John 17:20-26


Bengel: This chapter, of all the chapters in Scripture, is the easiest in regard to the words, the most profound in regard to ideas. Jesus prays the Father, and at the same time teaches His disciples. Jesus addresses the Father when a new part of the discourse is begun; 1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25.

Nestle's Greek text divides the pericope into two parts:

  1. 20-23: The well-being and unity of the Church Universal in time;

  2. 24-26: the glorious consummation of this Church in the Kingdom of glory.

Ylvisaker has three parts, the Theme: Jesus prays for all believers everywhere and at all time:

  1. 20-21: For their unity with the Father and the Son and with one another;

  2. 22-24: For their consummation in glory;

  3. 25-26: For perfect communion in love.

These notes suggest a third division:

  1. 20-23: The unity of all believers of all ages in time;

  2. 24: The glorification of all believers in eternity;

  3. 25-26: The perfect communion of believers in love in time.

Hendriksen: Here all is certain. The chapter contains not one conditional sentence.

Fahling notes that it was David Chytraeus, Luther's student, who first called this chapter the  Great Sacerdotal Prayer. 

The whole chapter is a source for the doctrine of the Word of God. The Word is the Father's gift to the incarnate Christ. That Word reveals the true God to man, brings him to faith, preserves him in the faith, is absolute Truth, and binds Redeemer and believer in an eternal bond of love. The importance of the Apostolic Word, verse 20, cannot be overestimated. This is important to remember in these days when the inspired nature of the Apostolic Word is denied by many.

John 17:20  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

The verb used here implies that Jesus is true God.

Faith comes only through the Word, specifically the Gospel. The Gospel is called "their," the Apostles', Word. They did not own the Gospel; they preached it and recorded it. We have this very Word in the New Testament books.

The object of faith is always Christ.

John 17:21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

The unity of all believers comes through faith in the Gospel.

By the way, God always hears Jesus' prayers. Look at John 11:42. Even His prayer in Gethsemane was answered. We can rest assured that this prayer for unity between believers and the Trinity has been answered.

Kretzmann: The Christian Church does a great deal of missionary work by its very existence.

John 17:22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:

Here Jesus is speaking about His human nature. As God He already had this glory. God gave the human nature of Christ glory not because He needed it, but so that He could give it to believer, the right to be children of God.

We don't have this glory on our own, it is a gift of the Father to the Son who has given it to us.

By the way, forms of the word "give" occur with unparalleled frequency in this chapter, seventeen times. They denote either what the Father gives to Christ's human nature, or what Christ gives to man.

Believers are as close to God as are the members of the Trinity to each other. This only because of Christ as the next verses clearly states.

John 17:23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The first "in" denotes the mystical union, by faith. The second "in" denotes actual unity in essence. The God-man, Jesus, and the Father are one.

Then comes the purpose. It is a unity in Christ which continually exists, not one that is brought about. The only English translation which seems to catch it is NEB: "May they be perfectly one." The context is speaking of people who are already believers. People discover the mutual unity which already exists in Christ. This is very important in these days when there is so much confusion about what constitutes Christian fellowship.

This quiet unity of Christians, by faith in Christ, and analogical to the unity between Father and Son has another purpose, a mission purpose: that the unbelieving world may believe that the Father sent the Son.

The frequency of the word "world" in this chapter is unparalleled in Scripture, eighteen times, with three meanings:

  1. the universe;

  2. the world of unbelievers;

  3. all men.

The meaning must be determined by context.

"May realize" is synonymous with "may believe" in verse 21.

In verses 20-26 Jesus prays for believers. But their continued unity with Jesus has a purpose: to win the world of unbelieving men.

God's whole purpose in sending Christ was love. The believers enjoy Christ's love. This is a staggering thought. Behind it lies the vicarious atonement. Christ didn't need this love for Himself. He took our place.

Ylvisaker: Christ makes it apparent that He does not allude merely to the inner unity of faith, hope, and love; for this unity is not visible to the world; but also to the outward bond of union as an expression of fellowship in the same mind and in the same judgment, see 1 Corinthians 1:10.
Lenski: Here again we must not lose sight of the incarnation and think only of the love of the Father to the Son in their relation in the Trinity. We must think of 10:17; Matthew 3:35; 12:18; 17:5, and similar statements, voicing the love of the Father for the incarnate Son in carrying out the commission of the Father.

John 17:24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

The Father has lastingly given the believers to the incarnate Christ. The effective will of the Savior is identical to that of the Father.

He is speaking of everlasting life. Nothing is more certain than the eternal life of the believer with Jesus.

We are here reminded of the malefactor in Luke 23:43.

God gave this eternal glory to the incarnate Christ for my sake.

Christ became incarnate when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. But the Father's love for the incarnate Christ is from eternity. In other words, this verse speaks of God's eternal love, in Christ the incarnate One, for the elect which reaches into all eternity.

John 17:25 Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.

This verse and the next one are the conclusion and summary of the whole prayer. Jesus addresses the Father as "righteous" because He is fully confident that the Father will apply Jesus' merits to the believers.

The fact that Jesus says: "But I fully knew you" shows His deep humiliation. His full knowledge of the Father results in the believers' effective knowledge that the Father sent the Son to save them.

John 17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

Jesus is emphasizing, in conclusion, what He has made known and will continue to make known. The saving revelation of the Father.

The love which the Father had for the incarnate Christ and the believer are identical. Look at Romans 8:39. This love is the constant possession of the believer.

Jesus says: "I am theirs by faith."

This is a truly remarkable text. It speaks of the unity of all believers with each other and with the Trinity. It speaks of the utter certainty of safe keeping, in Christ, now and forever. In Christ, God planned it for me from eternity. It will reach into all eternity.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 77-79. Used with permission.

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