In this third article on John 17, we note that the Father sent the Son to reveal God’s character to men. In verse 18, the Lord Jesus knew that once He went to heaven, He would no longer be doing that Himself. But those who would reveal God’s character in the future would need some witness from God. This work of revealing God’s character is to be done by believers enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. We can never represent God as well as the Holy Spirit or as Christ did while here because none of us could ever be equal with God. But believers are called to represent God here just the same. When our Lord expressed His purpose for us, He conferred His highest honour upon us as being sent, as the Father sent Him.
To “sanctify” (v19) does not necessarily mean to make holy. The Lord Jesus was the only person who was ever born holy. His character was perfectly holy. Here on earth He set Himself apart for the work that His Father sent Him to do – His sacrificial work on the cross for sin. W.E. Vine says, “His sanctification is the pattern of, and power for, ours.” All of us should be set apart from the world and find our portion in Him.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also that shall believe on me through their word” (v20). This prayer of the Lord Jesus not only embraces all believers from the time of His prayer, but He is also showing that all the requests that He has made for the eleven are also for us. Every child of God can say, “He prayed for me!”
Notice also in verse 20 that He does not pray for those which believe on God. He says, “them also which shall believe on me.” He does not say those that believe in the Word of God, but “them … which shall believe on me through their word.” “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (Jas 1:18; see also 1Pe 1:23).
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v21). The unity of this verse was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Act 2:44). This unity is especially in view of the salvation of sinners. This unity is not a matter of external church union. He was praying for their unity in exhibiting the character of God and Christ. This is the unity that will lead some to believe that God had sent Him.
William MacDonald has profitable words on verse 22: “In verse 11, the Lord prayed for unity in fellowship. In verse 21, it was unity in witness-bearing. Now it is unity in glory. This looks forward to the time when the saints will have their glorified bodies. ‘The glory which You gave me’ is the glory of resurrection and ascension.”
We do not have this glory yet. It has, however, already been given to us as far as the purposes of God are concerned, but we will not receive it until the Saviour returns to take us up to heaven. It will be manifested to the world when He returns to earth to set up His kingdom and rule unto the ends of the earth. At that time the world will realize the vital unity between the Father and the Son and that of the Son and His people, and all will believe that the Lord Jesus was the Sent One from God.
In verse 23, we learn that the goal of unity of believers with God and with each other is twofold: first, that the world would believe that Christ had a divine mission – “that the world may know that thou hast sent me,” and second, that believers are loved by God just as God loved Christ – “and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” That we should be so loved by God seems incredible!
Our Lord’s tremendous request in verse 24 begins with these words, “Father, I will.” Such words could only be properly made by a Person equal with God. Christ expressed His will after a full life of perfect submission to the will of God. At the beginning of His public ministry, Christ said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (Joh 4:34). A little later He said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (6:38). Even in Gethsemane near the end of His life on earth, He prayed to His Father, “Not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mar 14: 36).
Our Lord Jesus expresses His desire that all of them whom the Father has given Him may be with Him. What a privilege every child of God will have to behold His glory! His glory is not only His essential glory which He had with the Father before the world began, but also His acquired glory as Saviour and Redeemer. Verse 24 says, “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Before the world ever was, there was reciprocal love and appreciation between divine persons.
The words of Hamilton Smith on verse 25 are worth quoting, “There is a glory that is special to Christ; there is a love that is special to Christ – the love which He enjoyed before the foundation of the world; and there is a knowledge that is special, for the Lord can say, ‘O Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee.’”
“And these have known that thou hast sent me” (v25). The Lord Jesus thus distinguished His own from the world that failed to discern that He is the Sent One of God.
In verse 26, the Lord tells us why He declares God’s name to them: “That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” This is the incredible love of the Father for us even as our Lord Jesus told of His incredible love for His own: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you” (15:9). He wants us to continue in the enjoyment of that love – “Continue ye in my love.”
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.