Jesus began by praying for himself, and for the glory he and the Father shared. He then prayed for his own, that they may become one as the Father and the Son are one, to share in the Son’s and the Father’s glory, for they were chosen and cherished by God and for God through Christ.
Why Jesus prayed
Jesus prayed because he was no longer going to be in the world, but his followers were going to remain behind in the world.
Now, no longer am I in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.Jesus to the Father, John 17:11
Jesus was asking the Father to assume direct responsibility for his followers while he was personally, physically absent from them, so they could be kept by God’s infinite resources.
Holy Father, watch over, guard, keep, and preserve them in your name, those you have given to me, in order that they may be one even as we [are one].Jesus to the Father, John 17:11
Need for the Father’s Protection
While Jesus was with them, he was the unifying factor that bonded them together and guarded them from spiritual danger.
Now Jesus prayed they would remain unified and faithful after he left, and that was why he asked the Father to protect and keep them. Jesus wanted God to protect his followers, and all believers, while they were completing the mission Jesus had come to put into motion:
These eleven men—and Jesus’ one hundred and twenty close friends, supporters, and followers—were the beginning of the church.
The church, the whole Body of Christ, came to be portrayed in five chief ways in the Christian Testament.
1. The Church is the company of God’s redeemed people.
The Greek word for church in the Christian Testament, ekklesia, means “assembly duly summoned,” and refers to the gathering of all God’s redeemed people. The church is an illustration of God’s diversity, for though God is one, God is also three distinct Persons.
Today God calls out believers from all nations and tribes, all peoples and languages—
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,
from every nation,
from all tribes
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”Revelation 7:9-10 (NRSV)
—gathered together to be a part of God’s company, dressed in the same pure white robes of righteousness, singing praises with one voice to the Lord Jesus.
There is room at the table for everyone, equally loved, equally treasured, equally chosen and cherished.
2. The Church is called the “Body of Christ” with Jesus as the head.
The Church illustrates God’s inner communion. All three Persons in the Godhead are in complete fellowship with each other, complete agreement and support. Our physical bodies have many parts, but no matter how many parts can be named, it is still one body. None of the body parts are dispensable, and no one body part can adequately do the work of the other parts.
In the body of Christ, believers are, in a profound, even organic way, and certainly in an everlasting way, connected intimately with Christ, and with each other through Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the unifier, drawing all the complex parts of the Church into one single spiritual community.
3. The Church is a temple in which God dwells and is worshiped.
The writer of Hebrews urged believers to meet regularly together with other believers, to worship and fellowship together and spur each other on to love and good deeds, becoming a living portrayal of the oneness and threeness of God.
God’s temple in antiquity was sanctified, set apart, for God alone, a sacred place for worship and communion with God. Jesus prayed that God would now sanctify every believer, and believers all together, setting apart God’s people, literally making the people of God the Lord’s sacred place in which God’s glory dwells and where God is worshiped.
4. The church is called the bride of Christ, whom Jesus loves and for whom he died.
The ancient Near East had rich imagery, symbolism, and tradition in its marriage customs, and it seems nearly every book in the Bible speaks of marriage in some way, beginning with Genesis 2. Against this backdrop, Jesus spoke of himself as the bridegroom, and those who put their faith in him as the bride.
Later, the writers of the Christian testament—notably the Apostle Paul—developed this illustration of the Church as beautiful, pure, dressed in holiness and God’s glory, being joined to her beloved.
5. The Church is established on the firm foundation of the apostles’ teaching.
As the Apostle Paul would write to the believers in the Diaspora, in his open letter to the assemblies in Ephesus, there is only one gospel, one faith, one Lord and Savior, one baptism into one Holy Spirit, one living Body with Jesus as the Head, one hope in Jesus’ return along with every believer’s resurrection to be with him forever, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The Church illustrates God’s unity, for God is one, with one way. In that passage Paul pleaded with the believers to make every effort to protect this unity through the bond of peace by being completely humble and gentle, being patient and bearing with one another in love.
Unity is not something we have to work towards or try to achieve. God has already given us unity. The Father answered Jesus’ prayer on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent.
God provides a oneness of organic unity that does not have to be manufactured. It is instead experienced as a fact when believers gather together.
I Have Kept Them All . . . Except
As the good shepherd, Jesus had kept his flock together. They had been called, trained, and mentored, and every one of them had remained faithful – except for one.
While I was with them, I myself was watching over them, keeping them in your name that you have given to me, and I guarded, and not even one of them was utterly lost if not the son of ruin.Jesus to the Father, John 17:12
There is a play on words here, in Greek: None of them [apollumi] except the son of [apoleia].
It is the same root word, one in verb form (to destroy utterly, kill, lose utterly, perish), the other in noun form (perdition, ruin or loss, destruction, die, waste)
None of them died, except the son of death.
What about Judas?
Why had Judas not been secure?
How did he become utterly lost, ruined, how is it that he perished?
Why did Jesus not—or could not—keep Judas safe?
Because Judas had never been one of Jesus’ own.
John left us clues all along in this gospel.
- In chapter 6 he revealed that Judas was not a believer.
- In chapter 13 he revealed that Judas had never been cleansed, that he had actually not been among the chosen
- In chapter 18, John will confirm that Judas had never been given to Jesus by the Father.
Judas is not an example of a believer who lost his salvation. He is an example of an unbeliever who pretended to have salvation but was finally exposed. He had never truly been a part of the twelve; he was there to fulfill the predicted role of traitor.
Even as Jesus was praying, Judas was at the high priest’s, gathering together the temple guard and others who would go with him to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus always protects and keeps his own
The oneness Jesus prays for is primarily one of a spiritual character, not outward conformity, but outward community that reflects an inner unity of a holy nature, the same unity as the Father and the Son. It is the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, being unified, kept and protected by him.