20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:20-26 ESV
The 11 disciples are being given the privilege of listening in as Jesus prays to the Father on their behalf. Overhearing this “private” conversation was providing them with a glimpse into the intimate relationship shared between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. But it also seems clear that Jesus meant for them to hear His prayer because He wanted to encourage them. He knew they were full of fear and struggling with doubt. The thought of losing their teacher and friend, whom they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah, had left them confused. So, Jesus allowed them to eavesdrop in on His prayer so they would better understand what was about to happen.
The Good Shepherd was preparing to lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), but He was turning over the care of the flock to His Father. In His absence, they would find themselves in the highly capable hands of God Almighty. And Jesus requests the Father to “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15 ESV) and that He “sanctify them in the truth” (John 17:16 ESV). When Jesus left, they would remain behind, but they would not find themselves alone and unprotected. Their sorrow would be turned to joy. Their devasted hope would be renewed as they witnessed Jesus in His resurrected state. And their confidence would soar as they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to John, who recorded this prayer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, generations of believers have been allowed to listen in as Jesus prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples. And Jesus made sure that these future followers would also receive encouragement and insight from His private petition to the Father.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” – John 17:20 ESV
Even before He has gone to the cross, Jesus prophetically proclaims the effectiveness of His mission. He will sacrifice His life on behalf of the sheep and His faithful undershepherds will carry the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection to the world. And the result will be the “ransom of many” (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus was fully confident that His sacrificial death would result in the salvation of all those who had been given to Him by His Heavenly Father. His death would be, as the theologians like to put it, efficacious or effective. Not a single drop of His atoning blood would go to waste. As the author of Hebrews puts it, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life would not be in vain.
Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT
His seemingly wasteful and meaningless death would end up producing a rich and bountiful harvest, just as He had told His disciples.
“…unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:24 NLT
And as Jesus looks into the future, He prays on behalf of all those who would place their faith in His sacrificial, substitutionary death on their behalf. His desire is that they experience the joy of unity and the hope of future glorification.
His first request is for a spirit of unity among all of His followers. And He is very specific as to what He means.
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:21 NLT
Jesus is not describing some kind of monochromatic homogeneity where all believers look and sound the same. He is expressing that His followers reflect the same kind of unity that He shares with the Father. They are unified by their love for one another and by their commitment to redeem and restore the world they have made. They share a common mission to recreate and renovate what sin has marred. And Jesus, out of love for His Father, has faithfully carried out His commission and will soon complete the final task given to Him, setting in motion the final phase of God’s divine redemptive plan. And Jesus’ greatest desire is that His followers would share in that undistracted and unwavering commitment to the divine mission. And this request of Jesus would be fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit, who by indwelling each believer would permanently unite them to God the Father and God the Son.
And it is this spiritual union with the Godhead that provides the proof or evidence of the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrificial death. The ability of Jesus’ followers to live in unity, despite their many differences, will reflect the life-transforming nature of the Gospel.
Back in chapter 13, John recorded a message Jesus gave to His disciples.
“I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 1334-35 NLT
But their ability to carry out this command would not be possible until Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit. It would be the indwelling and empowering presence of the Spirit of God that made mutual love and unity achievable among the increasingly diverse and disparate followers of Jesus. The unity for which Jesus prayed would come about through the work of God’s Spirit. And the result would be a miraculous ingathering and unifying of people from all walks of life and every conceivable background.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT
Jesus explains that this supernatural unity has been made possible because He has faithfully shared the glory given to Him by God.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” – John 17:22 NLT
But what does this mean? How did Jesus share God’s glory and what does this have to do with the unity of His followers? Well, to understand what Jesus means we have to go all the way back to chapter one, where John describes the incarnation of Jesus.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV
By taking on human flesh, the Son of God made the glory of God visible. Through His miracles and messages, Jesus revealed Himself to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He made the glory of God known to men and, for all those who believed Him to be who He claimed to be, they were united to God through faith in Him. Their acceptance of Jesus as the manifested glory of the invisible God resulted in their restoration to a right relationship with God. And, as Jesus puts it, this reunion with God the Father is what makes it possible for His followers to live in unity and so prove to be His disciples.
“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” – John 17:23 NLT
The lives of the disciples would end up bringing glory to God on earth. And all those who would come to faith in Christ through their ministry and message would do the same. But Jesus fast-forwards and expresses His desire that all His disciples experience the future glorification that will result in their reuniting with Him in heaven.
“Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” – John 17:24 NLT
The ultimate goal behind Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was the justification of sinful men and women so that they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. But this wonderful truth will not be fully fulfilled until Jesus returns again and makes possible the future glorification of our mortal bodies so that we might spend eternity with He and the Father. The apostle Paul expresses this hope in clear and compelling terms.
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT
Jesus had His eyes fixed on the far-distant future. His ability to face death was made possible by His understanding of its ultimate outcome. And the author of Hebrews used Jesus’ example of confident hope as an inspiration to all those who follow in His steps, so that we might remain steadfast to the end.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.