I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:21-22 ESV
Jesus has just finished asking God the Father to sanctify the disciples in the truth, the truth of the Word. But He qualifies and clarifies His request by expanding it to include all “those who will believe in me through their word.” This sanctification process made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and based on the truth of God’s Word would result in oneness – a unity based on conformity to the Word of God. Jesus is not asking His Father to make it so everyone would just get along. No, He is asking for sanctification – an increasing spiritual transformation in the lives of His disciples and every subsequent Christ-follower to come. He is asking for the same kind of unity that He and the Father share. He is not talking about friendship, but a unity based on a shared will and a common desire to glorify God. The unity Jesus prayed for was based on the kind of unity He knew intimately well. He knew the will of His Father and He desired nothing more than to see it fulfilled – in His life and in the world. I think that is why, in His model prayer, Jesus gave us the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). Jesus and His Father were completely unified when it came to the divine plan for mankind. There was never any disunity or disagreement between the two as to what needed to be done and what Jesus’ role was to be. In the garden Jesus did pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). His humanity would have preferred a different path than the one chosen for Him by God. But because He and the Father were one, Jesus was willing to submit His will to the One He trusted and loved. Jesus knew the Father well. He knew His heart and was intimately aware of His character. He did not doubt the Father’s love for Him. He did not question the Father’s plans for Him. They were one.
So Jesus prayed that all His followers would experience the same kind of oneness that He and His Father enjoyed. A oneness or unity based on the truth of God’s Word and the unchanging character of God that it reveals. To be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word is to be constantly transformed by the growing awareness of God’s loving, sovereign, perfect plan for mankind as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is to be increasingly convinced of the supernatural reality of Christ’s redemptive work, the Father’s love, the world’s lostness, and our God-ordained commission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone we meet. When Jesus prays for our unity, He is asking for so much more than just a let’s-get-along mentality. He is asking for more than just agreement over doctrine and a mutual assent to certain theological truths. He is praying for the same kind of non-negotiable unity that He and the Father share. We can waste so much time debating and disagreeing over issues of doctrine and lose sight of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. We can end up arguing over certain theological issues, defending our point of view and demanding our interpretation be accepted, all the while failing to seek that God’s Kingdom come and His will be done. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV) and “that he appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). How easy it is to forget those two truths and become obsessed with something other than the will of God.
It is interesting to note that the end result of our unity is not just to be horizontal in nature, but vertical. Our unity is ultimately to be with God and His Son. If our unity is merely horizontal in nature; in other words, if we just get along with one another, but lack an awareness of and submission to the will of God, it is wasted. There are cults, religions, organizations and groups of all kinds that share a oneness that is anything but godly. What Jesus prayed for was a growing godliness based on God’s Word and an increasing oneness with one another based on the same oneness He shared with His Father. He wanted us to share a common cause and commitment based on the will of God for mankind. And Jesus knew that when His followers were unified in that way, the world would know that He had been sent by the Father. In other words, when we, as His disciples, become convinced of God’s redemptive will and submit to it willingly, we will want what He wants. We will do everything in our power to see that His Kingdom come and His is done on this earth just as it is done in heaven. And the world will know that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God sent to provide salvation from sin and death and a restored relationship with God the Father.