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Christ’s High Priestly Prayer --- (John 17)


This chapter contains what is popularly referred to as “Christ’s High Priestly Prayer”. It is called this because Jesus fulfills the role as mediator between the redeemed and God that was pictured in the high priests of the Old Covenant. This is the only prayer recorded in Scripture where Jesus directly prays for the saints of every age. Although the prayer begins with a focus on the eleven apostles who were with Him, Jesus clarifies within the prayer that it is also for “those who will believe in Me through their word” (vs.20). That statement of course indicates that the prayer is for every other person who will ever genuinely believe. This prayer comes at the conclusion of Jesus’ instruction to the Apostles on the night of His arrest. Jesus’ teaching had been about how the disciples would go on in light of His departure from them (chs.13-16). The prayer itself expresses Christ’s requests of our Heavenly Father to ensure the ultimate success of Christ’s redemptive work in us (the work He briefly outlined in the previous chapters). The following are the ten things that Christ prays for on our behalf.

1. Our Relationship with God:

In His prayer, Christ makes it clear that our relationship with God has resulted from the redemptive work He was about to accomplish on the cross, and the victory He would achieve in His resurrection:

  • “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (vs.4)
  • “now I come to You” (vs.13)
  • “for their sakes I sanctify Myself” (vs.19)
  • In addition, Christ makes it clear that our relationship with God is established by our faith in Him:

  • “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (vs.8)
  • “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (vs.20)
  • This reinforces an important idea in the New Testament; a relationship with God is not the birthright of all human beings. A relationship with God is a privilege that belongs only to those who are righteous. The only way of attaining the perfect righteousness that is necessary to gain this relationship with God is through faith in Christ. Through Him our sins are cleansed away and we receive the perfect righteousness that He earned fulfilling God’s law during His incarnation.

    hrist also informs us in this prayer that the very substance of eternal life is this new relationship that we have with our Creator:

  • “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (vs.3)
  • Christians have the privilege of actually knowing their Creator. This of course means more than knowing things about Him; it means to have real fellowship and communion with Him just as Jesus Christ Himself does. Christ’s redemptive work ushers the believer into the communion that is shared within the Trinity itself. Knowing God involves listening and submitting oneself to Christ as lord, to the Spirit as our infallible guide, and to the Father as the object of our devotion and worship. It further means recognizing that we are to build our lives around what God reveals to us because He knows all, is perfectly wise, and all He says is motivated by His profound love for us. Knowing God also involves embracing God’s love for us. We are told elsewhere in the New Testament that our love for God exists and grows in response to our recognition of His genuine faithful love to us:

  • “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love Him because He first loved us.”
  • John 4:10, 19

    2. Our Relationship w/ each other:

    Jesus prayed for the unity of believers:

  • “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (vs.20-23)
  • But what sort of unity was Christ praying for? Christ was not praying for uniformity, because elsewhere in the New Testament we read that God intentionally created us to be diverse individuals who are not all exactly alike and who do not all function in the same roles (I Cor.12). Also, the unity that Christ prayed for is not something that human beings are capable to effect on their own. Instead, this unity can only be achieved by the miraculous work of God, transforming human hearts so they are filled with love rather than self-interest. This unity among believers is meant to reflect the unity of the Trinity. Believers should be unified around the same things as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    The nature of the unity for which Christ prayed involves a common belief regarding what is true and good. The idea is not that we merely accept whatever human leaders tell us; rather God intends that all believers should believe what He has revealed. Therefore the unity of belief is a correct, unified understanding regarding what the Scriptures teach. Believers are also to be one in the object of our ultimate devotion. This means that all believers should love God above anything or anyone else. God’s priorities should be every believer’s priorities. Further this unity should include the desire to objectively please God as the mutual goal that all believers share. Believers are to be one in regard to their ethics; defining right and wrong, better or worse in light of the ethical teachings of the Bible. Believers are to be one in purpose, recognizing that God’s intentions for us, and the spiritual priorities He has revealed to us are to take precedence over each one’s one objectives or agendas. Believers are to be one in mutual affection; meaning that genuine love for one another should be a defining characteristic of all of God’s people. We are to love what God loves, and since God loves each one of His children in Christ, Christians should also love our fellow believers (I John 4:7). All these are to be values and commitments that the faithful have in common; an orientation to reality that binds us together, defining us as one people.

    The oneness that Jesus prays for is not structural, nor does it apply to all people who simply call themselves Christian. This oneness is a matter of the heart; a mutual cherishing of one another as family. By definition, this oneness applies only to those who are genuinely among the redeemed

    3. Our Relationship to world:

    In the NT, the term “world” (particularly in the writings of John) has an ominous sense to it. The word itself refers to an organized system and that is why the Greek term has entered into English as “cosmos” (referring to the ordered system of the starry heavens). The term can refer either to humanity as a whole, or it can refer to the collective cultures of fallen humanity. It is in this latter sense that Jesus prays about our relationship to the world at large. As Jesus prayed, the reality is that we are in the midst of this world; but we are not meant to be a part of it. Jesus specifically expresses that He was not praying for the world (vs.9). This is because those of the world are not His people. In fact Jesus expressed in His prayer that:

  • “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 pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (vs.14-16)
  • The world hates those who belong to Christ because they are not a part of the world (expressed twice for emphasis). Not being part of the world means that the believer is no longer at home in this world and since believers have been brought into harmony with God, they have also been brought into the hostility that the world has for God and His Christ:

  • “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.”
  • John 15:18-24

    In the Old Testament one of the most prominent themes is Israel’s centuries-long temptation to become assimilated into the cultures of the pagan peoples that surrounded them. God warned them to resist this because it would result in their hearts being drawn away from their God. The narratives of the OT confirm that losing their devotion to Yahweh is precisely what happened whenever and to whatever degree the Israelites allowed themselves to be conformed to those pagan cultures. Though we are not a distinct nation as Israel was; Christians are meant to be a distinct people. And so the same principle that was meant to govern Israel, must govern the Church. We are to make sure that we resist the tendency to become assimilated into the fallen cultures in which we live.

    Therefore Christ was praying for believers that they might not adopt the beliefs, values, perspectives, or approaches to life that fallen men and women have. Christ prayed to the Father to enable us to resist the influence of the world so that our lives might continue to be defined by our relationship with God.

    4. Our Purpose:

    Jesus prayed that:

  • “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (vs.4)
  • “And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (vs.10)
  • The purpose of Christ’s incarnation was ultimately to bring glory to the Father. As the prayer indicates, the ultimate purpose of the disciples was to bring glory to Christ and they succeeded. Since, all believers walk in the path of the disciples, who in turn walked in the path of Christ; it is the ultimate purpose for all Christians to bring glory to God (I Cor.10:31). But what does that mean and how is it done? To bring glory to someone means to exalt their reputation, or focus one’s own attention or that of others upon recognizing the excellence of someone. Bringing glory to Christ and God is done in a number of ways. First, as Christ revealed the glorious nature of God through the manifestation of His personal holiness, we do the same. The difference is that Christ was manifesting a holiness that was natural to Him, while the Christian manifests the righteousness that is a part of his/her transformation through the work of God and Christ. The disciples glorified Christ by their belief in who He was, and so do all who truly put their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Believers also glorify God through devoted worship wherein we express to God and one another our praise of all of God’s glorious attributes and works. A major focus of this larger purpose is revealed in another portion of Christ’s prayer:

  • “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.” (vs.6)
  • “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me” (vs.8)
  • “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (vs.18)
  • “that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (vs.21)
  • From this we see that Christians are called to draw people out of the darkness of the world, so that they can escape eternal death and gain eternal life. Believers are to bring light to those in the world while resisting being drawn into that darkness themselves. Believers fulfill this purpose by telling lost souls the truth that God has revealed in Christ as the only means by which they can become one with God rather than remaining alienated from Him.

    In this prayer we read that a principle part of what is necessary for Christians to be successful in evangelism is if we manifest to the world the oneness of heart and love that is meant to characterize Christ’s redeemed people (John 13:35). Therefore our unity is part of the testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

    5. Our Significance:

    Within this prayer we find that seven times Jesus repeats that believers are the Father’s gift to Him:

  • “as many as You have given Him” (vs.2)
  • “the men whom You have given Me out of the world” (vs.6a)
  • “they were Yours, You gave them to Me” (vs.6b)
  • “for those whom You have given Me” (vs.9)
  • “those whom You have given Me” (vs.11)
  • “those whom You gave Me I have kept” (vs.12)
  • “whom You gave Me” (vs.24)
  • This much repetition indicates that this was an idea that Jesus was greatly emphasizing; and thus Jesus wanted His disciples to know (they were listening to this prayer) that they had belonged to God even before they had chosen to believe in Christ and follow Him. Another implication is that those who believe in Christ are distinguished from the world at large who are not given to Christ. This distinction indicates that the elect are at the center of God’s purpose in Creation and Redemption. Therefore believers have profound significance to God and God wants the followers of Christ to know that this is so.

    6. Our Security:

    Jesus asked the Father to keep His disciples safe in light of His coming departure from them, just as He had kept them safe during His time on earth:

  • “Holy Father, keep through name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come 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 pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (vs.11-15)
  • The Greek words translated as “kept” means to guard something in order to keep it safe and secure. The question in this case is, secure from what? Clearly, this cannot be a reference to being kept secure from hardships or difficult circumstances. Both experience and the Scriptures teach us that this is not true.

    In these verses, Christ makes reference to two things that make it very clear what sort of security He was praying for.

    First, Jesus says there was one individual whom Jesus did not keep secure; Judas Iscariot. Judas was lost. Judas was also labelled as “the son of perdition”. The word “perdition” means “destruction”. Being a son of something means one is characterized by it. Thus Judas was always marked for destruction because he never truly believed in Christ. This is further confirmed by noting that Jesus said that He chose Judas in spite of knowing that he was a devil (Jn.6:70).

    Second, Jesus specifically asked the Father to keep believers from the evil one. This indicates that the request is that the devil not be allowed to harm believers as he might otherwise do.

    From all that is said it is clear that Jesus was asking the Father to provide spiritual security; that believers would not be lost to evil and eternal destruction.

    7. Our Responsibility:

    Jesus acknowledged in His prayer that His followers had fulfilled their most basic responsibility toward Him and the Father:

  • “They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (vs.6b-8)
  • This is what the Apostles had done, and this would be the most basic responsibility of His followers throughout the ages. Believers will always need to be convinced that Jesus and the things He taught are from the one true God. That is the most fundamental thing that must be believed. However, in addition to having the basic confidence that Jesus speaks on behalf of the Father, the believer must also continue to believe everything that the Scriptures say, and choose to consistently obey what it says. This is what it means to abide in Christ’s words (Jn.15:7). Elsewhere John records what Jesus said about this essential responsibility:

  • “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’”
  • John 8:31-36

    8. Our Blessing:

    Jesus asked the Father that His disciples might share in the joy that He Himself experienced:

  • “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (vs.13)
  • The question is, what sort of joy is Jesus referring to? The following verses help us discern the nature of the joy that Jesus Himself possessed. It is the same joy that He desired to share with His disciples:

  • “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
  • John 15:9-12

  • “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
  • Romans 14:17

  • “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Romans 15:13

  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…”
  • Galatians 5:22a

  • “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
  • Philippians 4:4

  • “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”
  • I Thessalonians 2:19-20

  • “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
  • Hebrews 12:2

  • “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”
  • I Peter 1:6-9

    We see from the reference in John’s Gospel that the joy that Christ had, came from abiding in the Father’s love, and living in harmony with His will. We see from the other verses that this is a joy that is not rooted in pleasant circumstances, but is rooted in the eternal hope we have in Christ. It is a joy that is produced by God’s Spirit within us as we submit to God’s direction and cultivation of our lives. It is a joy that comes from knowing God and being aligned with His purposes.

    9. Our Resource for Growth:

    Jesus asked the Father to preserve His followers in the most precious resource that was entrusted to them:

  • “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (vs.17-19)
  • The Greek word translated as “sanctify”, means to make holy, to set apart, or to purify, and thus often conveys the idea of being cleansed from moral filth. In this particular passage the idea that Jesus is stressing relates more to being made separate from the world into which we are sent as agents of God’s redemptive work. Of course the nature of that distinction is that the believers grow to become ever more holy like God is holy (Lev.11:44). When Jesus says “I sanctify Myself”, He of course does not mean that He made Himself more holy. He can’t be any more holy because He is God in flesh and thus perfectly holy. Instead, the idea is that He separated Himself from His heavenly existence to live a righteous human life and then die as an offering for sin so that it would be possible for His people to become holy as He is.

    Jesus prays that the agent of this sanctification process is the truth, and that the truth is God’s Word. This can and does at times refer to God’s audible voice; however here (as in many other places) it refers to the Scriptures. Jesus did not say it contains truth, or that it conveys truth; He said it is truth. This is a statement by the incarnate Son of God that the Scriptures are absolutely true and without error. Jesus had said earlier in His ministry that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn.10:35b). In other words, they cannot fail or be found false and therefore they are always binding upon a person’s conscience in everything they say.

    The truth of God’s Word is in contrast to the Satanic lies that fill the world. Christ prays that believers will be set apart to the truth, This prayer was necessary because it is characteristic of fallen human nature to become conformed to the particular lies that are common within one’s specific culture in this world.

    10. Our Destiny:

    Finally, Christ prayed that the ultimate destiny of His followers would be realized in all its fullness:

  • “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (vs.24)
  • That destiny is to be with Christ in the presence of God to behold all His glory and beauty as the object of God’s eternal love. The staggering thought in this request is that it is Christ’s desire to be reunited with His people in glory. Apart from God’s redemptive work, no human being is righteous or good, and thus we are not attractive to God in ourselves. But God, for reasons known only to Him, has set His love on a particular number of people whom He has chosen Christ and the Father delight in the redeemed and in all God intends to create within us. The privileges of believers all rest in the unmerited grace and goodness of God.


    Again it must be kept in mind that Jesus prayed that His redemptive work would succeed in those given to Him by the Father. Meditating upon this prayer reminds us that God is working in us to enable us to be what He calls us to be. He intends to make us succeed. The reality that God works to realize His redemptive work in us should fill us with a confident joyful hope for all that lies ahead.

    In the Bonds of Christ,

    Pastor Michael

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