Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“That They May All Be One”

John Chapter 17

In this chapter, Jesus shares an intercessory prayer before his departure. “The prayer of the fourth gospel, unlike the synoptic gospels, Jesus has already rejected a posture of distress and anguish in what was about to happen. This prayer can be considered the prayer in Gethsemane – John’s replacement. He will have to go to the garden, but there will be no further prayer. It will be a serene, already victorious Jesus who goes to meet his captors.”[i]  As readers of the Gospel, we recognize ourselves in this text, as we believe and understand that Jesus prays for all of us.

Jesus and the disciples are still gathered in the upper room. He begins with a prayer to his Father. He is praying for his disciples, and they hear his prayer for them. Then, Jesus looks up to heaven and prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus recounts his purpose and divine destiny to have authority over all people, and the prospect of eternal life for those the Father gave him. “In this prayer, the pre-Easter and post-Easter perspective coalesce…Christ speaks as the risen Lord to whom all authority has been given. As the representative of the one God, the Creator, his lordship extends not only to his own followers in the church, but over all people and the whole creation – whether known and acknowledged by them or not.”[ii]

Jesus’ prayer affirms that he glorified those whom the Father had given to him, signifying the finished work he was called to do. “John does not use the term ‘high priest’ of Jesus, but this prayer has rightly been known as Jesus great-high priestly prayer, because it portrays him as the intermediary between the heavenly world and the church (see 19:24).”[iii] Jesus recounts making the Father’s name known to those whom the Father gave to him. From the beginning, they were God’s and kept the word that Jesus gave to them. This prayer of covering continues with Jesus signifying that they are not of the world, they never belonged to the world, and asks for their continued protection from the world. He foretells of his coming departure and desires for them to have complete joy in his departure.

Jesus gave them the world, and because of this, the world hated them (still referencing those whom the Father gave to him). Jesus asks that they are not taken out of the world, but they would be kept in the world and protected from the evil one. Except for the one destined to be lost, or “the one who belongs to the realm of lostness – which is the agent of satan.”[iv]

Because Jesus is sanctified in truth, he asks that those who belong to him be sanctified in truth. “Sanctify is related to the word saint and holy. Jesus’ disciples are never called saints, though this is a commonly word used elsewhere in the New Testament (see Acts 9:13).”[v] But the idea is the same. “Jesus’ disciples are to be a holy community, not physically withdrawing from the world, but separate from it and not sharing its values.”[vi] Since the word is truth, we must assume that “The word of God is the means of the disciples’ sanctification. Christ himself is the incarnate word. (John 1:1, 14).”[vii]

Jesus then turns his prayer request to focus on those who will believe in him through his word, that they may all be one. Jesus prays that those who already belong to him, and those who will eventually belong to him, will be one, as he and the Father are one. In John’s Gospel, the early church was threatened with competing understandings of Christianity, some following Paul, and some following John, and heretical teachings. “Like Paul, the Fourth Gospel has an ecumenical perspective without rigid uniformity…the unity of the church was not an end in itself, but a means to the evangelistic mission of the church in the world.”[viii] The church universal is called to work towards the unity of the Christian community.

The relationship between Jesus and the Father is one of knowing. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.” Jesus made the Father known to his disciples. “In biblical theology, the name is more than a label; it represents the person, the self. Jesus reveals who God is, the being and person of God, not a particular designation by which God is called. It is the person of Christ himself, the Christ event as a whole, not what Jesus teaches, that represents the person and being of God, God’s name.”[ix] This will be the evidence – that God sent Jesus into the world because of his love for the world. The future hope is that those who belong to Jesus will one day be with him, to see his glory, which was given to Jesus before the foundation of the world. 

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[i] Boring and Craddock, the People’s New Testament Commentary, pg. 344.

[ii] Ibid., 345.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.346.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., 345.

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