Future Followers

Prayer for Unity in the Church (vv. 21-23)

As a parent prepares for the unborn child, Jesus prevails in supplicating prayer for future believers who would be won through the disciples’ witness (v. 20).

He prays, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee . . .” (v. 21). We saw in the previous section that this was not an ecclesiastical or denominational oneness, but a spiritual oneness.

He goes a step further and prays, “. . . that they also may be one in us” (v. 21). Not only is there a spiritual oneness between believers, but they participate in a spiritual oneness with the Godhead. The same type of unity which the Godhead manifests is to come forth from the Church. The goal for this oneness is that the believer “. . . may be made perfect in one. . . ” (v. 23). The word perfect means “complete”, or “bring to a goal . The ultimate realization of this oneness will take place when Christ comes for His Church.

Purpose for Unity in the Church (vv. 21-23)

The purpose of spiritual unity is threefold. One purpose is “. . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v. 21), says Jesus. Spiritual unity in the Church testifies to a lost world that Christ has been sent to provide salvation to all who believe. Notice, Jesus does not say that the world would “believe in Him”, but only “believe that thou hast sent me.” The more spiritual unity manifested by the Church, the greater will be the impact of Christ’s saving power to an unbelieving world. The reverse is true as well – the more schism and strife, the less impact the Church has in the world.

Another purpose is “. . . that the world may know. . . ” (v. 23) that the Father had sent Jesus as Savior. When Christ sets up the kingdom on earth, then the Church will have perfect unity, and the world will clearly know that the Father sent Him.

The third purpose is “. . . that the world may know that thou hast . . . loved them, as thou hast loved me” (v. 23). The key to spiritual unity is love within the Church. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn. 13:35; cp. 1 Jn. 3:11). When the world sees love flowing from the Church, then it sees the kind of love which the Father has for Christ. It is a great comfort for the believer to know that in a hostile world, the Father loves him like He does the Son.

Personal Unity with the Church (vv. 24-26)

Jesus prays, “Father, I will that they also . . . be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory. . . ” (v. 24). This is the first time in the prayer that Jesus said “I will” and it is in reference to the Church spending eternity with Him. Someday the Church will be with Him (Jn. 14:1-3) to enjoy an incorruptible inheritance reserved in Heaven for her (1 Pet. 1:4). It has already been mentioned, in the preceding section, that the Church is going to gaze upon His glory.

Jesus closed His prayer with assurance that God’s righteousness will prevail over the believer and the world. He never interceded for the world, for it hath not known God (v. 25). The world is guilty of rejecting God’s revelation to them. But the believer knows Jesus; why He came, and what He has done on his behalf.

Jesus reiterates what He has done and will do for the believer, “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it. . . ” (v. 26; cp. v. 6). Christ is now, through the Word of God and ministry of the Holy Spirit, revealing the Father to believers, a ministry which will continue into eternity.

For what purpose does He reveal the Father’s name? He reveals the Father’s name “. . . that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them. . .” (v. 26), says Jesus. Notice, the last words of His prayer do not deal with eternal life, faith or glory, but love. The same love the Father has for Jesus is to fill the believer’s life. The whole upper room discourse began with love (Jn. 13:1) and ends with love (v. 26).

It was the Father’s love that sent Jesus to a sin-cursed world to provide salvation. It was love that moved Jesus to endure the cross and become the believer’s High Priest. It is love for Christ that moves the Church to spiritual oneness. Has love so gripped you, as a believer-priest, to intercede for those the Lord has laid upon your heart? Let us say, “Father, the hour has come, I mean business with you!”

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