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In John 17 we have recorded for us what is commonly known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. The purpose of this article is to see the priorities of Jesus in His prayer so that we can be sanctified by the truth (Jn. 17:17), unified based on the truth (Jn. 17:20, 21), and that we would love based on the truth concerning the Father and Son (Jn. 17:26).
Jesus Prioritises His Relationship With God As Father.
Jesus begins His prayer by calling God His Father (Jn. 17:1). In John 5:18, the Jews wanted Jesus killed because they recognized that when Jesus calls God His Father, He is claiming to be God. However, in John 17:1 Jesus’ use of the word “Father” exhibits His relationship with God. In other texts like Matthew 6:9, Jesus teaches His followers to call God as Father. Thus, Jesus teaches us that our basis for prayer is the functional relationship that people have with the true God of the universe.
Most people view God as a distant cosmic power who sits in heaven and wields His might. Therefore, when they approach God, it is with great fear and trepidation of being destroyed by this cosmic power. They seek to appease Him with all their good works so that He would look favourably upon them and give them the desires of their heart. It is important for believers to remember that God is, in fact, omnipotent and to be revered.
However, when believers approach God, they do so because of their relationship with God as their Father. Believers are beloved children of Almighty God. Their relationship with God is unlike the consumerism of the day. It is a loving Father who kindly gives His children all that they need for their survival and growth when they approach Him in prayer.
Jesus Prioritises The Will Of The Father.
Consider the context of John 17. Jesus prays right after addressing His disciples and telling them that through Him they now have true peace amidst tribulation in John 16. Jesus realizes that it is His cross-work, which He is about to embark upon, which will bring true peace amidst tribulation for his disciples.
The word translated “tribulation” in John 16:33 is the word thlipsis which is sometimes used for eschatological tribulation, but the combination of words used here refers to impending persecution that comes in believers lives from external sources. The two other places that this same word combination is used is 1 Corinthians 7:28, in which Paul addresses the “distress” or “burden” that marriage brings and Revelation 2:10, in which the writer is prophesying that the believers in Smyrna will be thrown in jail for the sake of their faith.
In all three uses, it’s clear that believers should expect persecution, distress, or troubles in this present life in a variety of ways. Jesus is about to experience tribulation like none other when He fulfils the Father’s will by going to the cross of Calvary (Jn. 17:1). Yet He seeks to do the will of the Father despite the distress. Similarly, we must do the will of the Father even when it’s hard. We do His will because we love the Father, and we know that His will is best.
Jesus Prioritizes The Glory Of The Father Through His Glorification.
In John 17:1, 2 Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The word glory is defined as: to cause to have splendid greatness, clothe in splendour, glorify,1 The “hour” that Jesus is referring to is the death and exaltation for his glorification.2 This means that Jesus has recognized that the purpose for which He came to this earth: namely, to accomplish the Fathers will by dying, resurrecting from the dead, and being glorified, is now coming to fruition. Therefore, it is time for Jesus to be glorified.
However, Jesus’ glorification is also accomplishing the Father’s will and His glory. According to Carson, “Jesus’ crucifixion and exaltation issue not only in his own glorification but that of his Father as well. God is clothed in splendour as he brings about this death/exaltation of his Son.3 As believers, our all-encompassing motivation for all we do is the glory of the Father (1 Cor. 10:31). This is best observed in Jesus’ request to the Father.
Jesus Prioritizes His Disciple’s Sanctification.
In John 17:17-19 Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 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.” Jesus wants the Father to set His disciples apart in the truth of His Word. The basis by which believers can be sanctified is found firstly in the sanctification of the son. The obvious “setting apart” of the Son was in connection with the mission that He accomplished on this earth. Similarly, the disciples of Jesus should be set apart for the mission of God here on earth.
Secondly, the task of setting apart disciples is accomplished through the word, which gives us the truth. It is impossible to be sanctified without being guided in the truth of the word. The word is best understood and revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, believers will be sanctified if they see Jesus clearly through the word. Concerning sanctification of believers, Carson provides practical application by saying “… no-one can be ‘sanctified’ or set apart for the Lord’s use without learning to think God’s thoughts after him, without learning to live in conformity with the ‘word’ he has graciously given.4
While there is a lot more that can be said of John 17, what we see most clearly is the heart of Jesus for His disciples. Not only has Jesus provided a way for us to be reconciled to the Father, but He has also provided all that we need to be unified in love and sanctified for the work of making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ until His return. Jesus is coming again in His glory. Until then, let us remember that He intercedes for us and we are not alone in any circumstances.
1 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 258.
2 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 553.
3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 554.
4 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 566.