There were several dozen times that the Bible recorded Jesus praying. His most notable prayer is no doubt the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and (Luke 11:1-4). But there is another that offers even more insight into the purpose of prayer and the mission of the Church. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane to set the stage for this prayer. It is just hours before his torture and death on the cross. Jesus slips away for a quiet moment and prays to His Father, God. Just hours before Jesus was arrested, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation with God. This becomes the longest recorded prayer in the New Testament. Jesus prays for Himself, that He would be glorified (John 17:1-5); for His disciples, that they would be sanctified (John 17:6-19); and for the church, that it would be unified (John 17:20-26).
(John 17:1-5)1NIV New International Version Translations – “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now, this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’
Jesus begins His prayer with a recognition that God has always had a plan. The plan was to glorify God through Jesus using the cross. God laid his plans out immediately after humankind’s fall from grace. In Genesis 3:15, God is talking to Satan. The verse is commonly called the “Protevangelium.” This is a term that essentially signifies the idea of the “first gospel proclamation. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This is an amazing early glimpse of God’s plan of redemption, His plan to put order in all of the world’s chaos. Its focus is on sending Satan into the eternal fire of hell (Revelation 20:10) and providing salvation for all believers.
Jesus recognized and submitted to God’s sovereign plan to glorify Himself through His death on the cross. We don’t debate the sovereignty of God. It is a practical truth to be applied anytime there is a major trial in life. The cross is an unlikely place to find glory. On that Friday, they didn’t make jewelry to display the cross attractively on a necklace. The cross was a place of shame, humiliation, and the most excruciating form of execution known to humankind. Yet God chose the cross to place His glory on display. In every religion except biblical Christianity, salvation has as part of it a component of human works or merit. The Protevangelium, the gospel of the cross, brings everyone before God as guilty sinners. Who gets the glory for salvation? God gets all the glory!
(John 17:6-12) – ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you and believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’
The second part of Jesus’s prayer is for His disciples. Not only for the original twelve that He picked and trained but all the future disciples that would be raised as part of hearing and trusting in the Protevangelium. Yes, from the beginning of our world, the plan was always to spread the good news of the Gospel’s message through discipleship. Jesus is praying that His disciples will live in such a way as to show the glory of God to the world (John 17:9-10). By showing the world that people in Christ are united, they will show that the Father (God) and the Son (Jesus) are the same. Jesus prays that His disciples will remain faithful to Him and not be defeated by the evil that is in the world. Jesus wants them to share in the triumphant joy that comes through completing the work the Father had given Him to do (John 17:11-13).
(John 17:13-19) – ‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.’
Jesus’s prayer is in preparation for Him leaving this world. He knows that it will be His disciples that carry on His work. He prays therefore that they will be neither discouraged by the world’s hatred nor corrupted by its sin (John 17:14-17). Jesus prays that His disciples turn their lives over to God and trust in God just as He has done. In this way, God’s Word and the message of the Gospel will continue to be spread throughout the world (John 17:18-19).
(John 17:20-26) – ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known so that the love you have for me may be in them and that I may be in them.’”
In the final part of His prayer, Jesus prays for those who will believe through the preaching of that initial group of disciples and so become God’s new people and new disciples, the Christian church. He prays that the same unity as exists between the Father and the Son will bind all believers together. Unity in Jesus does not mean we have to agree with each other. While we are members of one family, members of any family will disagree. Our unity is about the Protevangelium. What is meant here is that we are united in knowing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God born of a woman. The “enmity” or hostility and hatred spoken of in Genesis 3:15 is between Satan and Jesus. The seed of the serpent, evil men, and demonic forces struck at the heel of the Savior when Judas, the Pharisees, the tumultuous crowds, and the Romans, conspired to condemn Jesus. Death, however, was overcome and Jesus rose on the third day. The ultimate victory was His, and He crushed the head of Satan, removing forever Satan’s rule over humankind.
Our salvation was assured by the incarnate Christ when He suffered and died for the souls of men (Hebrews 2:14–15). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, He “crushed” the devil’s head, defeating him forever. The Protoevangelium shows us that God always had the plan of salvation in mind and informed us of His plan as soon as sin entered the world. “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8). When we identify ourselves by our allegiance to Jesus, not a denomination, we emphasize our oneness. As followers of Jesus living in oneness, we are called to be humble, affectionate, kind, respectful, and caring. We are not called to tolerate sin or ignore God’s Truth!
- What does the thought of knowing that from the time of creation, He not only created us with free will but put in place a “Plan B” to save us from ourselves?
- Ideas to Explore: Does humanity accept its imperfection and sinfulness? Why or Why not? What would life on earth be like without free will? Can you find a flaw in God’s plans?
- How has the consistency of God’s Word helped you with your faith?
- Ideas to Explore: From Genesis to Revelation, God’s plans have been written with perfection. Do you see that perfection? If it had been nothing more than random rambling, would it have lasted the test of time?
- Do you think of yourself as a disciple like Luke, John, or Paul?
- Ideas to Explore: Is it because we have not been mentored like Jesus mentored His disciples?
- How would you create disciples of Jesus?
- Ideas to Explore: Scripture, training, regular attendance in church, stepping out, and taking risks with your faith walk?
- Is discipleship the answer to passing on your faith to the next generation?
- Ideas to Explore: Have you ever mentored someone in their faith? Have you ever been on a mission trip?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations