The Prayer of Jesus

John 17

I. The Unique Relationship of the Son to the Father (1-5).

A. The Father’s glorification of the Son has a full return to the Father (1).

1.These words [also translated “things”] means the discourse given in chapters 14-16. His lifting up his eyes to heaven was a common posture of prayer. The deep penitence and sorrow and recognition of unworthiness of the penitent in Luke 18:13 is shown in that he “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven.” Jesus, however, comes with openness of heart and mind, clarity of purpose, and consciousness of having done all that the Father assigned to him in the incarnation as determined in the eternal covenant of redemption. Jesus takes a posture that simulates his eternal presence with the Father. In John 1:1, 2 twice the phrase is used, pros ton theon, facing the Father. A. T. Robertson notes that “Pros with the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other.”

2. “The hour has come.” That hour that had been strategically sidestepped on other occasions now was upon him. This was the occasion and the hour of completed righteousness and the event toward which Jesus had moved throughout his ministry. He had been perfectly, lovingly obedient to the Father’s will and now was the hour for him to be “obedient even unto death” (Philippians 2:8). The events to follow were not the sudden crushing of hope and aspiration, they were not the obliteration of a valiant attempt to put some light and kindness into a selfish and cruel world. Jesus was not just a teacher whose startling reversal of the common wisdom of worldly men had now resulted in his own destruction ending his usefulness. No, it was for these very things that he had come; for in this “hour” God would infuse his own eternal justice into the most unjust actions conceivable in the courts of humanity. He reiterates what had been announced by the text in 12:27 and 13:1. “For this purpose I have come to this hour.” Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having gained access to the Father’s glory for his own humanity as well as humanity of all who were united with him in his death, manifesting the union by faith.

3. Upon these events those subsequent manifestations of glory for both Son and Father were dependent. Because of this hour, the Father would bring glory to the Son in the convulsing of nature, the opening of the graves of departed saints, the rending of the veil of the temple, the resurrection, the ascension, the intercession at the Father’s right hand, and the coming again with the bowing of every knee and the confession of every tongue. The Father would receive glory in the manifestation of the perfect and perfectly consonant attributes of wisdom, justice, righteousness, holiness, anger, goodness, mercy, lovingkindness, grace, patience; of the manifestation of power there would be no end. Moses asked to see the glory of God and the revelation included the message, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children etc.” (Exodus 34:6, 7). It is in this hour of which Jesus speaks that we see the fulfillment of this divine glory.

B. The Son’s authority granted by the Father results in full effecting of the Father’s saving purpose  (2, 3).

1.  As one with the Father in essence and equally invested in all the power, authority, and prerogatives of the Persons of the triune God, Jesus already has power. He is creator and sustainer in his eternal nature as the expression of the Father’s glory and character. But in his assigned and assumed role as Messiah, by the completion of his work he has been given authority that includes the authority of giving salvation. In this assignment of power the book of Hebrews [1:4] uses the phrase, “Having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” With gracious redemption accomplished, it now, in accord with perfect justice and the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah (Genesis 49:10), and David, will be applied. He has been granted authority over “all flesh,” some for the manifestation of God’s lovingkindness and some for the display of unvarnished justice. The ruler’s staff has been given to him and “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

2. This authority, that he earns in this hour, results in the salvation—the full acquittal from guilt and justification—of all of those given by the Father to the Son. It is for these that he has died, for these he gains all the necessary transactions that result in eternal life (2). As the Second London Confession states, “The Lord Jesus by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the Eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the Justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an Everlasting inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.” 

3. Primarily eternal life consists of knowledge of the One True God as fully displayed in the glory of the Father (3). Popular perceptions often extend eternal life to all that die, simply because they die, and on the other side they will be reunited with those that have preceded them in death and will have some kind of heightened ability to do and enjoy those things that were the most pleasurable to them in this life. The truth is, those that did not want to know God in this life will not have eternal life after death, but certain and unending judgment fit for sin. Jesus also is explicit here, even adding emphasis by referring to himself in the third person (“Jesus Christ whom you have sent”) that this saving knowledge of God is conferred only in light of the work done by the one the Father sent, that is, the Son, who took to himself human nature and a human name and the role of anointed Redeemer.

C. The Son’s revelation of God’s saving purpose is summarized as the revelation of God’s eternal Glory (4, 5). Here he expands the meaning of his initial request.

1. The Son manifests it in his earthly work.

      • Compare 14:31 [“So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded me.”] Certainly Christ’s obedience to the Father’s command [“having accomplished the work which You have given me to do”] shows his love for the Father and is the basis for his glorification of the Father.
      • “On earth” – this is a work that was peculiarly related to an earthly situation. The fall occurred on earth. Its effects were upon all those that descended from Adam and have lived in their sinful course of action on this earth. Christ’s obedience, both active and passive, must be accomplished as a man in this context of fallen human society on earth. The law, which constitutes the standard of human righteousness before God, must be obeyed for the righteousness that qualifies for eternal life (“The doers of the Law are justified before God” – Romans 2:13). This was his doing in our stead and in our situation, but without a favorable environment. To the contrary, his environment was absolutely hostile.
      • Though still veiled, the glory of the work that Jesus did is revealed in the words of Scripture. All the doctrines revealed in Scripture showing the gifts that flow to us through Christ’s person and work manifest the glory of what Christ did in obedience to the Father. Its glory will be revealed to sight in the triumphant return of Christ in his state of exaltation.
      • “In your own presence,” “alongside yourself,” “together with yourself” – That it did not fall short of God’s glory is manifest in the resurrection cf. Rom 6:4. Christ was raised “by the glory of the Father” and his life after having suffered death he now “lives to God” (Romans 6:10). While he was our substitute, death had “dominion over him” (Romans 6:9), but now that he has “accomplished the work” his life as the victorious man, our Messiah and substitute, is lived before God.

2. The Son is restored to the heavenly, pre-mundane eternal glory as a result of His work. All those assignments given to the Son of God in the covenant of redemption that could only be finished in the human nature result in the giving of a glory peculiar to these works. The indivisibility of this person, however, whose God “bestowed on him the name that is above every name” is shown in that, in addition to this bestowed glory, he has an eternal, naturally resident glory that will be manifest in his whole person at his ascension. So, that glory that was not visible in his person in the state of humiliation, will now be displayed in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man – “The glory that I had with you before the world existed” (5).


II. Jesus reasserts the Son’s care for the Father’s gifts to Him (6-12).

A. Declaration of the Son’s faithfulness to the Father’s glory and Success in His mission (6-8).

1. Jesus has revealed his Name to His people – (6)

      • The Father’s character is the chief concern in revelation and redemption. 
      • This revelation, both in external teaching and in the secret operation of the Spirit, comes to those that were given to the Son by the Father. It seems that Jesus has in mind at least the events following the feeding of the 5000 in John 6. See especially verses 60-65. There Jesus explained belief and non-belief in terms of the work of the Spirit peculiarly efficacious in the minds and hearts of those whose coming to Christ was “granted by the Father,” who are those “that the Father gives me [Jesus]” (65, 36).
      • It is to be noted that they, like the rest, were part of the world system in their natural state but were given to Christ “out of the world.” In their natural disposition and state of merit they pursued their lives in “the course of this world” following the “prince of the power of the air.” Like all persons, they were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3).  According to divine prerogative, however, before the beginning of the world, they were given in grace and invincible mercy by the Father to the Son. He would die for them, call them to Himself, intercede for them, and grant all the means by which they would finally be brought to the enjoyment of glory with him.
      • “They have kept your word” – In spite of all the perplexity, those given him have kept the word that Jesus has taught. They differ from others, because the Spirit has made them to differ. Even as Jesus in his human nature kept the word of his Father in life, love, and instruction, so will the disciples of Jesus keep his word. Unlike Jesus, whose perception and execution of the word of the Father were unblemished, neither their understanding nor their performance is without dross, but the true gold of godliness will stand the fire of testing (1 Peter 1:6-9).

2. They know that the Father’s worthiness is the Son’s preeminent concern (7). – The mission of Jesus totally conformed to the wisdom, character, and eternal will of the Father. Given the personhoods of Father, Son, and Spirit in a singularity of essence, it is fitting to recognize that each of these persons must have an individual manifestation of will though that will arises from the singularity of the will resident within the divine nature. Their wills’ discreet identification arises from the necessities of ontological personhood. That the complete unity of each of these wills can be traced to the will of the Father arises fittingly from the eternal relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this statement, Jesus speaks both as Son of God and as Son of Man. As Son of God, the Son does only that which is purely consonant with the Father’s eternal purpose, for he eternally wills the same things as it is impossible for his perception and affections to prompt him to anything other than the infinite perfection and glory of that which is willed by the Father. As Son of Man, he lived in constant conformity, molded more fully and maturely into that will at every stage of his mortality and moral development (Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:7-9).

3. They know that His teaching served the purpose of the Father’s glory (8).

      • Jesus has consistently pressed for his hearers to know that he spoke what he heard from the Father. His words were the Father’s words. They unfold the desire the Father has for manifesting the glory of the Trinity, the shared glory of the one true God in the indivisible essence of deity. This glory also is manifest in the distinct glory of each person (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14) in his respective vital and essential operations for the salvation of the Father’s elect and the eventual subjection of all to the Father’s glory (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Philippians 2:11).
      • They have received the words Jesus spoke. Jesus spoke as their shepherd, and his sheep heard him (John 10:3, 4).
      • Jesus is certain, though many hills remain to be climbed and challenges to be subdued, that they know that Jesus’ appearance in this world is a result of the Father’s will. He has been sent with a specific assignment from the Father.

B. Jesus intercedes for the safety of His chosen people (9-12).

1. They are the peculiar people of God, equally reflective of the Father and the Son (9, 10 – Cf. Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 2:9f). These indeed are the people of his own possession.

      • Jesus is clear that his prayer terminates specifically on them (“I ask on their behalf”), not the world (“I do not ask on behalf of the world”). These are the ones given to him by the Father out of the world. The world constitutes the total number of those from Cain through the final human birth who will be left to their own desires of rebellion, rejection, and self-determination. They will be those that pursue and love “all that is in the world” and are left to perish with it (John 3:19-21; 1 John 2:15-17).
      • Even as the coming of Jesus to claim those that were the Father’s before the foundation of the world is necessary as the means by which they are saved, so this prayer, as well as the prayers we are commissioned to lift to God, is ordained as a means of their preservation.
      • This two-fold claim presents a striking image of the absolute unity of Father and Son in the purpose and success of redemption. It would not be surprising for any God-centered person to say, “All mine are yours,” for we recognize that God gives us everything. We have nothing that we did not receive. But to make the equally inclusive claim, “All yours are mine,” is quite another thing. Jesus does not perceive of the Father as owning anything or having any purposes that are not equally his own.
      • “I am glorified in them.” When the final consummation of salvation takes place, and the redeemed of all ages stand together they will see that only the Lamb of God is worthy to break the seal on the book of God’s purposes (Revelation 5:9) to bring together all things in the demonstration of his perfect grace and righteousness. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:14)

2. He prays that the Father will protect the very ones that he commissioned the Son to save (11, 12).

      • In his physical absence, they must maintain a keen sense that they serve him in the purpose of his mission from the Father.
      • Even as he was given a name that clarified the Father’s will through him, so must they be protected by that name. That is, these disciples must know that their life is to be spent in proclaiming the one faith given them in the words and works of Jesus. They do not preach different gospels, but they are one in their knowledge and their teaching (See Hebrews 2:1-4; Romans 1:1-6; Galatians 1:6-12; 2 Peter 3:15-18).
      • From the beginning Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, for he was left with the character of a lost person (“son of perdition”) and thus could not receive the teachings Jesus gave (John 6:71; 13:21). All the others came to him as those that would be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son. He retained the one while the other performed his betrayal as foretold in the Scripture (Luke 22:22; Acts 1:16). These foretellings were in the form of Christological applications of certain Psalms (69 especially verses 25-28 & Psalm 109 especially verses 4-9 and 29).

III. The Means of Safety in the World (13-19).

A. His words are spoken that His joy (Hebrews 12:1, 2) might be in them (cf. 1 John 1:3, 4).

True joy means, negatively, the removal of all that hinders a clear view of the holy joy of God. Jesus has told them what to avoid in action and thought and affection. True joy means the embracing of all the realities of the divine character and will. This is why Jesus stated it thus: “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

B. These words operate negatively and, in their relation to the world, engender hatred (14). Jesus discussed this fully in 15:18-25.

C. This hatred is generated peculiarly by the Evil One, who is the prince of this world, but Jesus has prayed for us (15).

In Luke 22:31-34 we find that Jesus has prayed that Peter will be preserved through Satan’s attempt to destroy him. We also find in 1 John 5:18-20, that both Christ (through his intercession) and the Holy Spirit (through the new birth and his consequent indwelling) have rescued us from the power of the evil one and given us true knowledge and fellowship with the Father.

D. This Word set them apart for holiness as opposed to worldliness (16-18;  cf. John 15:19). 

1. Their otherworldliness was initiated by eternal election (“even as I am not of this world”) and effected temporally by the new birth. As the eternal Son of God, the incarnate Jesus from eternity past was the elect One to consummate redemption. The elect just as certainly are not of this world as their Redeemer is not of this world. 

2. The Christian must never tire of increasing his knowledge of Scripture for its living energy chips away at our worldliness and indwelling sin and conforms us to Christ in increasing measure. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17).

3. Jesus came in the interests of the glory of the Father and for giving substance and effectuality to the gospel. Even so, he sends his followers into the world (18), particularly these apostles, that the message about his person and work would be preached with as much truth and power as was his accomplishment of the work assigned him by the Father.

E. His separation to death (19) guarantees the protection and holiness of his people through truth.

Jesus sanctified himself, that is, set himself apart for death, for those that the Father had given him, that they all might be set apart for salvation by the word of truth. This operation of truth in bringing salvation is described by Paul in Colossians 1:3-8.

IV. The Inclusion of Future Believers

A. The unity of the apostles with believers of all ages manifests the unity of Father and Son (20-23a).  

1. All who believe in every generation and century since the coming of Christ, believe through the word that Jesus gave to these disciples [apostles]. “… those also who believe in me through their word” (20). That same message believed by the churches of dispersed Jews of Asia Minor under the preaching of Peter or John, or the uncircumcised congregations of Paul, abides as the only saving truth. It is the eternal truth that the Father gave the Son and sent the Son to institute by performing his work in conformity to all its requirements.

2.  The unity of all Christians is in this body of apostolic truth—“that they all may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us” (21). In fact, if not yet visibly manifest, all Christians presently have unity in the same truth, the same Spirit. There is indeed, only one holy, catholic, apostolic church. Only one Father elects and sends the Son, only one Son dies and rises again, and only one Spirit speaks by the prophets and apostles and brings Christ to the heart of the elect. No one is a Christian apart from those consensual and saving acts of the triune God.  As the Son truly represented the Father and also presented his truth, and differed in no point from the Father because of their eternal union in the same essence, so will Christians show the world that unity. For all Christians, the testimony to truth is remarkably the same and we should continue to work toward unity on the basis of the revealed word of God. God Himself will wipe away, not only tears, but the differences that exist between Christians in faith and practice. Each time a person of the world comes to see that truth of the necessity and reality of union with God through Christ, they believe that Jesus has been sent of the Father and they become one with other Christians and are separated from the world. 

3. Jesus’ revelation of the glory of the Father in his righteousness and his saving intent has been revealed with power and utter faithfulness (22). That glory is the common possession of all who have believed and those truths alone constitute the gospel of truth that saves and gives unity with God. 

B. Future experience of visible glory and infinite love (23b-26).

1. There seems to be an eschatological emphasis in the phrase, “That the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” The world, those still remaining out of the saving work of Christ, on the day of reckoning will see, in contrast to their misery, the infinite glory of having been loved by God in this way of election and union with Christ in his glory. 

2. Those that have been given to Christ by the Father will, in that day, experience and be transformed by the beatific vision of the glory of the Son in context of the Father’s glory. 

3. This glory is the shining forth of the eternal attributes of the Son as he exists eternally generated by the love, infinite love, that the Father has for all aspects of his own worthy nature and every possible manifestation of it. 

4. Jesus addresses the Father in the single term that summarizes the reason for which the Son was sent, “Righteous Father” (25). The unrighteousness of the world shuts it off from the knowledge of God. The Spirit comes to convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8-11). By Christ’s death God demonstrates his righteousness, while justifying those that have faith in Christ. Believers know that the Son was sent in order to magnify divine righteousness.

5. Christ’s having made known to his people the name [character] of God, introduces them into an unending world of holy love, even infinitely expansive experience of divine love (“even as you loved me; … you loved me before the foundation of the world; … the love with which you loved me may be in them” (23, 24, 26).

V. Lessons for Prayer and Life

A. Our prayers should reflect concern for the Name, will, and Word of God. 

B. Our prayers are built on the reality that all the Father gives us comes through Christ. 

C. Our prayers are optimistic because they follow Christ’s prayer for us. 

D. Our prayers should reflect confidence that our temporal welfare involves primarily our holiness secured by Christ’s intercession – all other things are given, or taken away, in that context (cf. Phil 4:6, 7, 19). 

E. Our prayers should always manifest the concern that the world may know that the Father sent the Son.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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