Main Idea: Jesus prays for himself and his disciples on the night before his crucifixion.
- Jesus Prays for the Father to Glorify Him (17:1-5).
- Jesus Prays for the Father to Keep His Disciples (17:6-19).
Every classic movie adds music to heighten the suspense of the story. Even if you don’t know what’s happening, you can tell by the crescendo of the soundtrack you’ve reached the climax. We’re getting close to the climax of the Gospel of John. The music is starting to crescendo. In 17:1 Jesus announces, “The hour has come.” For the past three years, the disciples have followed Jesus on an expedition. The journey has covered rocky terrain. At times it’s been hazardous. Now they’re cresting the final rise, and stretched out before them is the summit. Back in chapter 2, when Jesus performed his first miracle, he indicated his hour had not yet come (2:4). In chapters 7 and 8 he twice reiterated his hour had not yet come (7:30; 8:20). Finally, in chapter 12, he indicated the hour was coming (12:27). Here in chapter 17 everything has taken place that’s necessary for the hour to come. The hour has finally arrived.
“The hour has come.” This is not simply the hour Jesus has been preparing for. It’s the hour the entire world has been anticipating. It’s the fulfillment of a promise made in the garden that God would send a Rescuer to save humanity from sin. It’s the moment when everything will change—when sinful creatures can once again enjoy fellowship with their Creator, when spiritual life triumphs over spiritual death. At the climax of the story, Jesus stops to pray. He pauses at the doorway to the cross to take a moment and cry out for the Father’s help.
Jesus Prays for the Father to Glorify Him
Jesus begins the prayer with a single request: “Glorify me.” Jesus has every right to ask God to glorify him because Jesus is God. He is fully and completely divine. Though he came to earth and took upon himself the form of a servant, he is one with the Father and is worthy to receive mankind’s worship, affection, and allegiance. When we talk about the glory of God and glorifying God, we need to remember that we’re referring to a noun and a verb. The “glory” of God is a noun and means his majesty or his splendor, his “display of divine goodness” (Carson, John, 129). When we talk about God’s being glorified (the verb), we mean the appropriate response to his goodness displayed. So the glory of God (noun) is his goodness displayed, and glorifying God (verb) is his goodness celebrated. God is glorious regardless of whether anyone understands who he is, but we glorify God by seeing his goodness and worshiping him for it.
Here when Jesus prays to be glorified, it means his goodness must be seen and celebrated. For God to answer this request means the greatness of Jesus will need to be understood and acknowledged. Here’s the difficulty: Jesus is about to be cursed. The cross is not only an object of torture but also a sign of God’s displeasure (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). In order to answer this request, God will have to take someone cursed and rejected and somehow in some way turn the curse into praise and the rejection into applause. God will have to take the disgraceful associations of the cross and make them a badge of honor for his Son. How will he do that?
The answer is found in verse 5. The Father will glorify the Son by restoring him to the position he had with the Father before the foundation of the world. Jesus’s divine goodness will be vindicated through the resurrection, displayed through his exaltation, and one day will be celebrated at the consummation. In the scenes of heaven recorded for us in the book of Revelation, we see a day when heaven will cry out with one voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). The Father glorifies Jesus by restoring him to his eternal position of glory in the Father’s presence.
Jesus desires to be glorified so he can glorify the Father. Jesus is the Word, the revelation of God’s goodness. The author of the book of Hebrews calls Jesus “the radiance of God’s glory” (Heb 1:3). To look at Jesus is to see a perfect display of God’s goodness. In this prayer Jesus displays God’s goodness by securing eternal life for those who belong to him. His willingness to go to the cross, conquering death to gain eternal life for his people, reveals the character of God and ignites praise to God for his goodness. But eternal life is not just everlasting life.
- Eternal life is a relationship with the everlasting God.
- Eternal life is forever delighting in the manifold glories of God.
- Eternal life is seeing God and rejoicing forever in his presence.
- Eternal life is living how we’re created to live—in fellowship with our Creator.
Jesus brings God glory by displaying the goodness of God and bringing rebellious creatures into an eternal relationship of delight with this good God.
The moment Jesus most reveals the goodness of God is on the cross. Hanging there, suspended between earth and sky, Jesus glorifies God in a way the world has never seen. Never has the holy justice of God and the holy love of God been displayed so powerfully together. We cannot adequately understand how glorious God is without the cross. There we see his holiness and condescension, his wrath and love, and his justice and mercy. All are perfectly displayed through the death of his Son. And in that hour the request of Jesus is answered. In the cross the glorious wrath and love of God are revealed. The Father glorifies the Son, and the Son reveals the unparalleled goodness of the Father to us.
If Jesus’s number one priority is to bring glory to the Father, what does that mean for his followers? It can mean nothing less than that the glory of God must be the top priority in your life. Everything you do should have as its purpose the worship of God. Every single detail of your life is intended to reveal and celebrate the goodness of God. The reason we live on mission and share the gospel is so those blinded to God’s goodness may see it and worship him. Our goal in sharing the gospel is not to enlist converts but to make worshipers. Do you realize in heaven there’ll no longer be evangelism? Evangelism is only necessary where there remain men and women who don’t worship God. God’s mercy displayed in the death of Jesus Christ fuels our evangelistic fervor. We rejoice in the goodness of God, and we want others to see him and rejoice. Our mission is to help people find joy in Jesus. The clearer they see his goodness and the more his goodness is celebrated in their lives, the more joy they’ll find. We drink deeply from the fountain of God’s goodness, and we cry out to others, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8; emphasis added). The recognition of his divine goodness and the call for others to see it and celebrate it is our mission.
Jesus Prays for the Father to Keep His Disciples
After praying for God to glorify him, Jesus turns the focus of his prayer to the disciples. The disciples were called by the power of God, and now Jesus asks God to keep them from wandering away. Only the power of God at work in them makes it possible for them to follow Jesus, obey his commands, and fulfill his mission. Four times in this chapter and three times in these verses, the disciples are described as those who’ve been given to Jesus by the Father.
- The end of verse 2—“everyone you have given him.”
- Twice in verse 6—“the people you gave me from the world” and “you gave them to me.”
- The middle of verse 9—“those you have given me.”
We’ve seen this language used before in the Gospel of John—twice in chapter 6 (vv. 37-39) and once in chapter 10 (v. 29).
Jesus uses the verb “have given,” which is in the perfect tense. That means an action happened in the past and has results that continue in the present. In the past God gave Jesus a specific group of people that are his and continue to be his. God chose people, not based on any merit of their own, and gave them as a gift to his Son in eternity past. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus they were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Prior to salvation we were cold, dead sinners. By nature and choice we were rebels against God. The only way we could ever come to him is if he did a work in our hearts, drawing us to himself. When God does that work, we respond. We see, here in chapter 17, the disciples responded to the work of God.
- They kept the Father’s word (v. 6)
- They received it through the teaching of Jesus (v. 8).
- They came to understand and believe what God said (v. 8).
The disciples were responsible to believe, but even their belief was the result of what God said and did.
Let’s say you showed up to church one morning with your beautiful, ten-month old baby, dropped him off at the nursery, and headed in to the service. The nursery worker begins to talk to your ten-month-old. “You look so nice. Did you take a bath this morning?” He nods his head yes. “It looks like you’re full. Did you eat a yummy breakfast?” Once again, he nods his head yes. “I love your outfit. Did you get dressed in your nice clothes?” Again he answers yes. So he has answered yes to all three questions. He took a bath, he ate breakfast, and he got dressed. But that’s not the whole picture. As his parent, you drew the bathwater, lathered him with soap, and rinsed him off. You fixed breakfast, fed it to him, and cleaned up his mess. You washed his clothes, changed his diaper, and then got him dressed. It’s true he took a bath, ate breakfast, and got dressed but only because of what you did. You did the work he couldn’t do himself. He simply responded. God does the work of calling sinners to salvation. Our responsibility is to respond to what God does.
Let’s summarize two principles from verses 6-11: God did the work. Everything the disciples did was in response to what God had done. The disciples kept the word, but who gave them the word? God. The disciples believed on Jesus, but who sent Jesus? God. And behind all of this was God’s choice of them and gift of them to the Son. God not only did the work, but God used his word. The way God brought them to faith was through his words. He didn’t use visions or apparitions. He didn’t open the heavens or rain down fire and brimstone. He created new life in the disciples simply through his words.
What God has done for the disciples leads us to what God will do. The disciples were saved by the power of God, and the disciples are kept by the power of God (vv. 11-19). Jesus asks the Father to keep the disciples faithful to his word and to his mission (v. 11). Jesus is focused on the disciples’ spiritual security. Up to this point he has been protecting them by the Father’s name. He has been guarding them from falling away from the truth. Protecting them “by the Father’s name” means they will hold to the truth about God. God’s name refers to his character—all the truth about who God is. Jesus taught the disciples about the character and person of God. They came to know God personally. If the disciples are to faithfully follow Jesus, they must not turn from the truth about who God is.
As the disciples embrace the truth, they’re brought into this new community of faith called the church. Entry to this community only comes through believing the Word of God. This church is intended to share an amazing level of unity—a unity that mirrors the unity between the Father and the Son (v. 11). This unity centers on the truth about God revealed in his Word. Truth is the basis of unity. This goes against everything we hear in society. We’re told to minimize the truth and focus on what we agree on, ignoring the rest. Genuine unity never comes where truth is discarded because unity is the byproduct of each disciple clinging to the truth about God.
In the sport of rowing, unity is key. Each oar must enter and exit the water at precisely the same time if the boat wants to maintain speed. The way the rowers stay in sync is by listening to the coxswain. The coxswain doesn’t row; he sits in the back of the boat and calls out the strokes. The coxswain is the only one who faces forward, so the entire crew must listen to the coxswain’s commands and respond. When that happens, the boat flies over the water. Unity doesn’t come from everyone rowing their hardest but from everyone submitting to a single voice. As the disciples submit to the voice of God, they grow more and more of the same mind. Their thoughts, desires, and intentions begin to mirror God’s, and they experience a unity unfamiliar to the world.
Not only does God’s work in them draw them closer to one another, but it also allows them to experience the joy of Jesus (v. 13). What a picture of God’s grace! He sends Jesus to reveal the truth about himself and does a work in the disciples’ hearts so they embrace the truth. By embracing the truth, they’re brought into the joy of Jesus, and now God keeps them from abandoning the truth and guarantees eternally satisfying joy in Jesus. God does the work from start to finish, yet the disciples receive the joy!
The disciples will face real danger. They are targets of a world that hates them and a devil who wants to see them turn away from following Jesus (vv. 14-15). The path of least resistance for the disciples is to turn away. Holding to the truth brings attacks of every kind. Turning from the truth would seem to bring relief. That’s quite a temptation. How helpful to know God is keeping them. He is protecting them. Just as he rescued them from the domain of darkness, he will preserve them from every attack. God will keep them faithful to his word and to his mission.
Jesus prays for the Father to sanctify them (vv. 17-18). To “sanctify” is to set something aside for a special use—like fine china reserved for special occasions. The disciples have been set aside for a special use. God chose them to fulfill a specific role in his plan. They serve as his witnesses to the world. The first disciples are the foundation of the church. God has a special role for them to play, and the world is their stage. They fulfill their role as his set-apart witnesses while remaining in the world (v. 15). Their example shows us what it means to be in the world but not of the world. It would be much easier to be out of the world, but we’re not called to monastic living. Kent Hughes observed that for some Christians, “It is possible to go womb to tomb in a hermetically sealed container decorated with fish stickers” (John, 402). Christians often take one of three different approaches to dealing with the difficulty of being in the world but not of the world.
Some practice isolation, believing the gospel needs to be protected instead of shared. They hear the call to remain faithful to God’s Word, and they disengage from all non-Christians. They think, What better way to keep from falling away than to keep yourself as far as possible from any temptation? These Christians would love to buy forty acres of land at least fifteen miles outside of town, fashion a compound, and never set foot outside their barbed-wire fence. Their legitimate desire to remain faithful to God’s truth has caused them to disregard his mission.
Some practice inoculation, believing the gospel has made them immune to temptation and worldliness. They hear the call to remain faithful to God’s mission and immerse themselves fully in the world. They ask, “What better way to reach the world than to blur any possible distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian?” These Christians minimize the biblical teaching on sin and repentance, choosing to live exactly as their non-Christian neighbors. Their legitimate desire to remain faithful to God’s mission has caused them to disregard his truth.
Isolation and inoculation are not the only options. A better perspective is insulation, believing a daily focus on the gospel protects us from temptation as we seek to share the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus. Insulation means working diligently to balance faithfulness to the truth and faithfulness to our mission. We recognize Christians should live differently from non-Christians but not by removing ourselves from the world of non-Christians. We live differently in the midst of an unbelieving world, and the difference is seen in the unmistakable fruit of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Christian, you need to engage with the world. You may wish all ungodly, corrupting influences were removed from your life and you could forsake the world, leaving it to its own devices, but you’ve been given a mission to live out and share the gospel in the world.
The disciples will remain faithful because of the work of God. He will keep them faithful to his word and his mission. As they embrace the truth, they will be empowered to accomplish their mission to the world. When the power of God through the instrument of his Word comes to our hearts, it gives us the ability to obey and please him. God works through his Word to empower his people to keep following Jesus, even when following Jesus is tough.
In the mid-1800s John Paton left England on a boat as a missionary to the cannibals in the New Hebrides Islands. God used his Word to keep John Paton faithful to his mission. On one occasion, measles swept through the islands, killing thousands. Paton and some other missionaries were blamed, and their lives were again threatened. Listen to what Paton wrote in his diary:
Without that abiding consciousness of the presence and power of my dear Lord and Savior, nothing else in all the world could have preserved me from losing my reason and perishing miserably. His Words, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” became to me so real that it would not have startled me to behold him, as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene. I felt his supporting power. . . . It is the sober truth, and it comes back to me sweetly after 20 years, that I had my nearest and dearest glimpses of the face and smiles of my blessed Lord in those dread moments when musket, club, or spear was being leveled at my life. (Quoted in Piper, Filling Up, 81)
Jesus asked the Father to keep his disciples faithful to his words, and the word would keep them faithful to the mission. His prayer has been answered repeatedly over the centuries in the lives of the apostles like Peter and Paul and missionaries like John Paton. And we have confidence his prayer will be answered for us. God will keep us faithful to his Word, and use his Word to strengthen us on our mission to spread the glory of Jesus to the nations.
Reflect and Discuss
- How can you glorify God?
- What is Jesus asking for in praying to be glorified?
- How does God glorify Jesus?
- Does the cross reveal the goodness of God? How so?
- Why does Jesus pray for God to keep his disciples?
- How can the disciples receive joy as a result of God’s work?
- Why does Jesus pray for the Father to sanctify the disciples?
- How can you be in the world but not of the world?
- What are some ways you stumble in the command to be in the world but not of it?
- What would it look like to be in the world but not of it in your neighborhood, job, or school? How would your interactions be different?