John 17: Jesus’ final prayer
All four gospel writers tell us about the Last Supper, but John gives us far more details about that evening. He must have read the other 3 gospel writer’s accounts of that evening and knew that without his contribution much of importance would be lost. This is why he gives a huge portion of his book… everything from the first verse in Chapter 13 through the end of chapter 17, 153 verses… to what happened during Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. And the entire 17th chapter is a heartfelt prayer from Jesus. Jesus had been talking about prayer at the end of chapter 16 and he’d said something like this to his disciples. ‘When you pray, if you tell God you are coming in my name, he’ll listen and he’ll give you what you are asking for! So, from now on, when you pray, use my name! You haven’t done this before but do it now!’ Jesus was telling his disciples that they could speak to God as if they were ambassadors for Jesus. This was an aspect of 1st Century culture. Jesus was saying that if they used his name as the one who’d sent them to his father, then they would be received in the same way his father would receive Jesus. This was a remarkable shift in approaching God. And surprisingly the disciples understood this shift and said so with enthusiasm. This understanding is what seems to have driven Jesus to start praying in chapter 17.
Starting in verse 1 of chapter 17 we read After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come…” Jewish prayer at that time was generally done standing up, arms out, eyes open looking upward and out loud. We can’t be certain about this, but all signs would point to Jesus standing to pray. We also know that it is most likely that the disciples were reclining at a low table… lying down on the floor on their left sides with their feet away from the table, leaning on their left elbows and eating with their right hands. Jesus standing to pray would have made his words very clear to all those in the room. If you want more information about dinning practices in 1st Century Palestine, email me. I know a good deal about this subject and the practices make this meal something even more poignant.
Some say that this prayer is a bit disorganized, even confusing. (This is often said about much of what Jesus is quoted as saying in John’s gospel. I have some thoughts on this. Again, email me if you want more information about this discussion) The situation doesn’t lend itself to a highly cogent prayer, though. Jesus knew that he was about to be arrested, tried, and crucified that evening. His prayer was emotional and filled with things that were weighing heavily on his mind in the heat of that moment.
Jesus began by praying, ‘Father, the hour has come…’ ‘Hour’ in that time was a word used to speak of a period of time, not 60 minutes (they didn’t have minutes). He is talking about his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and death. He then says this, ‘Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. 2 For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.’ (John often quotes Jesus talking in the third person. It is a stylistic aspect of this gospel). These statements have caused arguments between Reformed Theologians and Universalists. Reformed Theologians say that even though Jesus has authority over everyone, this is proof that only certain people were given to Jesus by his father and that only those certain people will be given eternal life; the Universalists say it’s just the opposite; God gave authority over everyone to Jesus and so since everyone belongs to Jesus, everyone will get eternal life. John, himself, adds an editorial comment to stop this kind of bickering that must have arisen in some form during his lifetime, when he adds verse 3 to his text. John often adds editorial comments to make things clearer. The most famous editorial addition is John 3:16-18. Here is his comment: 3 And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. John clarifies that the way to eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus the one God sent to earth. End of the story!
Jesus’ prayer continues. 4 I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. What Jesus prayed here is essentially, ‘Father, I’ve done everything you told me to do… so, it’s time for you to bring me home.’ Jesus was ready for THIS HOUR to pass so he could go home to be with his father!
Jesus then prays for his disciples. The next 14 verses are all prayer for his disciples… in this prayer he asks God to protect his disciples once he has returned to his father; he asks that God will continue to give his disciples joy because the world will hate them; Jesus asks that God will make his disciples ‘holy’ by teaching them His truth and His word; And finally he asks that God be with them as they are sent out into the world… and he adds, sent out into the world to be a sacrifice just like he is going to be a sacrifice! My thought is that this scared the disciples somewhat and made it almost impossible to forget this prayer. We also know, from the record we have in Acts and in other New Testament letters that God answered all these requests by Jesus! This is something that is often missed.
Jesus then prays for his coming disciples… that would include us! 20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! Right before Jesus goes to the cross the one thing he asked God to do for us… for those of us who now believe because of the message the disciples gave to the world… is that we experience such perfect unity that the world can’t help but know that God loves them as much as he loves Jesus. I’m unsure that this prayer has ever been fully answered and I am certain that this brings Jesus much heartache.
The final words of Jesus’ prayer are a bit of a summary of all that he has prayed up to this point. I can feel Jesus taking a deep breath and pausing for a moment, then slowly praying, “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” Now, one quick note at this point. The word ‘disciples’ is not in the original Greek of this verse… it simply says … ‘and these know you sent me.’ I feel this is a continuation of Jesus’ prayer for all of his disciples… those who know that God sent Jesus… and those who have learned a lot about God by listening to Jesus. These are words of commitment to us: Jesus is making a statement to his father that he is with us… that he will continue to reveal God to us and that he will be in us! All of the verb tenses in this section tell us that Jesus was committing from that moment onward into the future, as in forever, committing to continue to both reveal his father to us and be with us in a supernatural way that can only be described as ‘in us.’ This is important! It tells us that once we’ve made the decision to be all in… to be a disciple of Jesus… we can rest in the assurance that Jesus has already committed himself to us through a promise he made to his father! This is good news… it’s encouraging and reassuring and life giving to know that that in Jesus’ last moments before he went to the cross he was praying for you and for me… praying that we would be united and promising his Father in Heaven that he would remain committed to us, faithful to us, forever. And he is faithful. He will never let us go… he has promised to be with us and in us… and to live through us in ways that shares this message with our very needy world: This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be defeated by the brokenness of the world; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again and tell the world that anyone who trusts in Jesus is set free to find new life. John 3:16-18a.