By Victor Knowles
Few sights are more solemn than a leader appealing to God in prayer. George Washington knelt in the snow at Valley Forge during the bitter winter of 1777-1778 and prayed for divine guidance. Abraham Lincoln confessed, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”
In John 17 we find Jesus Christ, the King of kings, in prayer. The Son of God had nowhere else to go. Soon he would be betrayed, arrested, tried, and put to death. And so “He looked toward heaven and prayed” (John 17:1).
Notice three significant things about this magnificent prayer.
It Sought the Glory of God
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). Islam has 99 “beautiful names” for Allah, but the tender term Father is not among them. The word Father appears 100 times in the Gospel of John. In John 17 we find the phrases “Holy Father” (v. 11) and “righteous Father” (v. 25). The first recorded words of Jesus were, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49 New King James Version). His last words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46, New International Version).
Jesus prayed that he might glorify his Father. The words glory or glorify appear five times in the first five verses of John 17. Our chief purpose in life is to bring glory to God. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
Glory is the appointed means to unity. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). When we are in fellowship with God, we will be in fellowship with each other—and that will impress and impact others, thus bringing glory to God.
The first request of Jesus was for glory—so that he could glorify the Father. This prayer was answered at the cross when Jesus laid down his life as a willing, substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. Obedience to the will of God always brings glory to the Father.
It Requested Protection for His Disciples
Jesus then prayed for the men that he had chosen to be his disciples (vs. 6-19). “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (v. 9). “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” (v. 11). “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (v. 15).
Jesus knew his disciples would need protection from the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). He was going back to Heaven but they would be staying in the world—a world that was “under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Leighton Ford said that there are two great dangers connected with the world: imitation of the world and isolation from the world. Jesus understood that what his disciples needed was divine protection. So Jesus prayed for their insulation through the Word. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The sanctifying agent was to be the truth, the Word of God.
A 2009 Barna Survey found just 34 percent of all adults believe moral truth is absolute; only 40 percent believe Jesus lived a sinless life. But Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Truth is our only protection against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31, 32).
It Transcended Time and Foresaw the Future
In the third and final part of this prayer, Jesus looked into the future. He saw beyond himself, beyond Calvary, even beyond the life and ministry of the apostles. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that 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” (John 17:20, 21). Notice seven encouraging things about “Stage 3” of this wonderful prayer.
It is a generous prayer. “My prayer is not for them alone.” It was not limited to his immediate disciples. It looked down the long corridor of time and envisioned others. It reminds us of what Jesus said earlier: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16, NKJV).
It is an optimistic prayer. It is a fountain of faith, an oracle of optimism. Jesus prayed with positive expectancy: “I pray for those who will believe.” Richard Foster said, “Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus’ praying is that when he prayed for others, he never concluded by saying, ‘If it be Thy will.’”
It is an exclusive prayer. Jesus prayed for those who would believe in him. “I pray . . . for those who will believe in me.” Many people believe in God. Not nearly as many believe in Christ. Jesus said, “Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1, NIV, 1984). Jesus prayed for those who would believe that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).
It is a validated prayer. The teaching of the Twelve validated the claims of Christ. The “apostles’ doctrine” was not about the apostles but about Christ. Jesus prayed “for those who will believe in me through their message.” The theme of the Bible is Christ. Our unity must be Christ-centered and Bible-based. Nothing else will do.
It is an inclusive prayer. “That all of them may be one.” Only in the church do we find the equality and harmony that the United Nations and the world can only dream about. Paul said, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27, 28). Our sacred duty is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
It is a modeled prayer. There is only one divine model for Christian unity. “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” There is no division between the Father and the Son. They are perfectly united—one in name, one in nature, one in aim. We are privileged to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, NKJV). Even though we may have differences, we should think, speak, and act in godly ways. Living Christianly is a powerful expression of the divine model.
It is an evangelistic prayer. “That the world may believe that you have sent me . . . to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21, 23, NIV 1984). Seventeen times in John 17 Jesus mentions the world. The Golden Verse of the Bible begins, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). The ultimate purpose of our unity in Christ is the salvation of the world. The world at its worst needs the church at its best. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The late Walter E. Stram, a church planter in the Dakotas, told this story. A child was lost in the great Dakota grain fields, and scattering searchers failed to find the child. Finally, they joined hands and combed the fields systematically. In the cold hours of the next morning they found the child—dead. The mother cried, “O, why didn’t we think to join hands sooner?”
Let us unite in heart and hand to honor his prayer: “That they all may be one . . . that the world may
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri, now in its 20th anniversary year. www.poeministries.org
A Pattern for Conflict Resolution
Jesus’ prayer provides us with a framework for resolving conflict. Next time you find yourself at odds with someone, consider your position from these perspectives.
1. The Glory of God
• Am I focused on bringing glory to God?
• How would God be most glorified through me and through this situation?
2. Protection for His Disciples
• Are my intentions to benefit God’s people?
• How can I protect fellow believers by doing what’s best—not just what’s good enough?
3. Looking to the Future
• Is this solution I’m hoping for shortsighted?
• How can I have a long-term vision in this situation, even if it’s at the expense of ease in the present?