Green Tree Bible Study 15: Jesus’ Prayer for the Church to Come (John 17:20-26)

By Robert E. Picirilli

In verses 20-26 of John 17 we find the final section of Jesus’ great high priestly prayer. This is a prayer for the whole body of disciples both present and future. Jesus was not content just to pray for those who heard Him on that particular occasion. He broadened the prayer to extend to those who would be His future followers. This includes you and me. Jesus prayed for us!

Like the section we discussed in the last article, Jesus presents three petitions in this particular section. Through these three petitions he prayed for the church of the entire New Testament age. Let’s take a look at those petitions.

First, He prays that they may all be one (vv. 20-23). Their unity was obviously weighing heavily on Jesus’ heart. He has already mentioned this subject in verse 11. Jesus here returned to that emphasis. He mentioned it twice in verse 21, once in verse 22, and again in verse 23. There are four primary aspects of oneness addressed here.

1.  The standard of oneness. The standard is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son (v. 21). In a sense, of course, the church’s unity can never mirror the divine unity perfectly. However, by using this standard Jesus did not leave us free to treat our oneness as inconsequential.

2.  The means of oneness. Jesus prays that His followers may be “one in us” (v.21). Our relationship to one another is a manifestation of our relationship to God. Note also verse 23: “I in them, and thou in me.”

3.The glory of oneness. This is the key point of verse 22. Glory in Greek is doxa. This is one of the most important words in this whole prayer. It refers to the Father’s glory, the Son’s glory, and ultimately the church’s glory. It is a word that means “honor.” Christians are honored by being made to reflect the glory, work, and love of God.

Second, He prays that they may be with Him (v.24). Throughout the gospel of John, a primary theme is that Jesus was sent here from the Father but would one day rejoin Him. Jesus prays that His disciples will one day be in heaven as well. We are all Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ prayed for the future glorification of His followers (v. 22).

Third, He prays that His disciples would learn to love like God (vv. 25, 26). Jesus was loved by the Father (vv.23, 26). This is partly what is meant by the glory He had with the Father (v. 5). We too are glorified in being made objects of God’s love. That is the greatest honor we can ever have. Such an honor is allowed to occur by Christ’s being in us (v. 26). Without Jesus, it would be impossible to be effectively loved by God. By manifesting the Father’s name, character, and love we have been made God’s children.