Jesus’ Prayer for the Apostles (John 17:1-26)

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2008-11-28 10:58.

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After having finished speaking to the apostles, Jesus raised his eyes heavenward and began to pray. Only a shift in his visual focus ended his speaking to the apostles and started his praying, indicative of how natural it was for Jesus to address his Father and of the intimate relationship existing between them. His mentioning the hour that had come referred to the imminent completion of his ministry on earth and the sacrificial surrender of his life in submission to his Father’s will. (John 17:1)

Jesus’ petition, “Glorify your Son, that the Son [your Son, according to numerous manuscripts] may glorify you,” constituted a request to be honored subsequent to the humiliation of a shameful execution. This glorification would have included everything that revealed him to be the Son of God. Awesome signs accompanied his death. After his resurrection from the dead on the third day, he returned to his Father. Thus honored in keeping with his petition, Jesus glorified his Father through what he had accomplished in carrying out the commission entrusted to him. (John 17:1)

The Father had granted his Son authority over all flesh or the entire human family. This authority was bound up with his sacrificial death, which provided the basis for liberating humans from sin and the consequences from sin, namely, death. Through his death, Jesus would purchase or redeem the human race. By his Father’s giving him those whom he redeemed, Jesus would be able to give them eternal life. (John 17:2)

He referred to eternal life as being a life distinguished by an enduring relationship with him and his Father. It is a knowing of the Father as the only true God and Jesus Christ as the one whom he had sent. This “knowing” is an intimate relationship of oneness with the Father and his Son. A life that harmonizes with Jesus’ example and teaching and so also with his Father’s will confirms the existence of this relationship. Recognizing that Jesus had been sent by the Father would require acknowledging the reason for his being sent, putting faith in him, and accepting the atoning benefits of his sacrificial death. Being a relationship that does not end, the life that is distinguished by a relationship with the Father and his Son is eternal and will be enjoyed in the complete sense in the sinless state. In that state, the most intimate knowing of the Father and the Son will be possible. (John 17:3)

Jesus could speak of his having glorified or honored his Father, for he had completed the work he had been given to do. The surrender of his life being at hand, he could rightly refer to the full accomplishment of the work. Upon faithfully carrying out everything that his coming to the earth required, Jesus made it possible for humans to become reconciled to his Father. Moreover, through his words and deeds, Jesus flawlessly revealed him. (John 17:4)

He prayed that his Father would glorify him, granting him the “glory,” splendor, honor, or dignity he had before coming to the earth and which he had alongside him before the world existed. (John 17:5) The glory he previously had was one of being in the very form of his Father, a magnificence that transcended that of all the angels or the other sons of God. (Philippians 2:6)

When acknowledging his Father as the one who had given him the apostles out of the world of mankind, Jesus spoke of having made known his Father’s name (the person of the Father, the one whom the name represented). As his Father’s unique Son, he revealed him in a manner that no one else could have done. Jesus spoke his Father’s words and did his Father’s works. In his activity and interactions, he flawlessly reflected his Father’s zeal for what is right, fair, or just, and manifested his Father’s mighty and beneficent power, concern and care, compassion, and love. Again referring to the apostles as belonging to and having been given to him by his Father, Jesus added, “They have kept your word.” (John 17:6; see the Notes section for additional comments.) He imparted the “word” or teaching that he had received from his Father to the apostles, and they responded to it in faith. They recognized Jesus as their Lord and heeded his word, which in the ultimate sense was his Father’s word.

The apostles came to know that everything that had been given to Jesus had been received from his Father. This was so because of what Jesus had taught them and his identifying his Father as the source of his teaching. (Compare John 7:16-18.) They accepted Jesus’ words, observing them as having come from his Father. Through the words or teaching Jesus imparted to them, the apostles recognized that he had come from his Father and came to believe that his Father had sent him. (John 17:7, 8)

At this time, Jesus did not pray regarding the world that persisted in unbelief but for the apostles, whom the Father had given him and to whom they belonged. Indicating that his Father had the same care and concern he did, Jesus acknowledged, “Everything of mine is yours, and yours [is] mine; and I have been glorified in them.” (John 17:9, 10) Although the apostles belonged to Jesus, they also belonged to his Father, and so would be objects of his Father’s love and concern. By believing in Jesus, they had glorified or honored him as God’s beloved Son. In view of his imminent departure, he deeply cared about them and prayed for them.

Though Jesus would no longer be in the world and would be returning to his Father, the disciples would continue to live in the world, facing the pressures and trials associated with a world in a state of alienation from and at enmity with the Father. Therefore, Jesus made his appeal, “Holy Father, look after them in your name which you have given me, that they be one as we are [one].” (John 17:11)

Being pure in the absolute sense, the Father is holy, and his name identifies him as the God of love, one who deeply cares for his own. The name represents or stands for him. Therefore, if the reference to giving his name to his Son preserves the original reading of the Greek text, this could relate to the Father’s intimate relationship with him, a relationship of oneness stemming from the Father’s having given himself to his Son. (See the Notes section regarding John 17:11.) It would then be the inseparable oneness Jesus enjoyed with his Father that he desired the apostles to share.

While he had been with the apostles, Jesus looked out for them. He did so in his Father’s name. This could mean that he did so on the basis of the authority that his Father had granted him. Jesus’ watchful care meant that all except the “son of destruction” had been safeguarded. To fulfill the scripture that a close associate would betray Jesus (Psalm 41:9[10]; John 13:18), Judas Iscariot alone was lost. By choosing a course that led to his ruin, Judas proved himself to be a “son of destruction.” (John 17:12; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Although he would be returning to his Father, Jesus wanted the apostles to share in his joy. So, while he was still in the world, he expressed himself in prayer as he did. The things he had said centered on his having revealed the Father to them and their relationship to him and to his Father. Jesus’ prayerful words would also have assured the apostles of his Father’s watching over them. Their knowing that they belonged to the Father and were recipients of his loving care would have contributed to their ceasing to be troubled about Jesus’ no longer being with them. This would have enabled them to share in his joy to the full. They could then rejoice in the victory he attained through his death, a triumph that brought liberation from sin to those who put faith in him and spelled defeat for the powers of darkness. Moreover, his again being with his Father as the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been granted would fill them with joy. (John 17:13)

Jesus had given the word of his Father to the apostles, imparting to them the Father’s teaching. That teaching revealed Jesus to be the unique Son of God. In his own person, Jesus revealed the Father to the fullest extent possible. The apostles had embraced the “word” or teaching in faith, ceasing to be part of the world of unbelievers who were alienated from and at enmity with the Father. Therefore, the world hated the apostles, for, like Jesus their Lord, they were no part of it. (John 17:14)

As objects of the world’s hatred, the apostles needed divine aid. Jesus did not pray for them to be taken out of the world and thereby to escape the trials and pressures from a world in opposition to him. Instead, he appealed to his Father to watch over them on account of the evil one. Though no part of the world, just as Jesus was no a part thereof, they would be advancing his interests in the world of mankind. As a result, they would be subject to the attacks of the evil one or the devil. (John 17:15, 16)

In view of their commission, Jesus prayed that his Father would sanctify the apostles “in the truth.” For them to be sanctified meant that they would be set apart for a holy or sacred service. The expression “in the truth” could be understood to mean in the sphere of the truth, suggestive of a life set apart for the advancement of this truth and a life that harmonized therewith. Jesus referred to his Father’s word as being truth and earlier that night spoke of himself as the truth. (John 14:6) So the truth is the teaching which Jesus had received from his Father and which he then imparted to his disciples by his words and deeds. As the perfect reflection of his Father, the Son was the embodiment of the truth about him. For the furtherance of this truth, the revelation of the Father in the Son, the apostles would be set apart to serve. (John 17:17)

The Father had sent Jesus to minister in the world of mankind. Jesus likewise sent his disciples to labor in the world. (John 17:18) He had sanctified himself or set himself apart for them. In submission to his Father’s will, he faithfully imparted his Father’s teaching and was about to surrender his life. Accordingly, as one set apart to do his Father’s will, Jesus acted for the benefit of the disciples. They received his teaching and, on the basis of his sacrificial death and their faith in him, came to be the Father’s sons and Christ’s brothers. So, by what Jesus did in sanctifying himself for them, they were sanctified “in [the] truth” or set apart to serve in advancing the truth (the truth from the Father and revealed through the Son). (John 17:19)

Jesus did not limit his prayerful request to the apostles, but included all who would come to believe in him on the basis of the “word” or message they would proclaim. (John 17:20) The objective for all those putting their faith in him would be that they would form a united whole, enjoying the same oneness that Jesus had with his Father. With all believers being at one with Jesus and his Father, testimony would be given to the world that the Father had sent the Son. Thus the basis would be provided for the world of mankind or for the people to believe in Jesus as the one whom God had sent. (John 17:21)

The glory the Father had given him, Jesus gave to the apostles. This glory, splendor, or dignity appears to relate specifically to Jesus’ being the Son of God. In John 1:14, this glory is described as that of a father’s only or unique son, and Jesus granted those who believed in him the authority or right to be God’s children. (John 1:12) This bestowal of sonship is an honor or dignity of unparalleled greatness. In coming to be part of the family of the Father’s beloved children, a marvelous unity comes into being. Jesus expressed this objective regarding the apostles to his Father, “that they be one as we are one; I in [at one with them] them and you in [at one with] me, that they may be fully one.” (John 17:22) This perfect oneness or unity would provide the basis for the world of mankind to know that the Father had sent the Son and loved the disciples (those who had been granted the honor of being his children on the basis of their faith in his Son) just as he loved him. (John 17:23)

It appears that particularly regarding “what” the Father had given him as the unique Son (provided the oldest extant manuscripts preserve the original reading of the text), Jesus wanted the apostles to be where he was. This would make it possible for them to see the glory or the greatness of the dignity that his Father had given him as the exalted Son with all authority in heaven and on earth. The glory that he would have upon his return to his Father would be an evidence of his Father’s love. This love existed “before the founding of the world” or from the very start and continued throughout the ages. (John 17:24; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

The world had not come to know the Father, the one who is righteous, just, or impartial in all his dealings. Humans who were part of the unbelieving world were in a state of alienation from and at enmity with him. They had no relationship with the Father and so could not possibly know him. Jesus, however, knew his Father as his beloved Son, and the apostles came to know that the Father had sent him. (John 17:25)

During the time he was with the apostles, Jesus made known his Father’s name (that is, the person of the Father, the bearer of the name) to them. As the perfect reflection of his Father, Jesus revealed him through his words and actions. His prayer expressed the resolve to continue making his Father’s name known or revealing him to the apostles. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and opened up their minds to a fuller understanding respecting himself and so also regarding his Father. (Compare Luke 24:26, 27, 32.) Upon returning to him, Jesus continued to reveal his Father by means of the paraclete, “the spirit of the truth.” His making him known was for the purpose that the apostles might have within them the love with which his Father loved him. Through Jesus’ love for them, they would come to experience his Father’s love and, therefore, the love with which he loved his Son. This would also serve to have Jesus “in them” or inseparably attached to them in love. With the Father’s love dwelling in them, the apostles would respond in love for him and for his Son. (John 17:26)


The name of God expresses everything he is. Therefore, in making known the name, Jesus revealed his Father’s personality and attributes—his matchless and beneficent power (as, for example, when Jesus raised the dead), compassion and love (exemplified in Jesus’ response to the afflicted and to repentant sinners), and justice (through Jesus’ exposure of harshness, oppressiveness, and mistreatment). To his apostles and other disciples, Jesus disclosed how they could become his Father’s children and thus revealed him as the loving Father with whom they could have an intimate family relationship as persons forgiven of their sins. In what the Father had made possible through him, Jesus revealed the Father in a way that far transcended what had been set forth in the existing holy writings with which the apostles were familiar. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, the paraclete or the holy spirit aided the apostles to understand everything he had said and done. In this way, he (as expressed in his prayer) continued to make known his Father’s name, and the apostles came to have a fuller understanding of the Father, their relationship to him, and his boundless love in sending his Son to the earth. (John 17:6, 26)

For John 17:11, manuscript readings vary. There are ancient Latin, Syriac and Coptic manuscripts that do not include the words, “which you have given me, that they be one as we are [one].” Certain other manuscripts read, “whom [referring to the apostles] you have given me.” This would mean that Jesus prayed that his Father safeguard the apostles in his own name or in keeping with everything his name represented, the God who he is.

Ancient manuscript readings of John 17:12 introduce the phrase “you have given me” with either “which” (applying to God’s name) or “whom” (referring to the apostles).

In John 17:24, the oldest extant manuscripts read, “which you have given me.” Many later manuscripts, however, indicate the reference to be to the apostles (“whom you have given me”).