Jesus is about to be arrested and taken before the religious and political powers of His day where He will be condemned, and eventually crucified. Yet, practically the last thing He does is to enter into prayer on behalf of the disciples and the lost world. What was it that was of such importance that compelled Jesus to pray to His Father on such a momentous night?
Jesus, knowing He was about to die and leave the disciples to carry on the work of proclaiming the Gospel in a hostile world, opens His prayer with a few simple statements. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them.” John 17:6-9a There are two things about the disciples that separate them from the world according to Jesus words. The disciples know for certainty that Jesus came from the Father and the Father sent Him, and they accepted the words that the Father, through Jesus had for them. Jesus then prays three specific requests, of the Father on behalf of the disciples and by proxy all Christians.
Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so they may be one as we are one.” John 17:11b Though we can trust in the words of Jesus prayer for a general protection in our life, there also seems to be a specific reason behind His words. Jesus says Father protect them that, “they may be one as we are one.” Jesus knows that we as Christians have a tendency to bicker and argue, and if we are to live life to the fullest, we need harmony and unity in our life.
Jesus goes on to pray, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they have the full measure of my joy within them. The natural result of being one in Christ as well as finding harmony with family and friends is that we will experience joy. Just remember back to the last argument you had with a friend or family member to know that when you are out of unity with that person there is no joy in your life. Now think back to when everything was clicking in those same relationships, and you remember those times with joy. Every time I think about this text I can’t help but think about how much God loves us by praying that we should have a full measure of His love to dwell within us. True joy also comes from our being in harmony with the will of God.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 15-17 Again Jesus prays for protection for the disciples and again there is a specific aspect to it. The prayer is for protection from the evil one. Jesus doesn’t say that He wants the father to remove us from a dangerous environment instead He prays that we have the strength and trust to continue as God’s people in spite of the dangers and disappointments.
John Tenny in his commentary on John helps unpack the idea behind the word sanctify. “ Sanctify means to separate or to set apart usually for some specially good purpose or use. Its derivative meaning thus becomes dedicate or consecrate and then to revere or to purify. The believer is so changed by the working of God’s word in his life that he is separated from evil and to God. This new devotion, which results in separation from evil, produces purification of life and consecration to God’s service.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9
Jesus knows that life for the disciples is going to get very difficult and will eventually lead to their death at the hands of those people who oppose the gospel. His prayer is that they will be consecrated and dedicated to the task God has given them. His prayer is that their faith and devotion to God will keep them focused on the cross and not on the troubles and disappointments they are about to encounter.
We can take heart in Jesus prayer for the disciples and for us. He prayed for our unity, that we might have joy as well as for our protection from the work of the evil one that would try and separate us from God. These are the gifts of prayer that Jesus offers up to the Father on our behalf, because we remain in this world with all its temptations, traps and ambushes. We may stumble and fall many times on our spiritual journey, but that’s not the point. What is assured is that Jesus is there to pick us up, through the power of His prayers, and He will see us home.