It is time to read and meditate afresh on what our Lord was communicating in John 17.
Introductory Message to John 17
The Prayer of Jesus in John 17
There are a lot of prayers in the Bible, from the urgent cries packed in one sentence to the formal, dedicatory prayers and intercessory prayers of national consequence. Seeing how prayer permeates Scripture, we come to understand that a fundamental discipline of the Christian life is prayer.
Do you pray? As believers in the Bible felt compelled to pray continually, so should we. Did you talk to the Lord at all yesterday? As a redeemed but dependent creature, can you go through a day without thanking, praising, or petitioning your Savior Creator? If you didn’t talk to God yesterday, what does that say about your life? When we don’t pray, do we realize how arrogant and prideful this is? Pride is living the day independently of God.
Certainly, the One who rises above all as our chief example in prayer is the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did the Son of God pray –for example, during His baptism, when He chose His disciples, departing alone for prayer, spending whole nights in prayer, communion in Gethsemane, on the cross, etc., but He showed us how to pray. And He provided for us vital and precious revelation about Himself in His prayers. In regards to the last thought, the Highly Priestly Prayer of John 17—a title given to the chapter since at least the time of David Chytraeus (1530-1600)—is the sparkling diamond. It is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible by the Son to His Father. And it invites us right into understanding the heart of our Savior.
(Let’s all stand together for the reading of John 17 – Read the chapter with the church family)
Some of the Lord’s prayers reveal Jesus in his humanity, like “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”, but this prayer nestled at the end of John’s Gospel wonderfully communicates His deity. All genuine believers in their humanity pray to God, but no human has ever prayed to God like this Man. This is no “everyday prayer”. The contrast is sharp between Jesus’ prayer and mine.
Todd Wood does not say in his prayers:
- Glorify me, Father
- I have authority over all flesh
- Eternal life is knowing me
- I am the example of perfect obedience
- I preexisted with the Father
- I know the Father as Jesus does
- The Father has given a people to me to enhance my glory
- My words are always God’s words
- I eternally keep people
- I want all believers throughout the dispensation of the church age to see my glory in the hereafter
The prayer of John 17 is Jehovah Son praying to Jehovah Father. When you see the verb, “pray” (KJV), in verses 9, 15, and 20, this is a King talking to a King. The verb expresses more than just the request of a human insubordinate to a superior. It is the manifestation of divine will and desire. As far as I know, this verb is not connected with any other human in prayers to God. Without a doubt, the requests made by the God-Man to the Father do not go unanswered. All will be fulfilled.
So as we desire to carefully examine the details of this prayer in our upcoming series of expositions through this chapter, let’s begin by simply dividing the prayer into three main paragraphs. In verses 1-5, Jesus is praying for Himself. The Savior then prays for the apostolic company in verses 6-19. And in conclusion, He lifts up all believers to the Father in verses 20-26.
The Positioning of John 17
John 17 is the climax of Jesus’ words before He is taken to the cross. The hour is come. D.A. Carson notes, “John 17 is part of the crescendo to which such passages as 1:29, 34; 3:14-15; 6:51-58; 10:11; 11:49-52; 13:8 have been building, a crescendo that is climaxed in chs. 18-20 in the passion and triumph of Jesus the Messiah.”
Positioned at the end of the Farewell Discourse, the chapter becomes the transition from Jesus’ teaching his disciples to the hour of His Passion.
Any serious reader of John’s Gospel will observe that the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer ties together all the preceding chapters in a divine dance of joyous unity and giving. The Son is glorifying the Father. The Father glorifies the Son. They are one, always have been, always will be. It is with joy that the Father gives to the Son. And only through the efficacious fount of grace alone, the Son gives to the chosen redeemed, drawing us into the marvelous oneness experienced by Father and Son. The Son is face to face with the Father. And someday, we will be face to face with Jesus Christ. One hundred and ten years ago, Carrie E. Breck wrote a poem. She had no pitch, but she sure desired to write concerning her Christian experience and anticipation of seeing Jesus Christ. She penned,
Face to face with Christ my Savior, Face to face—what will it be, When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me?
Only faintly now I see Him, With the darkning veil between, But a blessed day is coming, When His Glory shall be seen.
What rejoicing in His presence, When are banished grief and pain; When the crooked ways are straightened, And the dark things shall be plain.
Face to face—O blissful moment! Face to face—to see and know; Face to face with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ who loves me so.
Chorus: Face to face I shall behold Him, Far beyond the starry sky; Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by.
Jesus has been talking about unity, giving, and glory in John’s Gospel. In chapter 17, He is praying these themes. Are we sinfully standing in the way of this unity and glory through our thoughts, words, or actions?
Power of Jesus in John 17
Illustration: Recently, we had some famous NBA players included in the Basketball Hall of Fame. We do realize that the ceremonies for the Basketball Hall of Fame are all about glory. Two men in particular stood out: Michael Jordan and David Robinson. As Michael Jordan spoke for over twenty minutes, one person came forth loud and clear—himself. But in the less than seven minutes that David Robinson spoke, he thanked his family, honored his wife and children, and most of all thanked God. He made reference to the ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel. Really, who do we think we are in robbing God of glory?
John 17 is about glory. The chapter is loaded with heavenly glory. Humans quite often submit themselves to sacrifices in order to seek glory. The hunter will weather rough sleeping quarters, pre-dawn freezing temperatures, long treks, and cold food in the hopes of bagging a Rocky mountain bull elk. The athlete will endure endless practices, grueling workouts, and strong opponents in the desire to acquire the gold medal. The laborer will work hours on tasks, many days in labor, and protracted periods on projects in order to receive influence, position, power, and bonuses. But no creature comes close to their sacrifices for obtaining glory as what we see in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He, and not we, left celestial glory and His eternal dwelling abode with the Father to come down to this earth. He, as perfect spirit Creator, and not we, took on a mortal, creaturely body. He condescended to the status of His fallen, sinful creature. We do not have a clue concerning this kind of sacrifice. But why did He sacrifice? Certainly, it was the greatest act of love to save us from our sin and judgment in the midst of our helplessness. Yet also, He gave all that He might receive all. He is in a unique category as a glory recipient. No human has ever sacrificed like the Lord Jesus Christ — not Job, not Joseph, and not even Jeremiah in his life-long ministry of suffering, weeping, and rejection. So as the humble Jesus laid aside glory, He now desires to be glorified. And it is His divine will that all believers behold His glory. This chapter, John 17, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, greatly glorifies Jesus. The glory of the Triune God is everything.
Throughout church history, God’s servants have been encouraged by this High Priestly Prayer. Luther wrote about John 17,
This is truly, beyond measure, a warm and hearty prayer. He opens the depths of His heart, both in reference to us and to His Father, and He pours them all out. It sounds so honest, so simple; it is so deep, so rich, so wide, no one can fathom it.
Melanchthon similarly shared,
There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or in earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than the prayer offered up by the Son of God Himself.
It has been mentioned that John Knox wanted this prayer to be read to him every day through his final sickness that took his life. Milligan and Moulton aptly pointed out about the prayer,
No attempt to describe the prayer can give a just idea of its sublimity, its pathos, its touching yet exalted character, its tone at once tenderness and triumphant expectation.
Arno C. Gaebelein exclaimed,
We reach the most precious portion of our Gospel. The chapter which is now before us has rightly been called the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Gospel. It is the Holy of Holies, for we behold here our great High Priest in the presence of the Father, and we hear Him utter His great prayer of intercession. . . . It has depths which the finite mind cannot fathom. No saint can comprehend the full meaning of this great prayer. No complete exposition or interpretation can ever be given. Three of the Puritan preachers have expounded this chapter. Manton’s sermons on it make a volume of 400 folio pages; George Newton’s exposition is contained in nearly 600 folio pages and Burgess’s sermons on this chapter comprise 700 large pages. But not one of these great preachers claimed to have given a complete exegesis or exhaustive treatment. If all the Puritan preachers and all the other men of God in all ages were to combine, they would not be able to exhaust the riches of the seventeenth chapter of John.
James Montgomery Boice shared,
This prayer should be to us something of what the burning bush was to Moses, for here we hear God speaking, and we should put off our shoes and bow humbly, being about to tread on the most hallowed ground.
Brothers and sisters, as we delve into this chapter, it is time to take off your shoes.