By Terry Magee
Jesus prayed on many occasions, including when feeding the five thousand, before selecting his disciples, and at Gethsemane before his crucifixion. Jesus also taught on praying, both in the Sermon on the Mount and in parable form. But we received a blessing of his ongoing love when Jesus chose to pray for us. We find this special intercession at the conclusion of the magnificent prayer recorded in John 17.
Looking to the Future
Jesus had just given his disciples instructions, explanations of the Holy Spirit, and admonitions about trouble to come. In John 17 he then concluded his discourse with a prayer.
First he prayed for himself, because he knew he would need the strength of God to endure the coming trial. He sought the presence of God in order to fulfill the purpose of God.
Second, Jesus prayed for his disciples. They had been erratic, wavering in their faith, and not fully comprehending Jesus’ mission. But Jesus had to leave and entrust the future kingdom work to frail, fallible men, guided by the Holy Spirit but prone to fleshly weakness. Placing full trust in the Father, Jesus commended them and the work into God’s hands.
Finally, in John 17:20-26 Jesus looked to the future. In his human state he did not know the precise time of his returning in glory to rule. He knew much work must be done and the light of truth carried into the world for all generations to come. This work would be greater than what the disciples could accomplish on their own and would be carried on after their deaths. He spoke of “those who will believe” (v. 20).
Jesus did not place an end date on these future people. So all Christians through all time are part of the group “who will believe.” Jesus was praying for us, the latest in a long line of witnesses to his power and glory, commissioned to take his truth to the farthest reaches of the earth! What then, exactly, was the nature of Jesus’ prayer for all future believers?
Jesus prayed for two types of unity. He first prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21). He knew that our sinful pride and rebellious natures could cause divisions. He had already seen numerous quarrels among his disciples. Even the coming Holy Spirit would not prevent all problems.
The unity Jesus sought for us was the same unity he experienced within the Trinity. Despite being three distinct persons, the Godhead has complete fellowship and is never in conflict. Each member has a specific role to fulfill and will do so in full agreement with the others. Jesus did not desire that we be clones of each other or suppress our natural differences. Instead, he wanted us in full accord with one another in our mission. Even while working in different ways, we have the same goal of making disciples for Christ.
Second, Jesus prayed for us to have unity with the Godhead. We cannot serve God if we are not connected to God. We cannot please God if we go our own way, disregarding God’s will for us. Jesus prayed that we maintain full harmony with God so that we can sustain full harmony with other believers.
The result of this unity will be that “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). When the church focuses on sectarian disputes or ideological battles, the commission is neglected and the body of Christ suffers. When the church pulls together in God’s intended direction, great things are accomplished. Jesus knew the wonders that could happen when believers set aside differences in favor of being united in Christ.
Jesus knew we could not follow God in our own strength. He promised the Holy Spirit as a comforter and guide. But the indwelling Holy Spirit also offers us the opportunity to personally relate to God. So Jesus essentially prayed that we might know God.
Jesus desired that we might know God’s name. God is referred to by many names in the Bible, describing to us his character and attributes. Jesus wants us to truly know God as he is, helping us by revealing himself through his names.
Many people talk about God, study God’s Word, and even claim to know what God says without really knowing God. When Jesus prayed that we might be one with God, he was praying that we might know God intimately. Relationships vary in their closeness. To “be one” with someone describes a relationship of deep closeness on multiple levels. This is how intensely Jesus wanted us to know God.
He also prayed for his believers “to see my glory” (v. 24). The goal of knowing God is not just knowing details of his personality but to know and appreciate his finished work. Jesus completed his mission of atonement on earth and returned to sit beside the Father in glory.
How can we know the glory of Jesus? By accepting him as Savior and witnessing his glory! Jesus wants us to know the glory he has in Heaven. Someday we will see that glory in person. Jesus prayed past the present struggles to a time when we will see the completion of God’s redeeming work.
Jesus also prayed “that the love you have for me may be in them” (v. 26). We cannot know God and be unified with God without knowing God’s love, since God is love. Before we knew God, he knew us. Before we accepted God, he already died for us.
Jesus prayed that we could share in the love that the Father has for the Son. Jesus wants us to know God as he already does. We can never fully comprehend God, but we can know the fullness of God’s love as demonstrated through Jesus Christ.
Love is the foundation of God’s work, and love is the result of God’s work. Unity is the demonstration of God’s love in action, and unity strengthens the bonds of love. The more we know God, the better we will understand the love of God. Love is the force that holds all things together. Jesus prayed that we might experience this type of love.
Abiding in God
Jesus prayed that we might abide in God and allow God to abide in us. This mutual abiding is accomplished through daily surrender, the giving of ourselves to God each day. Paul mirrored this attitude in Romans 12:1, imploring us to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” The traditional sacrifice is a once-and-done affair, but a living sacrifice keeps giving.
Jesus does not want people who merely affirm the truth about him. He does not desire a half-hearted commitment. When Jesus prayed for us, he sought our full surrender and full commitment, willing to set aside the things of this world for the things of God. But regardless of what we give to God, he pours back into us with abundance. We have his love, his presence, and the knowledge that we will be witnesses to his glory throughout eternity. When Jesus prayed for us, he prayed all the love God can bring to a human being. Forever.
Terry Magee lives in Pennsylvania where he teaches at his church and seeks to better practice walking with God (terrymagee.net).