Summary: Kept through the Name.
1. I PRAY FOR THEM
During His last pre-crucifixion discourse, Jesus left the upper room with His inner band of eleven disciples, continuing to talk along the way (John 14:31). Then He prayed a very public prayer on behalf of the Apostles, and of the whole Church. This has often been styled as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” - but this prayer is unique in that it was prayed on earth, before Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, and therefore before He entered the inner sanctuary in heaven where He “ever intercedes on our behalf” (Hebrews 7:25).
The party were quite possibly outdoors when Jesus “lifted His eyes to heaven” (John 17:1). However, such gestures are equally valid wherever we are. It is important that when we pray we do so reverently, recognising the mighty pre-eminence of God.
Jesus addressed God as “Father” (John 17:1), and rightly so. In the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15) we may say “Our Father” in what we call the Lord’s Prayer, but supremely Jesus is THE Son, who was now going to “MY Father and your Father” (John 20:17). This is the same Son who shared in the glory of the Father before the worlds began (John 17:5).
The timing of the events of Christ’s Passion was in the hands of God. The enemy on more than one occasion sought to pre-empt things, but again and again we are told that Jesus’ “hour was not yet come” (John 7:30; John 8:20). Now, said Jesus, “the hour is come” (John 17:1).
Jesus’ view of what was about to happen enabled Him to see beyond His death, resurrection - and even the event of the ascension - to His glorification (John 17:1). The arraignment before the High Priest and the arraignment before Pilate were both in the future, as was His victorious cry of completion upon the Cross (John 19:30). Jesus had such a prophetic certainty about what was about to be fulfilled, that to His mind His earthly work was already finished (John 17:4).
Equally, Jesus was aware of the power invested in Him to bring “all flesh” (John 17:2) under the sound of the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-19), and to give eternal life to such as the Father gave Him (John 17:2). This is a great mystery, wrapped up as it is in what we call the doctrine of election (John 17:6; John 17:9-10). This teaching, incidentally, does not take away from the duty of the individual to respond to the Gospel (John 3:16).
Jesus imparts eternal life in order that His disciples might know the true and living God (John 17:3). This is only possible through “Jesus Christ” - the anointed Saviour - sent by God. It is accomplished through the manifestation of the Father in the Son (John 17:6; John 14:9), the impartation of spiritual knowledge (John 17:7), and the receiving of Jesus’ words (John 17:8).
It is a great marvel that Jesus does not view us as we might view ourselves. It is Jesus’ decided opinion that the men whom He had often challenged with the very littleness of their faith “have kept thy word” (John 17:6), have “received” the words of God, and have “believed” (John 17:8). The Father in heaven also looks upon us not according to the failings of which we are all too aware, but in the light of our association with His Perfect Son.
Jesus’ first petition (John 17:1) had been that the Father would receive Him back into the glory from which He had condescended to come (Philippians 2:6). Now He prayed for His disciples: for the eleven first (John 17:9), but also for all who would follow them (John 17:20). Jesus did not pray for the state of the world, but (in the words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) for “the whole state of Christ’s Church.”
The grounds of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples are that they are God’s people, and that they have been entrusted to the Son by the Father. Those who belong to Jesus - and those alone - belong to God. It is truly wondrous that even our little faith and our faltering obedience glorify His name (John 17:10).
Again, Jesus speaks in the prophetic perfect, as if the things of which He spoke had already come to pass (John 17:11). To His mind it was as if He had already left the earth and returned to His Father, and He was aware of how vulnerable His disciples would feel without Him. Jesus had reassured the disciples that He would not leave them comfortless (John 14:18); now He prayed that the Father would keep them (John 17:11); and later He also promised His own continuing presence with us “to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
2. THEY ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD