Here are two undeniable things in the life of God’s people:
1. As God’s people we are limited and weak and therefore we often fail in walking in obedience. 2. The Lord Jesus Christ loves His people and therefore He cares and is concerned for them.
This love of the Lord Jesus Christ is demonstrated in His commitment in seeing them come to the glory of Heaven. One of the practical ways He demonstrates this commitment is through prayer. Prior to selecting His apostles Jesus prayed (Luke 6:12). Throughout His earthly ministry He prayed. The night of His arrest He prayed. And even now, seated at the right hand of the Father He prays. Why? The Lord Jesus Christ loves His people and He will see to it that they make it to glory.
In this chapter we have a record of our Lord’s Prayer for His people. This powerful prayer is a part of the reason why we as God’s people will make it to the glory of Heaven despite our constant failures and shortcomings.
This passage contains a particular prayer for a particular people. However, what He prays for them is also something that He also prays for all of His people. In verses 6-10 we have a description of the disciples, but this description is true of all Christians in all time. It describes a people who were given to Christ and a people that trust in Christ.
As we come now to the section in which Jesus makes specific requests for His disciples, what does He pray for? There are two things that we see in this passage and that is prayer for their protection (17:11-16) and prayer for their purity (17:17-19). Before we look at these two requests, it is important to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ loves His people, He prays for His people and He knows what is best for His people. This passage is a beautiful demonstration of those realities.
1. PRAYER FOR THEIR PROTECTION (John 17:11-16)
Jesus knows that He is about to leave this world, but in leaving the world His disciples will remain. Jesus said, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you” (17:11a). Jesus speaks of this in the present tense so as to stress the certainty of what is about to take place at the cross and the events that follow. Notice that it was not God’s will to take the disciples with Jesus in Heaven at this time. It is God’s will that they stay in the world because they have been given a special task. While Jesus was with them on earth they had His physical presence as an ongoing reminder of Divine protection. However, the very fact that He is going and they are staying in the world leaves them vulnerable. Just like the disciples, none of God’s people are immune to danger and hardship while living in this world. For this reason every single one of us is in constant need of God’s protection. What do we need to be protected from? In praying for their protection He asks the Father to “keep them in your name” (17:11). He says “I kept them in your name” and “have guarded them” (17:12) and then concludes by asking the Father to “keep them from the evil one” (17:15). The request for protection is not referring to the Father wrapping them up in cotton wool and keeping them from hardship. This is a request for spiritual protection designed to keep them from falling away and from being harmed by Satan. Jesus prays,
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (17:11b-12).
In verses 11-16, we have a record of our Lord’s request for His people’s protection. Notice that Jesus begins by saying, “Holy Father”. Interestingly this is the only time in the New Testament where the Father is addressed in these terms. The fact that Jesus says this provides a foundation for why He makes His requests. His desire is that His people are a holy people and this means they will need protection.
Protection from their own Weaknesses
When Jesus prayed, “keep them in your name”, He is asking that they would be safe and secure in accordance to God’s powerful character. The purpose of this protection is so that they remain true and committed to God’s will and thus enjoy spiritual unity with the people of God (“that they may be one, even as we are one”). Jesus said, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (17:12).
But now that He is going and leaving them, He prays that the protection He offered them would continue: “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (17:13-14).
Though it would be desirable to be taken out of the world and go to the glory of Heaven once we were converted, this is not God’s will. There are examples in Scripture of individuals who desired to leave this world due to various problems and hardships. Moses (Numbers 11:15); Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) and Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8)
Protection from the Devil
Even though hostility in the world can become extremely hard, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world” (17:15a). The Lord Jesus Christ desires that His people be in the world so that they can be His witnesses. Just as the life of the Lord Jesus Christ brought glory to the Father, it is to be our desire to live lives that bring glory to God. No matter what sphere of life it is, we are called to live our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Of course this will not be easy. So Jesus continued to pray, “but that you keep them from the evil one” (17:15b). We not only need protection from our own weaknesses, but we need protection from the Devil.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” Luke 22:31-32
The Devil, though he is a defeated foe because of what Christ did at the cross (Col. 2:15), is roaming the world like a roaring lion seeking people to devour (1 Pet. 5:). He does this by means of sowing deception, doubt and distractions in our lives and we ought not to be ignorant of his wicked devices (2 Cor. 2:11).
Though our Lord desired that His people be in the world, He made it clear that they are not to be of the world. He said, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (17:18).
2. PRAYER FOR THEIR PURITY (John 17:17-19)
Jesus now brings before the Father a second request for His people. He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17). Here Jesus is praying that the Father would set apart the apostles for special service. A necessary element of this setting apart is their holiness or purity. In verse 17 Jesus prays that they be sanctified and reveals what the means is that brings this about. The means involves both prayer and the Word of God. As the people of God daily expose themselves to the Word of God, it is clear they see the will of God for their lives (Rom. 12:1-2). The Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation contain all that we need as God’s people for life and godliness. For this reason, we by means of prayer are to come to the Word of God with a holy appetite desiring to know our Lord more. The supreme standard for our pursuit of holiness is the Lord Jesus Christ. He concluded by saying,
“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (17:18-19).
Here we learn an important lesson from the example Jesus gives. Just as He willingly submitted Himself to be set apart for service to the Father, so we too ought to be willing to do what the Lord requires of us.
Jesus prayed that His people would be protected and pure. Though there are many important things we often pray for in our lives, let us not lose sight of how important it is that we have Divine protection in our daily walk helping us against our own weaknesses and the devices of Satan. Also, let us be constantly aware of our personal need to grow in holiness so that we may be useful and clean vessels in the Lord’s work.
If we are going to be effective in this world we need help in fighting against the enemies of the flesh, the world and the Devil. When we fail (and we will often), and when Satan tempts us to despair, let us be reminded that our Saviour Jesus Christ prayed for His people and He continues to intercede for us today. What a glorious Saviour we have!