John 17:20-26 - Christ's Highpriestly Prayer (Part 2)
The verses listed above form the last division in the Highpriestly Prayer of our Savior. In the previous verses He had spoken mainly concerning His own relationship to the Father and the relationship of the present believers to Him and to one another. In this last section He will emphasize more the relation of those who are not yet believers, or who are not yet born, to their God and to their fellow believers. This division is not sharp. He has spoken of those who will believe in the future also in the previous verses, but there is now a greater emphasis on this group. Although the division is not even sharp enough to warrant a new paragraph, there is a shift, and we do not do violence to this prayer by dividing it between the first 19 verses and the last seven. The eleven disciples had been one of the main foci in the previous verses and those from outside of Israel are included in the final verses of this prayer.
Our Lord makes the distinction clear when He says that He not only prays for the eleven and the others who are now already believers, but that He also prays for those who will believe in the future. These will make their faith in Him evident through their word. They will make confession of the name of Jesus Christ. That is the way in which all believers come to Him. In their confession they repeat the words which God had first spoken. True profession of the name of Jesus Christ is "to say so," that is, to repeat the words which God had spoken (Cf. 1 John 5:9, 10). There is nothing mysterious or mystical about it — let the people of God say so.
One of the recurring themes of the Highpriestly Prayer is that all God's people may be one. So Jesus now speaks of the people of His day who have believed on His name and those who are still to be brought to the faith. He speaks of the unity of the church of all the ages. That is a unity despite differences of time, language and culture. There is no other institution in the world, nor at any other time, which can boast of such a unity. It must be realized that He does not speak of an external unity but of a spiritual unity! This distinction is important. Only the Spirit of God can unite people of all nations and climes and tongues. This is a unity patterned after the unity of the Father and the Son. These two are, of course, never separated. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. So must the believers also be in Him. This is the theme which Paul often strikes in his epistle to the Ephesians. The believers are to be "in Christ." Although this means that He is also in them, the emphasis here falls on the former. The believers are to love one another. This is an evidence of being "in Him!" By this love, the like of which the world doesn't know, it will become evident to men that they have indeed been with Jesus! The foundation of the unity of the church is found in the unity in the Trinity. There truth and love reign supreme. Never may the church sacrifice truth for a seeming unity. This would destroy the unity which is required. If there is that unity among believers and there is therefore that true love for one another, the world will recognize that the Father has sent the Son into this world. The world will see the effect of the work of Jesus Christ. So will both Father and Son be glorified in the world.
This unity of believers is still an article of faith! The reality has eluded us thus far. When there is all manner of division among believers, the world taunts. Its contempt then goes beyond the contempt for the members of the church and even reaches to the God and the Savior these people profess!
A Unity in God
Christ has given the glory which was His as a gift of the Father to His people. He has bestowed on them the riches which He had received. He is in them and they are in Him. This is the closest bond which anyone could ever imagine. Because of the closeness of the relationship between Christ and the believers, these believers become in the words of the Apostle Peter "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Are they children by adoption? Of course. But, much more. No adopting parent can give his own nature to the child he has adopted. This glory the Christ has given to His people in order that they may be one. Theirs becomes a oneness of life. They form "His body" in this present world. Again He repeats the words of previous verses stating that it is a unity which is born of the unity of the Godhead. There is this addition. By their unity it will become apparent to the world that the Father loves them with the same love wherewith He has loved the Son. His people are so the objects of the love of God that the Lord makes no distinction between the Father's love for His only begotten Son and those who believe on Him through their word!
Confidence of God's Revealed Will
Verse 24 of this beautiful chapter is of the greatest significance to every child of God. In this verse our Savior comes with His demands to the Father. Is this not completely out of character with the way in which He usually comes into His Father's presence? His approach to the Father is a beautiful example of the way in which we should approach our God in prayer. Christ prays in Gethsemane, "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my, but Thy will be done." We have also been taught to pray so that we leave all things to the will of our God, which alone is good. However, we are also taught to pray for the forgiveness of our sins. Never do we then add the words "if it be Thy will!" We know that this is the will of God. He will indeed forgive those who come to Him in penitence. To understand this verse we must also realize that the will of which Jesus now speaks is the same will as that of His Father. How different is His approach now from that of a few hours later when He will be lying face down on the ground in Gethsemane! Here He prays in the fullest confidence of His oneness with the Father; there He prays as the One who is the sin-bearer of His people.
The will which He expresses in this verse is that those whom the Father has given Him may be with Him wherever He is. He has bought them — He now claims His purchase! "They are mine!" "Thou hast given them to me." Here is no room for the addition: "If it be Thy will." What a blessed assurance when we stand at the open grave of a child of God. Christ has said concerning this departed one: "I want him to be with me where I am!"
A Certain Future
Not only does Jesus want His people with Him now, but the emphasis is placed on the future. "That they may behold my glory." He is about to be glorified. He still anticipates Good Friday, Easter and the Ascension, but He can already speak of these as though they had already arrived — So sure is He that this work which still remains, will be completed. Then He will again enjoy the glory which was His before the world began. Now, I want these, whom Thou hast given me, to behold the glory which will then again be mine. Then they must be in His presence! Here they have known Jesus in the state of humiliation — and they loved him. Just imagine what it will be to see Him in His glorification!
Christ speaks of His own glory. It is a glory which has been given Him by the Father. The glory which He had received and which He will again receive in the not too distant future is because of the love which the Father has for the Son. He wants His people to behold that glory and therewith behold the Father's love for the Son. It is indeed something which no ear has heard, which no eye has seen and which has never even entered into the heart of man.
The Lord is coming to the close of His prayer. He acknowledges that the world did not know the Father. That which God had made did not even know the Creator! Sin has so blinded the eyes of men. This is a loving Father but He is also a righteous Father. What would happen to this world which doesn't even know Him if someone had not intervened? The Son, of course, knew the Father and knew Him from all eternity. He has made the Father known. God had given Him some out of this world which did not know Him and these have actually now known that the Father had sent His Son into the world. What a change has been wrought by the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. They were blind in their ignorance, and now the truth is seen by them. They were groping about in stygian darkness and now have the glorious light. They had seen no glory and will now, in a short time, behold the glory of the Son of God!
Christ says that He has made the Father's name known to them. That did it! That was all that was necessary. That name stands for the whole revelation of God. Christ has made the revelation of God known to His people. This effected the change which can now be seen in them. He has made that name known to them and He will continue to do so. The revelation of God was not yet complete in the time in which Jesus utters this prayer. The Apostles must still come with their glorious interpretation of the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. The church must grow and see the realization of the things for which He has prayed this Highpriestly prayer. John must still come with his mighty Apocalypse! "I have made known Thy name as no one has ever done before and I will continue that work when the Spirit is poured out."
When the people of God have embraced the word which He has spoken, they will realize how great is the love wherewith the Father has loved them. They will be filled with the same love wherewith the Father has loved the Son. The relationship between the Son of God and His people is so close that He can call that people "His body." He has prayed as the great Highpriest. He bears on His breastplate the names of all those whom the Father has given Him. This "Priest's" sacrifice will be sufficient and it will be "once for all."
So ends our treatment of the subject of "Prayer." It is a subject which is worthy of much more space. His people must learn to pray. Unceasing prayer should arise from every heart and from every home for the "body" of Christ here in this world. Pray without ceasing!
Questions for Discussion:
- How can the unity of believers be attained? Must we work and pray for this unity? What must be the basis of this unity?
- Will those who believe later than the disciples and the people of their day be at a disadvantage?
- What is the relation of Christ to His people? How can the world know that the Father sent His Son into the world?
- Christ demands that His people will be with Him. Is this truth honored enough in the church today? What could give more comfort?
- Christ made the word of God known as no one else ever could. How important is it that we do all in our power to make that word known? Is there anything else necessary? What is the error of those who stress experience at the expense of the word?
- This Highpriestly prayer of Christ gives us a glimpse into His mediatorial heart. Of what further profit is this prayer for us?