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Relevant Passages: John 17

This prayer of consecration by a sinless Jesus to his Father can be divided into four sections depending on who Jesus is praying for:

  1. Himself, that the Father will glorify him, vs. 1-5
  2. His disciples whom Jesus prays the Father will keep from danger and make holy, vs. 6-19
  3. Those who will believe because of the future witness of these disciples, who Jesus prays will be fully united, vs. 20-23
  4. His original disciples who Jesus prays will see his “glory” and to whom he promises to continue making known his Father’s name, vs. 24-26 .

Modern Western readers of this prayer may recognize its elevated style but find themselves at some distance from the emphasis on “glory”, “glorifying” and “name”. Any reader of John will remember that this emphasis pervades the entire book of John from 1:14 to 21:19. Jesus’ first-century culture prized the giving of praise and practiced the public acknowledgment of the virtues of its leaders. The obedience of a capable son to his father’s authority was particularly praise-worthy. So the wording of Jesus’ prayer were utterly appropriate in conveying the depths of Jesus’ devotion to both his Father and his disciples. Jesus acknowledges His Father’s authority and presents all his accomplishments as acts of obedience to his Father’s command. This is a Father- centered prayer even while it acknowledges the ministry of Jesus. Throughout the prayer the worth and work of the Father are acknowledged (vs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, etc.).

The placement of the prayer just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion gives a strong ironic twist to the language of honor. Crucifixion was specifically intended to publicly humiliate the criminal. Yet Jesus had already spoken of his impending crucifixion as the moment of his supreme power when the world is judged, Satan overthrown and all will be drawn to the crucified Messiah, the “King of the Jews” (12:31-34; see 19:19). Only in the up-side-down world of Jesus does this work.

Jesus focuses on the strong forces at work to rip apart the unity of his followers. See vv. 11-12, 20-23 for explicit mention. The unity that Jesus prays for is founded on love and truth “the love of the Father towards the Son and the truth of Jesus” claim to be of the Father. The unity of Father and Son are the basis of all true ecumenism. This impregnable unity manifested in the love of the believers for each other will be the strongest possible witness to the world.

For reflection and discussion:

  1. Is the bestowal of eternal life restricted to those who know Jesus Christ and his Father (John 17:2,3)? What of those millions who have never heard the name of Jesus?
  2. With so much still unfinished, how can Jesus say to his Father, “I have completed the work you gave me” (17:4)? This prayer is uttered on the night of his arrest before his crucifixion and before the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world.
  3. How might Jesus’ declaration that he has “glorified” his Father and his petition that his Father “glorify” him be grasped in western cultures that do not place quite the emphasis on public honor? Are there alternate ways to speak of Christ’s relationship with his Father that do not compromise the achievement of Jesus?
  4. Is it possible to center our attention on Jesus and his achievements while ignoring His Father? Can we be overly Christ-centered in our theology and praise? How might the practice of prayer bring the right balance?
  5. The Holy Spirit, so prominent in chaps. 14-16, is not mentioned in this prayer. Why?
  6. What does Jesus mean in v. 19 when he declares in this prayer that he now consecrates himself or makes himself holy for the sake of the men his Father gave him?
  7. What does Jesus ask for in this prayer? See vs. 11, 15, 17, 20-21, and 24.
  8. The Sermon on the Mount gives attention to the assertive actions of believers towards non-believers as the way to win the outsiders to the worship of God (5:16, 38-48). But the Gospel of John emphasizes the other side of witness “the tenacious unity of the believers expressed in love towards one another in the face of powerful forces that would divide them and turn them against each other” (17:20-23; 15:16, 17). But in reality, the tendency to splinter and fall away under persecution appears to be well-nigh universal. How is this remarkable vision of Jesus for the powerful witness of a church united in love to be realized? Is it being realized in the current ecumenical endeavors among the various branches of Christianity?

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