The Great Prayer

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Gospel of John 17:1-26

17 1 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. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. ESV

Chapter 17 contains three prayers; first, Jesus prays to be glorified, then he prays for God to support his disciples in the world, and his third prayer is for all believers then and to come. These prayers are at times hard to follow because, as Ian Paul writes; There continue to be abrupt changes of subject, and a kind of circling around from one subject to another, with summary apophthegms [short, pithy, saying] along the way. And the prayer is marked by a distinctive mix of past and future, so that things that, within the narrative, are future are referred to in the past tense.  

We need to notice that there is no separation between the end of chapter 16 and this first verse. Jesus did not go anywhere, nor did the disciples. Jesus begins to pray aloud to continue teaching his followers even as he talks to his Father. This should not be confused with Matthew 6:5; Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. NET Here, Jesus is surrounded by his chosen ones who still need instruction.

As a side note, we have come to believe that we must bow our heads and close our eyes when we pray, but Jesus looked up to heaven. Our idea is based on Matthew 6:6. But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. NET I have been involved a couple of times in worship when everyone prayed aloud at the same time. That is distractive for me. Also, praying in a group with my eyes open encourages me to think more about the people I see than the prayer. For public worship, closed eyes are proper, at least for those of us who are less holy than the saints. When alone, open eyes looking up, follows Jesus’ example.

The time has come. This should remind us of the wedding at Cana when Jesus told his mother that his time had not yet come. John uses the word time thirty-nine times, fourteen of which refer to either Jesus’ ministry or his crucifixion, though the two cannot be separated. Many of the other uses are suggestive of the same idea.

It seems clear here that Jesus refers to the imminent crucifixion. Yet, the phrase always points to the event that ends Jesus’ ministry. The same can be said of every phase of Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection. God timed it all to the exact minute. If Jesus does not defeat death, there is no reason for his birth.

Here, Jesus speaks of a double glorification—God brings glory to Jesus and Jesus to God, all in the same act. Like time, glory is an essential term for John. He uses both glory and glorify sixteen times.

In verse 2, there are two Greek words worth looking at; exousia—force, competency, mastery, superhuman—authority from God, not humans. The second is sarx—the body as opposed to the soul (better than the first definition—meat stripped of skin), human being.

When we read that God gave authority to Jesus, we should never equate that with whatever authority a human holds, no matter how exalted the person. We should note that God gave authority over every human to Jesus, yet he could only give eternal life to those God gave to Jesus. The authority means that Jesus will give life to some, and the others will be given to Satan.

In verse 3, Jesus gives us the definition of eternal life. It is simple, to know and love God and Jesus.

This section ends with Jesus pointing out—for the disciples, not God—that he did what God sent him to do. He then asks to return to his throne in heaven.

“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. Now they understand that everything you have given me comes from you, because I have given them the words you have given me. They accepted them and really understand that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. NET

The Bible has many names for the Hebrew God, but none are His actual name. Nothing here suggests that the hidden name was given to the disciples. Instead, Jesus gave his disciples a more complete understanding of Yahweh. Traditionally, the name Yahweh was spoken only by priests in the Temple. Even today, in the synagogues, when a reader comes across the name Yahweh, Adoniah is spoken instead. The name Yahweh is the substitute for God’s real name considered too Holy to be spoken.

Names of God in the Old Testament. Yahweh; Originally YHWH, generally called the Tetragrammaton because only priests could pronounce it aloud in the Temple. It is found 6,828 times in Hebrew. Yahweh Sabaoth; Lord of Hosts in English, occurs 279 times. Elohim; the most common ‘generic’ name for God, is used 2,600 times from Genesis 1:1 onward. El; the most generic name used by many peoples in the region, is used 238 times for the Hebrew God. Eloah; another generic found only 57 times. Appellations with El: El Shaddai (God of the Mountains), El Elyon (God Most High), El Olam (God of Eternity), El Berith (God of the Covenant), and El Roi (The God of Seeing). Adonai (My Great Lord) is generally used today as a substitute for Yahweh. The source is Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, 1996.

Jesus revealed God to the men given to him. The Greek word used for men is anthropos, meaning men and women, or humans. But here, it most likely means the Twelve. Not only did Jesus teach the disciples, but they also obeyed. Jesus could have added, ‘even when they did not understand,’ but he was generous.

Despite the disciples’ lack of understanding about the importance of the crucifixion, we should not doubt that they believed God gave everything to Jesus. Before they became disciples, they knew God was the source for everything; it was basic Judaism.

Likewise, with verse 8, if they had not believed that Jesus came from God by this late date, all was lost. It is easy to laugh at their lack of understanding, but they had a much higher level of understanding of what Jesus was about than most of us today. Even before Pentecost, they had it all figured out; the Holy Spirit empowered them to act on what they knew.

“I am praying to you for them: I am not praying for the world but for the men whom you gave me, for they are yours—10 everything that is mine is yours and yours mine—and they have done me honour. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am returning to you. Holy Father, keep the men you gave me by your power that they may be one, as we are one. 12 As long as I was with them I kept them by the power that you gave me; I guarded them, and not one of them was destroyed, except the son of destruction—that the scripture might come true. Phillips

Jesus makes it very clear that he is praying for eleven men. Many others followed Jesus regularly, but this portion of the prayer is for the Eleven who faced great responsibilities in the early years. Most importantly, they were first-hand witnesses to explain Jesus and his message. But they also had the less glamorous job of organizing a network of churches, selecting leaders for those churches—eventually called bishops—and training the leadership in Christology. They also had to protect the churches from attacks, first from Jews then Gentiles. As the opposition became more intense, the Apostles began to die in their efforts. John alone survived that death.

Having stated that the disciples belong to God, Jesus adds for the benefit of the listening disciples that what belongs to God also belongs to Jesus. This idea is crucial for the understanding of the Trinity. Once we believe Jesus has everything God has, the Trinity becomes easier to accept.

Now I am no longer in the world, is another time jump. Jesus sees that his work is fulfilled, and he is looking forward to returning home. His homesickness is so intense he can imagine he is already there. Now it is time for Eleven to take over. ‘Father, give them the strength they need.’ The disciples need to hear Jesus say these words so they will know Jesus left them in good hands. We all need to hear these words.

That they may be one, is a very different request. Paul described the body of Christ as being made up of those who believe and follow his ways. We are one in Christ.

1 Corinthians 12: 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. NIV

Jesus gave God credit for giving him good men, and he added that he had kept them safe, all but one. Judas fulfilled the prophecies of his betrayal. The primary prophetic reference is in 2 Samual 16:20-17:3. It is the story of Ahithophel, King David’s best friend, who betrayed David by joining Absalom. When Absalom rejected Ahithophel, he hanged himself. Also, see Psalm 41:9

13 But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so they may experience my joy completed in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. NET

In verse 11, Jesus said he was not in the world, but here he says he is in the world. Thanks to Albert Einstein, we know it is possible to warp time. Perhaps Jesus saw both the now and the yet-to-be. I do not claim it is the case, only that God makes all things possible.

It is easier for us to believe that Jesus was thinking on more than one level, one on earth with the disciples and one in Heaven with his Father.

The joy Jesus speaks of is Heavenly joy that they (and we) can experience as a part of the body of Christ. Earthly joy is not the goal of being in Christ. We can experience joy as we view and walk through the beauty of the earth, but that is temporal and temporary. True and lasting joy can only come from God. Back in John 15:11, Jesus said,  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. And in 16:24, he added, Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Verse 14 should be a warning to anyone who wants to follow Jesus. You will become a foreigner, not of this world. People will no longer understand you. Most of us try to keep one foot on earth and one in Christ, leading to watered-down Christianity. At worst, it can lead us away from Christ, even as we think we are being faithful.

Giving money to Heifer International or Bread for the World is good, but we never know the hungry people. Jesus walked and talked with people. He touched and was touched. Most Americans have money to give to those in need, and we should give it. But that does not absolve us from participation. There are thousands of local programs that work daily with needy people. Give them some of your time.

Is your church actually encouraging all kinds of people to attend? Are you willing to sit beside a person who has no place to bathe? Is your church active in local help programs? Do you help? Think about how you live your life in Jesus.

15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. 19 And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart. NET

In verse 15, Jesus is not asking his Father to protect the disciples from all harm. He is asking only that they not fall away like Judas. They will have nasty things happen to them, but they will stay true to the Jesus Way.

They are sinful humans who will continue living their lives in this world, but they no longer belong to this world. They are like ambassadors representing God in an alien world. They do not have all the protections of modern ambassadors but are treated like the ancient world’s ambassadors. If a government became mad at the country you represented, they would kill you and throw your head across the border. Remember that eleven of the Twelve—Matthias replaced Judas—were executed, along with thousands of other followers.

Jesus is talking about capital T Truth—God’s Truth. God’s Truth does not care where we live, what we do for a living, how we dress, where we attend church, and certainly not how much money we make. The Truth asks, ‘Who did you help today?’ You may have a job that pays you to help people. Great. If not, you need to look for ways to help others. At the very least, treat everyone you meet as your equal and as someone special.

1 Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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.” ESV

In verse 9, Jesus said he was not praying for the world. Verse 20 does not change that, but it does change our view, as J. Ramsey Michaels points out. Even though Jesus’ Prayer is not for the world, the whole world is within his horizons. God loves everyone, but not everyone loves God. Jesus wants to change that, but he knows he cannot succeed; some will fall.

Jesus wants the same treatment for every believer that he has just asked for the Eleven. Most of what he says in this part of the prayer he has already said earlier, only now it applies to the small, faithful group, and all the faithful through the last twenty centuries. Jesus again stresses the importance of becoming one with him and with God.

Sainthood is not in the future for most of us, nor will we become world-renowned theologians. If that is what you want, you are in the wrong organization.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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