Join me in just a word of prayer as we approach the Word of God. Father, as we come to this seventeenth chapter again of John’s gospel, as we enter this most holy place of communion between the Son and the Father, we just ask that You would give us spiritual insight and wisdom which does not belong to the natural mind to discern those things which are so transcendent; and not for the sake of knowing mysteries, but for the sake of knowing You and the mighty and glorious work You are doing on our behalf. Bless us with spiritual wisdom and insight, enlighten us, that we may know You better and serve You more faithfully, in Christ’s name. Amen.
John 17. Again we return to this very important chapter in the Word of God, a chapter in which we are let into the throne room, as it were, of the Trinity and the communication between the Father and the Son. This morning we looked at verses 1 through 5 in which Jesus prayed primarily with regard to Himself, although the implications were for us. And now we’re going to look at verses 6 down through verse 19, or at least make a good attempt to do that, where the focus of Jesus’ prayer turns from Himself to His disciples.
Certainly the greatest miracle which we experience is communion with the living God on a constant, personal basis both in time and throughout eternity. This is now prayer. We who know and love Jesus Christ have been by that faith given the right of immediate access to God’s throne. We come boldly before the throne of grace to find help in time of need, the writer of Hebrews has said. It is a remarkable and amazing privilege to be able to seek God’s resources, to invite His assistance and His help, and to know He will act in loving response to all of our prayers; that is His promise.
In verse 26, I should say, of chapter 16, He says, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you.” Jesus is saying, “You’re going to ask, and I’m not going to have to beg the Father to answer, because He loves you.” What an incredible reality that is, to know that we can pray and God answers.
Beyond that, we also realize that other believers are praying for us, and God is answering. All of us have, to one degree or another, depending on how long we’ve lived in our Christian experience, had the joy of seeing God answer the prayer of others in our behalf, and vice versa. I think back to the accident which almost took my wife Patricia’s life, and when they gave her less than five percent chance to live, how that the prayers of thousands of saints in this church and around the world were raised before the throne of God. And in great mercy to me God spared her life; and not only to me, but to all the others who love her and need her in this life. We have all experienced the faithfulness of God’s answered prayer on behalf of others.
And beyond both the answers to our own prayers and the prayers of others there is an incredible promise in the Word of God given to us in Romans chapter 8 which tells us that the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, and that the interceding Holy Spirit who dwells within us always prays according to the will of God because He knows the mind of God. So in addition to the promise of our own answered prayers and the intercession of fellow believers, we have the promise of the faithful intercession by the Spirit of God dwelling in us on our behalf; and His prayers are always answered because He always prays in the will of God. All of that prayer power marshalled in our behalf is thrilling.
And there’s more. Beyond all of that, Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, the Bible says, ever lives to make intercession for us. Our blessed Christ Himself is constantly and unceasingly praying for us, always according to God’s will and purpose, and always with the appropriate answer from God Himself. What a promise. The mediation of Jesus Christ, His mediatorial work, His intercession on our behalf is as real and indispensable as His death and resurrection. It was His death and resurrection that gave us life, it is His intercession that sustains that life. The ongoing interceding work of Jesus Christ before the throne of God often in response to the accusations of Satan who is continually before the throne of God accusing the brethren is what sustains our salvation and our eternal life, and brings us from justification through sanctification glorification. I think sometimes as believers we tend to think that the greater work of Christ is done in the past and now He can sort of relax a little bit. Not so. He ever lives with an ongoing involvement in our lives and a never-ceasing intercession on behalf of every child of God.
And as I mentioned to you in the message this morning, in this chapter we get an inside look at the character of intercessory work on the part of Christ. Having completed His earthly work we now are introduced to His heavenly work. This magnificent chapter unfolds what He does as the interceding High Priest in order that we might move from justification to glorification. This is the work that guarantees the pledge that Jesus made in John 6 when He said, “All that the Father gives to Me shall come to Me, and I will lose none of them but raise them up on the last day.” It is this intercessory work that pledges to that end.
Having completed His redemptive work on the cross and through the open tomb, He ascended to heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father carrying on a faithful ministry for our benefit, for the healing of our weaknesses, for the strengthening of our helplessness, and for the maturity of our infancy. He knows well the limitations of His own. He knows the power and the strategy of the enemy Satan. He knows what it is to wrestle with humanness, He understands the weakness of our flesh, and He identifies Himself as the Shepherd and Caretaker of our souls. And this High Priestly intercession is not only effective but unending: He ever lives. That is to say He has an unending priesthood exercised in our behalf.
In 1 John chapter 2 we have a glimpse of this in these most important words: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” When we sin and the enemy would rush to the side of God to point a finger at our iniquity and disqualify us from the unfolding and full realization of redemptive purpose, we have an Advocate, a lawyer for the defense, who rises to our defense; and the defense is this, “I have already borne the penalty for their sins; and thus, Father, there is to be nothing held to their account.” He eternally secures our salvation. This ministry formally began after Christ’s ascension and His coronation at the Father’s right hand, but previewed here in this chapter before He leaves, so that we might have insight into the character of His redemptive work.
Now as we look at this work of intercession that culminates His redemptive purpose and brings us to glory, we have already seen the glory that is His in the cross, by providing eternal life, by perfecting obedience, and by personally returning to the Father, so that He may intercede for us to bring us to glory. But as we look at verses 6 to 19 we’re going to go into that third aspect, that aspect of Him being glorified and bringing us to glory, and we’re going to see three questions answered here, simple questions: “For whom does He pray? Why does He pray?” and, “For what does He pray?” To put it another way, we’re going to look at the subjects of His prayer, the reasons for His prayer, and the requests in His prayer.
Let’s start with the subjects of His prayer in verses 6 to 8: “I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word. Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee; for the words which Thou gavest Me I’ve given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from Thee, and they believed that Thou didst send Me.”
The subjects of His prayer initially are identified here as “the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world.” And He’s referring, obviously, primarily here to the disciples, particularly the eleven. Certainly beyond them, to all who believe in Him; but primarily He is addressing the disciples, who really are the firstfruits of all the rest of believers to come. The disciples had depended upon their beloved Master for everything. They were now to be left alone; from their viewpoint, thrown on their own resources. In a real sense, they could anticipate that Christ was to be gone, and this was a startling and frightening reality to them. Though Jesus had promised them that He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, even in the discourse that just was completed in chapters 13 to 16 in that upper room, He Himself would send the Spirit, and the Spirit would in reality be the Spirit of Christ returning, and it would be Him, in fact, coming back.
In spite of that pledge and promise, He knew they were heading for serious trial that was likely to shatter them and bring them to stresses that they never experienced when His visible and immediate presence was in their midst. Christ had always been their guide. He could be seen and followed and heard and touched and questioned. He had always been their guardian; He was ever-present; He was all-sufficient as a friend. He had borne their infirmities. He had upheld them in their weaknesses. He had protected them from evil. He had loved them with a capacity of love, the likes of which they had never even conceived of. And they had experienced His strength and they had experienced His gentleness. They experienced the fact that He had a word for every occasion and an answer to every problem. And the thought of losing Him was a paralyzing thought. And it’s in that vein that He says to the Father, “I manifested Thy name to the men Thou gavest Me out of the world. Thine they were and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word.”
But He knew He was leaving. “Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee;” – He says – “for the words which Thou gavest Me I’ve given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came from Thee, and they believe that Thou didst send Me. I ask on their behalf,” – verse 9 – “on their behalf.” It is for the disciples and for His own who will greatly miss His absence that He is praying; they are the subjects of His prayer.
And in a larger context, we are included in this. He says, “I have manifested Thy name to them.” And, of course, the idea of God’s name is the summation of all of His attributes. In the Old Testament, the expression “the name” is used in a very special way. It doesn’t just mean the identifying word to sort somebody out from the crowd, it means the whole nature and character of the person so far as it is known.
Psalm 9:10, “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” That is to say, “They that understand Your character.” Psalm 20, verse 7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 22:22, “I will declare Thy name unto my brethren.” Those who know His name know His character. And so, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God is saying, “I have declared Your name to them.”
In fact, more clearly, more perfectly than ever before, the full character of God has been manifest to them in the person of Jesus Christ who said, “If you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father.” He was full of grace and truth. He manifested the very nature of God to them, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, and it was the glory as of the protōtokos, the Premiere One who had come from the Father.”
There’s another thought here that I find fascinating as well. The name of God was so sacred. Because of all that it inherently contained of the expression of God’s nature, it was so sacred that it was never pronounced by the Jews, except that the high priest pronounced it when he went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Apart from that, no one ever spoke the name of God, the tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that might be transliterated best as Yahweh. It just was never spoken, it was too sacred. Even the biblical Scriptures that we have coming down to us in English from the original Hebrew do not use it. Instead of Yahweh, they took the consonants out of that and added the vowels out of the term Adonai, which means Lord, and created a word that doesn’t exist in the Hebrew, Yehovah or Jehovah, a substitute rather than speaking the sacred name of God.
You see, to them God was distant and transcendent and fearful and awesome and far away, remote, invisible; and His name was not for ordinary men to speak, or even extraordinary men for that matter. But Jesus says, “I came speaking God’s name.” Over and over again in the gospel of John He says, “My name is I AM.” That is the name of God, that is what Yahweh means. That name so sacred could be spoken; and Jesus spoke it often.
It should be spoken, because Jesus provides access to God. He’s no longer remote; He’s no longer distant; He’s no longer fearful and awesome and far away. We can even say, “Abba, Father.” So Jesus said, “I came and I showed them Your character, Father. I showed them Your nature, and I brought them near in a new intimacy, so that the humblest Christian, the weakest Christian can speak the sacred name of God without fear.”
Christ then moves to describe the subjects of His plea. He tells the Father who they are in detail. Let’s look at the detail. First He says, “I manifested” – verse 6 – “Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world.” And there is that reference again to the fact that every saved person is a gift from the Father to the Son.
I told you this morning, I say it again: seven times that is stated in this chapter, seven times. Jesus is here praying for those who are gifts from the Father to the Son, chosen by the Father before the world began, their names written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life; they are to be given to the Son as love gifts. And though they may have been despised by men, and particularly these eleven hated by the leaders of Israel, and though they were certainly the objects of Satan’s enmity and fury, they were nonetheless the chosen children of God, treasures given to the Son to show the Father’s love to the Son. It is a staggering thing, it never ceases to stagger me to realize that the Father chose me to give to the Son as an expression of His love. Every Christian is that love gift, given to the Son, received by the Son, kept by the Son, raised by the Son to glory.
Why is He saying this to the Father? Why is He reminding the Father that these are love gifts from the Father to the Son? He says, “You gave them to Me,” – verse 6 – “and they’ve kept Your word.” The mark of a true Christian always is obedience.
“Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee.” In other words, “They have a full knowledge of who I am, of why I came. They know You. They are Yours to give to Me; I have kept them. They have received the words You gave Me to speak. They’ve believe” – verse 8 – “everything that I have said and that I came from You.” In other words, He’s identifying them every way He can: “They are love gifts that You gave Me. They are obedient to Your word.”
And that is a mark of a true disciple. John 8, Jesus said this: “If you continue in My Word, then you’re My real disciple.” The manifestation of their true character is shown in the path of obedience which they willingly follow. That’s not the perfection of their life, but it is the direction of it.
And so, Jesus says, “Remember, they are the elect, and they are the obedient. They have followed and believed and obeyed. They believed that I have come in the flesh, God in human form sent from You.” So, they are love gifts, they’re obedient, and they’re orthodox; and they are the subjects of His prayer. All believers fall into that category.
But what is the reason for this prayer? We know now who the subjects are, but what is the reason? This is really wonderful and it’s contained in verses 9 and 10. He says, “I pray for them, I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine; and all things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” This is just marvelous. Jesus says, “I’m praying for them, not the world.”
People ask me the question often, “Does God plead with all sinners to repent?” And the answer is yes, He does. The gospel invitation, the gospel in its widest sense is extended to the world.
And then sometimes people will say, “Well, does Jesus then pray for the salvation of everyone?” Well, the answer to that question from a theological standpoint would be that Jesus would pray for the fulfillment of the Father’s will, and the Father’s will is to save whom He’s chosen. But the exegetical or textual answer to that is right here: “I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me.” He’s praying for the elect and the obedient and those who have come to an orthodox understanding of who He is, not the world.
There is one place in the New Testament where Jesus prayed a very broad prayer, and it was the last prayer He prayed before He died, and it was very short; and this was it: “Father,” – what? – “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was praying for the forgiveness of God on the terrible sin of executing Him. That’s the limit of Christ’s praying for the unregenerate. If He had wanted to He could have instantly forgiven them.
And I think He gives us a pattern there by just, in a broad sense, praying for their forgiveness. And I think that’s the way we need to pray. Obviously we need to pray that God would fulfill His divine purpose; but I think broader than that we need to pray for the ungodly and the Christ rejecters that God would be gracious and forgive their sins.
Jesus teaches us something similar to this in Matthew 5:44 where He says, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God does have a concern for the lost. God does have a concern for those who hate Him and persecute His people; and you will manifest God-like character when you have a concern for them and pray for those who persecute you.
Christ wants sinners to be saved. He wants men and women to be forgiven. And once on the cross He prayed for that in a very broad sense; but directly here, He is interceding in His high priestly work only for those whom the Father has designed to give to Him. This again is a staggering and humbling reality. What is it that causes me to be a part of this chosen group? Purely and only the goodness and mercy of God, to which I make no contribution.
The emphasis here is not on gospel effort, it’s not on a gospel invitation or an extension of the call to believe that can be broad and wide; this is an emphasis on intercession; and He only intercedes for His own. To put it another way, the unsaved just have to fend for themselves; but we have the eternal Christ as our Advocate.
He prays for those who are the true disciples because they are the personal property of God. Look at it in verse 9 again: “Thou hast given them to Me; for they are Thine.” They were His even before they were saved, because they were His by predetermination. “And all things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine.” They are God’s and they are Christ’s personal possession. And so, He says, “I’m praying for these who belong to You and to Me.”
Everything that belonged to the Father belonged to Him, everyone that belonged to the Father belonged to Him. And He is simply saying, “Father, I’m praying for them because You gave them to Me. I’m praying for them because they’re ours; and I’m asking You, Father, to care for them because they belong to us.” This is beautiful. We are the personal property of the Trinity, beloved and cared for; what a thought. We are the personal treasure of the eternal God.
At that moment it was a motley little group of outcasts, unsynagogued, hated, Galilean hicks and their friends. The men of their day saw nothing to mark them as eminent. But they were as always so wrong; for that little group was the treasure of the eternal God.
Way back in seminary as I began to understand the greatness of these truths, I developed a special love for a hymn, which occasionally we sing, and which I’m sure at least several times every month I sing in my own meditation. It says this: “I am His, and He is mine. Heaven above is softer blue, the earth is sweeter green; something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen.” Why? “Because I am His, and He is mine.” It’s an incredible reality.
Another hymn writer wrote it this way: “I belong to the King, hallelujah.” Another one said it this way: “I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice.” Another one put it this way: “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly.” And yet another said, “Now I belong to Jesus; Jesus my Lord will love me forever. From Him no evil can sever.” And there are many more. And so, Jesus is simply saying, “The reason I’m praying for them, Father, is because, one, You gave them to Me as love gifts to care for; and secondly, they belong to both of us.”
And there’s a second and perhaps even more important reason why He prays for them, verse 10, at the end of the verse, “I have been glorified in them. And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that we may be one even as We are.”
Just taking the first part of that eleventh verse and the last part of verse 10, Christ is saying that He wants the Father to care for the disciples so that they will be all they can be in order to display God’s glory. He says, “I have been glorified in them, and I want that to continue. I want to see them come to full glory. I’m no more in the world;” – verse 11, He’s now anticipating His leaving and it’s as if it already happened – “but they’re in the world and I’m coming to You. Father, keep them, in order that they might come to the fullness of glory. I’ve already been glorified in them. My glory is manifest in them and certainly through the work on the cross, the gift of eternal life, imputed righteousness, the hope of eternal glory.”
But He says, “I’m leaving. I’m leaving, and the glory display of My presence and their surrounding that presence will change, and they will remain. O Father, keep them.” What He’s really praying for is this: “I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there.” And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth; and when He left, Jesus said, “I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.”
Paul said, “It does come to pass, it is reality, Christ in you the hope of glory.” Paul said, “We become the temple of the Spirit of God radiating the glory of Christ to the world. Through us Christ shines.” “Let your light so shine, that men may see your good works and” – what? – “glorify your Father who’s in heaven.”
Is the shekinah still here? Is the shekinah of God that was in Christ and manifest when He pulled aside the veil of His flesh and was transfigured, is the Shekinah here? Yes. Where? In us, in whom dwells the Spirit of Christ.
Jesus left, but when He did He said, “Father, send the glory back to dwell in My people. Care for My true disciples, that the glory may shine through them.” So Christ is leaving, but only in the sense that His physical body is no longer to be on earth. His presence, His glory will remain and radiate through the body of Christ, the church.
So He prays for those three reasons. One, because we are the personal possession of the Trinity, a gift from the Father to the Son; and because we are the reflection, the radiation, the display of glory in the world that manifests the light of Christ to others. Second Corinthians 4 Paul makes this absolutely crystal clear in most glorious words. He says this: “For God who said light shall shine out of darkness is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” That’s an incredible statement. The glory of God, shining in the face of Christ placed in us, radiates, and we have this treasure, he says, in clay pots. As we learned when we went through 2 Corinthians, we’re just common, cheap, disposable, replaceable clay pots; but in us is the shining glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus prays then for us, because we are His love gifts, because we are the personal possession of the Trinity, and because we are – listen carefully – the lights in the world, Philippians 2. He’s made us to shine as lights. Now we come to the main part. We have talked about the subjects of His prayer, the reasons for His prayer; let’s come, thirdly, to the requests in His prayer.
What is Jesus desiring in your life? What is He desiring in mine? What does He ask the Father for? What does He specifically plead for in behalf of the beloved followers who belong to Him and to the Father? What does He want from those for whom He died?
First of all, one sort of glaring statement stands out in verse 15: “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world.” That’s the one negative element in this intercession. “I am not praying that You take them out of the world.”
We see two things in the chapter Jesus doesn’t pray for: He doesn’t pray for the world, and He doesn’t pray that believers will be removed from the hostile world. Why? Because we are the instruments through which the glory shines, that men may see our good works, glorify our Father who is in heaven, and come to the knowledge of Christ. Jesus never prayed that His disciples might find escape; He did pray that they would know victory.
The kind of Christianity, by the way, that buries itself in a monastery or a convent would not have seemed real to Jesus at all, and is not what He’s praying for. The life that is withdrawn from the world is a sad confusion of what Jesus intended for His own. Of course, there are times when we need to withdraw and retreat into the place of meditation, times when we shut out the world to be alone with God; but that is not an end in itself, but a means to the end that we go back into the world stronger to demonstrate the power given to us in those quiet times.
Jesus does not offer us easy peace, but He does offer us triumphant warfare. We must never desire to abandon the world, but always desire to win those whom the Father has set His purpose on. The apostle Paul, of course, is the great model of that; he was willing to give his life in the gospel enterprise. He says in Titus 1:1 he was a bondservant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of the elect. He suffered everything he suffered in order to get the gospel to those who would hear and believe.
And so, Jesus does not pray to take us out of the world; we are here to unfold His purpose. In fact in 2 Corinthians 5, you remember the verses from 18 to 20 where it says He’s given us the ministry of reconciliation, He’s given us the word of reconciliation, and we are therefore ambassadors as if God was begging through us that sinners would be reconciled to God. We’re here for that primary purpose.
In fact, as I told you in years past, the primary reason we’re left here is, in fact, the only compelling reason we’re left here is to fulfill this responsibility; and we would be better off in heaven on every other count. We will be perfectly righteous there; we’re not here. We’ll have perfect fellowship there; we don’t have it here. We’ll lift up perfect praise and worship there, which we are unable to do here. We will have perfect and pure motives there, which we do not have here. Everything could be better achieved in heaven except one thing, and that is the proclamation of the gospel to sinners who need to hear and believe.
So He doesn’t pray that we’ll leave, that’s not His prayer. This is what He prays for. First of all, verse 11 and 12, end of verse 11, “that they may be one even as we are, that they may be one.” He is saying, “Look, I am no more in the world, I’m leaving. Father, You’re going to have to take over.”
You know, I think maybe He had His anticipation even of the cross and the period of time between His execution and His sending of the Holy Spirit, or even the period of time between His execution and His resurrection. “Father, You’re going to have to hold them during that time.”
Do you understand, beloved, that you would lose your salvation in a heartbeat if you were not upheld by God? And Jesus is passing the responsibility on in that brief period of time, perhaps even between His death and His resurrection. “Father, You’ve got to take care of them. I’ve taken care of them; it’s Your turn. I’m coming back to You, and You need to take care of them.”
And how is the Father going to do that? Of course, by the sending of the Holy Spirit. And what was the goal? “That they may be one, even as We are.” They were about to face the world alone without the bodily presence of Christ. Jesus was going to the cross and then to the Father’s throne. There they would be without their friend, their guide, their guardian. But Jesus had promised them in chapters 14, 15, and 16 that the Spirit would come. And now He prays to the Father to make it happen. I love that. Even Jesus doesn’t take anything for granted; He knows that what God promises He has to do.
So the Savior speaks to the Father that His beloved little flock given to Him by the Father now belonging to them will be deprived of His personal care and exposed to the world, and it is up to the Father to activate all the promises that He has given them. Verse 11, He says, “I’m no more in the world; but they’re in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one even as We are.”
“O Father, hold on to them, hold on to them. Keep them through Your name.” What does that mean? “Keep them according to Your holy character and Your truthfulness. You said You would, and You’re holy and consistent to do what You say.”
You know, such concern on the part of Christ to me is a thrilling thing. I mean, I look at my own life, I don’t know how you do yours, I look at my own life and I look a long time to find anything that I could offer up to God as satisfactory. Do you? I mean, even my best efforts seem woefully short of what God is worthy of. And I am best at sorting out all of the things that displease God, and I would not at all be shocked if there was teaching in the Scripture that said, “If you blow it big you’re out of the picture, buddy.” But it is inconceivable to me that Christ could have this kind of commitment to me where if there is a moment in the flow of redemptive history when He can’t give full attention to one of His own, He passes the responsibility on to God so that nothing might happen to that one.
This is the extent of love, isn’t it, and infinite grace. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” And God so loved His Son that He gave Him a people who, conformed to His image, will all through eternity sing His praises. And we are valuable thus to Christ as love gifts from the Father, as the very possession of the Trinity itself, so valuable that He prays for our security. People want to debate and argue about eternal security. It doesn’t seem to be a debatable issue to me. It’s not up to me, it’s totally up to Him; and here’s a glimpse of how important it is to Him.
And He guards them with a view to them being one. What does that mean? I think one in common eternal life which we possess at salvation, I think there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer, and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that, it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.
He’s not praying that someday all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly, expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.
He not only prayed that we would know that kind of holy separation, but verse 12 He says, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished.” Isn’t that marvelous? Jesus said, “The whole time I was taking care of them, Father, nobody perished.”
“Now, Father, the son of perdition is going to come.” That’s Judas, named from his destiny, that’s Judas. “I kept them, Father, and I never lost them, and I promised I wouldn’t,” John 6:37 to 39. “I guarded them even in the garden,” John 18, I guarded them when the soldiers came, and I guarded them when they came; and they would have taken them prisoner if I had allowed it. And I said to those soldiers, ‘Who do you seek?’ and they repeated, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ twice, and therefore articulated with their own lips that their orders did not allow them to take those disciples. For if they had taken those disciples I would have lost them. But I made sure they didn’t take the disciples,” – John 18 says – “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. I lost none of them. It would have been a temptation more than they could bear, so I never let them have it. I protected them all the way.
“And I’ve kept them, and I told You I’d keep them. And now, Father, the son of perdition, Judas, the damnable one, the son of condemnation, so named because he is designated unto perdition, unto destruction, unto eternal hell, he’s coming, and the whole issue of betrayal and crucifixion is going to take place, and sin-bearing; and Father, You’re going to have to care for them, and You’re going to have to keep them holy, and You’re going to have to keep them separate from the world. You’re going to have to make sure they don’t go back in, but they stay united and separate.” And so, He prays for their holy unity; and secondly, He prays for their joy, verse 13.
By the way, the end of verse 12 the Scripture did predict that this would all happen in the plan of God. Psalm 41:9, Psalm 109 talks about this whole betrayal with Judas. But verse 13, “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” Jesus has prayed aloud in the presence of His disciples. Right now He’s praying as He prays this, and they’re hearing Him, and He says, “I want them to have joy. I’m coming to You, and I’m speaking these things out loud right here where they can hear, so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.”
What does that mean? “When they hear My love for them articulated, when they hear My concern for them to be protected and secured articulated, it’s going to give them great joy.” It was their joy that was on His heart in chapter 15 when He said in verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
“O Father, I want them to hear this prayer because it will bring them joy.” Does it do that to you? It sure does to me. Wow. Wow. When I hear the Savior pray for me like this, intercede for me like this, when I realize nothing can separate me from the love of God, as Romans 8 says, in Christ, because of this kind of love and this kind of care and protection and intercession, it produces joy in my heart, it takes out all the fear. For us to understand this kind of loving intercession is a constant source of joy.
And there’s a third thing Jesus prayed for, not only their holy oneness and separation from the world to be maintained, but their joy; and thirdly, their protection, their protection. Verse 14: “I’ve given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they’re not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” He forms the hostility there. “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from” – whom? – “the evil one.”
If there’s one thing that Satan wants to do, if there’s one great enterprise that he would like to accomplish, it is the destruction of saving faith. There is nothing that would be more satisfactory to Satan than to exhibit the kind of power it would take to tear someone out of Christ’s hand. You understand that? This is a battle over one who wants to be sovereign and is not. And what Satan wants more than anything else is to take those who belong to God out of God’s hand, out of Christ’s hand. He’s the one ultimately in John 10 who is “unable to pluck them out of My hand, or My Father’s hand.” But that’s what he wants to do.
He wanted to do it to Job. He went to heaven, he said to God, Job chapters 1 and 2, he said, “Look, all these people worship You and serve You because You bless them all the time. Stop blessing them; let their life go bad, and then see how they treat You.” He was going to prove to God that saving faith could be destroyed by negative circumstances. God said, “Have at it. You can do anything to Job except take his life, and let’s see if saving faith can be destroyed.”
Now I don’t think Satan wanted to kill Job, because that wouldn’t prove the point. What he wanted was a living Job who denied his God; and so he assaulted him, and destroyed his family, and destroyed all his possessions, and turned him into a destitute and sick man, sitting in a heap of dust scraping scabs off the boils on his body. And all he had left was his wife who kept saying the wrong stuff, and he probably wished that she had been shipped out along with everybody else.
And then the Lord sent him three friends, and as you well know, they sat there for seven days and said nothing; and that was the last contribution they made. As soon as they opened their mouth, all wisdom left, and they compounded his pain by incessant accusations against him, which were not true. But in the end his faith never was broken. In fact, it was strengthened. In chapter 42 he said, “I have heard of Thee with the hearing of mine ear; but now my eye sees Thee, and I repent in dust and ashes. Sorry, God, for any inkling of distrust through all of this; I know see You far more clearly than ever. You can’t break saving faith.
Satan came to Jesus in Luke 22 and said he wanted Peter. And so Jesus told Peter. He said, “Satan desires to have you that he may sift you like wheat. And I told him, ‘Go at it.’” He wanted to destroy Peter’s faith; couldn’t do it. Jesus said, “And when it’s over and you’re turned around, you’ll strengthen the brethren.” And there was a demon attacking Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, and he prayed three times for that messenger of Satan to be put away, and the Lord three times said no. Sure, Satan wants to destroy the faith of Peter and the faith of Paul, that would be monumental, but it can’t be done. Why? Because the Lord Jesus intercedes; and here He commits that care to the Father, “Keep them from the evil one.”
They had received the Word. They had been begotten again, born again of the Word, washed by the water of the Word. They were converted, they belonged to God. But now the supernatural powers of hell were unleashed against them, particularly in the absence of Jesus. And you remember, you began to see their tremendous attack as Peter is warming himself, you remember, around the fire, and the assault on his faith comes. And all the rest of the disciples are scattered in fear, and it looks like the whole thing is going to disintegrate. Jesus anticipated that, and He wants the Father to hold on to them in that time when He’s unable to do that, and protect them from the onslaught of the wicked one.
And then there’s a fourth component. He prays for their holy unity, for their joy and their protection; and lastly, He prays for their sanctification by the Word. Verse 16, He says, “They’re not of the world, even as I’m not of the world.” There’s a beautiful identification. “I’m holy and separate and set apart, and so are they.”
Verse 17, one of the most wonderful things Jesus ever said on our behalf, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy Word is truth.” Sanctify, hagiason, make them holy, make them separate from sin.” How do you do that? By the Word. Let the Word do its work. I love this statement: “Thy Word is truth.” It doesn’t say, “Thy Word contains truth,” it says, “Thy Word is truth. And take that Word and set them apart from sin.” David said it, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin.”
Verse 18: “As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, I set Myself apart to this task of death, I set Myself apart, that they themselves also may be set apart in truth. If I don’t die they could never be sanctified by the Word, by the truth. I will set Myself apart willingly to die on the cross, that they might be set apart to You through the truth.”
This is the prayer of Jesus: “O Father, give them a consistent, holy oneness, separate from the world. Don’t let them blend in. Don’t let them fall back. Give them a full joy in the knowledge of My love and Your love for them, and Our care. Provide complete and ongoing protection from the evil one and all his forces. And finally, set them apart as pure and distinct, as they come to know and live out the Word of God.”
He knows all this is God’s will, He knows all this is God’s promise, He knows He must die to make it possible; but nonetheless, He prays that God would bring it to pass; and we see the passion of His heart for us. This is a remarkable passage, unlike any in Scripture, as the Savior intercedes for His own. This didn’t just happen one day on the Mount of Olives two thousand years ago, this same kind of intercession is going on right now for you and for me, for our holy, loving unity, for our full joy in the knowledge of His love, for our complete protection from the evil, one and for our sanctification through the Word.
With all of that understanding of the divine purpose and the divine power, there’s a remarkable mystery in all of this – and I close with this – and that is that though God will do this, some of us will experience the doing of it with full joy and blessing, and some of us will experience it kicking and screaming with reluctance. I don’t know about you, but if I had my choice, I would rather be perfected by the truth than by trials, wouldn’t you?
Is the fullness of this prayer really the passion of your heart? Are you pursuing a holy, loving unity? Is your heart ever overflowing with joy in the knowledge of the love of God and Christ for you? Are you rejoicing in the unrelenting protection that He offers you from the evil one, and are you taking advantage of the armor provided? Are you pursuing the Word with a passion and an eagerness and taking it in so that it can be translated into a sanctified life?
I don’t know about you, but if these resources are laid at my feet and I have the smallest dose of wisdom, I will pursue them with all my might, wouldn’t you? I want the fullness in this life of all that God has for me. Yes, He will bring us all to glory; but the trip should be a blessing and not a constant chastening.
Father, we thank You for this great chapter, and more than that, this great reality, that Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. We’re overwhelmed by all of this, thrilled by it. Lord, may we be committed to it. And the mystery of all of this is that somehow we participate with a willing heart in the answer to these prayers, and experience the fullness of blessing; or we are unwilling and dilatory and resistant and rebellious, and we forfeit the blessing. We thank You for the mercy that will bring us to glory, and we seek to know the fullness of blessing of a compliant and eager heart. Grant us that by Your Spirit we pray for Christ’s sake. Amen.
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