BY CHARLES F. STANLEY
Consider the roller coaster of emotions the disciples experienced in those last days and hours with their Messiah: They’d watched the crowds welcome Him into Jerusalem as “the King of Israel” just a few days before (John 12:13). But now they were gradually being awakened to the fact that things were not going to turn out as they hoped. They’d left everything to follow Him, and now Jesus was telling them He was going to die.
To see this from the disciples’ perspective, we need to better understand their expectations. According to the Old Testament prophecies, the Messiah was going to come as a conqueror to subdue Israel’s enemies, exalt the nation to global prominence, and rule over the entire world (Isa. 2:1-4). As His followers, they were anticipating places of prominence, authority, and greatness in the kingdom. They didn’t realize that they needed a Savior more than a King. The Messiah had to first offer Himself as a sacrifice in order to save His people from their sins.
THE LORD’S PLAN
When Jesus first began to speak of His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter actually rebuked Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Matt. 16:22). Despite Jesus’ repeated assertions, they could not fit a dying Messiah into their belief system. But on this last night, the reality was finally sinking in, and they were filled with grief and sorrow at the thought of life without Him.
Despite Jesus’ repeated assertions, they could not fit a dying Messiah into their belief system.
Christ’s response to their trauma is best described in John’s gospel: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Everything He said was for the purpose of strengthening their faith. Before their world began to turn upside down, Christ said, “I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He” (John 13:19). Then He revealed what was going to happen:
- One of them would betray Him (John 13:21).
- He was about to leave and go back to His Father, and they couldn’t follow Him (John 13:33), but He would return and take them to the Father’s house (John 14:1-3).
- He promised that He would send them another Helper (John 14:16-18; John 16:7).
- He would still provide whatever they asked for in His name (John 14:13-14).
- They would have a new kind of relationship with Him (John 15:1-5).
- They would be hated and persecuted by the world but could have His peace (John 15:18-19; John 16:33).
These confused and fearful men in the upper room became the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). Jesus was entrusting them with the task of taking His message of salvation to the world. From an earthly perspective, this looked risky. They were not an impressive group. In fact, they lacked spiritual insight and the courage to stand with Christ when their lives were in danger. Yet Jesus knew their future success didn’t depend on their own abilities but on His power, provision, and intercession. Therefore, as the evening drew to an end, the Lord lifted His eyes to heaven, and this is how He prayed:
These confused and fearful men in the upper room became the foundation of the church. Jesus was entrusting them with the task of taking His message of salvation to the world.
FOR HIMSELF (JOHN 17:1-5)
First, Christ prayed that both He and the Father would be glorified in His death, which would bring eternal life to all whom the Father had given Him (John 17:1-2). The cross was not a defeat, and Jesus was not a victim. By completing the work He’d been given, including His redemptive death on the cross, the Son glorified His Father.
FOR HIS DISCIPLES (JOHN 17:6-19)
Next, Jesus prayed—not for the world but for those who believed that God sent Him. They were precious gifts to Christ, and He had been glorified in them through their faith in Him. Now He was going to send them into the world with His message. Therefore, Jesus asked His Father to protect them from the evil one and sanctify them in the truth of His Word.
FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE THROUGH THEIR WORD (JOHN 17:20-26)
In conclusion, Jesus broadened His intercession to include all future believers who would make up the body of Christ—His church. Just imagine, on that night almost 2,000 years ago Jesus prayed for you. And what did He request? “That they may all be one; even 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 sent Me” (John 17:21).
He wasn’t merely asking that believers get along with each other, although we should. Jesus was speaking of the spiritual unity of all Christians with the Trinity and each other. Every true believer is baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit and becomes a part of His body. Together, we are sent to proclaim the gospel so that the world may believe.
THE ANSWER TO THE LORD’S PRAYER
God answered Christ’s prayer for that little band of men gathered with Him for the Passover observance. They faithfully took the gospel to the world, and we now have their testimony recorded in the Bible. What’s more, the heavenly Father continues to answer Jesus’ prayer as new Christians enter into the spiritual unity of Christ’s body. In fact, believers around the world gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, which Christ established that last night.
For His final request, Jesus said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory” (John 17:24). A day is coming when everyone Jesus prayed for will meet together in heaven with Him and with each other in perfect unity. And we can know with certainty that this will come about because the Father always answers His Son’s prayers. In the meantime, the church is called to strive toward unity here and now—loving one another just as He loves us, and testifying to an onlooking world about His transforming power.
Photograph by Ryan Hayslip