When Jesus prayed, what was central on His mind?
We actually have record of one of Jesus’ most important prayers and what He prayed about.
Let’s look at what was on Jesus’ mind in His important prayer in John 17:1-11.
John 17 How we Got Jesus’ Prayer
Part of the Lord’s “high priestly prayer” is found in John 17:1-11. How did we get that prayer? Did someone take word-for-word notes in a shorthand? Did God inspire a later writer word-for-word? Did John just summarize it in his own words? We don’t know. Forensic linguists theorize about a set of notes called Q, from the German word Quelle (source), and that later writers used Q to write individual accounts. Witnesses using reference notes does not diminish their testimony. We don’t know if the words are exact or more general. However, the prayer’s emphasis is unmistakably Jesus, as he prayed for glory, eternal life and unity for his followers.
John 17:1 Glory
In John 17:1, Jesus prayed “Glorify Your Son.” What did he mean? Glorify is from the Greek root δόξα (doxa) from which we get the word doxology. It means to give power, honor, praise and magnificent greatness. In this context it includes the exalted position that Jesus had from the beginning, “the glory which I had with You before the world was.” It includes the glory of the cross. He said, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” It also incorporates the glory that is given to him by those who follow him, “I am glorified in them.”
John 17:2-3 Knowing God
In John 17:2-3 Jesus prayed about his authority to “give eternal life to as many as” the Father had given Him. He also defined what He meant by eternal life, “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” This means to know the one, true God, in contrast with the polytheism of the Gentiles. How? This recognition or knowledge of God includes knowing Him in Jesus and involves an intimate relationship akin to marriage. As we receive the words which Jesus has given us, the words which God gave him, then we come to know and believe God.
John 17:4-5 Glory or Defeat
In John 17:4-5 Jesus prayed to the Father in heaven, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” The Greek is literally “having completed the work.” How is an ignominious death on a cross glory? In the world it is seen as defeat. It is precisely the opposite in God’s eyes. In an ethically bankrupt world, wealth, power and popularity are often gained through moral defeat, lying, cheating, stealing. The self-sacrificing who take up their cross daily are the real winners. All honor and praise and dignity forever goes to the cross and those who live out its purpose.
John 17:5-6 Before the World
In John 17:5 Jesus prayed, “O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Along with a multitude of scriptural witnesses, this highlights Jesus’ divine glory in the eternity before the world existed. Jesus had emptied Himself of divinity (Philippians 2:5-8) taking on the form of a servant. In verse 6 Jesus prayed about His disciples, “They were Yours.” The disciples were faithful followers of God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament. Now, as the Father revealed His nature more fully in Jesus, He gave them to Jesus, even as they continued to loyally keep God’s word.
John 17:8 Jesus gave Rhema & Logos
In John 17:8, Jesus prayed, “I have given to them the words which You have given Me.” The Greek root of “words” is (ῥῆμα) rhema. Although rhema can refer to rhetoric and logos to logic, they overlap in meaning and usage. Popular myths claim rhema means a fresh word from God while (λόγος) logos is an antiquated word. This ignorance is debunked later in this same chapter as Jesus prayed “I have given them Your word [logos]” (vs. 14) and “Your word [logos] is truth” (vs. 17). The Bible uses logos and rhema interchangeably. Both translate a single Hebrew word (דָּבָר) dabar. Many so-called “rhema-words” contradict the rhema and logos in the Bible.
John 17:9 Calvinism
In John 17:9 Jesus said, “I do not pray for the world.” Calvinism teaches that God predestined some to be either saved or lost before birth. Predestination in Calvinism removes any free will. Calvinists quote this verse as proof that God does not love, did not die for, nor prays for the world, but only for those given to Him. This contradicts verse 21, “that the world may believe that You sent Me” and verse 23, “that the world may know that You have sent Me.” As “Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14), it was Jesus normal practice to pray for the world, just not in this instance.
John 17:9-11 Divine Community
In John 17:9-10 Jesus prayed, “for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Ellicott’s Commentary calls this “absolute community.” The Cambridge Bible describes this as explaining “the perfect union between the Father and the Son.” Paying them and us the greatest compliment, Jesus says, “I am glorified in them.” In verse 11 Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one.” Was this request a total failure, or are Christians really united in God’s name, if not in worldly circumstances? Are we already one in essentials? Could unity in God’s name be called mature Christianity?
When Jesus prayed, He prayed mostly about unity and that should inspire us to think about how we can work for greater unity and how it is found not in our worldly institutions but in the Father and the Son. When we promote our denominations, we are not promoting a unifying message. When we promote the Father and the Son, then we are one in ministry.