Sunday School Lesson for January 26, 2003
Background Passage: John 17:1-26
Focal Teaching Passage: John 17:13-26
This chapter contains what is commonly referred to as the high-priestly prayer of Jesus. New Testament scholars are not certain as to the exact location or circumstances surrounding this event. Yet, according to chapter eighteen, there is a close connection between the prayer of our Lord and the events in the olive grove across the Kidron Valley. Some have speculated that this event occurred in the upper room following the Last Supper. Most likely Jesus’ prayer was uttered while the disciples were listening in silence.
The chapter is easily divided into three primary sections:
In this record of the high-priestly prayer of Jesus for His disciples, and for those who would believe their message, there are at least seven major prayer concerns of our Lord. These requests will serve as the basic outline of this week’s lesson. Each is readily identifiable in the verses that follow.
Jesus Prays for Joy (17:13)
"so they may have the full measure of my joy within them"
First, the Lord requests that His Father will provide His disciples, in all ages and in all places, with an abundant measure of "joy." This is one of the key words in the New Testament, occurring over 130 times in both the gospels and epistles. It may be identified as a key characteristic of Christ’s life, and obviously one that He desired to be evident in the lives of His followers (cf. 15:11).
In the New Testament "joy" represents an experience of peace, fulfillment, security, and tranquility that is fully independent of any outward circumstances. It is not a by-product of human effort or resolve, but a gift from the Holy Spirit to those who trust in Christ. Interestingly, the gospel itself begins on the note of joy (Luke 2:10-11), and this joy is to be the continual experience of all believers (Phil. 4:4).
Jesus Prays for Protection (17:15)
"protect them from the evil one"
Here we note that Jesus was deeply concerned with the safety and security of His disciples as they served Him in hostile territory. Yet, His prayer was not that they be taken "out of the world"—the domain of Satan—but that in this world of evil powers and evil men they would be continually shielded from the "evil one." Thus, the assurance that all believers have is that Christ has not only fully defeated our enemy, but, as our perfect High Priest, is now making continual intercession before God on our behalf with specific reference to our spiritual protection. This theme echoes the explicit promises of chapter ten regarding the work and responsibilities of the "good shepherd" (see 10:11-18).
Jesus Prays for Holiness (17:16-17, 19)
"they are not of the world" (v. 16)
While the disciples will serve their Lord in the world, they are "not of the world." That is, having been redeemed by God’s grace they have both a new nature and new home. Here we see that the holiness which Christ desires to be made manifest in their lives is not the holiness of the monastery, but a purity and devotion of life lived out on the streets in everyday life.
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (v. 17)
Here the theme of holiness is explicitly surfaced by means of the word "sanctify." This term means to be dedicated and separated unto God for His exclusive use. It is not abstinence from certain vices nor human goodness but, rather, the giving of one’s life in its totality to God. Here we see that the primary means for the development of holiness in the lives of Christ’s disciples is the Word of God. As the Spirit of God applies the Word of God, the "truth," to the hearts of believers they are conformed more and more to the very likeness of Christ.
"that they too may be truly sanctified" (v. 19b)
As Christ our Lord was fully "sanctified" to God, so each of His disciples should be likewise related to the Father. Christ, then, is not only our Savior, He is our example of authentic holiness in the sight of God.
Jesus Prays for Truth (17:14, 17)
"I have given them your word . . . . your word is truth"
Next we see that Jesus prays that His followers will both receive and comprehend the truth as revealed in the Word of the Father—the Scriptures. Christ gave His twelve disciples the Word—the spoken words of Jesus—and has promised to deliver more through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see 14:26 and 16:12-15). It is only in connection with the reception of the Word that joy, holiness, and other Christian graces may be known and experienced. However, note the solemn warning contained in verse 14. As the disciples believe, stand upon, teach, and obey the Word of the Father they can be assured that they will be "hated" by the world.
Jesus Prays for Evangelism (17:18)
"I have sent them into the world"
In this verse we discover that the mission of Jesus, who was "sent" into the "world" by the Father, is the very mission for which the disciples have been chosen and commissioned. Christ’s mission was to bring salvation to the world through His perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection. The disciples’ mission is to announce this salvation to all men in the "world." Again we note that the Christian is called to serve Christ and proclaim the gospel in a hostile environment—the world of lost and rebellious men who stand in continual opposition to the things of God. Thus, the believer is not to segregate himself from society, but to infiltrate it for the sake of Christ and His truth.
Jesus Prays for Unity (17:21-23)
"that all of them may be one" (v. 21)
In such a dangerous and hostile world unity among believers is essential to faithfulness. Thus, the Lord prays that the Father will produce an indestructible unity among them. This unity or oneness is to be patterned after that which exists among the members of the Trinity—"just as you are in me and I am in you." Note how this is repeated in verse 22— "that they may be as we are one." It is, therefore, a divine unity, one that is not found in any other context or among any other group of individuals.
"May they be brought to complete unity" (v. 23)
It is also a unity that will grow and be perfected over time. As it is being made more complete, it will serve as a powerful tool for the glorification of God and for the dissemination of the gospel to the lost of the world. Note the words of Christ in verse 21 ("that the world may believe") and verse 23 ("let the world know that you have sent me"). We might say, then, that Christian unity serves to authenticate the saving message that is proclaimed to men. Without it our witness and mission are seriously jeopardized.
Jesus Prays for Love (17:26)
"the love you have for me may be in them"
Note the interesting way this verse reads. Jesus requests that the love that the eternal Father has for His own Son would come to exist in the hearts of His disciples. It is, therefore, the very love that is known among the members of the Trinity that is in view here. Jesus desires that this supernatural love between the Son and the Father would become the love that is manifested and shared among His followers (cf. 17:23-24).
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: Christ, our faithful Intercessor and High Priest—Think about the many ways that the knowledge that Christ is always praying for us impacts our lives.
Two: The ultimate prayer request—Look carefully once again at the prayer of Jesus in this passage. See if you can find the one request that encompasses all the ones that we have identified. Hint: See vv. 1, 4, 5, 10, 22, and 24 for a start.
Three: The distinguishing marks of Christ’s church—It has been suggested that these seven specific requests of Jesus may serve as identifying marks of the covenant community, the church. How might each one be applied in this manner? What responsibilities and principles of conduct grow from these requests?