Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is divided mainly into three parts: first, Jesus’ prayer for himself (vv. 1-5); second, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples (vv. 6-19); and third, Jesus’ prayer for the future believers/the world at large (vv. 20-26).
As a High Priest from the line of Melchizedek, Jesus intercedes for the believing community (Heb 5:6; cf. 4:15). Jesus’ greatness and uniqueness as a High Priest for the believing community are at the foreground here. As we focus on vv. 6-19, we attempt to explore the prayer of Jesus for the disciples. The following ten things are important to note.
First, Jesus made known the name of the Father (v. 6). As Jesus made the name of God the Father known to the disciples, the Gospel functions as a revelatory document. Yahweh revealed His name to Moses as “I AM WHO THAT I AM” (Exo 3:14).
Through his programmatic “I AM” statements, Jesus revealed his unique identity as God himself (6:48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 15:6; 15:1). In the world, Jesus revealed the identity of God to the disciples through his very life and ministry.
Second, Jesus shared the words that the Father given to him (v. 8). During the public (chaps. 1-12) and the private (chaps. 13-17) ministerial involvements, Jesus shared with the disciples the words of eternal life.
Through the means of dialogues, monologues and sign performances, Jesus shared with them the words of hope, love, and comfort. As a result, though unknowing and misunderstanding in nature, the disciples believed his words.
Third, Jesus asked the Father on behalf of the disciples (v. 9). As the disciples are the possession of the Father and at the same time they are given to the care of Jesus, the Son stood as an intercessor or mediator between the Father and the believing community (see 1 Tim 2:5).
Jesus as one who draws the disciples and their concerns near to God (Heb 7:25), an eternal communion is demonstrated through the oneness of the Father, the Son, and the children of God.
Fourth, Jesus glorified himself in the disciples (v. 10). While Jesus revealed the glory of the Father/Himself during the public and private ministries, the disciples remained as the witnesses of the divine glory and later on as the medium of the glory revealed in the world (2:11).
The believing community is the means for God/Jesus to reveal the heavenly glory in the world below. People of this world can understand Jesus and the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God through the believing community.
Fifth, Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers (v. 11). Jesus prayed: “Let them be one as we are one” (v. 21). For Jesus, the unity of the believers is a great concern. The standard he set in front of them was the eternal unity of the Father and the Son.
In order to shatter the human-made hierarchy among the disciples, Jesus washed their feet and exemplified the servant-leadership model (13:1-20).
Paul conceives it profoundly in Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus came to establish unity, equality, and fraternity among humanity.
Sixth, Jesus exemplified his duty of protecting and guarding (v. 12). As Jesus exemplified his model of ministry by protecting and guarding humanity, he is identified as a Good Shepherd over against the counterfeit shepherds or hirelings of this world (10:11).
Jesus’ signs and eternal words provided both physical and spiritual protection to many. By sending “another comforter” into the world (chaps. 14-16), Jesus continues the ministry of protection even after his departure. Thus, Jesus stood tall as a paradigmatic teacher and guardian.
Seventh, Jesus completed the joy of the believers (v. 13). The Father’s joy is the joy of Jesus; the Son’s joy is the joy of the believers. As Jesus came to fulfil the mission of God, he accomplishes the joy of the believing community.
By turning water into wine in Cana, Jesus brings back the lost joy of the family (2:1-11). He completes the joy of the Royal man (4:46-54), the Samaritan woman and her fellow villagers (4:1-45), the invalid person (5:1-18), the man born blind (9:1-41), the family of Lazarus (11:1-12:8), and many others. Jesus reveals that only through him people can enjoy the joy of salvation (14:6).
Eighth, as Jesus did not belong to this world, the believers do not belong to this world (vv. 14-15). The followers of Jesus are given a new identity as the children of God (1:12).
The Johannine community was not identified as a distanced group like the Qumran community. John’s community was instructed to be distinct in the world rather than being distanced from the existent life situations.
As Jesus became flesh and dwelt among humanity (1:14), the followers of Jesus are supposed to reveal the glory of God in their own life situations.
Ninth, Jesus prayed for the sanctification of the believers (vv. 17, 19). Believers can be sanctified through the name of Jesus, his words, and the initiative of “another comforter” (i.e., the Holy Spirit).
As the pandemic Covid-19 is widespread, people pay attention on external sanitization. In God’s presence, both the external sanitization and the internal sanctification are important requirements. God’s commandment is: “Be holy, as I am [God is] holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16; cf. Matt 5:48).
Tenth, Jesus sent them into the world (v. 18). The resurrected Lord says: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21). As God fulfils the heavenly mission through sending Jesus (3:16), the Son sends his disciples for the global mission.
Jesus’ imperatives are made obvious as he sends the disciples for universal mission (Matt 28:16-20). In Mark 16:15, Jesus commands: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Though God sends his Son from the heavenly setting, Jesus sends his disciples in the earthly setting.
During this Lent season, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples can be considered as a paradigm for our spiritual and practical rejuvenation. Jesus’ prayer was not merely a verbal delivery, but it was an action-oriented prayer. The death of Jesus on the cross was the epitome of his action-oriented prayer.
By accepting the prayer of Jesus, we can revitalize our lives for radical transformation. By making known the name of God, sharing the words of God to the world, glorifying God’s name, standing in unity with one another, protecting and guarding the world, completing the joy of God, being distinct in the world, standing as sanctified, and moving to fulfil the mission of God, we can actualize the prayer of Jesus here and now.
Let us go and redeem the oppressed, clothe the naked, satisfy the hungry, uplift the humble and thus fulfil the mission of God and complete the joy of salvation and liberation.
Rev Dr Johnson Thomaskutty serves as the Associate Professor of New Testament at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
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