The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus: John 17 6-26
It may be fanciful to think Jesus is still praying precisely His high priestly prayer in John 17:626, but He certainly prayed it for His disciples on the night before he died and we can pray similarly for one another. Our Lord prayed His disciples would be marked by four characteristics:
i. Truth (v 11)
“Keep them in Thy name” (RSV) means “Keep them in loyalty, that is full adherence, to your character and in fidelity to the revelation they have received.” Similarly in St Paul’s prayers (c.f Colossians 1:9), the focus is on our minds. We tend to pray first for safety, health or happiness. Jesus – and Paul – prayed for their theological orthodoxy!
z. Holiness (vs 15 & 17 )
In the Old Testament God’s people were marked out by their quaint clothes, their curious diet and the way they downed tools every seventh day. Now, God’s people are to be distinguished by their godliness. Once again this may be in contrast to the way we pray for careers rather than Christlikeness, or for health before holiness. Jesus wants us to be marked out by our compassion, humility, courage and integrity.
3. Unity (vs 22 23. )
Our Lord foresaw what indeed happened in the Early Church, that one of the Devil’s most cunning strategies is to get the people of God squabbling and divided. It is so powerful a witness when outsiders are able to say “See how these Christians love one another” and so off-putting when we major on minors and are at each other’s throats.
4. Mission (vs 18, 2 1- 23. )
The old cliché “in the world but not of the world” is incomplete. Yes “in” and not “of’ but in order to be “for”. It is intriguing the Gospels don’t end with the Resurrection. John 21 – the recommissioning of Peter – no mere postscript. Before His death Jesus prays for their mission, before His ascension he sends them out to be His witnesses.
Of these four qualities, truth predominates. This is important in our day when truth tends to be in the doghouse. Some even deny there is such a thing, so much does relativism reign. Equally fallacious is the other tired cliché “Christ unites, doctrine divides … so don’t be too tight on doctrine.” The opposite is the case. It is truth that sanctifies, says v.17. Both the Ten Commandments and our Lord’s summary of the Law in Mark 12:29 begin with a huge doctrinal statement. Our morals and behaviour are to be in response to and according to the theological truth. Moreover, it is truth that unifies. Unity is never achieved by papering over the cracks. The apostle Paul’s cry was “Be of one mind” and the mind is the sphere where truth operates,
And finally, it is truth that motivates and drives us out in mission. In the long run, it won’t be emotional appeals that thrust people out in Christ’s service but rather hearts, minds and wills that are mastered by the great truths of the Faith. The holiness of God, the exceeding sinfulness of sin and its appalling consequences, the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus and the unmerited offer of forgiveness: once we are gripped by these truths we cannot but go and tell.
Jonathan Fletcher, the author of this exposition, is a member of the Emmanuel, Wimbledon, ministry team and teaches the Bible in this country and overseas.