By Sam E. Stone
The night when Jesus was betrayed was filled with significance. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reported on “The Last Supper” but included only a brief synopsis of Christ’s teaching that evening. The Gospel of John was written later, however, and includes four long chapters recounting many specific things that Jesus said that evening (John 14–17).
In today’s lesson we study what is sometimes called “the high priestly prayer” (John 17). Jesus began by praying specifically for himself (vv. 1-5). While the opening section of the prayer is not part of today’s printed text, it alludes to various themes mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel (see 5:36; 6:40; 12:23). A. J. Mcleod wrote, “Jesus prays with the consciousness that the hour which had not come in John 2:4, 7:6, and which was drawing nigh in 12:23, has now come.”
Then Jesus turned to the needs of his disciples.
Left in the World | John 17:6-13
For about three years Jesus had been training the disciples. God had given them to him, and they knew he had come from God. Jesus saw them not as a random group of people who happened to get acquainted, but as people selected according to the Father’s will to fulfill his eternal plan and bring glory and honor to his name. With the end of his ministry coming soon, Jesus wanted to be sure that his followers would be cared for. “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.”
As J. W. McGarvey put it, “As a last plea he urges the necessity of the Father’s care over the disciples since the Son will be no longer in the world to care for them.” Only Judas was not included in his request, since he had already been identified as “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12). Although Jesus would be returning to the Father, his disciples would be left in the world.
The disciples were left in the world for a reason. Believers are to have a purifying influence in society. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compared this to the effects of leaven, salt, and light. The disciples were left to bear witness to the truth they had learned from Jesus.
Not of the World | John 17:14, 15
“They are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” Like the disciples, we often receive the world’s hatred when we live for God (John 1:11; 15:18, 19). Elsewhere John taught, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. . . . The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever”
(1 John 2:15-17).
Although a man drowning in the ocean must first be pulled from the water, it is then necessary both to get the swallowed seawater out of him and to get the air in. We have been saved from a sea of sin, but we must also get the sea out of us! Like the apostles, our lives are to be set apart from the world. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Earlier Jesus had taught the disciples to pray for this very thing (Matthew 6:13).
Sent to the World | John 17:16-21
Believers are to be sanctified, set apart for the Lord
(1 Peter 1:13-16; 2 Peter 3:13). God is able to protect us
(2 Thessalonians 3:3). Separation from sin comes by learning, loving, and living the truth. This sets us free (John 8:32). By the Word of God, the devil can be confronted and overcome (Ephesians 6:11). Just as Jesus was sanctified by the truth, so his followers must be. He commanded them to evangelize to the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
It is especially encouraging for Christians today to know that we also are included in this intercessory prayer of our Lord. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” That message is redemption in Christ. We are taught to teach, saved to serve, and won to win.
The world will oppose us, but this should come as no surprise. The world opposed Jesus and the apostles too. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, and it is our responsibility to help answer that prayer. Only if the saints are one, can the world be won (John 17:23-26).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.