The Lord Prays for His Own

In this second article on John 17, we begin by noting the words of the Lord Jesus in verse 9: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.”[1] John 3:16 shows us that the Father and the Son are concerned for the world, but in John 17 the Lord Jesus is only praying for the world indirectly; He wants each one of us to be a good testimony for Him to the world.

We have a threefold relationship to the world in John 17:

  1. Salvation out of the world (v6)
  2. Separation from the world (vv14,16 – “not of the world”)
  3. Service in the world (v18)

Verses 6-10 show that John 17 should not be used to support the ecumenical movement, characteristic of many so-called churches today, even evangelical ones. Why not? Because ecumenicalism includes religious but unsaved sinners. The union which our Lord Jesus Christ desires is the spiritual unity of fellowship of genuine believers, which can only be based on conformity or obedience to His Word.

Verse 11 says, in part, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” He addresses God as “righteous Father” (v25), and also simply as “Father” four times in His prayer. The names used for God in prayer requests in Scripture are significant, often with a particular relevance to the request being made. For example, Romans 15:5 says, “Now the God of patience [endurance] and consolation [encouragement, JND] grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Jesus Christ.” Paul obviously wanted the believers to be patient and encouraging to one another. In Romans 15:13 he writes, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means.” Here in John 17, by addressing God as “Holy Father” He reminds them, and us, of the holiness of the One with whom we have to do. Psalm 97:10 says, “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”

Verse 11 reads, “that they may be one, as we are.” Psalm 133 has a beautiful picture of unity: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity … there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore” (vv1,3).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one in Scripture to apply an epithet to God the Father. Here He says, “Holy Father” and “Righteous Father.” In John 6:57 He says, “Living Father.” Six times He refers to our “Heavenly Father” (Mat 6:14,26,32; 15:13; 18:35; Luk 11:13). New Testament writers refer to attributes characteristic of God: “Father of mercies” (2Co 1: 3), “Father of spirits” (Heb 12:9), and “Father of lights” (Jas 1:17).

We read in verse 12, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” This does not mean that Judas was one of those given to the Son by the Father (that is, that he was a genuine believer). Judas was not compelled to betray Christ to fulfill Scripture, but he himself chose to betray Christ and thus the Scripture was fulfilled. In fact, there is evidence, or a suggestion at least, in Scripture that the Lord warned him and did not desire that Judas should turn from Him and perish as a consequence. God is to be feared. As the old hymn says, “There is a line that is drawn … between God’s patience and His wrath.” Mercy is not always available to those who hesitate to commit their souls to Him for salvation.

The Lord Jesus says in verse 13, “These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Then He gives us the means of His joy: “I have given them thy word” (v14). “But his delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psa 1:2). “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil …. Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend [stumble] them” (119:162,165). “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer 15:16).

The joy of our Lord Jesus was in the Word of God, and He was concerned for the eleven and for us to have His joy of obedience. “If ye know these things, happy [blessed] are ye if ye do them” (Joh 13:17). The Lord Jesus also wants us to have the joy of answered prayer: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name” (16:23,24). He had not taught them before to ask in His name; but now He was about to leave them, so He instructs them to ask in His name. Asking in His name is not just adding “in the Lord Jesus’ name” to the end of our prayers. It implies asking according to His will, that is, asking for things for which He Himself would ask His Father if He were still here on earth. “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (16:24). God Himself is concerned that all of God’s people have the joy of fellowship with the Father and the Son. “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1Jn 1:4).

In verse 16 the Lord repeats what He had said in verse 14: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” How sad that, if when the Lord says this twice about His own, any of us should act as if we were still part of the world! We are exhorted: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

William MacDonald’s comments on verse 17 are commendable: “To sanctify means to set apart. The Word of God has a sanctifying effect on believers. As they read it and obey it, they are set apart as vessels suitable for the Master’s use.” This is exactly what our Lord Jesus was praying for in this verse. He wanted a people set apart to God and usable by God. Jesus said, “Thy word is truth.” He did not say (as so many do today), “The word contains truth,” but “thy word is truth.”

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.