The Lord Prays for our church
The Lord Prays for Our CHURCH (John 17:20-26)
A principal obligation of Jesus at this very time is to pray for His church. He began this praying for His church the night before His cross. After praying for Himself (vv. 1-5), Jesus prayed for the eleven with Him in the upper room (vv. 6-19). But beyond that, He saw the future and prayed for the world church for all the ages yet to come.
In this prayer, Jesus asked only one thing—that all of His followers be one. As the church grew, the greater the risk that it would be divided. In light of that, Jesus did not pray for the church's numerical strength, financial stability, or worldly visibility. He prayed for His church's unity. That unity would ensure the victory of the church's mission in the world.
Jesus Prays for the Reality of the Unity
Jesus' singular request is "that all of them may be one." His emphasis rests on the totality of believers (all) and the necessity of the unity (one). He prays that we might continually be one. In the nature of the case, unity cannot be occasional or sporadic. This unity is not the same as unanimity or loss of identity. It does not turn us into Christian clones. You can see this unity remarkably fulfilled in the first eleven followers of Jesus with their diversity of temperament. No one could confuse Peter with John.
Jesus gives us an analogy or illustration of this unity: "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" (v. 21a). The unity we have is like that of the Trinity. God is the center of our unity, and those who share His life are naturally drawn together as one. What holds genuine Christians together? Is it merely affection, feeling, or even purpose? No. The only thing that can hold believers together is to be caught up into the life of God Himself. There is an interchange of energy and vitality within Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The relationship of believers is like the interchange of life within the body (Rom. 12:5). Yet in this unity, we do not lose our individuality. Just as the Father and Son are One yet distinct, so are all believers.
Jesus Reveals the Intentionality in Unity
Our unity is for a purpose: "so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (v. 21b). How does the church convince the world of the central claim of the Christian faith? We can never convince the world of the truth of our message by numbers or physical resources. The world will be convinced that Jesus' message is divine when they see believers in unity. The unity of our church is the chief testimony that Jesus is indeed God's emissary. In our kind of divided world, such a united community is supernatural. The early church did in fact do that. In Jesus Christ the deepest divisions did disappear.
Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female were lost in the oneness of the new life (see Gal. 3:28).
The agency of this unity is joint participation in the glory of God reveals in Jesus Christ: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one" (v. 22). The glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is the presentation of God in His life that cannot be overlooked, avoided, or stepped around (John 1:14). When all believers gaze at that glory, they are united into one. To be drawn closer to the Light draws us close together.
For this reason, the church should not blame the world for not believing the message. We cannot point at the world and shame the world for not heeding. If we had been more perfectly one, the world would have been more perfectly believing.
Jesus Asks for Our Destiny in the Unity
As He prays, our Lord makes a specific request: "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am" (v. 24). He looks ahead to our presence in heaven with Him (14:3). He had a specific reason for desiring us to be there.
The reason for the request is that we might see His glory (v. 24). He wants us to behold, gaze at, and share in His perfect glory in the presence of the Father. Even now we are being changed from one shade of glory to the next as we see him indirectly through the Word (2 Cor. 3:18). Then we will see Him and be changed to be like Him (1 John 3:2).
In a very real sense all Christians are practicing now that unity which will be fully seen only when we spend eternity gazing at His glory. To be caught up into that eternal glory will truly and finally make us to be one.