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The Prayer of Jesus: Our call to unity, by John P. Lathrop

Jesus’ Prayer for His Future Disciples

Beginning at John 17:20, Jesus starts to pray for the people who will come to believe in him though the ministry of the first-century disciples, those who were with him at the time he prayed. This part of the prayer, though not specifically directed toward the first-century disciples, may have been very encouraging to them because it showed that they would have fruit from their ministry: people would come to believe in Jesus through their word (John 17:20) as they ministered in the world (John 17:18). In fact, the fruit that would come from their ministry would be more than they could see, or perhaps even imagine. This prayer applies not only to those who would directly hear their testimony or preaching, such as those who responded to Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2), but also to all of those who would come to faith in Jesus through their word, the apostolic writings contained in the New Testament.1 The apostle John specifically says that he wrote his gospel for the purpose of leading people to faith in Jesus (John 20:30–31). So the prayer of Jesus is very comprehensive; it applies to believers from the first century, right on through to the end of church history. This being the case, if you are a Christian, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 applies to you! With that said, let us now turn our attention to what Jesus asked for his followers.

In John 17:21, Jesus prayed that his people would be one; a couple of verses later in John 17:23, he asked that they would be united. Different words were used, but the requests are basically the same: Jesus prayed for the unity of his people. Jesus prayed twice for the same thing, and he made these requests in very close proximity to one another. The repetition of the request seems to be important; Jesus appears to be stressing this request, emphasizing it. This prayer reveals some very significant things; let us now take a closer look at this prayer of Jesus.

What This Prayer Reveals

The Heart of God

One thing that this prayer reveals is the heart of God, that is, God’s desire for his people. Jesus and the Father are distinct persons within the Godhead (see Matt 3:16–17; 17:1–8; 28:19), but they are united in purpose (John 5:19). The unity of the Father and Jesus the Son can be seen in a number of biblical texts. Three times in this prayer in John 17 Jesus refers to his unity with the Father; twice he says that he and the Father are one (John 17:11, 22), and once he expresses the same thought without using those exact words (John 17:21). The unity of the Father and the Son can be seen in other texts as well. In John 10:30 Jesus plainly says, “I and the Father are one.” Earlier in his gospel John tells us that the one whom God has sent, Jesus, speaks the words of God (John 3:34). During his earthly ministry, Jesus said that to see him was to see the Father (John 14:9). Jesus also said that he only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Jesus was, and is, always in perfect harmony with the plans, purposes, and works of the Father. Since these things are true, Jesus always prayed in the will of God; he always asked what the Father would want asked. The requests that Jesus made in this prayer in John 17 are God’s will for his people. This shows us that God’s desire, God’s heart, for his people is that they be united.

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Category: Fall 2012, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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