Wednesday 28th March: John 17:1-5, 20-26 – Prayer for Unity: Glory, In, One

Unfortunately, again, there is insufficient time and space in this blog for other parts of the farewell discourse. We pass over: more information about the future role of the Holy Spirit (14:18-31, 15:26-16:15); the metaphor of Jesus’ being the vine and His followers the branches (15:1-17); the opposition that followers will face from the world (15:18-25); and further consolation (16:16-33). In John 17, Jesus prays his final prayer before going to his death. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, there is no Gethsemane pericope in John, but we have this final prayer where the themes of glory, indwelling, and unity recur.

Jesus begins his prayer by talking to His Father, God. There is no sense in which the prayer is forced; it is natural, intimate conversation. He has been saying it for some time but now the hour has truly come (17:1), when Jesus will be glorified. Whenever “glory” (Greek: doxa) appears in John, it signifies revelation and presence. This hour will reveal both the Son and the Father to be majestic and present; Jesus is not taking all the glory but glorifying the Father through these words and actions. How refreshing an attitude in our society where one-upmanship can feature: where some take the glory in various organisations for shared labour.

Jesus realises that the Father has given him authority (v.2), which means He can give us eternal life. There is such authenticity in these verses about God’s identity. This is the only time in John where God is called “the one true God” and Jesus calls himself “Christ”. This authenticity is reflected in Jesus’ nearing completion on the task which he was given (v.4). The intimacy between Father and Son reaches its climax in v.5 when Jesus says that this glory is the same glory that He had even before the world began – when He was with His Father. God, the Father, Son and Spirit never changes. No matter what changes we are facing, we can trust in an authentic God of love, who is constantly glorious.

Jesus now prays specifically for his disciples (17:6-19), but I shall focus on 17:20-26. Here, in addition to praying for the disciples, Jesus prays for those who will believe through the disciples’ proclamation about Jesus (v.20): i.e. us! Yet, the continuity between the two sections implies that later Christian communities can still apply vv.6-19 to themselves; no distinction is made between those who Jesus in the flesh and those who did not. Jesus’ final concern in John is his followers: us. The amount of times that the words “in” (Greek: en) and “one” (hen) appear in these verses is staggering. That they are so similar in sound mirrors their connection. Just as the Son is in the Father, so believers are in God, which means that we are one. Thankfully, this does not mean that we should all be clones of one another; differences in gifting and character are vital for the body of Christ. Yet, we should be united. In Jesus’ time, the main division was between Jew and Gentile, and this divide and all others are emphatically broken down at the cross. Yet do we remember our one identity in Jesus sufficiently? When we do, we are more complete like Christ (17:23, cf. 17:4), and closer to the glory which is in/through One.

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