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Lesson 89: The People God Uses (John 17:6-12)

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April 12, 2015

Have you ever marveled at how the Lord launched the worldwide movement called “the church”? If He had only asked me, I would have advised Him to do things differently! I would have asked, “What were You thinking when You came up with these men to launch this movement?”

I would have said, “In the first place, if You want to launch a movement that is going to impact the world for centuries to come, You need to pick men with the proper education and experience. They should be graduates of the most prestigious theological institutions in the world. They need to have a track record of impressive results in the ministry. After all, their past performance indicates their future potential. But these guys have no degrees and no achievements!”

“Furthermore, You need men of influence who have connections with important wealthy, powerful people. They need to know how to network with the movers and shakers. No offense, but these men have accents that make them sound like hicks from the sticks. They’re Galileans! The religious elite in Jerusalem are going to laugh them out of town if they try to persuade them that You are the Messiah.”

“Also, You need to pick some men who know how to grow a business. They need to know how to recruit and manage a competent team. They need to know how to read a spread sheet. A Galilean fishing business doesn’t cut it! At least get someone with an M.B.A. on the team! Too bad about that guy, Judas! He would have been a real asset to the cause!”

But to launch the church the Lord chose a bunch of uneducated, unsophisticated Galilean fishermen, who would have been laughed out of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. To use Paul’s words (2 Cor. 4:7), He picked a bunch of earthen vessels in which to put His treasure, so that the surpassing greatness of the power would be of God and not from any man. The fact that He used such humanly unimpressive men should give us hope that perhaps He can use common people like us to help further His kingdom.

In John 17:1-5, Jesus prays for Himself, that He would be glorified through the cross so that in turn He would glorify the Father. In John 17:6-19, He prays for the disciples, that they would be kept and set apart from the world as they remain in the world. In John 17:20-26, He prays for future believers, that they would be unified so that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus. And He prays that all whom the Father gave Him would be with Him to see His glory. Today we’re focusing on verses 6-12, where we learn:

To reach the world God uses people whom He has given to His Son, who know and obey Him, whom He keeps while they’re in this world.

As we work through these verses, note how God-centered they are. The church first and foremost belongs to God, not to any man. God planned it; He sent His Son to redeem it; He will keep it by His power.

Also, when Jesus excludes the world from His prayer (John 17:9), we would be mistaken to conclude that He doesn’t care about the world. It was because God loved the world that He sent His only Son (John 3:16). In John 17:18, Jesus says that He is sending these men into the world, just as He had been sent. His aim is (John 17:21, 23) that the world may believe in Him. But at this point, although Jesus had come into the world which He Himself made, the world did not know either Him or the Father (John 1:10; 17:25). But His way of reaching that hostile world was to call these men out of the world, share His life with them, and send them back into the world. That’s still His strategy. Note three things:

1. To reach the world, the Father uses people whom He has given to His Son for His glory (John 17:6, 9-10).

Jesus uses the verb, “gives,” 17 times in this prayer; 13 of those times refer to the Father giving to the Son. He has already (John 17:2) referred to believers as those whom the Father had given to Him. He mentions it again three times in our text:

John 17:6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”

John 17:9-10: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”

In verse 10 Jesus claims to share all things with the Father. The object of the first clause, “all things that are Mine are Yours,” “is to show that the Father assuredly will listen to him” (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 173). Jesus is pleading for those whom the Father acknowledges to be His already. In the second clause, all things that are “Yours are mine,” Jesus shows that He has good reason for caring about these men, because they belong to Him since He purchased them with His own blood. This verse is similar to Jesus’ claim to deity in John 10:30, where He said, “I and the Father are one.”

When Jesus says that these men were the Father’s, He is referring to the fact that God had chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). God chose not only the apostles, but also all whom Christ would die to save. The elect belong to the Father before they come to faith in Christ and His prior choice of them is the reason they eventually trust in Christ.

We see this truth in other Scriptures. When Paul was in Corinth and was afraid that if he kept preaching there, he would be persecuted by the resistant Jews, the Lord appeared to him and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Paul didn’t know who these people who already belonged to God were, but God knew. Through Paul’s preaching, they would come to faith.

The same idea is in 2 Timothy 2:10: “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul knew that God had chosen many who had not yet believed. To bring them to salvation, Paul endured much suffering.

The biblical doctrine of election is not, as many believe, that God merely foreknew who would believe and chose them because He foresaw their faith. That would make God’s plan of salvation depend on the will of fallen people, who are incapable of believing the gospel apart from God’s grace (Rom. 8:7-8; 2 Cor. 4:4). And it would make grace no longer be grace, because it would be based on something good foreseen in sinful people. But grace is unmerited favor, shown to those who deserve God’s wrath.

Based on verses like John 17:9, some have taught that since Jesus excluded the world from His prayer, we should not pray for the salvation of lost people. But that is erroneous because Jesus’ focus here is on the divine plan for reaching the world. He is praying for these men whom He is leaving behind and sending into the hostile world so that many in the world would believe the gospel that these men would preach.

Also, in the context of telling us that God our Savior “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), Paul tells us to pray for all men (1 Tim. 2:1). The fact is, we don’t know in advance whom God has chosen. None of us would have expected a violent persecutor of the church like Paul ever to get saved, much less to become God’s apostle to the Gentiles. So we should pray for the salvation of all with the confidence that through our prayers and witness, God will save all whom He has given to His Son.

Before we leave this subject, we need to ask, “Why did the Lord emphasize God’s sovereignty so heavily in this prayer?” It’s in the repeated references to the disciples being given to Him by the Father. It’s in the prayer that the Father would keep the disciples in His name. It’s in the reference to Judas fulfilling Scripture by being the “son of perdition” (John 17:12). The answer is that Jesus is about to go to the cross. When you face difficult times—and there has never been a more difficult situation than that of Jesus facing the cross—it’s important to focus on the fact that the Father is in control of all things. Through prayer, Jesus gained peace and courage to face the cross because He knew that before the foundation of the world, the Father had given a chosen people to the Son, and that His mission to save them would not fail (John 6:37, 39).

There are also some practical applications of this teaching for us. First, the fact that we now believe in Christ gives us absolutely no grounds for boasting in ourselves, but only in God’s grace. We can’t boast in our intellect or our spiritual wisdom or in our religious heritage; we can only boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Second, the fact that the Father gave us who believe to His Son means that we are treasured by the Lord Jesus. If someone gives you a valuable gift, you protect it and keep it in a safe place, because you treasure it. The fact that the Father chose you and gave you to Jesus and He purchased your salvation with His blood means that He isn’t going to lose you. Christ didn’t die for you because you were valuable (as I’ve heard some teach); rather, you’re valuable because Christ died for you. You can be secure in your salvation because you are the Father’s gift to His Son.

Third, the fact that you belonged to the Father and He gave you to His Son means that you are not your own. Paul puts it like this (1 Cor. 6:19-20): “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” In the context, he’s talking about sexual purity. Because you belong to God and His Holy Spirit dwells in you, you must keep yourself morally pure.

But it applies to every area of life. You don’t own your money, your time, or your thought life; God owns it all. He gave you to His Son and gave you certain gifts so that you will use them as part of His plan to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, because God gave us to Christ, our aim should be to glorify Him. We see this both in 1 Corinthians 6:20 (above) and in John 17:10: Jesus prays, “And I have been glorified in them.” How was Christ glorified by His disciples and how can we glorify Him? (C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 510-513, suggests many of these.) He is glorified by saving sinners such as the disciples and us. He didn’t save us because we deserved it. He saved us while we were yet sinners. He is glorified when we live holy lives and display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. He is glorified when we trust Him, especially in our trials. He is glorified when we are full of His joy. He is glorified when we tell others about Him and see them trust in Him through our witness. To reach the world, God uses people whom He has given to His Son for His glory.

2. To reach the world, the Father uses people who know and obey Him through His Son (John 17:6-8).

John 17:6-8: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.”

These verses are packed, but I can only skim the surface here. The question is, in light of Jesus’ prediction that the disciples would all desert Him and be scattered (John 16:32), and in light of their frequent misunderstandings, how can Jesus pray as He does in verses 6-8? Consider the following:

First, Jesus isn’t comparing the disciples’ weak faith and shallow understanding before the resurrection with what they would become after the resurrection. Rather, He is contrasting their current faith and understanding with the unbelief and spiritual darkness of the world that had rejected Jesus as their Messiah (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 559). Their faith was often weak and their understanding was often lacking. But at least they had not walked away when Jesus taught hard truths (John 6:68-69). They had expressed their commitment to die with Jesus, if need be (John 11:16; 13:37). The fact that Jesus goes on to pray for the Father to keep them (John 17:11, 15) shows that He is not oblivious to their many weaknesses.

Second, Jesus’ prayer gives us a glimpse of His intercession for us as our High Priest in heaven. As Paul exclaims (Rom. 8:33-34), “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” He goes on to affirm that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ. Marcus Rainsford wrote (Our Lord Prays for His Own [Moody Press], p. 129):

Let us evermore remember this most precious fact, that however in His wondrous grace our blessed Teacher may [show us] our deficiencies; however He may correct and rebuke us, [showing] us in our daily experience how needy, how feeble we are, and of how little faith—yet our standing before God is in the fullness of our Head and Representative; and He will never allow us to appear before His Father otherwise than as endued with all the completeness of His own righteousness.

That is our exalted position in Christ! Even now we are seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We’re accepted in Christ (Rom. 15:7). But, should be in practice what we are in our position. Because we are in Christ (Ephesians 1-3), we are to walk in a manner worthy of Him (Ephesians 4-6). Jesus manifested the Father’s name to the disciples (John 17:6). His name refers to His attributes or all that God is. While we know God if we have believed in Christ (1 John 2:13-14), we also should be growing to know Him more deeply (Phil. 3:10; 2 Pet. 3:18). And as 1 John 2:3 reminds us, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” To reach this lost world, God uses people who know Him through Jesus Christ and who keep His Word.

3. To reach the world God uses people whom He keeps in holiness and unity while they’re in this world (John 17:11-12).

John 17:11-12: “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”

These verses anticipate verses 13-26: in verses 13-19, Jesus prays that the disciples will be kept in holiness; and in verses 20-26, He asks that future disciples will be kept in unity. There is a textual variant here: the King James Version (and New KJV) in verses 11 & 12 refers to keeping “those whom You have given Me,” whereas other versions follow the more likely original reading, keep them in “the name which You have given Me.” This means, “Keep them in full adherence to your character” (Carson, ibid., p. 562).

Jesus calls special attention to God’s character or name when He addresses Him as “Holy Father.” It is blasphemy for the pope to accept that title for himself! Only God is the Holy Father! This is the only time that Jesus uses this title. “Holy” points to God’s separateness from His creation and from all sin. “Father” points to His nearness and approachability. We can come to Him as our loving Father. Peter combines both of these truths (1 Pet. 1:14-16), “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” He goes on (verse 17) to mention that we address God, the judge, as Father.

To keep us in holiness is both God’s job and our job. God keeps us from stumbling and will make us stand blameless in His presence (Jude 24); but we are commanded to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). God can’t use us to reach the world if we wallow in the filth of the world.

Also, God uses people whom He keeps in unity. I’ll say more about this when we get to the final part of Jesus’ prayer. But for now, note that Jesus prays (John 17:11) that the Father will keep the disciples so that “they may be one even as We are.” This is not organizational unity, but rather intrinsic, organic unity that stems from sharing the same nature. All true believers possess it because through the new birth we all share the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul calls it, “the unity of the Spirit.” It is a fact, and yet He exhorts us to be diligent to preserve it (Eph. 4:3). Like holiness, unity is both something God does and something we must work for.


Thus to reach the world, God uses people whom He has given to His son, who know and obey Him, whom He keeps while they’re in this world. But the text ends on a somber note, as Jesus mentions Judas (John 17:12), “the son of perdition,” who perished “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” God does not reach the world through people like Judas, who never was given to Jesus, who didn’t know and obey the Father, and who wasn’t kept in holiness and unity.

“Son of perdition” is a Hebrew expression that points both to Judas’ character and his destiny. There is an inexplicable mystery here, in that Judas played a role in God’s sovereign plan to put His Son on the cross. (Judas fulfilled Ps. 41:9; see John 13:18.) And yet Judas was not a robot who had no choice in the matter. Although Satan entered Judas’ heart to cause him to betray Jesus (John 13:27), Judas did it willingly because of his greed. So God ordained it, but Judas was responsible for what he did (Acts 2:23).

Why does Jesus mention Judas here? He is assuring His own heart and the disciples’ hearts that God is in control of the awful events of that night. Evil people cannot thwart God’s sovereign purpose; in fact, they inadvertently fulfill it. Jesus knew when He chose Judas to be a disciple that he was a devil (John 6:70). But it was part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation.

The application is, if you want God to use you in His plan to reach this world, don’t be a hypocrite like Judas. You don’t have to have impressive qualifications for God to use you. Rather, truly believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Grow to know God and obey His word. Put yourself under God’s protective keeping, walking in holiness and in unity with other believers.

Application Questions

  1. How can a person know if he or she is one whom the Father has given to the Son? In other words, how can you know whether you’re one of the elect?
  2. What are some implications of the fact that God owns you and everything that you have? How would your life change if you took this into account every day?
  3. Some argue that the doctrine of election discourages prayer and evangelism. How would you refute this?
  4. What are the proper boundaries for Christian unity? How can we work toward true unity?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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