This is a Bible study on the prayer of Christ in John 17:1-19.

Source: The Outlook, 1985. 3 pages.

John 17:1-19 - Christ’s Highpriestly Prayer (Part 1)

No discussion of prayer would be complete without a treat­ment of perhaps the most beautiful prayer ever uttered, and that by our Savior. It is difficult to make any divisions in this prayer because it is like the robe of Christ "without seam, woven from the top throughout," but there is a division which can be made and therefore we will deal with this prayer in the last two lessons of this year's series.

Jesus spoke this prayer in the hearing of His disciples while they were in the upper room together. There He had given the discourses contained in John 14-16. This Highpriestly prayer now forms a fitting climax to all that which He had taught them in the three previous chapters. The teaching He had given in these chapters was deep. They did not under­stand very much of what He had taught them. Later many of these things became clearer to them. Christ now prayed to His Father to implant the teaching of the previous chapters in their hearts.

To the Father🔗

This prayer could not have been uttered by anyone else. The real and true Highpriest was approaching the throne of His Father. What a blessing it is that these words were spoken in the hearing of His followers and that they have been revealed to us! He calls His God "Father" just as He taught His disciples to do in the Lord's Prayer. The term receives even richer meaning when it is spoken by Him. The Father and the Son stand in a relation to each other which is duplicated nowhere else. The Father was His Father from all eternity. He says: "The Hour is come." For this hour all history had waited. For this Christ had waited. Time and again He told His disciples and the people of His day that His hour had not yet come. Everything waited for the clock to strike this hour. Who can say that the hour has finally come? Only He who has complete control over everything which He has come to do. Because the hour has finally come, "glorify Thy Son so that the Son may glorify Thee." The kind of a life which the Christ had lived for the last 33 years was not normal. He had left the glory which was rightfully His and assumed our nature with all its attending weaknesses. Now the hour has come in which this "abnormal" existence must cease. The glory of the past must be restored. Even though He has glorified the Father in all that He did here as Mediator, He must be returned to the Father's presence so that He may glorify the Father completely as in the past. The expected hour has come because He has been faithful in carrying out the Father's will and He has completed His task. Completed it? Do not the cross, the resurrection and the ascension still lie in the future? The hour has come — it is as though all has already been completed — so sure is it that He will accomplish all.

The Son has been given authority over all flesh. All authority in both heaven and earth is His and therefore He can also send His disciples into the whole world and tell them to turn it upside down! He has authority over all flesh and He gives eternal life to those who have been given to Him. It is amazing how often our Savior refers to the election of God in this prayer. He gives these elect people eternal life and now also tells us what is meant by this "eternal life." Eternal life is here defined simply as the knowledge of the Father and the knowledge of the Son. Those who receive this life must stand in a relationship to Father and Son wherein they have a "heart knowledge" of both. They must believe in both from the heart.

Christ has glorified the Father while He was here on earth. He came to save sinners by doing the Father's will. Psalm 40 had already spoken of this fact. The will of the Father is His delight and it is also His own will. Again He speaks of the work as already accomplished — so surely will all be completed, even though some things must still be done.

There is also a strong desire in the heart of Christ to receive the glory which was His before the creation came into being. He desires to be in the presence of the Father again. He seeks to "be near unto God" (Cf. Psalm 73). How He opens His heart to the Father in these first five verses! The One who has taught His people to pray is here "pouring out His heart" in prayer. We receive a glimpse of the unique, intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. If we may paraphrase: "I love Thee, Father, and it is my greatest joy to be in Thy presence again. Thou lovest Me and these 33 years and the cross which still waits do not dim that love. The work had to be done. I did it because thy will is my delight!"

For His People🔗

From verse six there is a slight change in emphasis. Until now He has been praying especially for Himself; now the emphasis shifts toward His people. He has manifested the name of the Father to those who have been given to Him. He has declared the Father to them. In Himself they have had a vision of the Father. This the Christ has done for all those who have been given Him, but especially for the twelve disciples. These are the ones who, although imperfectly, have kept God's word. These had the knowledge and faith that the word of the Father was life. They have, and will in the future still more, give their lives for that word. These disciples realized that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. They realized that everything He gave them was from the Father. These were the very words of God which they had learned from the lips of Jesus Christ. The things so necessary unto salvation — that they believe that Jesus has indeed come from the Father — are present with these disciples. Those who would not believe this are antichrists! (Cf. 1 John 4)

For Their Protection🔗

In verse 9 Jesus utters a practical truth that is often misunderstood. He tells the Father that He is praying for those whom the Father has given Him. These belong to the Father and therefore He prays for them! He does not pray for the world. Does this mean that His people may also not pray for the world? The Scriptures are clear enough that we must pray for the world. There are also examples of this given in the Scriptures. Abraham prays for Sodom. However, this prayer of Jesus Christ is of a particular nature. The following verses clarify it. All that which belongs to the Christ also belongs to the Father and vice versa. They are One! One in essence and also one in property. Both Father and Son are deeply interested in those for whom He is here praying. They are the fruit of His work! He is glorified in them. That is, He is glorified in the salvation of His people!

The reason why He prays so earnestly for them is because He will no longer be with them! He is leaving the world and ascending to the Father. Since these are still in the world, what will become of them? They are in real danger. That danger is described in Revelation 12. When the Man-child has escaped from the dragon, the dragon pursues the woman, that is, the church. Jesus here prays "Holy Father keep them in thy name." They will be safe if Kept in the name of God! Surrounded by His revelation they will be safe.

Jesus adds the words which have been quoted more than any other from this prayer: "that they may be one even as we are." Does this refer to the unity of the church? Indeed it does, but not the kind of unity of which men often speak. It is not a unity of numbers only regardless of the truth. He makes that clear later. We must remember that the unity of the church is an article of faith! He prays that they may stand together, united against a common foe, speaking the same word as Christ and the Father speak the same word.

Christ tells the Father that He has safeguarded them while He was in the world. He did it in the same way He now asks the Father to do it. "Keep them in thy name!" This was so successful that not one of them perished. Those whom the Father has given to the Son are in good hands. He takes good care of those entrusted to him. The only one who did perish was "the son of perdition." He had never belonged to the Father and had never been given to the Son. Hence, the truth still stands: "of those whom Thou hast given me I have lost no one!"

Now the Christ is going to the Father. He puts the truth into words which His own may hear as He is praying to the Father, in order that "their joy may be full." He is instruc­ting them by means of this Highpriestly prayer. How happy they should be! Instead, they do not understand. Their temptation to unbelief will become powerful this coming night and tomorrow!

Christ has given them the word of God. By this possession they are distinguished from all other men. That word is a treasure entrusted to them with which they will have to work. It will change their hearts and their whole manner of life. Therefore the world will hate them. They have become foreigners to the world just as Christ was. Now it would seem to be the easiest for them if they would be taken out of the world. But Christ does not pray for that. The time for that has not yet come. Jesus prays, "Keep them from the evil one." With this protection they will be safe and will be able to accomplish their mission.

In verse 16 there is a repetition of the thought expressed earlier. Neither the Christ nor His people are "of the world." In fact, they have so little in common with the world that the world can't stand either of them.

Equipped With and For God's Word🔗

Christ's people are not only protected from the evil one; they are also equipped to do the task that is awaiting them. Therefore the prayer continues, "Father, sanctify them (set them apart) in the truth." Let them be filled with the truth of God. "Thy word is truth." Thy word is the infallible guide. That is the word whereby they must be governed and that is the word which they have to proclaim to the whole world. That word comes from the Father. Woe to those who would twist that word! When they do that they are in the clutches of the evil one!

As the Father sent His Son into the world, so the Son sends His people into the same world. Although they each have a different mission to perform, they come with the same truth. Christ gave His life and thereby is essentially different from His people. But, Christ brought the word of the Father, and that is the same word which His followers must also bring.

Jesus has "sanctified" Himself for them. He has "set Himself apart" for them. In this Jesus refers to His atoning work. His people will then also be "consecrated" — set apart for a task. They will be ready to give their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This prayer for Himself and for His disciples is surpass­ingly beautiful. It gives us an insight into the heart of the Savior. How He loves His Father! How He loves His people! What a purpose He holds before them! What a Savior!

Questions for Discussion:🔗

  1. Does this Highpriestly prayer of Christ give us an in­dication of the priestly work He is carrying on for us in heaven?
  2. What do we really mean when we confess the unity of the church? Will this ever be realized on this earth?
  3. Throughout this prayer our Lord refers to those who have been given to Him. What does this say to His people to­day? Does this harmonize with question one of the Heidelberg Catechism?
  4. How could the joy of His people be "made full?" Is this different from the way we usually think of this joy of the believer?
  5. Who was the "son of perdition?" Did he never "have a chance?" Explain.
  6. Why does our Lord lay such a strong emphasis upon the word of God in relation to His disciples? What must they do with that word?

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