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Bible: What Does John 17 Teach Us About Jesus' High Priestly Prayer?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The High Priest

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Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

After Christ completes His final discourse to His apostles, He looks toward heaven and delivers His so-called high priestly prayer—a petition that divides neatly into three sections:

(1) prayer for Himself (vv. 1-5);

(2) prayer for His disciples (vv. 6-19); and

(3) prayer for all believers (vv. 20-26).

[See note at the end of this chapter.]

Addressing God as “Father,” Jesus introduces His last requests with a word of finality regarding “the hour”—the period leading up to His death.

[He mentioned in a few occasions prior to this reference that “the hour” had arrived (v. 1a; cf. 12:23; 13:1; 16:32); this latter time must signal that the end of that hour had come.]

The Glory of the Lord

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Glory

Jesus only desires that the Father would “glorify” Him (“Your Son”) in order that “Your Son” may glorify “You” (the Father) [v. 1].

[The “glory” of God is somewhere defined as the sum total of all of His attributes; in some contexts, however, it refers to the divine effulgence.

For instance, John 17:5 speaks about the “outshining”—the outward manifestation He voluntarily veiled when He became a man.

That verse does not point to the resumption of the attributes of eternal equality, for He never relinquished any of them.

In the Incarnation, the Second Person veiled His outshining and surrendered the independent exercise of His divine attributes.

In other words, Jesus Christ depended upon the Holy Spirit to perform miracles through Him.

The term “glorify” also means “show honor toward.”

This definition seems to fit Jesus’ meaning in verse one.]

The Son possesses mediatorial authority—that is, delegated power to grant eternal life to those whom the Father had chosen to salvation by His sovereign will (“as many as You have given Him”) [v. 2].

Christ defines this “eternal life” as intimate, spiritual knowledge of both the Father (“the only true God”) and Himself (“Jesus Christ whom You have sent”) [v. 3].

By finishing the work that the Father gave Him to do (v. 4), the Son has glorified Him; He now desires that the Father honor Him by removing the veil so that His radiant glory may once again shine (v. 5; cf. Heb. 10:19-20).

The Apostles

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Jesus now shifts from praying for His own glorification—a most necessary requisite before seeing God answer further requests—to asking the Father to consider the futures of His disciples—“the men whom You have given Me out of the world” (v. 6b).

[When did the apostles belong only to the Father and not also to the Son?]

Having experienced God’s true nature through their abiding with the Son, they have consequently obeyed the Father’s word (v. 6a, c).

The Lord’s men have received “all things” (v. 7)—probably referring to “the words which You have given Me” (v. 8)—as gifts from the Father through the Son; they have also come to know that the Father sent the Son from heaven (v. 8).

The Place Where the Church Meets for Worship

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The Body of Christ

Finally, Christ prays that the disciples of the apostles—(“those who believe in Me through their word”) [v. 20]—would unite spiritually and purpose to execute God’s program as witnesses to the truth of the Incarnation (“that the world may believe that You sent Me”) [v. 21].

Jesus asserts that He has given to all believers the same glory that the Father had given Him with the view to creating among them the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son (v. 22).

[To what “glory” does Jesus refer? Is this term merely another word for honor?]

The indwelling of believers by both the Son and the Father (“I in them, and You in Me”) aims to accomplish three objectives:

(1) to make the saints spiritually united and complete/mature (“perfect in one”);

(2) to convince the world that Christ is the Sent-One of the Father; and

(3) to persuade the world that the Father loves believers in the same way as He loves the Son (v. 23).

Christ also asks the Father to bring His apostles (“they also whom You gave me”) to heaven (“where I am”) in order that they might “behold My glory which You have given Me” (v. 24).

[Jesus links His primordial glory with the Father’s everlasting love, as though the latter contributes to the former; with this incomprehensible sight He wishes to privilege believers.]

The Father has so ordered Earth’s affairs that the “world” does not know Him; however, the Son has known Him intimately, and the apostles have come to know that Christ is the Father’s Sent-One (v. 25).

Jesus promises to continue to reveal the divine nature to the apostles so that they might experience both the Father’s love and the indwelling presence of Christ (v. 26).

[Although this third section of Jesus’ prayer begins with a reference to all believers, it does not appear to focus on them throughout.

Instead, Jesus mentions “they also whom You gave Me” and “these have known”—clauses that definitely point to the apostles alone.]

Subjects of Jesus' Prayer


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Jesus intercedes for the apostles (“those whom You have given me”), but not for the world (v. 9); His apostles belong to both the Father and the Son, and they bring Christ glory (v. 10).

[It is evident that Jesus involves Himself exclusively with believers, praying only for them; He does not concern Himself with the unbelieving world of mankind.]

Christ mentions that He is “no longer in the world” (v. 11a), meaning perhaps that He will no longer participate in everyday matters.

The apostles, however, will carry on in the system, and they will have to negotiate “life” without Him (v. 11b).

Therefore, Jesus asks His Holy Father not only to “keep” (preserve) His men “through Your name,” but also to make them as united in purpose as They Themselves are (v. 11c).

Again, the Lord states a circumstance as if it were in the past tense (“While I was with them in the world”) [v. 12a].

[Jesus’ prayer is so intimate that He acts as if He already stands in the Father’s immediate presence.

He is no longer “with them in the world.”]

Jesus asserts that He succeeded in keeping “those whom You gave me” in the Father’s name.

[Now that He is returning to the Father, He asks the Father to take over (v. 11c).]

Judas Iscariot

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The Son of Perdition

God gave Judas to Jesus also; however, that disciple is lost, yet not because Jesus failed him.

The destruction of “the son of perdition” (Judas) fulfills Scripture (v. 12; cf. Ps. 41:9; 109:8; John 13:18; Acts 1:16-20).

[The antinomy of divine sovereignty and human choice comes into play here. Cf. Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23.]

Jesus again speaks about “these things” that will fill His apostles with His joy; the context refers to their being divinely preserved from destruction (v. 13).

The Sanctifying Word

Just like Christ, God chose them (“they are not of the world”); the apostles possess God’s word and therefore experience the hatred of the "world" (v. 14).

The Lord requests that the Father protect these men from evil (or from the evil one [Satan]), and not remove them from perils and trials (v. 15).

Again, Christ reiterates that both He and the apostles “are not of the world” (v. 16; cf. 15:19; 17:14).

Jesus asks that the Father use His word, the truth, to set them apart for the work that He has sent them into the world to do.

In addition, He asserts that He has dedicated Himself (“I sanctify Myself”) for their sakes that they might serve God in this capacity (vv. 17-19).

[God’s word penetrates to the man’s spirit/soul; the Spirit convinces him of the truth and persuades him that he must carry on the Lord’s work, thus setting him apart from the world.]

© 2014 glynch1

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    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I love John 17. Thanks for the detail behind it. I especially like verse 20. I include myself in the ones for whom He prayed.

    • glynch1 profile image
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      glynch1 3 years ago

      It is a great chapter. I include myself in that verse, too.

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