The High Priestly Prayer
April 26, 2009
|Today we’re back to John and finally at chapter 17 – I’m confident that we will finish this book, someday. This entire chapter is Jesus’ prayer - for Himself and for His disciples and for us, His future believers. It is often called the High Priestly Prayer. As we’ll soon see, it’s a passionate prayer, a prayer to overcome the power of Satan and set believers apart. Before we get in to it let’s listen to the words of Henry Blackaby regarding this battle between the son of perdition and our Savior.Today, Henry Blackaby speaks about “God's Complete Protection”, and quotes John 17:12, which says:“While I was with them,I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me.I guarded them and not one of them is lost,except the son of destruction,so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.”—John 17:12Nothing that Satan can do to you should cause you to fear (2 Tim. 1:7). Jesus chose the twelve disciples the Father had given Him and then jealously guarded them from the evil one. Jesus sent His disciples into the world where they experienced difficult and dangerous circumstances, but He interceded on their behalf with His Father that they would have His strong protection from the evil one (John 17:15).In the same way, Jesus said that we, as His sheep, are held securely in the Father's strong hand (John 10:28). There is no better place to be than safely in the hand of almighty God. Do you believe this, or are you fearful of what Satan or people can do to you? The apostle John encourages us that we do not need to fear: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). This is not merely a theological concept but a profound reality in which you can have absolute confidence. It is not just a truth for meditation in the security of your home; it is a promise you can cling to in the midst of a hostile and menacing world.What you do reveals what you believe. If you are living a fearful, anxiety-filled life, you are proving your lack of confidence in God's protection, regardless of what you may say. Live your life with confidence that Jesus is continually interceding with the Father on your behalf. If you trust Him completely, you will have nothing to fear.Did you hear that last statement? Jesus is continually interceding on our behalf. What have we to fear?Let’s read today’s key Scripture passage. Please turn to John chapter 17 and we’ll begin reading at verse 1. While I’m reading, listen for the three divisions; prayer for Himself, prayer for His disciple, prayer for us. It’s a long passage, but one which should bring you great joy. Let’s begin: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, |
since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
i glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
At this point, Jesus begins to pray for His disciples. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
"I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.
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.
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
i do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. Now, listen as He concludes by praying specifically for us.
"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.
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
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.
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.
O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
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." Most scholars who have sought to harmonize the accounts in the four Gospels have the Lord Jesus praying the prayer of John 17 in the Upper Room after He had finished His instructions to the disciples. Then He and the disciples sang the traditional Passover psalms, left the Upper Room, and headed for the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had been accustomed to meet with them and pray (see Matthew 26:30-46 and Mark 14:26-42). Whether He prayed it in the Upper Room or en route to the Garden, this much is sure: it is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer recorded anywhere in Scripture. John 17 is certainly the “holy of holies” of the Gospel record, and we must approach this chapter in a spirit of humility and worship. To think that we are privileged to listen in as God the Son converses with His Father just as He is about to give His life as a ransom for sinners! No matter what events occurred later that evening, this prayer makes it clear that Jesus was and is the Overcomer. He was not a “victim”; He was and is the Victor! “Be of good cheer,” He had encouraged His disciples in John 16; “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The word world is used nineteen times in this prayer, so it is easy to see the connection between the prayer and John 16:33. If you and I will understand and apply the truths revealed in this profound prayer, it will enable us to be overcomers too. The progression of thought in this prayer is not difficult to discover. Jesus first prayed for Himself and told the Father that His work on earth was finished (John 17:1-5). Then He prayed for His disciples, that the Father would keep them and sanctify them, set them apart for His holy service. (John 17:6-19). He closed His prayer by praying for you and me and the whole church, that we might be unified in Him and one day share His glory (John 17:20-26). Why did Jesus pray this prayer? Certainly He was preparing Himself for the sufferings that lay ahead. As He contemplated the glory that the Father promised Him, He would receive new strength for His sacrifice (Heb. 12:1-3). But He also had His disciples in mind (John 17:13). What an encouragement this prayer should have been to them! He prayed about their security, their joy, their unity, and their future glory! He also prayed it for us today, so that we would know all that He has done for us and given to us, and all that He will do for us when we get to heaven. In this prayer, our Lord declares four wonderful privileges we have as His children, privileges that help to make us overcomers. Our Lord began this prayer by praying for Himself, but in praying for Himself, He was also praying unselfishly. “A prayer for self is not by any means necessarily a selfish prayer,” wrote Dr. R.A. Torrey, and an examination of Bible prayers shows that this is true. Our Lord’s burden to glorify the Father, and this glory would be realized in His finished work on the cross. The servant of God has every right to ask his Father for the help needed to glorify His name. “Father, the hour is come,” reminds us of the many times in John’s Gospel when “the hour” is mentioned, beginning at John 2:4. Jesus had lived on a “divine timetable” while on earth and He knew He was in the will of the Father. He realized His time was in the Father’s hands just as David’s was when he prayed, “My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! ” (Ps. 31:15).The important word glory is used five times in these verses, and we must carefully distinguish the various “glories” that Jesus mentions. In verse 5, He referred to His preincarnate glory with the Father, the glory that He laid aside when He came to earth to be born, to serve, to suffer, and to die. In verse 4, He reported to the Father that His life and ministry on earth had glorified Him, because He (Jesus) had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. In verses 1 and 5, our Lord asked that His preincarnate glory be given to Him again, so that the Son might glorify the Father in His return to heaven. The word glory in this prayer is an important theme. He glorified the Father in His miracles (John 2:11; 11:40), to be sure; but He brought the greatest glory to the Father through His sufferings and death (see John 12:23-25; 13:31-32). From the human point of view, Calvary was a revolting display of man’s sin; but from the divine point of view, the cross revealed and magnified the grace and glory of God. Jesus anticipated His return to heaven when He said, I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4). This “work” included His messages and miracles on earth (John 5:17-19), the training of the disciples for future service, and most of all, His sacrifice on the cross (Heb. 9:24-28; 10:11-18). It is on the basis of this “finished work” that we as believers have the gift of eternal life (John 17:2-3). Another repeated word is “give”. The word give is used in one form or another in this prayer at least seventeen times. Seven times Jesus states that believers are the Father’s gift to His Son (John 17:2, 6, 9, 11-12, 24). We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Father’s love gift to us (John 3:16), but the Lord affirms that believers are the Father’s “love gift” to His beloved Son! “Eternal [everlasting] life” is an important theme in John’s Gospel; it is also mentioned at least seventeen times. Eternal life is God’s free gift to those who believe on His Son (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:47; 10:28). The Father gave His Son the authority to give eternal life to those whom the Father gave to the Son. From the human viewpoint, we receive the gift of eternal life when we believe on Jesus Christ. But from the divine viewpoint, we have already been given to the Son in divine election. We were given to the Son and were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life since time began. This is a mystery that the human mind cannot fully understand or explain; we must accept it by faith. What gets us “eternal life”? It is knowing God personally. Not just knowing about Him, but having a personal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot know the Father apart from the Son (John 14:6-11). It is not enough simply to “believe in God”; this will never save a lost soul from eternal hell. James says, “The devils [demons] also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Our Lord’s debate with the Jewish leaders from John 8:12 on to 20 makes it clear that people may be devoutly religious and still not know God. Eternal life is not something we earn by character or conduct; it is a gift we receive by admitting we are sinners, repenting, and believing on Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. There is in heaven today a glorified Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ! Because He has been glorified in heaven, sinners can be saved on earth. Anyone who trusts Jesus Christ will receive the gift of eternal life. That’s the story of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Because we share His life, we are overcomers; for we also share His victory! “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” (1 John 5:4). Christ has given His own eternal life to us. Let’s look at John 17:2: since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him, but He has also given us the revelation of the Father’s name. Look at John 17:6 "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. The Old Testament Jew knew his God as “Jehovah,” the great I AM (Ex. 3:11-14). Jesus took this sacred name “I AM” and made it meaningful to His disciples: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35); “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Jesus revealed the Father’s gracious name by showing His disciples that He was everything they needed: bread, light, and protected sheep! But the Father’s name includes much more than this, for Jesus also taught His disciples that God—the great I AM—was their Heavenly Father. In His messages to the Jews, Jesus made it clear that the Father sent Him, that He was equal to the Father, and that His words and works came from the Father. It was a clear claim to Deity, but they refused to believe. In the Bible, “name” refers to “nature,” because names so often were given to reveal something special about the nature of the person bearing the name. Jacob was a schemer, and his name comes from a Hebrew root that means “to take by the heel,” i.e., to trip up, to deceive (Gen. 25:26). The name Isaac means “laughter” (Gen. 21:6) because he brought joy to Abraham and Sarah. Even the name Jesus reveals that He is the Savior (Matt. 1:21) Emmanuel – God with us. (Matt 1:23). When Jesus says “I have manifested Your name” He means “I have revealed the nature of God.” One of the ministries of the Son was to declare the Father (John 1:18). Jesus did not instantly reveal the Father in a blaze of blinding glory, because His disciples could not have endured that kind of experience. Gradually, by His words and His deeds, He revealed to them the nature of God, as they were able to bear it (John 16:12). Let’s look at the second part of Jesus’ prayer – the prayer for His disciples. The emphasis in this section is on the safety of the believer; God keeps His own (John 17:11-12). Our safety depends on the nature of God, not our own character or conduct. When He was on earth, Jesus kept His disciples and they could depend on Him. “I kept them in Your name”, He says John 17:12. If the limited Savior, in a human body, could keep His own while He was on earth, should He not be able to keep them now that He is glorified in heaven? He and the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, are surely able to guard and secure us - God’s people! Furthermore, God’s people are the Father’s gift to His Son. How precious we are in His sight! How He watches over us and even now prays for us! Whenever you feel as though the Lord has forgotten you, or that His love seems far away, read Romans 8:28-39 — and rejoice! Our security rests in another fact: we are here to glorify Him (John 17:10). With all of their failures and faults, the disciples still receive this word of commendation: “I am glorified in them.” Whatever God starts, He finishes (Phil. 1:6). And the same goes for us. We bring glory to God.God has provided the divine resources for us to glorify Him and be faithful. We have His Word (John 17:7-8), and His Word reveals to us all that we have in Jesus Christ. The Word gives us faith and assurance. We have the Son of God interceding for us (John 17:9; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14-16). Since the Father always answers the prayers of His Son (John 11:41-42), this intercessory ministry helps to keep us safe and secure. We also have the fellowship and unity of the church, His bride: “that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). The New Testament knows nothing of isolated believers; wherever you find saints, you find them in fellowship. Why? Because God’s people need each other. Jesus opened His Upper Room message by washing the disciples’ feet and teaching them to minister to one another. In the hours that would follow, these men (including confident Peter!) would discover how weak they were and how much they needed each other’s encouragement. We are one with Christ; we are one with His bride. Scripture says we will be known for our love for one another. (Jn 13:35) We are overcomers because we share His life. We have fellowship with Him and unity with the brethren. This fellowship with Christ and His bride gives us strength to endure when time get tough. There is a third privilege that enables us to overcome. “I have given them Your Word” (John 17:14, and see v. 8). The Word of God is the gift of God to us. The Father gave the words to His Son (John 17:8), and the Son gave them to His disciples who, in turn, have passed them along to us as they were inspired by the Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Word is divine in origin, a precious gift from heaven. We must never take God’s Word for granted, for those who are overcomers know the Word and how to use it in daily life. How does the Word of God enable us to overcome the world? To begin with, it gives us joy (John 17:13); and this inward joy gives us the strength to overcome (Neh. 8:10). We commonly think of Jesus Christ as “a man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3), and indeed He was; but He was also a person of deep abiding joy. John 17:13 is the very heart of this prayer, and its theme is joy! Jesus explained that joy comes through knowing any sorrows we suffer will be as birth pangs(John 16:20-22). Joy also comes from answered prayer (John 16:23-24). Now Jesus made it clear that joy comes from the Word also. The believer does not find his joy in the world but in the Word. Like John the Baptist, we should rejoice greatly when we hear the Bridegroom’s voice! (John 3:29) Listen to the words of John the Baptist found in chapter 3, verse 29: The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. We must never picture Jesus going around with a long face or a melancholy disposition. He was a man of joy and He revealed that joy to others. His joy was not fleeting levity but the abiding enjoyment of the Father and the Word. He did not depend on outward circumstances but on inward spiritual resources that were hidden from the world. This is the kind of joy He wants us to have, and we can have it through His Word. The world competes for the Father’s love (1 John 2:15-17), but the Word of God enables us to enjoy the Father’s love. One of the first steps toward a worldly life is the neglect of the Word of God. D.L. Moody wrote in the front of his Bible, “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.” Just as the pillar of fire was darkness to the Egyptians but light to Israel, so God’s Word is our light in this dark world. (1 Cor. 2:12-16). The Word of God not only brings us God’s joy and love, but it also imparts God’s power for holy living (John 17:15-17). The burden of our Lord’s prayer in John 17:6-12 was security, but here it is sanctity, practical holy living to the glory of God. We are in the world but not of the world, and we must not live like the world. True sanctification (being set apart for God) comes through the ministry of the Word of God. “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). When you were saved, you were set apart for God. As you grow in your faith, you are more and more experiencing sanctification. You love sin less and you love God more. You want to serve Him and be a blessing to others. All of this comes through the Word. With the mind, we learn God’s truth through the Word. With the heart, we love God’s truth, His Son. With the will, we yield to the Spirit and live God’s truth day by day. It takes all three for a balanced experience of sanctification. It is not enough merely to study the Bible and learn a great deal of doctrinal truth. We must also love Jesus Christ more as we learn all that He is and all He has done for us. Learning and loving should lead to living, allowing the Spirit of God to enable us to obey His Word. This is how we glorify Him in this present evil world. The Word gives us joy, love, and power to live a holy life. It also gives us what we need to serve Him as witnesses in this world (John 17:18-19). Sanctification is so that we might represent Christ in this world and win others to Him. Jesus set Himself apart for us, and now He has set us apart for Him. The Father sent Him into the world, and now He sends us into the world. Jesus is now in heaven, praying for us, that our witness will bear fruit as many repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. As we move to the last section of Jesus prayer, our Lord focuses our attention on the future. He begins to pray for us who live today, for the whole church throughout all ages. He has already prayed about security and sanctity; now the burden of His prayer is unity. He is concerned that His people experience a spiritual unity that is like the oneness of the Father and the Son. The disciples had often exhibited a spirit of selfishness, competition, and disunity; and this must have broken the Savior’s heart. I wonder how He feels when He sees the condition of the church today! The Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks wrote: “Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.” What is the basis for true Christian unity? All true believers have God’s glory within, no matter what they may look like on the outside. Christian harmony is not based on the externals of the flesh but the internals and eternals of the Spirit in the inner person. We must look beyond our first birth—race, color, abilities, etc.—and build our fellowship on our new birth. People do not see us and glorify us; they see the Lord and glorify Him (Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). One of the things that most impresses the world is the way Christians love each other and live together in harmony. It is this witness that our Lord wants in the world “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). The lost world cannot see God, but they can see us, can’t they?; and what they see in us is what they will believe about God. If they see love and unity, they will believe that God is love. If they see hatred and division, they will reject the message of the Gospel.Jesus has assured us that some will believe because of our witness (John 17:20), but we must make sure that our witness is true and loving. There is every reason why believers should love one another and live in unity. We trust the same Savior and share the same glory. We will one day enjoy the same heaven! We belong to the same Father and seek to do the same work, witnessing to a lost world that Jesus Christ alone saves from sin. We believe the same truth, even though we may have different views of minor doctrinal matters; and we follow the same example that Jesus set for His people, to live a holy life. Yes, believers do have their differences; but we have much more in common, and this should encourage us to love one another and promote true spiritual unity. The EFC doctrinal statement puts it this way: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, charity. How do we know that Christians go to heaven? Because of the price that Jesus paid (1 Thes. 5:9-10), and the promise that Jesus made (John 14:1-6), and the prayer that Jesus prayed (John 17:24). The Father always answers His Son’s prayers, so we know that believers who die do go to heaven to behold the glory of God. In John 17:25-26, there are no petitions. Jesus declared that the world does not know the Father, but that we believers know Him because the Son has revealed the Father to us. The world certainly has many opportunities to get to know the Father, but it prefers to go on in blindness and hardness of heart. Our task as Christians is to bear witness to the lost world and share God’s saving message. As you review this prayer, you see the spiritual priorities that were in the Savior’s heart: the glory of God; the sanctity of God’s people; the unity of the church; the ministry of sharing the Gospel with a lost world. We today would be wise to focus on these same priorities. One day, each of us will have to give an account of his or her ministry. It is a solemn thought that we shall stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give our “final report.” I trust that we will be able to say, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. ” (John 17:4).