If you’ve had a relationship with Jesus for any length of time, you can probably recall Him speaking to you personally. He may have told you to talk to a friend about their need for Him. He may have encouraged you from a Bible verse you had read many times before, but this time, it came with special force as if spoken directly to your heart.
I don’t know how many times you’ve read John 17, but I’ve read it many times. It was the night Jesus was arrested before He was tried, tortured and crucified. He was in the upper room sharing His last Passover meal with His disciples. In this most intimate setting, He washed His disciples’ feet, explained the significance of the meal, told them He was leaving them, promised to send them the Holy Spirit, gave them final encouragement and instructions, and finally, in chapter 17, He prayed for them.
I’ve read the passage many times before, but once, when I got to verse 20, it became personal. I was not just imagining what the disciples felt when Jesus was praying for them. I realized He really was praying for me:
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
– John 17:20-21 (KJV)
I had read this before and understood it mentally, but this time I was as sure of Jesus’ intercession for me as if I was sitting there in that upper room with Peter, Andrew, John and the rest. Jesus was praying for me, personally. What a wonderful thought! I was just as much a beneficiary as they were.
Here’s what Jesus asked God the Father on my (and your) behalf:
- “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (verse 11)
He pled the Father’s protection for me while I’m still in the world. I live in a dangerous place. Satan does his best to try to get me to stumble, fall, and never get up again. The world’s ideals constantly press in on me, and my flesh wants nothing more than to please itself. There are troubles and dangers everywhere. I need God’s protection so I can be in unity with the rest of the body of Christ. And because Jesus asked, I am assured I have it. No one is able to snatch me out of my heavenly Father’s hand (John 10:29-30).
- “these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (verse 13)
He desired that I would have His joy in myself. Jesus shared this last Passover meal with His disciples knowing He was going to suffer and die. And yet He spoke of His joy as something that suffering could not diminish – indeed it would make greater. He said “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:20-22). The sorrows I have are temporary. The joy is eternal.
- “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (verse 15)
He also begged the Father’s protection for me from the evil one. My ultimate destination is heaven, but God has a reason for me to remain in the world for now. I am to be salt and light. While I am in the world, I need to be protected from temptation to remain effective. Because Jesus asked, I have that protection. Paul said “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (verse 17)
He prayed for my sanctification, that I would become holy like Him: separated from the world to Himself for His own use. As Jesus was in the world but not of it (18-19), I am to be like Him: in the world, but not of it (16). This would be impossible, except that sanctification is God’s job, not mine. Jesus sanctified Himself for me, so that when God placed me in Christ (who is the Word and the Truth – John 1:1, 14:6), I am truly sanctified.
- “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (verse 21)
Jesus pled for my unity with all believers. Not just any unity, but in the same way that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. And Jesus also desires that we all (not just me) be one in both Him and the Father.
To be one with each other means to share common interests and goals, looking out not only for our own interests but the interests of God. We need to seek to further God’s kingdom, so that the world will know that the Father sent Jesus (21, 23), and that the world will know the Father loves us as He loves the Son (23). If we are not in unity, the world will not see Jesus in us. If we are self-seeking, glory will be diverted away from Jesus.
- “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (verse 23)
Jesus asked that my unity with Himself and all other believers would reach maturity as a witness to the world – so that the world will know that the Father sent Him, and that the Father loves us just as He loves His beloved Son. Jesus wants this unity perfected. I can’t be satisfied with just 99%. I can only have a good witness if my unity with Christ is mature (perfect).
- “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me” (verse 24)
Wow! Jesus wants me to be with Him and see His glory in heaven. This is not just idle talk. Jesus is preparing a place for me (14:1-3), and when it is ready, He will take me to be with Him.
- “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (verse 26)
Jesus has declared His Father’s name (character) to me so that the Father’s love would be in me, and Christ would be in me. Not that the Father would love me… He already does. But that I would be able to grasp the love the Father has for the Son, and the love He has for me because I am “in Christ”. Jesus also desires to be “in” me. It is when Jesus dwells in me that I bear fruit to God’s glory.
One other thing Jesus asked the Father for. In John 14:16. He said He would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, which I received from Him when He saved me.
Jesus did not pray for things I might have wanted Him to pray for, like good health, a good job, a comfortable lifestyle. He prayed primarily for my unity with other believers and Himself.
I saw this passage as what it is: Jesus’ personal prayer for me. If you’ve trusted in Jesus to save you, He pled for these same things for you too! Can you comprehend that?
We all know that God answers prayer, but sometimes the answer is not what we want. We pray for a loved-one’s healing or another’s salvation, not knowing how God will answer. Sometimes the answer is “yes”, but other times the answer is “wait” or even “no”.
But Jesus never received a “no” or “wait” from His Father. It was always “yes”, because He was in unity with His Father – He did not desire what His Father did not desire (John 11:22, 41-42).
(When Jesus wept in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, He asked that His cup of suffering would pass from Him, but He qualified His request with “not My will but Thine”. I believe we are incredibly blessed that He did submit to His Father’s will, because if He hadn’t, His Father would have granted Him what He first asked for, and we would still be hopelessly lost in our sins (Matthew 26:53). Jesus prayers are always answered with a “yes”.)
I appreciate others praying for me, but I appreciate so much more Jesus Christ praying for me because there’s no doubt about the answer.
Read and meditate on John 17, and know the incredible security of having Jesus praying for you – He still does (Hebrews 7:25)!
See also 2 Corinthians 1:20, Romans 8:29-39.