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The Prayer of the King (John 17:1-26)

John Hanneman, 02/10/2008
Part of the John series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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The Prayer of the King

John 17:1-26
John Hanneman

Fiftieth Message
Catalog No. 1388
February 10, 2008

As we return to the gospel of John the timing could not be more appropriate. Ash Wednesday, just a few days ago, signaled the beginning of Lent, the forty-day period, not counting Sundays, which ends on Holy Thursday. The forty days coincide with the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. We don’t pay much attention to Lent here, but traditionally this has been a time of reflection and repentance in preparation for Easter Sunday. It just so happens that in the next few weeks our studies in the gospel of John take us through the Passion narrative: the arrest, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. Beginning in chapter this gospel slows down to capture the last earthly days and hours of the true King. This is the one who is in complete control of these events but willingly lays down his life in obedience to the Father to provide redemption for humanity. As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, John provides us with the necessary material to reflect on the suffering of Jesus and take inventory of our own lives.

Our study begins in John 17, the well-known prayer of Jesus, following the upper room discourse. Prayers were frequently connected to farewell discourses in the ancient world. The Synoptics often mention Jesus praying, but very few of his actual prayers are available to us. The Lord’s Prayer, his prayers at Gethsemane and at the cross are the main prayers recorded. John has already included two prayers of Jesus, one in chapter 11, at the raising of Lazarus (11:41-42), and one in chapter 12 (12:27-28), when he turns his face towards the cross.

John 17 is often called the “high-priestly prayer,” so labeled by the Lutheran theologian David Chytraeus (1530-1600). It has also been called “Jesus’ Prayer of Consecration.” The prayer is intimate and personal, the prayer of a son to a father. It reveals much in terms of the relationship between Jesus and his Father, and it touches on many of the themes in John, particularly those of the upper room discourse. One wonders if this is John’s version of Gethsemane, but the mood and content is much different.

The prayer has three sections: Jesus prays for himself, for his disciples, and for the church. I believe it will be helpful to look at this prayer in its entirety.

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:1-5 NASB)

At the conclusion of his last words to his disciples, Jesus lifts his eyes heavenward and prays. The hour of his death has come. He prays for himself, that he might now be glorified. He is referring to the glory that he shared with the Father from the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3). Jesus had existed in the form of God but he took on the form of a slave. In obedience to the Father is now preparing to die, but also to be reunited with the Father. Jesus’ glory is not an end in itself. Through his glorification he glorifies the Father.

Jesus prays the same request in chapter 12, a prayer that is much more like his prayer in Gethsemane: “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.’ Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (12:27-28).

This verse essentially divides John’s gospel into two halves: the book of signs and the book of glory. The arrival of a number of Greeks in Jerusalem for the Passover, wanting to see Jesus, signals to him that his hour has come. There will be no more signs for the curiosity seekers.

“Glory” is a prominent word in John, appearing eight times in this chapter as a verb or noun, and 44 times in this gospel. When we think of glory we think of radiance, splendor, majesty, exaltation. We think of Super Bowl champions, gold medals, IPOs that triple on the first day of trading, or climbing Mt. Everest.

My son and I love football, or more accurately, my love for football passed from me to my son. He was convinced at an early age that he would play for Nebraska, my alma mater. We had been to several Nebraska games over the years, but it had always been my dream to take him to a game in Lincoln – and not just any game, but a special game. But since he played football in the fall, that could never happen throughout his junior high and high school years. But at last his playing career ended. In 2001, Nebraska was playing Notre Dame in Lincoln. Somehow I got tickets and we went to the game. It was glorious, not just because we won, but because of the magical atmosphere that we had waited years to experience together.

But the Biblical idea of glory is very different. In the Bible, God’s glory is seen in Exodus salvation, Mt. Sinai thunder, the glory of God descending on the temple, Shekinah glory. In all of these cases glory is associated with God dwelling with his people. John writes: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14) In Jesus we see the glory of God revealed: God dwelling with his people like never before. Glory is the relational presence of God that reveals his character.

Jesus carries the idea of glory deeper yet. The glorification of the Son glorifies the Father, but it also gives eternal life to those whom the Father has chosen. Verse 2 is analogous to the end of verse 1, connected by the phrase “just as”:

Glorify the Son in order that

the Son may glorify you

Just as

You gave to Him authority over all flesh in order that

He might give eternal life to all who you have given to him

Glorifying the son glorifies the Father. In the same way, Jesus has authority over all flesh (all humanity, all people) so that through his glorification he can give eternal life to the elect. God’s love extends to the whole world but God’s sovereign purposes extend to the elect.

And eternal life is defined by verse 3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” This is the center line of these first five verses.

A Jesus prays to be glorified (1b)

B Jesus seeks to glory the Father (1c)

C Glory - eternal life - knowledge of God/Jesus

B Jesus glorifies the Father (4)

A’ Jesus prays to be glorified (5)

Glorification leads to eternal life and in turn to knowing God. Knowledge of God cannot be separate from knowledge of Jesus. Knowledge of Jesus is the access to knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is not about information or gaining intellectual data. It is personal and relational. “Eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.”1

This glorification happens through death on a cross, not through great human achievement. Glory happens in the crucifixion. We behold the glory of God in Jesus and through his glorification we enter into true life and know God in a personal way. Glory is not some abstract idea. It is life-giving and God-revealing. This is John’s gospel.

All of us want glory. Usually we think of glory as coming through blessings and successes, but true glory involves sacrifice and dying. The way to glory is not to become more but less. When we follow Jesus into glory, we follow him into death. The seed of wheat must fall into the earth and die in order to produce the fruit of eternal life and knowledge of God.

Last year, our beloved children’s director, Marie Chaney, passed away, following a long battle with cancer. At her memorial service it was clear that through her suffering she revealed the glory of God – God dwelling among his people. In the way she served the body of Christ she was a dispenser of eternal life, and in the way she loved children a picture of what it looks like to know God intimately. This is the kind of glory Jesus is talking about.

Next, Jesus prays for the disciples.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. (17:6-11)

The Father gave the disciples to Jesus and Jesus revealed to them the name of God. There was nothing intrinsic to these men themselves. They belonged to God prior to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus revealed or manifested to the disciples the “name of God.” God’s name embodies his character, as Isaiah announced, “Therefore My people shall know My name” (Isa 52:6) – i.e. God’s people will know his character.

The disciples have kept the Father’s word (singular, probably referring to the message as a whole); Jesus spoke God’s words to the disciples (plural, meaning his utterances or teachings). Jesus’ words are God’s words and Jesus himself is God’s incarnate Word.

The disciples received his words and came to believe that God sent Jesus into the world, that he came forth from the Father, and that everything he had had come from the Father. Even though the disciples did not understand all of what Jesus said, there are certain things that they understood with certainty.

The disciples belonged to the Father: “they are yours.” But they also belonged to the Son and they glorified him. The disciples belonged to the Father and the Son reciprocally. The Father and Son shared all things, revealing the oneness in the Trinity.

Even though God loves the world, Jesus does not pray for the world. He prays for the ones that have been called out from the world – his disciples. Jesus is leaving them in the world and they will have to face the world’s temptations and hostility without his immediate presence and protection. This is what the world will need – the faithful testimony of these men.

These are amazing statements when you consider the immature faith of the disciples at this point, the fact that they do not understand the cross and that they will soon shrink in the shadow of the cross. And yet Jesus speaks with total confidence. The comparison is between the belief and obedience of the disciples prior to the resurrection and the world prior to the resurrection. The world is in rebellion against God, wanting nothing to do with Jesus, while the disciples are still with him. The disciples could confess that Jesus was the “Holy One of God” (6:68-69).

So Jesus intercedes for them and asks the Father for two things. The first is protection.

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (17:11-16)

Jesus prays for their protection: that they be kept in the Father’s name. This could mean to be kept by the power of God’s name, as in Psa 54:1: “Save me, O God, by Your name, And vindicate me by Your power.” Or Jesus’ request could mean to keep them in loyalty to the Father, to the full adherence to his character. We might take both meanings, but probably the second is more in keeping with the context. Jesus had kept them in the name of the Father while he was present, but now he was leaving.

The only one Jesus did not keep was Judas, the “son of perdition.” This term can refer either to Judas’ character (Isa 57:4 – children of unrighteousness), or his destiny (Isa 35:4 – the people I have totally destroyed). Both are probably true. In the NT, the word “perdition” usually refers to eschatological damnation, hence Judas is a forerunner of the final antichrist. Judas’ betrayal fulfilled Scripture and God’s sovereign purposes. Clearly it was not due to any failure of Jesus.

The reason Jesus prays for protection is because the disciples will be hated by the world, just like he was, and assaulted by the devil. There is real danger and peril ahead. The disciples were no longer of the world but called out of the world. Jesus doesn’t ask that they be taken out of the world, but that they might be protected from the devil. Even though the cross will spell defeat for Satan he will still try to inflict terrible damage on the Lord’s followers. Jesus does not want these men to be pulled back into the temptations and trappings of a world that is wicked and rebellious. Essentially, Jesus’ prayer is, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13).

The result of being kept in the Father’s name is unity and joy. The world and the devil will seek to divide the disciples and rob them of joy. Jesus wants them to experience the kind of oneness and joy that he shares with the Father. Joy is a major theme in the upper room discourse. It comes from abiding in the Father’s love. Being kept in God’s name and God’s love results in unity around the disclosure of the Son, which in turn results in joy. The events of the cross will soon give birth to eschatological joy.

The war in Iraq is a major topic for the presidential candidates. Everyone wants the war to end. But we must accept the fact that we are in a war – a spiritual war. The struggle that we have with the world and with the devil is very real. We have an enemy much greater than any terrorist. There have been many casualties of this war over the years. Many fall prey to the tricks of the evil one. Many are enslaved by the things of the world. Jesus knows what is ahead for the disciples and so prays for their protection.

“The followers of Jesus are permitted neither the luxury of compromise with a ‘world’ that is intrinsically evil and under the devil’s power, nor the safety of disengagement. But if the Christian pilgrimage is inherently perilous, the safety that only God himself can provide is assured, as certainly as the prayers of God’s own dear Son will be answered.”2

Jesus’ second request for the disciples is sanctification or holiness.

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (17:17-19)

Sanctification is the same word Jesus used to address his Father as holy in verse 11. This word group is rare in John’s gospel. As an adjective for God, holiness means transcendent, other, distinct, separate from his creation. The angels cry out unceasingly in God’s presence, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8). Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed (holy) be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). People and things that are reserved for God are also called holy. The prophet Jeremiah, and Aaron and his sons, all were sanctified – set apart for sacred duty, reserved for God (Jer 1:5; Ex 28:41), If someone is holy and set apart for God’s purposes, the result is that that person will do only what God wants and hate all that God hates. We are to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44-45; 1Pet 1:16), set apart to become fully what God created us to be, “other” in the way that God is “other.” We don’t soak ourselves with the world. We are separate from the common and live in the new age inaugurated by Jesus.

Truth is the means of sanctification. Jesus is the truth and will send the Holy Spirit to guide the disciples in all truth. Sanctification comes from knowing God’s revealed truth and living in conformity to that truth. In contrast, the world denies the truth and rejects God’s word.

The reason the disciples are to be other than the world is because Jesus is sending them into the world just as he was sent into the world. Primarily, Jesus consecrated himself to be a sacrifice on the cross. He was set apart for sacrificial death the way an animal in the OT was consecrated for a sacrificial death. (Deut 15:19, 21). The disciples are to have the same mission as Jesus and follow him in a sacrificial life. They are to live in holy space and holy time, as Bernard Bell talked about a couple of weeks ago.

The idea of being distinct and distinguishable from the world is hard for us. “World” is another frequently used word in John (used a total of 78 times; 18 times in this chapter). It is hard for us to maintain the identity and mission of God’s people because the world is constantly trying to pull us in and render us ineffective. It is so hard to maintain our otherness, this new identity we have as the body of Christ. We don’t like the feeling of not belonging to those around us. Imagine you grew up in a family and then you were told at age 20 that you actually were part of another family. Even though the new family was great, you would always want to return to the first family. It’s hard to cut our ties and be fully part of something new. We face a similar battle when we leave the family of the world and enter into God’s family.

Finally, Jesus prays for the church.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (17:21-26)

The language in this last section is obviously intimate and personal. Jesus prays for the church, for those of us who have come to believe based on the word of the disciples. Three times he asserts the Father’s love for the Son. The Son has known and loved the Father. Their relationship is very intimate, and twice Jesus states that he and the Father are one.

The Father also loves those who have come to believe in the Son. Basically, Jesus prays for unity and love among believers. He prays that the church would be one even as the Father and Son are one. He prays that the church would be in “us,” one also with the Godhead. This reflects the “abiding” language of John 15. Jesus prays for the love of the Father to be in church. Unity and love define the relationship between the Father and Son. Now, unity and love are to define the relationship in the church. We are to be involved in a relational, organic, authentic God community. The church is sanctified in truth and united in love.

Once again we see the word “glory.” The glory that Jesus gives, the revelation of God dwelling in the midst of his people becomes a foundational component of this oneness. Jesus prays that the church would one day see the glory of the Son in full measure – a reference to verse 5. This glory is not about power but about love. The glory of the Trinity is oneness, the glory of marriage (a reflection of Christ and the church) is oneness, and the glory of the church is oneness.

The purpose for visible unity and love within the church, stated twice, is that the world would believe in Jesus, believe that the Father had sent the Son. Love within the church is be so remarkable, so prevalent, so pervasive that the world would believe that the love of God, the thing that people crave, is to be found with those who call themselves Christians. Disunity is the single most damaging thing that renders the church ineffective. This is why Paul urges us in the book of Ephesians “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). There is a big difference between a family that looks good and a family that loves one another even though they struggle.

I was involved in a wedding a couple of weeks ago. On the Thursday night prior to the ceremony, some 25 friends of the groom gathered for a dinner. The history between these men and the love they have for each other is beyond remarkable. As people saw this community that night and over the weekend, more than once I heard comments about the incredible relationships of unity and love they witnessed. People saw the love of God at work in community and they were attracted to the sweet aroma.

There is a lot of talk about who will be our next President. Everyone is looking out to see who will change the world. But the most powerful force for changing the world is the love and oneness between us. So much of what Jesus prays for the disciples and the church – protection, holiness, unity, love – has to do with the church having an undeniable impact on the world. All of this is possible because Jesus reminds us, as he ends his prayer, that he is in us. “‘I am with you’ is good indeed (Matt. 28.20); ‘I am in you’ is better still.”3

In these days of reflection prior to Easter, I suggest that Jesus’ prayer might become our prayer as a church body. Each day let us take a few moments to pray for one of the themes that we see in this text: for the glory of God to be revealed through our lives, especially through our suffering; for the protection we need to be kept in the Father’s name, for us to be sanctified, to be other and distinct from the world; and for our church body to be united in love and reflect the oneness between Father and Son.

Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel,
Who alone works wonders.
And blessed be His glorious name forever;
And may the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen, and Amen. (Psa 72:18-19)



1 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Ee­rdmans, 1991), 556.
2 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 565.
3 F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 337.

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