In the last section of His prayer Jesus prays in words which reach out to the whole of the church, and encompass all believers of all time, including us. This section is also in three divisions: He prays for the unity of the church, for its ultimate destiny, and for its present intimacy.
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 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.” (John 17:20-23)
Notice the inclusiveness of His words. He says, “I do not pray for these alone [He is referring to the eleven apostles], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word“. There is a sentence that extends clear across the running centuries of time. He is praying for all the millions of people who have come to believe through the apostolic word. “I pray for these … and those”. They add up to the word “all.” “That they all may be one“. So the first element of His prayer is that all Christians may share with the apostles in the apostolic faith.
The apostles have given us the Word, which is the truth. The church is to rest upon the apostles’ witness. We do not need modern apostles. God’s Word makes this clear: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:14)
Recently I’ve come across deception from teachers in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The movement advocates the restoration of the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of prophet and apostle. These teachers can be found easily on YouTube and a certain “Christian” TV station. Beware of those who profess to share new “mysteries”. Satan is using them to dilute God’s Word. As we have seen clearly in Scripture above, He created the twelve foundations. I praise His name because He gave me the discernment to recognize it for the deception that it is. We must always check anything that we hear or read through the lens of God’s Word, which is the truth!
Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone (the apostles), but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one”. We are linked with them. The only faith without error is the apostolic faith. The Jesus that we must worship is the Jesus presented by the apostles. Thus, there is a oneness of faith throughout the church.
But more than that, there is a spiritual unity. Notice the nature of it: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me”. Just as the Father and the Son share life, so all believers share the same life: the life of the Son in us. That is what makes us brothers and sisters wherever we are in the world; we share an inward life.
That is the unity for which our Lord prays. He is not speaking of outward union. There have been many attempts to bring all churches together in one great outward organization, but it has never succeeded and cannot succeed. Our Lord never intended that to be. There is divisiveness that is totally wrong within the body of Christ. But when we meet together, regardless of what our local label may be, we belong to one another because we share the same life together. That is the life the world will recognize as true.
Notice the means by which this is produced. It is the inner glory of love: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them“. What was that? It was love. The Father loved the Son. That was the Son’s glory. He strengthened Himself by that. Jesus says that same love “I have given them, that they may be one. 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“. That is why we are to love one another as our Lord has commanded, because it creates the oneness He desires.
Then He prays for the church’s ultimate destiny. “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; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
What vast cosmic themes are hinted at in this magnificent prayer! Here is the prayer that the church will be with Him. That is the promise of Scripture. Paul speaks of this: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-17). To be with Him, that is heaven — and that is our ultimate destiny.
The purpose of that, He says, is to “behold my glory”. Another Scripture interprets this to mean that we shall be like Him: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) And His glory which we behold is something that we are actually experiencing. George MacDonald has caught this beautifully: “Then shall my heart behold thee everywhere. The vision rises of a speechless thing; A perfectness of bliss beyond compare. A time when I nor breathe nor think nor move. But I do breathe and think and feel thy love.” That is it. We become part of the glory. Thus everything we do is a beholding of His glory. What a marvelous fate awaits us!
Our Lord concludes His prayer with a prayer for the present intimacy of the church: “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 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.” (John 17:25-26)
Intimacy with the living God is the key to vitality and fruitfulness. It begins with the recognition of Jesus as “sent from God”. It develops as awareness grows of the Father’s power and love, and finds its deepest expression in a growing consciousness of the presence within of Jesus Himself. The saints of all time have borne witness to the reality of this. Therefore, love is the hallmark of the true church. The church must be a loving community if it desires the world to believe that we have been with Jesus!
Let us pray that this wonderful prayer of Jesus will be fully experienced by each of us who claim to follow Him.