“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”
If you were about to die, what would you pray for those who would be left behind after you were gone? What would be on your heart for them? In John 17, we get to hear the heart of Jesus as He prayed for those He was about to leave behind at the end of His earthly ministry. Put yourself with the disciples as they listen to His intimate conversation with His Father; consider what you learn about His heart for His people, including you. Think about His desires for you and for His entire church.
Our context is still the section of John that focuses on Jesus’ ministry to His disciples on the evening before His crucifixion. They had at this point left the upper room where they shared in the Passover meal. Preceding His arrest, Jesus prayed for them, and that prayer is our focus this week.
Read John 17:1-26 to get a sense of the entire prayer.
1. What would you consider the theme of this prayer (the most repeated emphasis)? What most strikes you about this prayer? What is most meaningful to you? Why?
Diamonds in the Word: Some scholars point out that departing prayers were common in the ancient world. We see a similar prayer by Moses in Deut. 32-33. Read it and consider what elements it has which are similar to those in Jesus’ prayer.
Focus now on John 17:1-5.
Jesus said once again that the time or hour had come. The NET Bible says this: “It appears best to understand the ‘hour’ as a period of time starting at the end of Jesus’ public ministry and extending through the passion week, ending with Jesus’ return to the Father through death, resurrection, and exaltation. The ‘hour’ begins as soon as the first events occur which begin the process that leads to Jesus’ death.”33
2. For whom did Jesus pray in this first section of His prayer? What did He specifically request of God (17:1, 5)?
Burge says, “The Greek word [glory] used here (doxazo) means to venerate, bring homage or praise . . . For Jesus the cross is not a place of shame, but a place of honor.”
3. Sharing question: It seems ironic that Jesus referred to the process of His passion as glorification. What people may see as the humility of defeat was in actuality His greatest victory. What feelings does that evoke in you?
4. Sharing question: How had Jesus already glorified God (17:4)? How well have you brought glory to God in that same way? Rate yourself on a scale of 1-4. What can you do to improve your rating?
5. Write down Jesus’ description of eternal life (17:3). How does it differ from the way most people seem to talk or think about eternal life?
6. Responding to God: Ask God to give you the grace to truly experience your eternal life today! Talk to Him about your desire to intimately know the Triune God. Write your thoughts below.
7. For whom was Jesus praying in this section of His prayer? What did He specifically ask God to do for them (17:11, 15, 17)? What was their relationship to the world and why did Jesus pray as He did for them?
Some translations use the phrase “kept safe” in these verses; others say “kept from”. One of the meanings of the Greek word is guard, and that is why many translators use the phrase kept safe.
8. What did it mean to be kept safe by God’s name? Bruce says, “The name of God in the OT denotes not only his character . . . but also his power.”34 Read these cross-references about the power of His name and write down your insights:
a. Ps. 20:1 (If your translation doesn’t use the word “name”, look it up in another one.)
b. Ps. 54:1
c. Prov. 18:10
Diamonds in the Word: Consider what you know about the history of the early church from Acts or the epistles. The apostles were not always “safe” from harm; in fact, most of them were martyred. How would you explain this prayer, then?
In John 17:17 Jesus asked the Father to sanctify them, or make them holy. Burge says, “To be holy, then, is not in the first instance a description of perfection (though this is included). It refers to a life that is so aligned with God that it reflects God’s passions completely (for good, against evil). Such a person can be considered ‘sanctified,’ holy, attached to God’s purposes and presence.”35
9. By what means did Jesus pray that they would be sanctified or made holy (17:17)? What insights does Rom.12:1-2 give you into defining what it means to be set apart unto God?
10. Sharing question: How well are you using the means that God has provided for you (17:17) to be aligned with His purposes and holy lifestyle in this world? What one thing can you practically do to be sure that you are allowing God to use it to make you holy?
11. Responding to God: Consider Jesus’ petitions for protection from the world and for consecration for God’s purposes and presence in the midst of that world. Write a prayer for yourself below based on today’s verses. If necessary, confess your sin of prioritizing other things over God’s purposes and His word.
Reread John 17:1-24, focusing on vv. 20-23. This includes your Precious Word from God to memorize this week.
12. At this point of His prayer, Jesus expanded the group for whom He interceded. For whom did He pray in this section? What was His specific request (17:21)?
13. What did Jesus say would be the result of that specific request being answered (17:21, 23)? What makes someone part of the group that is able to be united this way? (What do you see from comparing the two groups in 17:8, 20?)
14. Read these verses and write down how they relate to Jesus’ prayer in these verses:
d. 1 John 4:1-6
e. 1 Cor: 5:9-13
Diamonds in the Word: What other principles would be involved in having oneness or not being able to do so? What verses can you find to support your thinking?
15. Sharing question: Some of you have experienced major problems in a local church—perhaps even a church split. Without gossiping or sharing names or people or churches, what did you learn about unity, its foundation, or the witness of unity? OR if you have never been part of a church that was split in some way, what responses about such situations have you heard from friends, etc. who are not Christ-followers?
16. Responding to God: Pray for your church. Pray according to Jesus’ prayer in 17:21-23. Write your prayer below. Consider writing a note to your pastor or other church leaders letting them know that you have prayed this for the leadership and those who attend there.
Review John 17:1-26. Note 17:24-26 in particular to answer these questions. This seems to continue the subjects of His prayers from v. 20.
17. What did Jesus pray for them specifically here? Why did He pray this?
18. How did Jesus describe His relationship with the Father in these verses?
19. Compare what Jesus said about love in John 17:23, 26 with these verses. Write down your insights:
c. 1 John 4:16
Diamonds in the Word: Use a concordance or Bible software to find all references to love in John’s gospel. Write down your thoughts.
20. Sharing question: Focus on the love that Jesus showed for you. Think of one specific person who needs the love of God this week (either a Christian or not). How can you show the same kind of sacrificial and practical love that Jesus showed you for that specific person this week? Share your plans or the outcome with your small group.
21. Responding to God: Write a prayer for that person, asking God to use you to show her/him the love of Jesus. Write out your prayer below, or draw a picture of yourself as God’s vehicle of love.
Review John 17:1-26.
We have looked at Jesus’ prayer of intercession this week. Some have called it His high-priestly prayer. Others have said it’s more of a prayer of consecration for Himself as God’s sacrifice and for His followers for God’s purposes. Others have suggested that it should be called the Lord’s Prayer because this one actually was a prayer of intercession.
The prayer of John 17 is an example of Jesus praying as our intercessor. He continues that ministry to us today from heaven as our great High Priest.
22. What do you learn about Jesus’ present-day intercession for us from these verses?
a. Heb. 7:24-25
b. Heb. 2:18
23. Read Lk. 22:31-34, another example of Jesus interceding for His own. Write down your thoughts.
24. How does Jesus’ prayer in John 17 relate to the kingdom prayers in the back of your workbook?
25. Sharing question: What comfort does it give you to know that Jesus lives to make intercession for you? Why?
26. Responding to God: Draw a picture that represents Jesus as your Intercessor. Go to Him with a prayer of either protection from the evil one or a prayer of consecration through His word. Write Jesus’ words of intercession from John 17 concerning that on the picture.
Janie shares her story of recognizing that Jesus intercedes on behalf of His children according to the will of God.
I think the blood running down her face threw me off spiritually. Everything up to then had been going great at our family reunion in the country. Kids were all getting along, and they were at the age when you can let them go a bit—my daughter was about eleven years old.
They had all been horseback riding together—all the cousins. They had been getting along great, as were the adults! But then one of the kids came running into the kitchen where it was my turn to fix dinner, and said to me, “Barbara’s head hurts.” I thought he meant that she had a headache. I said, “I bet she’s too hot, so tell her to come into the kitchen and cool off.” But he just looked at me and said, “She can’t.” Then one of the older kids ran in and gave the whole picture, “Barbara has been kicked in the head by a horse!” I ran outside and all I remember was blood everywhere.
We immediately put her in the Suburban (others followed in a caravan). I could see her skull. She couldn’t open her left eye very well because the forehead skin was broken and so the eyebrow sagged over her eye. But the big question was—was her brain injured? Arriving at the hospital, Barb became hysterical when they showed her the shot she was about to get for pain. I was crying but really rather mentally thought I was doing okay. All the doctors took one look at me and put me in the hall. I was all alone and sank down to my knees against the wall. What should I pray? Is this God’s will that my daughter be injured? What if she was mentally challenged for the rest of her life? I tried to pray, but somehow, couldn’t get the words out. All I had were questions. Is it okay to pray for a healthy daughter? I had prayed for her as a baby. With so many of my prayers, I had put my family on the sacrificial altar to God many times, praying that He knew what was best for them and He knew what the future held; most importantly, He loved them even more than I did. But many times I had dragged them off that spiritual altar, and tried my best to raise them, only to find myself (when things were messed up) putting them back on the altar again. This was one of those times.
Was God punishing me? Did I do something wrong? I would ask for forgiveness if I knew what it was. I remembered that the Bible says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray. I remembered that Jesus Christ was my Intercessor. I asked them to go before the Father for me because I didn’t know what to say. How could I, a forgiven sinner, think during times like this?
Finally, a strange peace came over me, and I knew that no matter what happened, God loved my daughter and me, and He would be there for us no matter the outcome on this earth. I knew that one day she would be totally healed in heaven, and that for now I had to rely on Him. Somehow, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I thanked God for that peace, got up, and went into the waiting room with my family. I was so thankful they were there; I was so thankful that the hospital was a good one; I was so thankful for the years I had had with my daughter.
Later, the doctor came in and told me that she was fine, and that she probably had a concussion but that was all. She had had many, many stitches and would probably need to see a plastic surgeon later since the scar would leave a big horseshoe imprint on her forehead. I needed to watch her and get back to him if anything changed. God was so good to heal her, but even if He hadn’t, I was ready to do His will and love my daughter no matter what through His power and love for me. I also knew that no matter what, even when I don’t know what or how to pray, I have an Intercessor for me before my Father in heaven.
34 Bruce, 332.
35 Ibid., 467.