Witnesses to the resurrection. 17:1-11a

In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spends time in prayer at Gethsemane prior to his arrest, but in John's gospel we see Jesus praying prior to his departure for Gethsemane. For John, Jesus' prayer reveals the substance of the relationship between Jesus and his Father, a relationship soon to be shared by all believers. In verses 1-5, Jesus prays that he might be clothed in splendor through the completion of his mission to gather a people unto God through the cross, and in so doing, clothe the Father in splendor. In verses 6-19, Jesus prays for the continuation of his mission through his disciples, praying that they be protected and equipped for the task, first explaining, in v6-11a, why he prays for his disciples rather than all humanity.

The passage

v1. John is determined to take us into the mind of Jesus and he does this through the intimacy of prayer. Jesus, addressing his Father, asks that he may be clothed in splendor in order that he may similarly clothe the Father in splendor. For Jesus, his glorification is realized in the completion of his mission on the cross, and he will need the full weight of divine help to complete his service as the sacrificial lamb of God.

v2. Jesus' request rests on the fact that he alone has been given the responsibility to gather a community of faith and give real and eternal life to all in his charge.

v3. And what is eternal life? It's not just eternal existence, but rather knowing God, the only one who is really God, and of course, knowing Jesus, the one sent to us by the Father. To "know" God is to experience an ever-growing eternal relationship with the divine, a union, an intimate oneness with God through Jesus.

v4-5. The cross looms large and so Christ's mission is all but complete, and this with the consequent glorification of God. So, Jesus restates his request that his own glorification be properly completed in his death, resurrection and ascension. Then, enthroned beside the Father, Jesus will again be clothed with the divine splendor that was his from the beginning of time.

v6. Jesus now prays for his followers gathered in the upper room, those who will share his glory in the age to come. Jesus, in typical fashion, defers to the Father, noting that they are the Father's possession, although now he is responsible for them, a responsibility given him by the Father. This little band of followers responded in faith to ("obeyed") the gospel ("word" / message) proclaimed by Jesus.

v7-8. Jesus goes on to explain, in a little more detail, what he means by "they have obeyed your word." Jesus' disciples recognized that his mission is divine and have put their faith in his actions and words on their behalf.

v9-10. Jesus now explains why he is praying for them and not the for the rest of humanity. This little band of disciples are members of God's special group of people, his redeemed community of believers - they belong to God. As the children of God they are rightly the focus of God's concern.

v11a. Jesus also prays for them because they are to take over where he left off. Jesus will soon be with the Father, but this community of believers will remain in the world to proclaim the way of salvation. Since Jesus will no longer with them to guide and strengthen them, he prays for them.

The ground of prayer

It is very interesting how Jesus first establishes the ground for his "high priestly prayer" on behalf of his disciples and "those who will believe in me through their word." In approaching the Father on our behalf, Jesus links us to his glorification, he then notes that we properly belong to God and finally that we are now responsible for his mission to the lost. On these grounds Jesus prays on our behalf.

There is a sense where we do this in the Lord's Prayer. We begin by establishing our relationship with God; he is our Father. Then we go through a list of requests, all of which are based on Biblical promises - the honoring of God's person is ultimately assured, his kingdom will come and his sovereign purposes done. God will supply our needs for his service, he will forgive us and protect our eternal standing from the wiles of darkness. So we pray, and rightly expect our prayer to be answered.

I suspect we don't often establish a basis for our prayer requests. I heard one preacher once describe the majority of prayer requests as "Father Christmas prayers" - wishful thinking. Possibly he was being a bit harsh, but then, most of our prayers have little basis in scripture. Jesus never promised his disciples health, wealth and happiness, but that's exactly where many of our prayers head.

We easily recognize the absurd and so put little weight on the testimony of those who believe that the Lord supplies a parking spot for them when they "prayerfully" go shopping. Yet, we do well to also look for a Biblical basis for all our prayer requests, some ground upon which we can ask "according to His will." This doesn't stop us sharing our trials and tribulations with the Lord, but it does help us ask in faith that "Thy will be done."


1. Analyze to what extent Jesus' high-priestly prayer is based on God's will?

2. Try to draw up a list of prayer points that are according to the will of God, that is, a list of prayer requests that are based on a scriptural promise. Of course, remember, "a description is not a prescription."