Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer
John 17 1:26
Key Verse 17:1
“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’”
John 17 is called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In just a few hours, Jesus would be arrested and crucified. He used his last remaining time to pray. When we look at someone’s prayer, we can see what is important to them. Many people’s prayer is selfish: “Oh Lord, give me this and give me that.” But Jesus prayer shows him as our high priest (Heb 6:20). His prayer shows us how a good shepherd ought to pray. We see that he has a few personal prayer topics and a great many prayer topics for his sheep, who are vulnerable and need protection and sanctification. Like a high priest, his primary concern is that the Father be glorified. God is glorified when the church is united with each other and with him.
Part 1 Glorify God
Look again at verse 1. “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.’” Jesus said the time that has come, because he was about to be crucified. The Cross was the pivotal moment of history. All of the prophesies and laws of the old testament, and all of human history had been looking ahead to this time of the Cross that would reconcile man with his creator.
Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” But the cross does not seem glorious. How could Jesus pray to be glorified when he was about to be beaten, flogged, stripped, nailed to a cross, and lifted up, for all to laugh at and curse at while he slowly died. But Jesus death converted the cross from a symbol shame to a symbol of glory. The Cross reveals Jesus’ love: “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). The Cross reveals Jesus’ complete obedience to the Father. The Cross reveals Jesus’ mercy to even pray for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. And yet, Jesus’ purpose was not to glorify himself, rather he prayed, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Jesus’ concern was not personal glory, but that through his life, the Father would be glorified. Jesus’ life of obedience even to death on the cross brought glory to the Father. Through the Cross, the Father would reveal his power of resurrection, and his plan of world salvation.
Through his prayer Jesus, shows that our purpose is to glorify God in our lives too. Most people give no thought as to how to glorify God in what they do. Whenever they accomplish something, they claim all of the credit for themselves; they want to glorify only themselves. But Jesus knew that everything he had came from the Father. Did you notice how many times Jesus talks in this passage about what the Father has given him? We can count 14 times in John 17 where Jesus gives glory to the Father, by acknowledging that all that he has comes from the Father. So how much more so must we be humble and give God the glory for all that we have? In fact, 1Corinthians 10:31 reads, “so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Did you know that you can eat for the glory of God? Which food should we eat to glorify God? Maybe healthy food? No, rather, when we live for the glory of God, then whatever we do is for the glory of God. By eating for the glory of God, we get energy to do our mission of praying, studying the Bible and proclaiming the word of God. But if we live a life to glorify myself, then whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do it it all for the glory of ourselves, we eat to get energy to sin.
Do we pray like Jesus, for God’s glory? Perhaps someone here is praying to get good grades. That’s good. But why do we want good grades? Maybe, in our heart, it is so that we can get a good job, relax and enjoy life. Or do you want to let God use your degree for his glory? I hope to one day be a professor for God’s glory, so that I can pioneer a new campus somewhere in the world with the gospel. Now you do not need a degree to glorify God, this is just one example. Actually, whatever our situation, we can glorify God. Times of suffering, such as Jesus suffered on the Cross are also excellent opportunities to glorify God. What we need is the mindset to glorify God. Consider verse 4. Jesus says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” In a similar way, we all have our own personal mission from the Father. Eph 2:10 tells us that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” When we obey God and faithfully carry out our mission, then we bring glory to God, as Jesus did.
When Jesus glorified the Father, then the Father glorified the Son. In verse 5 the Father would exalt him to his position of glory that he had before the creation of the world. He also gave Jesus complete authority over all people. Look at verses 2-3. “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” A rich young man once came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17) In Lk 10:25, an expert in the law also asked the same question, and in Jn 6:28, so did the crowd. It seems that many people hoped to do something to earn eternal life. But our sinful lives only earn us death, eternal life is the gift of God (Rom 10:23). Jesus explains that truly knowing God is having eternal life. When we look at verse 3 carefully, we see that eternal life begins at the moment that we are saved. When we are born again, we have a new spiritual life (Jn 3:8). Jn 5:24 similarly uses the present tense, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
But since it is a matter of life or death, let’s be clear what it mean (and doesn’t mean) to know God? Let’s read verse 3 together. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life is not to know any imaginary God we might fancy, it is to know the only true God. And we cannot this God if we do not know his fullness in the Trinity. To truly know God is to know Christ and to not know Christ is to not know God. 1Jn 5:12 proclaims simply, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
We should not be misled into thinking that just because we have heard of God or know something about him, that we actually know him personally. Consider how many times you have seen President Bush on TV, and all that you have heard about him. But can you say that you know, or that he would recognize you? The Pharisees thought they knew God, so they persecuted Christians. Jesus said in Jn 16:3 that they would do such things because they have not known the Father or him. The Pharisees were wrong they didn’t know God. In Luke 13, Jesus tells the sad story of people who assume that they are saved because of a vague association with Christ. "[They] will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'” (Lk 13:26-27) Let’s not remake their mistake on the issue of eternal life. Dig into the Bible to know God more, and to work out your salvation. Let our attitude be like that of Paul who proclaimed, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Ph 3:10-11)
Part II Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer for the Believers
Look at verse 6-8. “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 they believed that you sent me.” Jesus revealed God's glory by giving the disciples the word of God and training them in obedience to the word. Through God’s word, they believed that Jesus came from God (16:30). They accepted the word, knew the truth and believed that Jesus was sent as the Savior (8). They obeyed the word (6). So, our Bible study ministry is very important. Our Bible students, or sheep, are not our own, they are the fathers own, whom he has preciously entrusted to our care. We must Jesus attitude of prayer for those the Father gave him. A person’s faith does not just happen randomly, it is the result of hearing the word of God. Rom 10:17 tells us that, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” By Bible study we plant the word of God and faith in peoples' hearts.
Look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in verses 11-19. In these verses, we can see 4 prayer topics: 1) that they may have Jesus’ joy within them (v13), 2) that God will protect the disciples from the evil one by the power of his name (v11,15), 3) that they may be truly sanctified by the word of truth (v 17,19), and 4) that they may be one (v11). Jesus could have prayed for many things. But these are crucial for the disciples, as he leaves them to go to the Father. Indirectly, these prayers are for us today as well. Verse 20 says "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”
First, he prayed for them to have his joy. Look at verse 13. "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. There is a type of joy that we have from such things as enjoying time with our family. This is not what Jesus is talking about. Unless we know Jesus’ joy within us, we do not have the full measure of joy. Jesus joy was in the Father. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “for the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Even in the suffering of the Cross, Jesus knew a type of joy. Jesus wants his joy to be in us, so that we can always rejoice, even when our current situation is difficult.
Second Jesus prayed to protect them. Look at v12 “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” Before, Jesus himself, on the earth had protected his disciples. One time, the Pharisees accused the disciples of working on the Sabbath, and Jesus came to their defense. But now Jesus was leaving the world. Verse 11 says, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.” Jesus did not want to leave the disciples unprotected in a hostile world. Verse 14-15 say 14I 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. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Jesus sent his disciples into a hostile world (v18), like sheep among wolves. (Mt 10:16). This was because he wants to use us to reach out to a fallen world. We might think that to protect us, God should take us out of the world, or should keep us from all problems. But in chapter 16, he already said that in this world we will have trouble. Jesus doesn’t want to protect us from physical harm. Verse 15 makes it clear. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Jesus prayed for our spiritual protection, that Satan should not succeed in destroying any of God’s chosen people. In our battle against temptation, we are not alone. Jesus prayed that the Father would protect us by the power of his name.
Third, Jesus prayed to sanctify them. Let’s read verse 17. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. Here "sanctify" means to make holy, or to set apart for sacred use. Jesus wants us to be holy, and separated from the world. God is holy. We are called to also be a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1Pe 2:9). But it is not easy for us to be separated from the world, and yet in the world. We cannot hide away like monks. We are sent into the world, but should not be worldly. Rather we live according to the truth. The word of God is truth. When we hold on to God's word, God's begins to changes us on the inside. We are being sanctified, or molded into the image of Christ. Christian life has necessary steps. Without God's word, human beings cannot but live according to their sinful nature. They become the slaves of their sinful nature, compromising with sin, making a truce and thinking that they are not so bad because everyone does it. Then when we become saved, we receive a born-again spirit, yet our physical body is not changed. All of our old habits may still be there. Then begins our real struggle with sin. How can we live a holy life in this tempting world? Only God can do it. We see here that Jesus prayed for the Father to sanctify them. Through the Holy Spirit we are led in the right way. And through the word of truth, our heart begins to conform to Christ. That is why we emphasize daily bread, which is daily Bible reading and testimony writing. When we are faithful, God’s word purifies us. But when I stopped meditating on God’s word, my mind darkened again and all of the ideas of the world, about making money and enjoying an easy life, came into my heart. But we take hope, because for our sake, Jesus himself came to set the best example, of a holy life(19). He sanctified himself by setting himself apart until he was crucified.
Fourth, Jesus prayed for unity. Let’s read verses 21-23. “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. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” When Christians argue and fight, only Satan wins. People in the world cannot see the power of Christ at work in us. But when we have complete unity, what happens? Verse 23 says, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” When I first came to UBF, I was not Christian, but I saw the difference of the people who knew God, compared to those I knew in the world. There were all kinds of different people, but they loved each other and had unity. It helped me to see that God was working.
Complete unity does not mean we all have to be the same. It means that we peacefully work together and help each other. It is like a body with many members, where all of the members work together.
Our unity is not only with each other, but with Jesus as well. Let’s read verses 24-25. "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. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."
Jesus prayed that we would all one day be with him. Just as he came to earth to be with us, we will go to heaven to be with him. At that time, we will see him in his glory. On earth, Jesus’ glory was hidden. He was despised and reject. Only once on the Mount of Transfiguration did he provide a glimpse of his heavenly glory. But when we see Jesus in heaven, we will see him in his full glory. This gives us hope for the future. Jesus also gives us hope for the present. He says, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." Jesus continues even today to do the work of revealing the Father to us, giving us the love of the Father, and even being in us.
As we look at Jesus’ high priestly prayer, we see that it is a high priestly prayer, with concern for God’s glory, and for the spiritual welfare of the people. This is the intercessory prayer of a high priest. It is also a model of how we ought to pray. First we pray for ourselves, that our lives may glorify God. Then we pray for our sheep (and we all have sheep. Though we may not all have Bible students, we all know someone who needs the gospel). I see from Jesus, that I should specifically pray for my sheep’s protection and sanctification. They are very vulnerable to temptations and doubts. And third, we can expand our vision, like Jesus does in his prayer, to pray for all of the world, and not just those people around us.
May God protect and sanctify each of you, and may we learn Jesus’ example of prayer.