WHEN JESUS PRAYED FOR US
By LESLIE STRADER
English evangelical J.C. Ryle, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, called chapter 17 in the book of John “the most wonderful prayer that was ever prayed on earth.”
Some say this should be the “love” chapter rather than 1 Corinthians 13 because Christ’s prayer is a great expression of His love for us.
While he was very ill, John Knox, the great Scottish theologian, had John 17 read to him every day, until the day he died.
We know from the Gospels that Jesus went many times to be alone and pray to the Father (Matt. 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16). But thanks to the providential care of God, the content of this particular prayer – spoken after the Last Supper and before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion – has been recorded and preserved by John for us to learn from and be encouraged by. It is called the High Priestly prayer and is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus.
There are deep things in this prayer. Martin Luther says, “This is truly, beyond measure, a warm and hearty prayer. He opens the depths of His heart, both in reference to us and to His Father, and He pours them all out. It sounds so honest, so simple; yet it is so deep, so rich, so wide, no one can fathom.”
As Luther said, we could study John 17 for a lifetime and still not exhaust all that Jesus’ words teach us. But there are also many plain truths that we can meditate on, especially as we focus on Christ and His journey to the cross.
When Jesus begins this prayer, the events that end with His death on the cross are already in motion. Jesus has delivered His farewell address and eaten His Last Supper with His disciples. Judas likely had the cold silver coins of betrayal safely tucked in his robe. And a mob, armed with swords, clubs, and torches, was gathering to make their way to the Garden.
This is the hour that the Lamb of God would offer Himself as our perfect sacrifice. But before all of that, Jesus stopped to intercede for us as our Great High Priest.
In 650 words, Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples and also, for “those who will believe in Me.” (v. 20) That’s us. We know Jesus was fully God and so time was nothing to Him. He could see across centuries and pray about things He knew His Church and all future believers would need. This is not like when we say, “God bless all the missionaries.” Jesus knew exactly what and who He was speaking about when He prayed these words.
Jesus prayed three particular things for us:
- For the oneness of His people. (vv. 21-23)
- That those who belong to Him may one day actually be with Him and behold His glory. (v. 24)
- For us a deeper revelation of God leading to a deeper love for God. (vv. 25-26)
First, oneness in the body of Christ. The important distinction here is that this is not uniformity or unanimity – that we would all be alike and think or act alike – but unity, likeness in heart, purpose, and spirit. This kind of unity brings glory to God and opens blind eyes to the truth (v. 23).
At the beginning of His prayer Jesus asked to be glorified by His Father—restored to perfect fellowship with the Trinity just like He was before He came to earth. And in verse 24, He asked that we might be with Him there.
Jesus didn’t only submit to dying for us, though that by itself is enough. He takes such delight in us that He prayed that we would be with Him, in His glorious presence, for all eternity (Colossians 3:4). He wants to be with us forever so we can see and enjoy His glory. What an overwhelming thought, that our presence would contribute to heaven’s happiness! What a blessing to be the object of His love. We can trust this ultimate union will bring us complete satisfaction and joy as well (Ps. 16:11).
The third part of this prayer is such grace for us. To know and love God more is the divine purpose of our lives as believers. Paul prays the same thing for us in Ephesians 4 and Philippians 1 because he knows there is no better pursuit. An increase in our knowledge of and love for God results in an increase in our love for others. We bring Him maximum glory – and ourselves maximum blessing – when we love each other: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
The power of Jesus’ prayer on earth still rings in heaven and our hearts. But did you know that Jesus is still our great Intercessor? Romans 8:34 says that at this very moment, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, mediating and interceding for us. Robert McCheyne offers this beautiful perspective on that biblical truth: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
We can be confident that everything Jesus prays for us is perfect, and that the Father will answer with the same perfection. His prayers will bring glory to God because they are exactly in line with the will of God. And they are always for our good.
Continue to make the most of your time during Holy Week. Read through and meditate on the prayer of your Savior in John 17. The cross and suffering He would endure were certainly on His mind. But even as the Man of Sorrows, He clung to what He was accomplishing, on what was coming after His death: His return to glory in the presence of His Father; the faithfulness of the men who would go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and you and I and all the saints before and after us—that we would be one, that we would be prepared to enjoy His presence, and that each day we would grow to know Him better and love Him more.
Former Abilenian Leslie Strader is a freelance writer in Tyler