The People of ChristDecember 03, 2020
by Brandon Crowe
When Jesus drew near to His final hour on the cross, having already loved His disciples who were in the world, “he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). This begins John’s narration of the events surrounding the last evening of Jesus’ earthly life, when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and teaches them about His cleansing (vv. 1–20), encourages them about His impending departure (13:31–16:33), and then prays what is often known as His High Priestly Prayer (17:1–26). It is remarkable that Jesus does not cease to shepherd His disciples even as He faces His own death and the grueling prospect of bearing the wrath of God against sin.
Prayer and The Mission of Jesus
After the opening verses of the prayer (John 17:1–5), much of what follows focuses on the disciples of Jesus—near and far. Keeping with the themes of this final night of His life, Jesus focuses His attention on His people. This is not the first time in John that Jesus has spoken about His mission to save His people. Earlier, in His Bread of Life Discourse at the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus reveals that He has come to do the will of His Father in heaven, which involves losing not one person from those whom the Father had given Him but raising each one up on the last day (6:38–40). For all who come to Christ in faith will receive eternal life, and everyone the Father gives Christ will come to Him (v. 37).
Prayer for a Particular People
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is consistent with the mission revealed in John 6. He focuses His prayer specifically on His people (17:9): Jesus prays not for the world at large but specifically for those whom the Father had given Him. Readers of John already know that it is the will of the Father that Jesus not lose anyone who has been given to Him; His prayer is therefore in accord with the will of the Father. In 1 John, the Apostle writes that if we ask anything according to God’s will, then we know He hears us (5:14–15). Surely this is preeminently true of Christ Himself, whose prayers were heard because of His godliness (Heb. 5:7). Eternal life is offered freely to anyone who believes in Jesus (John 3:16–17), but to reject Jesus is to stand under condemnation (v. 18). Jesus makes distinctions between those who are true children of Abraham by faith in Christ (8:56) and those who are of the world (vv. 23–24)—those who are only physical children of Abraham (vv. 37, 39) but whose father is actually the devil (vv. 38, 41, 44). Jesus reveals His heavenly Father (5:19–30; 8:28, 38, 49), who is, through Christ, also the Father of all who believe in Jesus (20:17).
Jesus thus prays specifically for His disciples, for they belong to His Father (17:9). More than that, since all that the Father has is granted to the Son (5:26–27), all those who belong to the Father belong also to the Son (17:10). To tease out the logic of 17:9–10, Jesus prays for His disciples in particular because they belong to the Father and the Son. These are the disciples whom Jesus has protected during His ministry—only Judas, the betrayer, has gone astray, and this was to fulfill Scripture (v. 12). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep and who lays down His life that His sheep might live (10:10–11). Inherent in this statement is a distinction: the Good Shepherd does not give up His life indiscriminately for all but does so only for His own sheep. Jesus’ prayer, focused on a particular people, is thus consistent with His focus on a particular people throughout the gospel of John.
Prayer and Imminent Departure
Jesus also prays for His people because His hour of glorification—which in John entails the “lifting up” of the Son in His death, resurrection, and ascension—is at hand. His departure is imminent. Jesus is not of the world and is departing to heaven (17:11). The disciples must be kept because the world is in the throes of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Therefore, Jesus prays that His disciples will be kept from the evil one (John 17:15). In 1 John 5:18–19, we read that Jesus Himself keeps His disciples from the evil one. This may also be in view in the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the petition that Jesus’ disciples be delivered from “[the] evil [one]” (Matt. 6:13). The devil opposes God’s children, which is why it’s encouraging to know that Jesus casts out the ruler of this world (John 12:31) and has come to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Jesus keeps us from evil, for He has overcome the devil on our behalf. The obedience of Jesus stands in the background of Jesus’ prayer, and Jesus states earlier that He has finished the work that was given to Him (John 17:4).
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