In a recent study of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, I was reminded of what my focus really ought to be in praying for myself and for other believers as I was pondering several key themes found in Jesus’ prayer for believers. It is helpful to think through His desire for us as revealed in these verses.
First, Jesus prayed for spiritual protection for believers (verses 11-16). He knew what a hostile world they were living in and what dangers they would face as His followers. His physical presence and protection was being taken from them, and He knew they would struggle with that. Yet He had already promised He would ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit (14:16-18), whose indwelling presence would be even better than the physical presence of Jesus with them (16:7).
One of the primary ways that the Holy Spirit would help them in their fight against the forces of evil would be by bringing to their mind God’s words which Jesus had taught them (14:26; 17:14). Armed with the Word of God and the Spirit of God, believers are thus equipped for battle. Because we belong to Christ and not to this world, we can be certain that God will protect His own (17:14-16), but it is critical that we recognize the dangers that we face and use the resources that He has provided for us!
Next, Jesus prayed for sanctification for believers (verses 17-19). Jesus Himself was sanctified (set apart to do His Father’s will) in order that believers might be sanctified (set apart to God) through Him Who is the Truth (John 14:6). It is God’s Word that He uses to draw us to Jesus, and once we have been set apart to God by our faith in and union with Christ, God continues to sanctify us (make us like Christ) through His Word (verse 17). The need for the Word of God to be central and active in our lives thus becomes obvious.
It is interesting to note that immediately following His prayer for sanctification, Jesus focuses on the unity of believers (verses 20-23), though He had already mentioned this previously (verse 11). Our unity should reflect the unity of the Father and the Son, who are one in character and nature. Jesus is not referring here to organizational, ecumenical unity across denominations, but rather the unity of believers in the character and nature of the Father and the Son. When believers are growing in sanctification and Christlikeness, they will naturally become unified with one another. On the other hand, believers who are not growing more like Christ will likewise not be unified with other believers in character and purpose.
Twice within these same verses, Jesus states that our unity as believers will lead to the world believing Who Jesus claims to be (21, 23). He had already stated (verse 18) that He was sending His followers into the world, and this is why we have been left in this world – to bear witness to Him. Yet our effectiveness as witnesses for Christ will be directly impacted by the unity of character and purpose that unbelievers perceive among us as His followers! Personal sanctification, therefore, leads to greater unity among believers, which in turn results in a more powerful witness for Christ in the world.
And what is the overarching purpose of all of this? Back in verse 1, at the very beginning of Jesus’ prayer, His focus is on glorifying the Father. The glorification of the Father has always been Jesus’ purpose. He came to reveal the Father and make His name known. In verse 24, Jesus wraps up His prayer by bringing it all back to this end once more. His desire is for those who have been saved to be with Him to see His glory. When Jesus is glorified, the Father is glorified! The ultimate purpose, therefore, of our salvation, protection, sanctification, unity, and witness in the world is that God’s name and glory might be made known and worshiped for eternity! Wow!
There is much more in this prayer of Jesus in John 17, and most likely I will write on this passage more in a later post. For now, though, some questions to consider in closing: Are my prayers first and foremost centered on God’s glory? Am I praying for believers to be spiritually protected, sanctified, unified, and effective in their witness for Christ? Am I making the Word of God central in my life, so that by it I might grow in Christlikeness and thereby be more unified with other believers and bear witness to the truth of Jesus? Do I desire God’s glory more than anything else and long to make His name known to others?
“This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent – Jesus Christ. I have glorified You on earth by completing the work You gave me to do.” John 17:3-4