John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
When Jesus was with his disciples he often went away alone to pray. "In the morning, when it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a desert place, and there he prayed" (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35). Luke records that he used to do this when he was overwhelmed with people crowding in upon him (Luke 5:16). Jesus also "went up to the mountain" and spent a night in prayer before choosing his twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-17). And John recorded a crisis when people wanted to make Jesus king, and "he withdrew again to the mountain by himself" (6:15).
When he went up to the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus took his inner circle of three disciples, Peter, James, and John, to be with him and they heard his prayer conversation (Matthew 17:1-5, Mark 9:1-7, Luke 9:28-36). Two of the Gospels describe how Jesus asked for the support of the same three disciples when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37, Mark 14:32-35).
On one occasion the disciples saw him pray, and wanted to know how to pray themselves (Luke 11:1). He also shared with them a longing for more workers for the harvest, and gave this concern to them as a prayer topic (Matthew 9:36-38, Luke 10:2).
But now John is able to recall the prayer Jesus prayed in their presence at the end of the last supper. It is as if the other disciples were so upset by what was going to happen that they did not listen to this astonishing prayer. But John remembers how Jesus talked to the Father about the completion of his mission. "I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do" (17:4, see 17:6-8). Jesus also prayed for the disciples' as they went out in the world (17:7-20).
The word "world" comes a dozen times in Jesus' prayer. The disciples "do not belong to the world" (17:16), but they are to be sent into the world (17:18). And as a result many more will be added to their number (17:20).
Another prayer concern relates to oneness. The word "one" comes five times (17:11, 20, 22, 23). During the previous century the idea of church unity was picked up as the agenda for innumerable conferences on how to unite the denominations. For some oneness could only mean a single world-wide bureaucracy. Slowly it has become clear that there is nothing wrong with denominations. Like business franchises, denominations enable and support groupings of congregations to emphasize distinctive forms of life and worship. The oneness of a beautiful garden is not that there is only one kind of flower. Rather its glory is in the rich variety of different forms each expressing own their distinctive beauty.
The glory of God's oneness is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, each having very different functions, but they are totally united in the oneness of their love for one another and for the humans they adopt into their family (17:20, 26). Rather than denominational mergers, it is the oneness of personal relationships with other Christians of all denominations which we are called to make visible (17:11, 21).
In the Acts and Epistles there is only one church in each city (Antioch, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome) and it meets in many different locations (see Romans 16:3-16). We can therefore picture one church in our city as a body with a huge variety of gifts, services, and activities (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) being exercised by its members (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Jesus' prayer for oneness would be for a oneness of love as we work together in different ways and under different denominational names.
17:2-3 The Son was sent with the authority to bring eternal life to "everyone who believes in him" (as in 3:16). And eternal life consists in knowing the Father and his Son Jesus the Messiah. Here the knowing is not knowing about the Father and the Son, or mastering a theology of their functions, but a personal experience deep intimacy of knowing as we are known.
17:4-5 Another aspect of God's glory (17:1) is the work that the Messiah has already done on earth (see 11:4). He made known the good news of forgiveness, the love of God, and the transforming power of the Spirit to do in us what we cannot do of ourselves. And now Jesus is eagerly looking forward to returning to enjoying the glory he had before his incarnation.
17:6-8 A name can convey an aspect of a person's glory. In this Gospel the Messiah has made known some of his own names as Son of the Father (5:17-23), Bread of Life (6:35), Light (8:12), Shepherd (10:11), Resurrection (11:25), Way, Truth, and Life (14:6). And through his teaching Jesus has made known the Father to the disciples.
17:9-12 His concern is for them to be continually protected from falling out with one another. So he prays for them to be kept in a oneness of loving fellowship (see 17:21-23) as they remain in the world (see 17:15). When he was with them he protected them through the power of God, though one of them went out into the darkness (see 13:11, 21-30).
17:13-16 As he sends the disciples out into the world, he wants them to have joy. They are hated (as he explained in 15:18-19) because they do not go along with the course of the world (Romans 12:2). As they face persecution the Messiah does not take them out of the world, but he prays that they will be protected from the lies and assaults of Satan (for his character see 8:44).
17:17-19 The word sanctify means to set something (say a gold cup) aside from ordinary use for a special purpose in God's service. Similarly we can be sanctified (set aside from the ordinary) as Paul sensed he was set aside for his particular work (Romans 1:1). The commissioning of the disciples was reinforced after the resurrection by the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), and through them and others the good news of the Gospel soon began to bear fruit in all the world (Colossians 1:5-6)
The way this sense of calling for a special purpose for each one of us is nourished by meditating on God's Word (8:31). And Jesus prays very specially for this in the lives of his disciples. In Jesus' case, he was sanctified in God's truth by constant communication with the Father (see 5:17-20).
17:20 Jesus was also praying for the many who would come to faith through the preaching and writing of his first apostles. And his prayer has continued for them after his resurrection and ascension to this day. "He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Paul also explains that we experience this intercession deep within us by the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27).
17:20-23 For a comment on the kind of oneness Jesus had in mind see the introduction to this section. It is a oneness of servants of the Messiah in their love for one another (13:34, 15:12, 1 John 4:7-12).
17:24 A special concern is that Jesus' disciples should spend time with him. The result of such quality time with the Messiah is being able to see his glory (see 17:1-2, compare Matthew 5:8). And one aspect of that vision is grasping the love of the Father and the Son long before the foundation of our world. Earlier Jesus had explained that we can look forward to the final and perfect fulfillment of this in the place he has gone to prepare for us (14:2-3).
17:25-26 In an hour or two Jesus will be arrested and suffer horrendous injustice and humiliation. But he steadies himself for the ordeal by remembering his relationship with the Father, and the work he has completed in training the disciples to know the love of God and to love one another (13:34, 15:12). The words "I in them" looks back to the mutual abiding of the branch in the Vine and the Vine abiding in the branch by the Spirit (corresponding to the sap coming into the branches, 15:1-5).
18:1-14 The Arrest