“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. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. “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. I 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. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Today’s text is just a portion of the prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples. The context? Thursday, the evening before his crucifixion. He is gathered in the upper room for the passover meal – the last supper he has with his followers. He has washed their feet. He has indicated that Judas would betray him. He has spoken of the fact that Peter will deny him. He has taught them about the Holy Spirit and confirmed that he would be leaving them. He is troubled by all of this… yet, in his sadness and turmoil, he pauses – to pray – for the disciples that he loves.
What did Jesus pray for his disciples?
First, Jesus seems to express a thanksgiving for the disciples – a sense of gratitude and deep love. “they have obeyed your word”, “they accepted my words”, and “they believed that you sent me” are all phrases we find in verses 6-8.
Secondly, in verse 11, Jesus prays for their protection. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…” While he has been with them, Jesus himself has protected them and watched over them. Now that he would be returning to the Father, he is concerned for their safety. He knows that once he is gone, things will be exceedingly difficult for them.
And lastly, he clarifies the protection for which he is asking. In verse 15 we find these words: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” In other words, NOT that the disciples would be saved FROM the world – or difficulties and trials that will come – but that they would be protected while remaining IN the world – protected from the evil one.
How do you think the disciples felt as they heard Jesus’ prayer for them? When someone expresses love for you, appreciation, and concern for your safety – particularly in prayer – does it not have a strong power to encourage and strengthen you? We’re not sure what went through the disciples’ minds. We know that they all failed Jesus later that same night. But it becomes clear that Jesus, through is prayer, is expressing deep love for them. They must have recalled this evening and Jesus’ prayer on their behalf many times in their post-resurrection ministry.
Has someone prayed for you in this way? Can you think of a time when you know that you were being prayed for? As missionaries in Japan, we had access to a prayer calendar that was made up of the families and faces of all the missionary staff serving around the world with our denominational organization. We would use the small booklet during family devotions to remember missionary colleagues serving in other places – and would often be the recipients of prayer from all around the world as “our day” came around in the calendar. It was not uncommon to occasionally experience a day in our ministry when so many things “fell into place” or when “we felt a special power and protection from God” – only to discover later that yes, it HAD been our day in the calendar. We were merely experiencing the reality of special prayer support!
Although it is not part of the text for today a quick look at verses 20-21 makes it clear that Jesus was not only praying for his disciples…. but also for us, who would later become his disciples.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. John 17:20-21
Jesus prays for all people (us included!) who would believe and become his disciples through the ongoing ministry of the church – started by these first disciples and carried on over the centuries like a vast connected chain of activity. We too were being prayed for that night! Jesus prayed for our protection and for our unity.
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is even NOW, alive, and interceding (praying on our behalf) for us constantly. What an amazing thought…. and encouragement.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25.
As we head into this week, walking as disciples of Jesus, let’s be encouraged by these facts:
Jesus is living (He is risen!) and praying for us
Jesus prays for our protection
Jesus prays for our unity – oneness
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our zoom worship session on May 16, 2021.)