Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 17
Glory to the Son
After Jesus and the eleven disciples finished the Passover, they made their way toward the Kidron. During their traverse, the Lord did all He could to prepare them for His upcoming crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation, recorded as one of the longest continuous discourses of Jesus in the Bible. Completing his instruction, Christ paused on the west bank of the Kidron for prayer.
Jesus was known as a man of prayer. In the very first chapter of Markís gospel account, for example, it is recorded, "And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there" (Mark 1:35). "But He Himself," recorded Dr. Luke, "would often slip away into the wilderness and pray" (Luke 5:16). And some of the more famous sayings of Jesus are His prayers. His prayer for the soldiers who crucified Him, as another example, is one: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). But the most extensive prayer of Jesus on record is the one charted in John 17. Approaching His final hours, the Lord prayed for Himself, for the apostles, and for the church; glory for Himself, glory for the apostles, and glory for the church!
- "The hour has come" - Conscious that He had less than twenty-four hours of His earthly sojourn left, the Lord was focused on finishing strong, accomplishing His purpose, and petitioning the Almighty for the right outcome of all these events. Referencing His final instructions, the apostle noted, "These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ĎFather, the hour has come ...í " (John 17:1). Jesus, instead bowing and having His eyes closed, often prayed with His eyes lifted up to the heavens; there is no "proper" position for prayer. And in this moment, He was intensely aware that His moments on earth were waning - the hour that thirty-three years of labor had prepared was now come.
- Glorify the Son - The first aspect of Christís petition was for His glorification. "Glorify the Son," He prayed, "that the Son may glorify You." Jesusí desire for glorification was not a selfish desire or even a desire for earned recognition. The Son of God knew that His purpose was to reveal the Father to mankind, and that this communication could only take place through His glorification. This glorified Christ "is the radiance of [the Fatherís] glory, and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3).
- Glorification - When "glorification" is used in earthly terms, it means the accolades thrown to a celebrity. But the glorification of Jesus is a specialized term, referring to the brightness of His presence in the heavenly realms. Thus there is a specific point at which this glorification occurred, and that point was His accession to the throne on high. "The Spirit was not yet given," the apostle John had commented concerning Jesusí earlier days, "because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). And the apostle Peterís meaning likewise is similarly specific in his message to those gathered in connection with his healing of the lame beggar: "The God of our fathers," was his affirmation, "has glorified His servant Jesus" (Acts 3:13). And of Jesusí riding into Jerusalem on the donkey, John recorded, "These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him" (John 12:16).
The glory of God is one of the most prominent themes of the scripture. Godís earnest desire is that His children see His glory by faith during the years of testing on earth, and that they participate in His glory in the eternal city. But that glory is only to be apprehended through the revelation accomplished in the Son. Jesus prayer was appropriate: "Glorify the Son."
This Is Eternal Life
The great God has an earnest desire for deep fellowship with a specially prepared spiritual people. While He loves all of mankind, most never "understand," in the words of the apostle Paul, and will be destined for the fires of hell, away from the presence of God eternally. But somehow the "few" that find the narrow gate are worth it to the All Wise God, who sent His only begotten Son into a hostile world to pay the price for their sins.
Sin is what separates man from his God, and that Jesus would take the sins of the world upon Himself to restore lost fellowship is one of the great themes of Johnís gospel account. "Behold the Lamb of God," proclaimed John the Immerser, "who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "If therefore the Son shall make you free," Jesus Himself announced, in reference to being liberated from slavery to sin, "you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The Lord Jesus would therefore offer Himself to destroy the sin barrier between man and God, and send Spirit of life to the hearts of believers in order that true fellowship might be established.
- Authority established - The resurrection of Jesus to the heavenly throne would establish His claim to be the great I AM. The appeal of the One called the Word then was for the Father to "glorify the Son"; the Son in turn would glorify the Father. In this wonderfully symbiotic relationship, in the mutual glorification, the Son would attribute all things as stemming from the Father, "even," was His way of doing so, "as You gave Him authority over all mankind" (John 17:2). Authority over all mankind! Mankind as a whole does not recognize that authority, but the scripture repeatedly affirms the rod and rule of King Jesus. "Far above all rule and authority and power," was Paulís description of this to the Ephesian brethren. Both the "visible and invisible," said the apostle to the Gentiles, the "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16). Thus, the Lamb silent before the slaughter became the Lion of Judah who speaks as thunder, "ruler," said the apostle in his apocalypse, "of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5).
- Giving eternal life - There are many gifts an all-powerful King could bestow. This King, however, wants to be certain to grant a gift that no money could buy, and a gift that was worth His own suffering. The Father gave the Son, then, authority over all mankind, "that to all You have given Him," noted Christ, "He may give eternal life." Calculators run out of exponents long before they can tally the value of this gift!
- Knowing God - From the physical realm comes the principle: "Life begets life." The Almighty communicated this principle in the physical realm to establish the connection in the spiritual, that apart from the Source of life there is no life. "And this is eternal life," was the explanation, "that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
The goal of God, understandably, is that men might desire to know Him, and come to know Him through Jesus Christ. But a truly spiritual people has to be produced, a people who appreciate that "God is Spirit," not One whose sole purpose is to pander to fleshly desires. Hence a system of faith is established, and a testing of that faith goes on, in order that only those who really desire to know God come through the testing successfully. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God," said this apostle in his first catholic epistle, "in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:13).
More on Glory
Communication of spiritual truths and spiritual priorities to fleshly man is a challenge worthy of the God who is Spirit. Expressions such as "dull of hearing," and "uncircumcised in heart and ears," come to mind when the difficulty facing God is contemplated. The highest spiritual priority, obvious to anyone with a smattering of scriptural understanding, is to know God. "This is eternal life," asseverated the Son, "that they may know You, the only true God." In an age of multicultural pluralism, Jesusí statement about the "one true God" is regarded as bordering on insanity; He was a revolutionary then, and He is a revolutionary now. Those whose ears are dull and whose eyes are smeared over are going to refuse to listen to the Lordís plain statement about knowing the only true God, but those who are truly interested in eternal life are going to pay attention, very close attention.
- God sent Jesus - It is in Jesus and through Jesus that the Father communicates Himself to man. Thus the Christ would state strongly that eternal life is not only to know the Father, but life eternal is also to know the Son. "He who has the Son has life," John intoned in his first epistle, "he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:12). It was for this that Jesus was sent into the world.
- Mission accomplished - In this prayer of the Savior, He regards as complete the things which He will undergo in just a few hours. In an exhibition of the mind-set also characteristic of lesser mortals who are winners, the Lord looked through the finish line and not just to the finish line. "I glorified You on earth," was His affirmation, "having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). He, the good shepherd, would lay His life down for the sheep, spilling His blood on Calvaryís ground for the remission of all mankindís sins. But this would be not the only major work He would accomplish on earth; He would also raise Himself from the dead! "I have authority to lay it down," said He of His life, "and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:18). In His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, He would glorify the Father on earth.
- Ultimate glory - But Jesusí glory and glorification would not be limited to what was accomplished on earth. "And now," He earnestly pled, "glorify Me together with Yourself, Father, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5). The words in this petition are simple; the concepts embodied in the prayer are awesomely far-reaching and infinitely broad in scope. The Lordís great desire was to return to the glory of heaven, and to exhibit the glory that was His from all eternity. But not only did He desire the glory for Himself, but He knew that this would be the glory that would reveal who the Father was. This passage is worth repeating: "And He [Jesus] is the radiance of His [the Fatherís] glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3). This is the ultimate glory, and what is to be seen by all who claim to have the faith of the new covenant.
- Before the world was - Jesus, in His prophetic ministry, knew the history of this planet. He knew He was an eyewitness of the creation of Adam and Even, and was there to remember Noah during the days of the Deluge. But He also possessed a vision of the glory that was His before earth was formed. This focus and vision was a key factor in bringing Him triumphantly through the cross.
The glorification Jesus accomplished on earth was very great, and worthy of note and honor. But the glorification of the Lord in glory was much greater and is the center of attention of the entire Bible. "Worthy," indeed, "is the Lamb that was slain" to receive glory!
The Great Manifestation
Jesus had a simple plan. He would take a select few, faithful men, train them, and get them to teach and train others. Simple plans work best; it just requires that someone work them faithfully. Hence it was critical that Jesus train these men really well, so that their efforts could be duplicated by all who would follow in their steps.
But the effectiveness of these men would not be solely dependent upon their being able to carry out the mere mechanics of the plan. Their effectiveness would greatly depend upon the character transformation occurring within them through their faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord, therefore, was rightly concerned about the apostlesí belief level, and prayed earnestly on their behalf.
- Integrity of the Name - God has worked assiduously to promote and protect the integrity of His Name. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," was one of the Ten Commandments, "for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Deuteronomy 5:11). So strong was the enforcement of this commandment that it became the custom of the scribes to substitute the word "Lord" in place of the four letter YHWH, the name for Yahweh or Jehovah God in the Old Testament, for fear that they might somehow violate the commandment. The custom carried over to the New Testament, wherein the word "Lord," the Greek word kurios, is used for the name of God. (Thus to confess that "Jesus is Lord" is to confess that Jesus is Jehovah!) And the Almighty stressed that it was for the sake of His name that He would move. "For My own sake," the great God spoke through His servant Isaiah, "for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11).
- Jesus the representative - Obviously, then, the Father would not have "just anybody" be His representative, with the integrity of His name on the line. The honor accorded Christ is magnified in these words of His: "I manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world" (John 17:6). Not only was Jesus a representative of God, but He was the only representative of the Creator to the specially chosen men; no one else was worthy of the honor.
- The significance of the apostles - The entire plan of God for honoring His name and saving lost men was going to pass through the apostles. These remaining men (for Judas had already gone off to betray the Lord) were so trusted by Jesus, and would successfully pass through the upcoming tests of their faith, that He was willing to manifest the exalted name of God to them. "Yours they were," affirmed Jesus in His continuing prayer, "and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word." Marked out from their motherís wombs, these men were entrusted to Jesus, and He in turn developed them and entrusted them with His entire mission! This underscores the significance of these words: the apostlesí doctrine!
- Entrusting knowledge - An emissary without possessing the key information of the one who sent him is really no emissary at all. As the apostles were marked out by the Father, and chosen by Jesus, they would have to be endowed with the message sent from heaven to earth; thus Jesus had promised them that the Spirit would guide them into all truth. "Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You," He reminded the Father, "for the words which You gave Me I have given to them" (John 17:7,8).
Although the Father had predetermined His plan before the foundation of the world, Jesus in the flesh was pouring out His heart in prayer for these chosen apostles. The manifestation of the great name of God had been entrusted to Jesus, and He in turn was now passing it on to them; the earnestness of the Lordís prayer was certainly understandable.
Transmission of the Words
The apostles of the Lord Jesus, as they shared with Him in the night in which He was betrayed, were confused by the circumstances which swirled around them and their Mentor. Their initial calls to follow Christ were no doubt accompanied by buoyant hopes, but many circumstances had tested their willingness to be His disciples. That Jesus had to run and hide on more than one occasion probably had produced some flickers of uncertainty in their minds. But they doggedly followed on, their determination expressed as they all agreed with the words of Peter, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" (Mark 14:31). But this night they would all be shaken and would be scattered until after Jesusí resurrection. Their characters, however, had already been established to the Lordís satisfaction, and He was willing to entrust the entire destiny of man in their hands (with some heavenly help, of course).
- Keeping His word - Listening in on Jesusí prayers teaches us a lot about prayer and how to pray. In this case, the Savior is talking to the Father and referencing a plan that was in motion before the foundation of the world, and a significant piece of that plan involved the apostles. "You gave them to Me out of the world," was one point of Jesusí emphasis. Interestingly, though, is that the Lord recommends these same apostles, whom the Father had given to Him, back to the Father. He is petitioning the God of heaven to back these men and to strengthen them in the days and years to come, that Their joint plan might be carried out - hence the need for Jesusí recommendation of these men. "Yours they were, and You gave them to Me," He reminded the Father, "and they have kept Your word" (John 17:6). What a great recommendation!
- The apostlesí knowledge - Jesus, in His prayer, was looking beyond the cross to His ascension, and to the Day of Pentecost. While the apostles had stated, "Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God," their understanding was only a mere glimmer of their comprehension to come. Jesus affirmed their glimmer, knowing also of the coming Holy Spirit. "Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You," was His continuing recommendation.
- The words - With God, it always comes back to His word. When He speaks, the faithful act, the unfaithful hedge. The commendation of Christ in regard to these disciples continued: "...for the words which You gave Me I have given to them, and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me" (John 17:8). Some of that testimony came from the disciplesí first mentor, John the Immerser. "He who comes from heaven," he had said in reference to Christ, "is above all" (John 3:31). Jesus Himself had commented, "No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heave, even the Son of Man" (John 3:13). These types of sayings, the miracles, and the teachings of Jesus all combined to convince the apostles beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
- On their behalf - Having presented His plaudits commending these chosen men, then Jesus made His petition plain: "I ask on their behalf" (John 17:9).
"I am the light of the world," Jesus had pointed out on a couple of occasions. He was the only conduit for the words of God to the world. But all of Jesusí words were going to be transmitted through the apostles; hence the intensity of this prayer. "The words which You gave Me I have given to them ... I ask on their behalf."
Glorified in All Things
"I manifested Your name to the men you gave Me out of the world," was Jesusí reminder to the Father. As One residing in human form, Jesus credited the Father for all. In the process of emptying Himself to take the form of a bond-servant, the Christ placed Himself in a position of weakness and dependency, putting the divine exclamation point of our dependency on the Almighty for all things. The Christ-Child, then, was totally at the mercy of the Father to be delivered from the soldiers of Herod, sent to eliminate the rival "King of the Jews." He retained a consciousness of that reliance all the days of His earthly sojourn, evidenced here in His comment that even these men - the apostles - whom He chose after intense prayer, were given to Him by the Father! So also His teachings: "The words which You gave Me, I have given to them," He commented. It was fitting, then, in the final hours of His time on earth, for Him to petition the Father for the continued care of these men following His exit from His ministry on this planet.
- Asking - The prayers of Jesus obviously had tremendous impact as they landed in the courts of heaven. What He would pray for, and what He would not pray for, would be considered with the highest intensity at the throne. "I ask on their behalf," He petitioned concerning the apostles. "I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me" (John 17:9). That He would not ask on behalf of the world lets us know that the world is not going to be salvaged; the "world" is a hostile environment for the truth of Godís gospel, and will be consigned to the lake of fire for all eternity.
- Re-emphasis - In His petition, the Lord continued to be fully conscious that the Father was the source of all things, and that He was working in partnership with the One in heaven. "I ask," He said, on behalf of the apostles, "whom You have given Me, for they are Yours." In His prayer, the Lord also modeled for us that the Father likes to be reminded of His promises and commitments, and for those promises and commitments to be used as a basis for appeal for His action.
- All things - In a good working marriage without a pre-nuptial agreement, there is a joint-sharing, with a joyful recognition that all things are held in common without competition or jealousy. Thus it was with the Father and the Christ. "All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine" (John 17:10). Specifically, the Father and Son were sharing in the ownership of the apostles, and the plan that was to be carried out through these men.
- Glorified - Jesus had prophesied that the salvation of those rescued from the world would come through His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. However, He would not be on earth to make the proclamation of His victory and terms of pardon. Therefore His exaltation would have to be announced through trusted agents. Considering the outcome sure, He thus stated, "I have been glorified in them."
"Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth," applauded the sweet psalmist of Israel. "Behold, He speaks forth with His voice, a mighty voice" (Psalm 68:32,33). The mighty voice of God would not be that which thundered from Sinai; the mighty voice would be that which spoke through the mouths of the chosen apostles! The mighty deeds of Jehovah would not be the mere shaking of the earth or casting down a kingdom; His mighty deeds were those connected with raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him to the right hand of power! Because those things cannot be seen in the physical realm, a people of faith would have to be raised up through the proclamation of these same apostes. Hence Jesusí prayer on their behalf, and the appeal to the Father on the basis of common effort and glorification of the Son.
Keeping the Apostles
Before the foundation of the world a plan was devised to produce a people of faith. As later expressed, these people would come from "all the nations of the earth" (Genesis 26:4). "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world," was Peterís reference for the Gentiles who had become this people of faith, "but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead, so that your faith and hope are in God" (I Peter 1:20,21). Faith in God amongst the peoples of the world is produced through the proclamation of Jesusí glory, a glory unseen by the physical eye but revealed to the eyes of the heart. This process would begin through the chosen apostles.
- Jesusí leaving the world - The earth from the beginning was only to be a temporary place. Of the material heavens and earth it was written: "They will perish, but You remain" (Hebrews 1:11). Jesus therefore came to earth in human form, and through His resurrection ascended to heaven to prepare for bringing "many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10). In view of His approaching departure, He then prayed, "And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You" (John 17:11). What joy it would be for the Lord to finish His task and return to the spangled courts of eternity!
- The apostles in the world - Jesus is "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession," the great Commando from the sky who has parachuted behind enemy lines to arrange for the escape and subsequent rescue of prisoners of war (Hebrews 3:1). Having accomplished a portion of His mission, He then was leaving twelve trained fellow commandos to escort others through the "Sin Curtain." Recognizing the danger to these men, His petition was intense, reminding the Father that "they themselves are in the world."
- "In Your name" - Inside the "name of God" is the place where the authority of God is voluntarily honored. While the Almighty truly is all mighty, and His authority reaches into all creation, He has placed boundaries upon Himself so that the processes of free will might take place among men. Outside those boundaries, men have been delivered over to "a depraved mind," and thus have come under the domain of darkness. The Lord Christ pleaded with the Father on behalf of these men in view of the spiritual war that would occur: "Holy Father," said He in earnest, "keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are" (John 17:11). The Son, in His pleading, offered encouragement, noting, "While I was with them, I was keeping them in the name which You have given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (John 17:12). Judas, the one apostle who would go to a Godless eternity, was prophesied in the Old Testament; hence Jesus was petitioning favorably on behalf of the others, affirming that they had chosen to follow Him to the realm inside His name.
- Oneness - The "oneness" that Jesus anticipated was to be more than simply being "one in purpose." While the oneness of purpose would be strongly intact, the union of Jesus and the Father was beyond earthly comprehension. Furthermore, the union of Jesus and His disciples was contemplated to be of the same nature as the union of Father and Son!
The first stages of the work of the Christian Liberation Army were in place. As Jesus contemplated the mission before His liberators, His petition was first for the commandos to remain in the Fatherís name, to be kept safe there from the wiles of the evil and enslaving tyrant of darkness. In oneness of spiritual purpose, and united in the deepest of fellowships, this army, in accordance with His prayer, would then move forward in its rescue operation.
The Given Word
Jesusí battle for His own soul was intense. The prince of darkness was working every possible way to get the Savior to sin, and the Lord, conscious of the struggles in the spiritual realm, had commented, "The ruler of the world is coming" (John 14:30). The other gospel accounts, therefore, record the intensity of His prayers in Gethsemane as He fought the battle to move forward into death and accomplish the Fatherís will.
But the battle also involved the apostles, one of which was Judas Iscariot. Of him, the Lord had to report to the Father in connection with his prayer for the other special disciples, "And not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (John 17:12). The work of Judas, the betrayer, was prophesied in the Old Testament writings. The Prince of Life, then, was happy to report that none of the others perished, and that the only one he lost was the one of whom it was written. The nature of Jesusí report indicates how intense the spiritual struggle was, and how much work He personally had to do to protect the eleven remaining men.
- Coming home - Jesus knew, affirmed the apostle John, "that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God" (John 13:3). The Lord Himself, then, was operating by faith, and treated the upcoming events in His life as already accomplished facts. "But now I come to You," He averred in His prayer. It is worth re-stressing: Jesus was using His faith in His resurrection and in bringing many sons to glory to power through the imminent suffering and crucifixion. Before He went on "His last ride," He called home to tell the Father He was on His way!
- Joy again - It is depressing to contemplate the ultimate history of the world and the material creation. "The creation was subjected to futility," was the apostle Paulís inspired observation (Romans 8:20). The final end of the physical universe is that it will simply disappear. The overall fate of mankind - the "world" - is even worse; those who do not know God or who do not obey the gospel will be separated forever into the eternal blackness and fire. So what are the rays of hope and light in the face of such gloomy alternatives? "These things I speak in the world," affirmed the Giver of life, "that they may have My joy made full in themselves" (John 17:13). "The voice of the Lord is powerful," observed David (Psalm 29:4). The words of Jesus are powerful enough to give every disciple joy in the midst of a depressing and futile world! The reason He spoke, as He put it, "in the world," was to give His followers "joy made full"!
- Godís word - Jesus continually emphasized that His words were not His own, that He was not running a rogue operation. Rather, He was the heavenly emissary, bringing the message of the Father to straying children. "For I did not speak on My own initiative," He stated (John 12:49). So when the Christ spoke of the things He spoke to bring joy to the disciples, He was quick to point out, "I have given them Your word" (John 17:14).
The word of God created all, and the word of God governs all. Judasí betrayal was still in accordance with scripture; the words of Jesus giving joy were the words of God, and the continuing teaching of Jesus, even from heaven, would still be the word of God. One of the greatest gifts Jesus ever gave the world were the words from the Majesty on High! In His prayer report to the Father, explaining His accomplishment of His mission, He was therefore jubilant to announce, "I have given them Your word."
Not of the World
What Jesus called "the world" is not neutral. Mankind has a hard time realizing the hostility of the world, and even Christians are repeatedly warned about the dangers of the world. This is not surprising since children are essentially raised by the world, and everyone who sins and falls short of the glory of God becomes, at least for a time, a part of the world. Hence the environment of most people, with the rare exception of those whose home is such that the children are sanctified, is the world, and that is considered normal. That this normal environment should be considered hostile takes significant reprogramming on the part of the faithful disciples of Christ.
- The worldís hatred - Jesus, in His pleadings with the Father, could be straightforward. "I have given them Your word," He adverted, "and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14). The world wants its denizens to be as it is, and exerts powerful pressure to bring all its subjects into submission to its image. Christians, then, receive this exordium: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). The conforming pressures of the world emanate from the hatred the world has for anything running counter to its downward pull. The world, naturally, then would hate Him who came from heaven to call men to an abundant and heavenly life; this would be such an intense hatred that it would premeditatedly and violently put to death the Son of God. Thus Jesus would comment to the Father that the animosity of the world would be extended to all who would come under the umbrella of His influence, beginning with the apostles. His words are worth contemplating: "The world has hated them, because they are not of the world."
- Godís instruments - Jesus, as Jacobís ladder, came into the world to form a bridge between those who want to be delivered from the ravages of sin and the holy Father. But in order for Him to carry out His long-term plan, He would have to leave His spiritual body "in the world" to keep the bridge between heaven and earth open, and with traffic flowing upward. "I do not ask You," consequently was His petition, "to take them out of the world" (John 17:15). They would need to be His instruments in carrying His message to the lost.
- The evil one - The surface of the earth, when viewed from any perspective of distance that would show it to be a round ball, is smoother by several magnitudes than the finest ball-bearings that man can produce. But when viewed from the perspective of man, whose height is expressed in feet less than ten, the surface of the earth consists of towering peaks and deep valleys, as well as broad plains and vast oceans. Similarly, Satanís power, when viewed from heaven, is miniscule, but, when viewed from manís perspective, is extensive. Thus it was necessary for the Lord, in commenting that the apostles would have to be left in the world, to pray for the Almighty "to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Without their being kept from the power of the dark angel, the whole plan of God would have collapsed.
During the days of Jesusí earthly sojourn, many believed in Him, and rightly so, because it was clear, as Nicodemus put it, "No one can do these signs which you do unless God is with Him" (John 3:2). But the pressure of their world was such that many who believed in Him, even if they were rulers of their own synagogues, would not confess Him before men, "for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" (John 12:43). Conscious that this pressure would continue, Jesus petitioned the Father for these men, affirming, "They are not of this world, even as I am not of this world" (John 17:16). May we follow in their footsteps!
In Old Testament times, things were physically consecrated and set apart for Godís purposes. Thus there was a holy tabernacle, with holy implements, a holy altar, and a holy priesthood. When something was set aside for God, it was always to be the best. "Cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it," emphasized the Almighty, "but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King" (Malachi 1:14). That which was separated out for the Lord was the best, the first fruits, the first born.
But all these things in Old Testament times were to communicate what was to be accomplished in the spiritual realm under the terms of the New Covenant. Hence that which was holy under the Old was holy without its choice, as a rule; the bronze implement that was for sanctified use at the altar did not have anything to say about its special position in the sacrifices to God. But sanctification in the new and living way would involve the choice of the individual being sanctified, and the sanctification of anything else would flow from a sanctified follower of Christ.
- Not of the world - The "world" as the Bible describes it is an unholy and hostile place. Hence it is that for true holiness to be accomplished, the spiritual individual is going to have to come out of the world. "They are not of the world," therefore affirmed the Lord of the apostles, "even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). This is another one of those powerful "as" statements of Jesus; perfect as the Father is perfect, merciful as the Father is merciful, etc. By the word of God, the apostles were not of this world as much as Jesus was not of this world! They had been cleansed and prepared for their upcoming service in Godís great plan.
- Sanctify them - The earnest prayer of the Lord was that these men, and through them all real disciples, be set apart to execute the directives of God. Readers are to be reminded that this was no minor or whimsical prayer; the entire purpose for which God created the earth and mankind upon it was to execute His agenda of saving all with a good and honest heart. "Sanctify them in the truth," then, was His intense petition (John 17:17). The nature of God - His goodness and His holiness - requires that the edifying portions of His plan be carried out by those who are likewise good and holy. It was critical that the apostles, through whom the entire strategy of the Father was to be implemented, be sanctified, and one of the major purposes of this prayer of Jesus was to accomplish that!
- The truth - God, who cannot lie, is obviously true - true to His principles, true to His word, and true to His plan. The apostles, in order to be sanctified in Godís system, would have to be set apart in truth. But what is that? "Your word is truth," was the Christís reminder.
- Being sent - Jesus, it is to be noted, was the Apostle and High Priest of the Christian confession. He was sent on a mission of rescuing the faithful from captivity in a hostile world. "As You sent Me into the world," He informed His Father in this prayerful exchange, "I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). Their mission - their sanctified purpose - was the same as Jesusí.
- Motivation - Purpose puts power in performance! Without a strong, outwardly directed purpose, motivation flags and performance falters. Here Jesus listed the reason for His own sanctification, and passed that motivation on: "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19).
Holiness, or sanctification, under the terms of the new covenant has more to do with the mission and character of those sent out in Jesusí name than a dead list of "thou-shalt-notís". May all disciples be sanctified in truth, and may they carry out the mission of Jesus, holy in all their behavior!
Through Their Word
God Himself is the author of language. Language is not something that evolved upward from systematic grunts around a campfire to the finally elevated language of a Shakespeare. Communication, when it first appears in what records of man that can be obtained from the archeological digs in the earth, is very complete and very complex. Those who operate from the thesis that man evolved upward are always surprised at this finding, expecting modern man, the most highly evolved and therefore the most intelligent of the species, to have the most developed language and the most complex thought. But the opposite is actually true; in the process of streamlining language - of which modern English is the most strident example - a gradual "dumbing down" has occurred, because the complex speech patterns produce elevated thought patterns in children in their early developmental phases. All modern languages, then, are derived from those which were given to mankind as the families were scattered from the tower of Babel.
God, then, having developed the languages for man, has orchestrated the communication of His message through those languages. Hence, as Jesus moves from praying for the apostles to praying for the future church, He describes all following disciples as believing "through their word."
- The future church - At the time of Jesusí prayer on the west side of the Kishon, the church, or the kingdom of God, did not yet exist. The Christ, however, knowing the certainty of the Fatherís plan, prayed for the church as if it did exist. In this prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself first; He prayed for His return to glory, and for the "word" which He left behind or was yet to deliver through the Holy Spirit. He prayed then for the apostles, for their ability to carry out their mission in the world but not of the world; "I have given them Your word," stated Jesus. But the Lord was now ready to pray for the church, about to come into existence. "I do not ask on behalf of these alone," was His forward petition to the Father, in reference to the apostles, "but for those also who believe in Me through their word" (John 17:20). It is highly significant that every person who would come to believe in Jesus, as the Bible defines that belief, would come through the "word" of the apostles. God, the author of language, used language as the only mechanism by which disciples of Jesus are produced; furthermore, the language that produces disciples is that which was transmitted with the apostles as the conduit. Jesus Himself will not appear and convert someone in their lonely jail cell. An angel will not show up on some dark night and guide the lost one to a "saving knowledge of Jesus Christ." It is the word of the apostles - the apostlesí doctrine - alone which will result in true conversions. No wonder Jesusí prayer was so intense!
- One in doctrine - The desire of the Lordís heart was that His followers be united in purpose and in teaching. He prayed, then, for all future disciples, "that they may all be one" (John 17:21). This oneness cannot be achieved by the mere bumping of people into one another often enough that they merge in their association. This oneness must begin with the same belief system, a system that the apostle Paul under inspiration of the Spirit called "sound doctrine." All true unity begins in unity of teaching!
The prayer of Jesus was that a unified body of believers could be formed from the language shared with the world by the apostles. These people would be an army of messenger boys and girls shouting the good news in the streets, weaving it into chats with the neighbors, distributing it in every form of print. Spiritually connected, bound together by the word of Jesusí especially chosen disciples, these brethren work as leaven throughout the world, and eventually bring every willing soul under the government of King Jesus. Through the WORD!
Perfected in Unity
"We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord," goes the campfire song. The sentiment is certainly scriptural, but it is laughable when fundamentalists, evangelicals, and assorted charismatics try to sing it together. Satan has done a powerful job of confusing terms; many of these groups call themselves "non-denominational" or "undenominational," but they are really "interdenominational." And these two terms are exact opposites. Non-denominational means "unsplintered," with all parties united in doctrine and practice in accordance with the teachings of primitive Christianity. Inter-denominational means that no one cares what any of the parties believe or practice as long as they can contribute to the body count at the coordinated event. Jesusí prayer for His disciples was that they be non-denominational, that they be united in doctrine and intent.
- That the disciples be one - Before the crossing of the Kidron, Jesusí was earnestly pleading for the future of His church. Following the crossing, His prayers in Gethsemane were for His strength to face the upcoming affliction and crucifixion. But on Kidronís west bank, the close of His prayer focused on all future disciplesí being able to accomplish the spread of His word in unity. "For all those," He prayed, who would believe in Him through the word of the apostles, "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us" (John 17:21). This unity is of the nature of the unity of Father and Son, a spiritual unity transcending physical boundaries. It is a unity of relationship, a unity of doctrine, a unity of purpose, and a unity of motive. It is total unity, and, as the subject of Jesusí prayer, not beyond possibility.
- Effect on the world - One of Satanís goals is to keep the confusion rolling. By presenting an appearance of disunity among the disciples of Christ, most people give up on the idea of finding truth. But the earnest desire of the Lord is still stated: "that the world may believe that You sent Me."
- Glory to unity - The Christ had in mind a mechanism by which this godly oneness could be accomplished. "And the glory which You have given Me," was His prayerful tendering to the Father, "I have given to them" (John 17:22). The Lord, of course, had not yet attained this glory while still in a fleshly body, as evidenced in the earlier portion of His prayer. But He regards it as a fact accomplished, and petitions that this glory might be passed on to the disciples, "that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me." Thus the apostle Paul would later speak of the saints in terms of those "whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). The glory the faithful possess by faith is the means by which they are one in the Lord!
- Perfecting the saints - This awesome glory, shining by faith in the hearts of those who are truly born from above, is the result of the prayer of Jesus for the church! But as faith must be developed from "little faith" to "great faith," there is a process involved. The Christ recognized this, and made allowance for it in His prayer, noting "that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You loved Me" (John 17:23). The saints would have to willingly participate in answering this prayer.
In the throes of leaving the apostles behind, and contemplating the future of His kingdom as He prayed in the presence of the Father, the earnest desire of the suffering Savior was that His disciples be perfected in unity through their participation in His glory by faith. What follower of Christ could willingly disregard this prayer? Who, as one making a claim to be a disciple of the Lord, could have such a cold heart as to fail to pursue the things which make for peace and the unity of doctrine and practice found in the pages of Jesusí holy word?
Glory as a Means to Unity
There are movers and shakers out there who contemplate what could happen if all disciples could be united. Their problem is that they only think in terms of masses, of congregations, or groups of congregations. Hence their plans for "one body" are formulated on the basis of having these groups or leaders of these groups bump together in meetings and forums in hopes that some sort of spiritual gravity will cause them to stick to each other long enough to call it "unity." Such a process, however, is of human origin, and thus guaranteed to fail in accomplishing the will of the spiritual Father, expressed in the prayer of His Christ. The only means to the unity contemplated by Jesus is individual participation in His glory by faith.
- Glory given - "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them," was Jesusí affirmation. Those words can be read over easily, but a simple stopping and contemplating of this statement will allow some of the hugeness of its significance to drift into the mind of the disciple. Jesusí yearning was that He would return to the glory which He had before the world was. This honor, rightfully His as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, was evinced in the teachings of the apostles following His ascension, as Peter succinctly stated it in the second recorded message of Acts: "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the One whom you delivered up and disowned" (Acts 3:13). That this same glory would be passed on to all true disciples while they walk by faith "in the world" is an awesome gift of God!
- The effect of this glory - The only mechanism for transforming the inner man is found in the power of this glory. The saints, then, "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image" (II Corinthians 3:18). This participation in glory is obviously on an individual basis, and can pretty well be guaranteed never to happen on a group basis. Any individual whose mind is set on the flesh is hostile to this transformation, as evidenced in the writings and problems on exhibit in the pages of the holy writ. Since those of the flesh are destructive to unity of the Spirit, then this unity is not going to be group-produced; it will result between individuals who are participants in the glory.
- Attaining to the unity of the faith - One of the major purposes of the gifts of evangelists, pastors and teachers is to work with the brethren "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). This passage affirms, in different words, that the unity of the faith is attained on an individual basis, as the Christian himself comes to the maturity of having the full character of Christ.
The movers and shakers, wanting to use political games to manipulate people, routinely avoid the thrust of Jesusí prayer when they want to talk about unity. They are aware that participation in Jesusí glory is going to require a truly spiritual people, not just pew-packers who pump up the numbers count. To have the word of God produce this spiritual people is going to take more work than they are willing to do, and therefore runs counter to their agenda. As a result, those who make the claim of trying to generate "unity" are, by contrast, hostile to the actual unity of the Spirit Jesus contemplated in His prayer. Let those, then, who are truly disciples of Christ participate in the transformation accomplished by seeing His glory in the mirror, and thus come to the unity of the faith.
The Incredible Love of God
Faith, hope, and love abide in the church of God. The day will come, praise God, when faith will be transformed into sight at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Hope will become obsolete at that same time. But love, the greatest, will abide forever in the eternal kingdom of God! Twice the aged apostle John reminds us in his first epistle, "God is love." His greatest attribute, His deep resounding love, is what He desires to communicate to mankind and to the hosts of heaven. He demonstrated that love in sending Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world. He proclaims that love through the preaching of the gospel. And He produces that love by pouring it out in the hearts of His followers through the Holy Spirit which was given to them. It is not surprising, then, that the love of God should be the closing focus of Jesusí intercessory prayer on the west bank of the Kidron.
- That the world may know - The Lord Jesus Christ imparted His great glory, in the realm of faith, to His disciples, that they might present a united front to a hostile world, and that they might demonstrate that same love which He has. His earnest desire, as He stated it, was "that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You loved Me" (John 17:23). The purpose for the unity of the Spirit among brethren is to communicate the love which the Father has for the Christ Himself and for all those who are saved. All this to a world which is really looking for love, but has been hoodwinked by the prince of darkness to look for it in the wrong places.
- Seeing glory in the future - The saints of God see the glory of Christ by faith as revealed to the inner man by the writings of especially the New Testament. At Jesusí second coming, when the body of this humble state is transformed into conformity with the body of His glory, "we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). This is the ultimate desire of Christ, as He expressed it in His prayer to His Father: "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). The heart of Jesus shows clearly, appealing on the basis of His Fatherís love, that His disciples eventually be able to see His glory. This is also the glory of the Father, expressed in the face of the Christ!
- Knowing the Father - This prayer began with an emphasis on knowing the Father. "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God," He opened, "and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (John 17:3). The close of Jesus is with these similar words: "O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me, and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:25,26).
These words of Jesusí prayer must never die out: Jesus makes the Fatherís name known to the disciples, "that the love with which the Father loved" Him might be in all disciples! Godís love for each disciple is incredible, and His ability to spread His love through His disciples is even more incredible. This was a plan in motion before the foundation of the world, and a plan to make His love known throughout the world. God is love!