The prayer begins with a note of finality: “Father, the time has come.” Jesus will face severe challenges to faith and mission within the next twenty-four hours. He will suffer. His followers, or at least most of them, will vanish into the night. In the midst of this, he prays, as he will continue to do throughout the ordeal.
He prays in the presence of his disciples. He alludes to this when he prays, “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” (John 17:11). Jesus already has identified his betrayer. He has addressed the confusion and awakening grief among his disciples. He prays that they may be holy as he is holy. Holiness indicates that one is set apart for the service of God. In the Old Testament, both priests and temple utensils were holy.
He prays that God will protect his disciples. God will sanctify (or make holy) his disciples by truth. Jesus identifies this truth with God’s word, or message. He will stress the significance of the word throughout the prayer, for these disciples, and for disciples in future generations as well. This prayer serves as a testament. Biblical leaders like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David had blessed their heirs as they prepared to die. Here Jesus blesses his disciples.
He prays that his disciples will be one as he and God are one. He prays for unity; he already has told his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another” (John 13:35). It is a unity of the spirit, but again it is grounded in the word, in truth. Jesus had told them earlier that evening, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). He prays this prayer for unity on behalf of his immediate disciples, but he prays it also “for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20).
Jesus, soon to be betrayed and execute in humiliating fashion, prays that his disciples will know love and joy. In our focus on the cross, sometimes we forget the resurrection. Jesus prays this prayer as if the victory has already been won. Jesus concludes this prayer, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to you, 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” (John 17:25-26).
Jesus prays that his disciples will know security, unity, holiness, love, and joy. All these will flow from recognizing the glory of the Father and the Son, and by obeying the message, the word. Jesus faces death, and prays for his disciples in their presence. He models the significance of praying for others and letting them know that you are doing so. The last section of the prayer is for future disciples, people like you and me who were not there to witness his ministry or share his suffering. Like those first disciples, we must listen well to the Lord’s prayer for us. We must learn to love, to obey, and to rejoice.
And somehow, when we learn those lessons, we must learn how to be one as the Father and the Son are one.