Intro: Do you know how I can find out what interests you, even without knowing you very well? I could listen to your prayers. If we can assume that a person is genuine in their expression, we can recognize that people who pray, pray about what is important to them.
What was Jesus interested in? What did He desire?
Shortly before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus prayed to His Father, as recorded in John 17. Some have typified this prayer as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is easy to make that connection, as Jesus speaks to the Father about the fulfillment of His mission on earth, and asks the Father to accept what He is about to do for the lost world, by glorifying the Son, so that the Son can glorify the Father. (17:1)
What is evident from an overall view of john 17 is that Jesus’ greatest concern at this time was the well-being of His disciples. He specifically prays for the eleven who are listening to His words (v. 6-19), but also for all those disciples who will afterward believe on Jesus through the apostolic message. Thus, this prayer is an integral part of the gospel call, as it reveals the desires of Jesus towards those He calls. The gospel is the good news about what God has done for me, what God wants me to do, and what He wants for me. What does Jesus want for us?
I. Jesus Prayed for the Unity of the Apostles – John 17:6-11 – “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. 9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
A. In v. 6-11, Jesus prayed concerning the eleven apostles who were with Him following the Passover observance. Notice what he reveals in His intercession in their behalf:
1. v. 6 – The Father had given Jesus these apostles out of the world.
2. v. 8 – They have believed the words Jesus taught and been obedient to His words. They believe that Jesus came from the Father. Jesus had fulfilled His mission.
3. v. 10 – all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. – What a profound statement of mutuality. Luther points out that every man can say the first part – all that I have belongs to You, the Father; but only Jesus could dare say the former part – All that you, the Father have, belongs to Me. This all points to more than just the earthly things that corresponded to Jesus’ mission, but to ALL things. It is this unity that is the foundation of Jesus’ prayer.
a. Because the Father and Jesus are One, so those who belong to the Father also belong to the Son; and those who belong to the Son also belong to the Father. The unity of the Father and Son make it possible for Jesus to be glorified in the faith and obedience of the disciples (whom the Father had given to Him).
4. v. 11 – He prayed that the Father would “keep” them through “His name”. The word “keep” means to guard or protect. They are not leaving the world, and thus are in danger of being influenced by it.
a. Your “name” (of the Father) here refers to the power of God exercised through His word. Jesus has already said He had given them the Father’s name (word) –v. 6 – and they believed it, and were able to bring glory to Jesus through it. But the world would spurn the name the Father had given them, so Jesus prays that the Father would protect them through this name. He prays that this protection would cause the apostles to be One as We are one”
b. not become one, but stay one –We might notice that the verb here is aorist tense, as if Jesus were praying that the apostles might become one. But rather that they might remain one, having already been made one through the name of the Father. Lenski says this… He prays only for this, that the oneness already established may remain unbroken by the guardian care of the Father. How will it be kept intact? By keeping the disciples “in the name,” in the Word, in the utterances of Jesus…How may this oneness be endangered, how may a disciple drop out of it? By any teaching or doctrine contrary to the Word. This cuts into the bond that ties the disciples together and may easily cut it altogether and thus sever some of the disciples from the oneness, dropping them back into the world. The entire prayer has the one great burden that we may be preserved in oneness by complete adherence to the Word.
c. “One as We are One” – The oneness of the apostles was to correspond to the oneness of the Father and Son. Although the Father and Son are one in the absolute sense of One God – shared deity – the apostles could not have joined them in this oneness. Thus the force of these words is analogy, not identity. The apostles could join the Father and Son in the singleness of purpose, intent, and relationship to each other. They were to remain one in their connection with God through their obedience to the word (name) of the Father.
II. Jesus Prayed for the Unity of All Disciples (You and me!) We recognize that Jesus’ interest in oneness extended beyond the apostles, even though they would face enormous tests. But He also prays for those who would come to believe through the apostolic message. Unity of the Spirit is an inherent element of the call of the Gospel. John 17:20-23 – “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me .22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
A. We can notice that this request for unity is expressed in the same language as the previous one. Notice a couple of important elements of Jesus’ request…
1. v. 20 – The unity of these disciples would be based on their word (words of the apostles).
2. The prayer is that the unity that is created will continue to exist – that they will continue to be one.
3. v. 21 – The oneness that Jesus prays for is analogous to the unity of the Father and the Son (as We are One)
4. v. 23 – The effect of this continuing unity is faith. “that the world may believe.”
B. The Importance of Unity – The fact that Jesus prays for the unity of His disciples twice should indicate to us how important it is to the gospel message and God’s purposes. This unity was not a sentimental call for all of us to get along. Jesus was praying for the fulfillment of His spiritual mission in the lives of His disciples. What God had joined together was to stay together.
C. Unity and the Mission of God. “That the world may believe” – John 17:21“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
1. The unity of God’s people is evangelistic. In that sense, it is crucial to the mission of God. This is true in at least two ways. 1) United with the word – 2) United with each other.
a. Jesus is praying for a continuing unity of the disciples that flows from the single message of the apostles. The unity of the apostles was to be maintained by the Father through His name (word) that had been given to them. This unity was created by revelation of the Spirit of God to the apostles – a unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) – and was to be maintained through a common obedience to the revealed word. The success of our efforts to teach the lost is dependent on our commitment to teaching only what God has revealed in the apostolic message. Acts 20:26-30 – Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. v. 32 – “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
• Paul warned against those who would teach another gospel (Gal. 1.
• He also called for the Corinthians to speak the same thing and be united together. He then told them… 1 Cor 2:2 – “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
• There can be no real unity apart from agreement and obedience to the objective message delivered through the apostles. Acts 2:42 – the church continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine.
b. We can also recognize the importance of our personal unity with each to the mission of God. Without unity, it is difficult to persuade unbelievers that Jesus came from God. Those in the world care less about doctrine and theological distinctions than visible personal unity and peace. Notice this influence in the Jerusalem church in Acts 2. Acts 2:44-47 – 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
• Philippians 2:2-5 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. There is no place for selfish ambition or conceit. We must esteem others highly, and look out for their interests.
• This is not to say that doctrine is not important! We just made that point. But the proclamation of truth must be accompanied by the personal unity of the church. When we are united in Christ, it gives credence to our claims.
2. The Glory that maintains Unity – John 17:22 – 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: In vs. 22 Jesus says that the Father has provided “Glory” that we might be one. Glory which He had received from the Father. What Jesus gave to His disciples that He received from the Father had enabled them to be united.
a. What is this “glory” to which Jesus refers?
• It may refer to the identity of Jesus as God’s divine Son. God’s people would be united as a body through their belief in Jesus and their willingness to confess that faith. (Matt. 16:18 – “upon this rock I will build my church”)
• It may refer to the opportunity to suffer as Jesus is ready to suffer. By His willingness to give His life, the disciples would see His glory, and be committed to give their own lives for each other. Whatever the “glory” refers to, we should note that true unity comes from Jesus Himself. – (Eph. 4:15-16 – to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”)
3. What does our unity say to the unbelievers? Consider 17:23
a. That Jesus was sent from God – that He was the Son of God who rose from the dead. The power of the resurrection in proclaimed through the unity of the disciples. What other event could explain the extreme faith of the early church, or the complete change in disciples such as Saul of Tarsus. The unity of the Jew and Gentile in the one body was evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.
b. That God loves them –v. 23 – and have loved them as You have loved Me. The world needs to know, not only that Jesus was sent by God, but also that God loves them. This is the heart of the gospel. Jn 3:16 -God so loved the world. God loves the world, even as He loves His only begotten Son (“as You have loved Me”)! What a powerful message we have to share with the world! God loves them even as He loves His Son! But to convince the world of such love, unity among disciples is imperative!
• Jesus made it personal to every disciple in John 13:33-35 – 33 Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you.34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unity is the evidence that He lives in our hearts – that He has transformed our lives by the power of His resurrected life! — Francis Schaeffer calls unity “the final apologetic“
Conclusion: Unity is maintained through obedience to the Words of Christ. Religious division occurs because people accept different standards of authority. Some accept the authority of a pope, presbytery, prophet, or preacher. We cannot maintain the unity for which Jesus died unless we can agree on the same standard. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe;
With His doctrine before us, His mind in us, we can maintain the unity Jesus attained. With lives transformed by His teachings and His attitude, we provide visible proof to the world that Jesus did come from God and that the Father loves them also.