We are finishing up our study of the Upper Room Discourse, which ends with our Lord praying for His disciples and every believer who has ever lived. So in this text that we are looking at today Yeshua Prays for Us! The Lord is just hours from His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and He prays for us. He is about to die a brutal agonizing death and He prays for us! Let that sink in.
In this prayer Yeshua covers all time, from eternity past to eternity future. Verse 5 looks back in time, to the glory, which our Lord had with His Father from eternity past. Verses 20-26 looks forward in time, down through the ages of Church history right up to the present moment of time. In this section the Lord includes in His prayer all those who will be saved after His departure, all those who have been saved up to our day, and all who will ever be saved. This prayer encompasses all believers of all time.
This prayer started with:
When Yeshua had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, John 17:1 ESV
What hour is this? It is the hour of His glory. It will start with the crucifixion, be followed by the Resurrection, and then the Ascension, and then the Exaltation.
In the final section of His prayer Yeshua turns His attention to the future. He assumes the success of the disciples that He has prayed for in verses 9-19; to the degree that they continue His ministry in the world there will be a constant flow of new believers into the body of Christ.
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, John 17:20 ESV
We can see a distinction here between those who were our Lord's disciples at that time, and those who will later come to faith in Him through His disciples witness.
"I do not ask for these only"—"these" refers to the disciples that were with Him, those He prayed for in verses 11-19. Well He was still praying for them, but now He broadens it to all who will ever believe in Him.
"But also for those who will believe in me"—this is a present tense functioning as a future tense. This refers to all subsequent believers, even to Gentiles:
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. John 10:16 ESV
This verse refers back to verses 1-5. There the sheep pen represents Judaism. Yeshua calls His own sheep out of that fold, thereby constituting His own flock; the sheep that remain in that pen are the unbelieving Jews. If Yeshua has other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, the reference must be to Gentiles. This is an allusion to Isaiah 56:6-8, which talks about "others" who will be gathered by the Lord. These "others" are the Gentiles who will be gathered into the Messiah's flock alongside the restored sheep of Israel.
So Yeshua is praying for those who will believe in Him. This includes us! Yeshua is praying for us, and in this prayer we will see some amazing things. Remember that He told us that He doesn't pray for unbelievers:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9 ESV
He doesn't pray for the world. because he doesn't love the world. He prays for us, because He loves us, and so does the Father to whom He prays.
Notice that Yeshua prays for those who will believe in him "through their word"—"their" refers to the apostles and others who are with them in the upper room, so "their word"—refers to apostles and the disciples, who are consecrated for "the priestly service of the Gospel":
to be a minister of Christ Yeshua to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 ESV
This consecrated group will witness for Christ both orally and in writing, as the Messiah begins the gathering of the great harvest of believers into the church.
The priestly order of the New Covenant, not based on heredity and service to Israel, but on a spiritual call in which worship will be extended to all nations, was promised by Yahweh to the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah in:
"For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD. Isaiah 66:18-21 ESV
This is what these apostles and the disciples, who are consecrated for "the priestly service of the Gospel," are about to begin doing, gathering all nations. They will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, they will preach the Gospel, and they will write the New Testament. This began at Pentecost when the Spirit of God came upon them, and they began to preach the Gospel. Many years later the Spirit inspired them to write the books of the New Testament. The teaching that God gave them is now in Scripture for every generation through human history.
Believers, all of us, all Christians have come to faith in Yeshua, either through the preaching or through the writing of the original disciples or apostles. So Yeshua is praying here for all believers past and future. But what I want us to see here is that Yeshua is praying for us!
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, John 17:21-22 ESV
The prayer here is for unity. Would you agree with that? Now let me ask you this, "Does Yeshua get His prayers answered"? Yes, He does! So what does that mean? It means that we are one, even as the Father and Son are one.
The Lord prays for this unity in verse 11, "that they may be one, even as we are one," (verse 21), "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us" ( verse 22), "that they may be one even as we are one" and (verse 23), "I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one."
It is clear that Christ is praying for unity, that they be one. The question is what does He mean by "that they may all be one?" There has been a lot of debate as to what the unity referred to by Christ in these verses really means. Let's see if we can figure out what the Lord prays for here.
The words "just as" and "even as" speak of the nature of our unity. It is to be like that of Yeshua and the Father—a common life; a unity of will, purpose, and goal. It's not people being united because they are in the same container organizationally. It's people who are one because they share the same nature.
All through the Gospel of John, we have seen that the Father and the Son are one. He's now praying for a oneness that is like the oneness shared between the Father and the Son. When Yeshua prays to His Father that these disciples may "be in us," He is probably alluding to the "union" language of the vine metaphor (ch. 15). This unity rests on adherence to God's truth, and it reflects the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.
Some say that the model for the unity of believers is the oneness of Yeshua and the Father. But a model is a system or thing used as an example to follow or imitate. Can we follow or imitate the oneness of the Trinity? He is not praying that we all get along at church. He's not talking about some practical unity for several reasons, one, because He says it is a unity like that between the Father and the Son. And secondly because He prays for this unity, meaning that they will have this unity. How do we know that if Christ prayed for it, it was answered? We know because Christ never prayed for something that the Father didn't will:
So Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19 ESV
"For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise"—in Yeshua, we see Yahweh. Whatever Yeshua did was an act of Yahweh; whatever He said was the word of Yahweh. There was no moment of His life and no action of His which did not express the life and action of the Father.
Carson writes, "It is impossible for the Son to take independent, self-determined action that would set Him over against the Father as another God, for all the Son does is both coincident with and coextensive with all that the Father does."
So does the Church today have a practical unity? How Many Christian denominations are there? It is said to be somewhere around 40,000. Each denomination is distinct from other denominations, churches, and traditions. They all believe they are practicing the Christian faith as taught in the New Testament. So no, the church today doesn't have a practical unity. Which means that practical unity is not what Yeshua was praying for, because He gets what He prays for.
These verses, John 17:21-22, are favorites of promoters of the ecumenical movement. Back in the 1990's, evangelical leaders Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, J. I. Packer, and others signed the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together Document." It called on Protestants to come together with the Catholic Church in the many areas where we agree, setting aside our minor differences over matters like justification by faith alone. I'm being facetious about this being a "minor" difference.
Then the Promise Keepers movement added pressure in the same direction. At their national pastors' conference in 1996, popular author Max Lucado called on 40,000 pastors in attendance to set aside the labels of Catholic and Protestant and to recognize that we're all sailing on the same ship with Yeshua as our captain. No, we are not on the same ship; that is what the Reformation was all about.
Many are calling on believers to set aside doctrinal differences for the sake of unity. Today we have the emerging church movement, which pushes Ecumenism. This movement is strongly influenced by the postmodern philosophy that there is no absolute truth, or if there is, we cannot know it with certainty. Thus we are being urged to be tolerant of all that claim to be Christian and even of non-Christian religions. They claim that doctrine is divisive and that those who claim to know the truth are arrogant. Thus for the sake of love and unity, we should set aside our doctrinal convictions and accept one another without criticizing doctrinal beliefs.
I talked to a woman who is involved in one of these churches, and was so excited that they had no problem with the eschatology of Preterism. Of course they don't, they don't have a problem with any doctrine. Doctrine doesn't matter; it's all about experience. I am very concerned about those who promote unity with little concern for sound doctrine. We cannot unite over error.
In this prayer Yeshua is asking God to do what God already planned to do and promised to do for all who put their trust in His Son. The petition then is not that we would get along with each other, but that the Body of Christ would be one.
As we look at Scripture we see that unity was a present possession of all believers. Paul writes:
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3 ESV
This unity of the Spirit was already a fact for believers, but they were to be diligent to preserve it. Then there is also a unity that was not yet theirs:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Ephesians 4:13 ESV
This unity of the faith was not yet a reality during the transition period. The Church was growing to maturity, and once it was mature the Lord would inhabit it:
in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22 ESV
God came and indwelt His church in AD 70 at the Parousia of Christ.
Grammatically, there are three phrases in 4:13, each beginning with the word "attain to." So, "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God," is one phrase. Attain "to a mature man," is the second phrase. Attain "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ," is the third phrase. "Attain" is used nine times in the Book of Acts to refer to travelers arriving at their destination. Thus each of these phrases involves a process that results in a goal.
Yahweh's purpose for that church was that it be conformed into the image of Yeshua the Christ. That took place in AD 70, when the Lord returned, bringing in the New Heaven and Earth, where we see Him face to face. So the coming again of our Lord for His people brought them to full maturity and closed the Canon of Scripture. When the body was matured to the likeness of Christ, the Lord returned to take His bride.
So we have an already and not yet of unity in the first century. When we talk about unity in Christianity, we have to think about ethnic unity. There was no greater divide in the first century church than that between Jews and Gentiles. But Paul emphasized that the glory of the church is that Christ removed the barrier between those two diverse groups and made them one:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:11-12 ESV
Gentiles were "strangers to the covenants of promise," which are the roots of the olive tree. This was the position of all Gentiles: hopeless, without God:
But now in Christ Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility Ephesians 2:13-14 ESV
We have been brought near to the God of Israel, Yahweh, by the blood of Christ. We have been grafted into the roots of Israel. Notice that both groups are now one:
and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:16-18 ESV
Both groups, Jews and Gentiles, are in one body. In Christ we both have access to the Father. This is what Paul taught in Romans 11:17-24 about the olive tree. Jews and Gentiles were grafted into the SAME tree, sharing the same root. Paul calls this unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body a mystery:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Yeshua the Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— Romans 16:25-26 ESV
"According to the revelation of the mystery, which has been kept secret for long ages"—the use of the perfect tense and divine passive expresses the distinct silence by God's pleasure when it came to the mystery. A mystery is something that's been hidden in the past and is now revealed in the Scripture. The word translated "mystery" is the Greek word musterion.
Vines writes: "In the New Testament it denotes not the mysterious…but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense, a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed."
In Colossians Paul writes:
the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. Colossians 1:26 ESV
Here Paul talks about the mystery that is "now" being manifested to His saints. What is interesting and very important to understand is that the word "mystery" in Paul's writings occurs in close proximity to the word "stewardship" that Paul used in verse 25:
of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, Colossians 1:25 ESV
Paul associates the two words, mystery and stewardship, many times in his own letters. His stewardship, therefore, is seen to be tied up with the deliverance of the mystery. We could almost say that it's the sum total of what's been committed into his hands.
Paul's use of this word, musterion, is not to indicate a secret teaching, rite, or ceremony revealed only to some elite initiates (as in the mystery religions), but truth revealed to all believers in the New Testament. This truth, as Paul says in Colossians 1:26, that, "…has now been revealed to His saints…" Is that which "…has been hidden for ages and generations," namely the Old Covenant era and people.
In Ephesians 3 Paul unfolds in detail this mystery:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Yeshua on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. Ephesians 3:1-3 ESV
We see here that Paul's stewardship is the mystery. Which means that Yeshua's disciples didn't understand this. Paul says in verse 4, "Look, you can understand how I gained my insight into the mystery of Christ. God revealed it to me." What is the mystery?:
which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the gospel. Ephesians 3:5-6 ESV
What is the mystery? It's not the fact that Gentiles are to be saved. The Tanakh teaches that. What is the mystery? Is it the revelation of the Gospel now? No "The Gospel," the apostle says in Romans chapter 1, "was something that was promised beforehand in the writings of the prophets." What is this that was hidden, now manifested and made known—the mystery? Verse 6 tells us. "This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the Gospel."
In the Tanakh Gentiles were blessed through the Jews. But now as a result of the apostolic preaching through Paul and the revelation of the mystery, by what has happened as well as by what was revealed to Paul, preeminently Paul and other New Testament prophets; it is clear that now Gentiles are not only saved as Jews, but they are saved on the same grounds, and they also possess the same blessings, "That the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the Gospel." So the apostle regards Jews and Gentiles as being united in Christ in His day. That is the mystery, the union of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ on equal grounds:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 ESV
Paul says "the mystery… which is Christ in you." That's a mystery, Christ in you. But if you look at that in the original text, he means "in you Gentiles." That's the thing about it that's significant—Christ in the Gentiles. In this new creation there is no longer a division between Jews and Gentiles as both are united in Christ to form one new man.
Let's go back to Romans:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Yeshua the Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages Romans 16:25 ESV
What does he mean when he says here that it "has been kept secret for long ages"? It's probable that the apostle means from the time of the creation to the time of Christ. In the ages of world history expressed there, a hush had come by divine desire over the revelation of the future relationship between Jews and Gentiles.
Let me just say here that he is not talking about the Gospel, that wasn't kept secret. We read the proto-euangelion in Genesis 3:15, that first mention of the good news. We see the symbolism so clearly portrayed in Genesis 22 when Abraham offered Isaac, but at the last minute a substitute ram was offered in his place. We see Christ in that substitute. We see Christ in the Passover Lamb offered for Israel. We see Him in the scapegoat and in the goat offered on the Day of Atonement. We see Him in the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. We see Him in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We see Him in Hosea and Micah. We see Him in the good news proclaimed in Zechariah and Malachi. So the Gospel was revealed, but the mystery was not.
This great teaching of the mystery was enwrapped in the silence of the past, but now it has been manifested:
but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— Romans 16:26 ESV
"But has now been disclosed"—three times the apostle says this. Here, in Ephesians chapter 3, in Colossians chapter 1, he draws a contrast in each place between the past and now, "The mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested." So he thinks of this as something now manifested. The public manifestation has been expressed in what Paul and the apostles saw happening, but it also was revealed to them and the explanation of what was happening came to them from Lord God.
So was this truth absolutely unknown in Old Covenant times, or only relatively unknown, that is, very little said about it? Well the apostle draws a contrast in these passages, "but now"! I think in the light of the apostle's "nows" and in the light of his specific statement it was "kept secret for long ages past," that he refers to an absolute hidden-ness of this great truth of Jews and Gentiles being one in the body of Christ in the present day. Notice what Paul says in:
which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Ephesians 3:5 ESV
Paul tells us that he was a steward of the mystery and that no revelation of this mystery was given in the Tanakh, but that it was revealed for the first time in the New Testament. Have you ever heard the saying, "There's nothing new in the New Testament"? Let me give you a quote: "Listen to me, believers, There is nothing new in the New Testament. Everything that Paul, and all its writers, taught was nothing but what the Hebrew Scriptures taught would happen." Do you know who said this? I did. I found it in three different messages. I was wrong! This is why I'm always telling you to be Bereans and check out what you hear before you believe it.
When I said there is nothing new in the New Testament, I even quoted Ephesians 3:3-6, but I took the comparative conjunction "hos" (as); as restrictive, meaning that the mystery was partially revealed in the Tanakh, but has now been fully revealed. Well the problem was I hadn't ever done a verse-by-verse study of Ephesians. And now that I have done an in depth study I am convinced that when Paul tells us in chapter 3, verse 5, "which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed…" —that this comparative conjunction "hos" is descriptive, meaning that no revelation of this mystery was given in the Tanakh, but that it was revealed for the first time in the New Testament. So I think there is something new in the New Testament.
Verse 6 in the Greek begins with the present infinitive eime, which explains the content of the mystery. Paul tells us that the Gentiles/ethnos are fellow heirs, they are fellow members of the one body, and they are fellow partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. That's the mystery. That's the secret. That's the relationship that did not exist in Tanakh—that Jew and Gentiles/ethnos would have equal standing before Yahweh because of their faith in Yeshua the Messiah. When people who are divided in the world display love for one another in the church, the world takes notice.
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:21 ESV
"So that the world may believe that you have sent me"—although the unity envisaged in this chapter is not institutional, this purpose clause at the end of verse 21, "so that," shows that the unity is meant to be observable. Jews and Gentiles loving one another in the body of Christ would be visible. Yeshua's disciples are made known by their love:
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35 ESV
The display of mutual love among Yeshua's disciples, Jews and Greeks, shows that they are His disciples. Their love for one another shows that they really do follow His teachings and possess His life. And when we have individuals who are of diverse backgrounds, Jews and Gentiles, who all proclaim the supremacy of our Lord Yeshua the Christ as the only way of salvation, this gives evidence that Yeshua really was who He claimed to be. It vindicates His teaching and so glorifies Him. The way believers treat one another is an essential component of proclaiming Yeshua to the world.
"So that the world may believe"—the word "world" is used here as it is in John 3:16 meaning, the elect from both Jews and Gentiles. Only the "given" can believe.
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, John 17:22 ESV
"The glory that you have given me I have given to them"—this is proleptic, (to describe an event that is not yet past as though it were already completed) since these people to whom Yeshua speaks of giving glory have not even come to believe in Him yet. They will do so later on account of His disciples' continuation of His ministry.
So what glory was Yeshua talking about? Some say that Yeshua was probably speaking of His bringing the full knowledge of God to them. The revelation of God results in glory for God. When believers understand and believe the revelation of God that Yeshua brought, they become partakers of that "glory." I think that glory refers to the revelatory message of the New Covenant:
who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:6-9 ESV
The Old Covenant was a letter that killed, but the Spirit gives life. The Old Covenant was a ministration of condemnation, but the New Covenant is a ministration of righteousness.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
This is from Old Covenant glory to New Covenant glory. The context is the two covenants. And let's remember that for Christ, the epitome of His glory was displayed at the cross, which brings in the New Covenant.
So here Christ prays for the unity of believers. I believe that the unity, the oneness that He is praying for is that of the mystery, that Jews and Gentiles would be one in the body of Christ. Now remember Yeshua is praying for things that are sure to come to pass. We saw this in:
"Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John 17:5 NASB
Yeshua knew that this was going to happen, and yet He prayed for it. He also knew that His disciples would share the unity that the Trinity has, He knew that Jews and Gentiles would become one in the body of Christ, the Church. Yeshua gets what He prays for, which really gets exciting as we look at the final section of this prayer, next week.