And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. – John 17:11-12 ESV
Jesus knew what was about to happen to Him. He also believed and trusted that God was going to glorify Him after His coming death by raising Him back to life and restoring Him to His rightful position as the Son of God. Jesus was so confident that He spoke as if it was a done deal: “I am no longer in the world.” He was confident in His belief that He would soon be back at the side of His Father. With that in mind, Jesus prayed for those He would be leaving behind. He asked His Father to keep them in His name. This could mean to keep them loyal by the power of His name or it could mean to keep them loyal to all that Jesus revealed concerning the character and nature of God. Jesus’ request probably contains both meanings. After His departure, the disciples would be shepherdless and alone. They would be susceptible to attack and prone to wander, so Jesus asks the Father to keep them. The Greek word, tēreō means “to take care of or guard.” Jesus was asking the Father to preserve those whom He had given to His Son as His followers. With His coming departure from this world, Jesus was handing over the safe keeping of His disciples to His “Holy Father.” This is the only time in the New Testament that this particular form of address of God is used. “Holy” refers to God’s purity and righteousness. “Father” portrays the intimate personal relationship that a holy God has chosen to have with sinful men. The title “Holy Father” reveals the incredible nature of the status we enjoy as believers. Jesus has made it possible for us to have an intimate, child-and-father relationship with the sinless, holy God of the universe.
And for Jesus, the byproduct of this relationship with God should be unity among those who find themselves members of the family of God. Jesus knew that disunity and dissension would be real temptations for the disciples once He was gone. Their own sin natures and the attacks of Satan himself would be constant threats to their unity. He knew that God would have to keep them, care for and protect them, if they were going to remain faithful to the cause of Christ and unified in their love for one another. Jesus had already warned His disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18 ESV). Jesus knew that things were not going to be easy for His followers after His ascension. Yes, they would have the Holy Spirit to assist and empower them, but the threats would be real. The persecution would be intense. Jesus had told them, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). But Jesus was completely confident that His Holy Father would keep them and give them a supernatural measure of unity. During His earthly ministry, He had watched as His rag-tag band of disciples had remained with Him. He had not lost a single one of the men God had given to Him, except Judas, “the son of destruction.” But Jesus had not really “lost” Judas. His role had been predicted from long ago. The Old Testament had prophesied the betrayal of the Messiah by Judas hundreds of years before. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9 ESV). “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office!” (Psalm 109:6-8 ESV). The betrayal of Jesus by Judas had been a part of God’s divine plan from the very beginning. Jesus did not “lose” him. It was Judas who left Jesus, turning Him over to the authorities in order to make a profit off his former teacher and friend.
But for the rest, Jesus prayed for God’s divine protection, asking His Father to preserve them, keep them, empower them and unify them. He would soon be leaving, but He was not going to leave them alone or defenseless. He would provide them with the Holy Spirit. He would leave them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God, their Holy Father. They would have divine power and protection. The eleven followers God had given Jesus would go on to radically change the world. They would be transformed from cowering, fearful and defeated men into powerful spokesmen for the cause of Christ, spreading the good news of salvation in Him alone all around the world. We too, as Christ’s followers, enjoy this same divine protection and are constantly being preserved by our loving Holy Father. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide, empower and comfort us. We have God Himself to go before us, fighting our battles and defending us against our own sin natures and the attacks of the enemy. And we can rest easy knowing the Jesus Himself sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding daily on our behalf.