Have you ever heard a prayer that sounded more like a sermon, an effort to get across a message under the guise of talking to God?
Jesus’ prayer in chapter seventeen reminds me of those kind of prayers but in Jesus’ case, it isn’t a guise. Jesus really is talking to God and seeking His blessing, he just also knows his disciples are listening and he wants them to hear what he is saying to the Father (see 17:13). It is for their good he prays, and for their benefit that they hear what he is praying for.
Of course, what usually gets the most attention in chapter seventeen is Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his disciples. But there is much more there. Unfortunately, the “unity” part is seldom attained because the “much more” part isn’t closely studied.
First, is Jesus’ request for glory (vs. 5 – but see also 12:28). He wants back his original glory, but he is dependent on the Father’s blessing to return it to him. Glory, the sign of God’s presence, approval and acceptance, awaits. Jesus sought it at the Father’s side. We must seek it there too.
Second, note that Jesus regards his disciples as a blessing in his own life (vs. 5). They have been a gift from the Father and some of the glory Jesus expects to receive has already come to him through the disciples (vs. 10). It’s easier to be united with our brethren when we regard them as gifts from the Lord, down payments on our eternal inheritance.
Third, Jesus looks at his disciples, and expects the Father to look at the disciples, as distinct and separate from the world (note they are “out of the world” vs. 6, and “not of the world” vss. 14, 16 and the world hates them vs. 14). Jesus has watched his own life and kept it holy to influence them (vs. 19) for holiness, but he requests that God operate in their lives as well, to strengthen the disciples and protect them (vs. 11). Holiness is not only something bestowed by God. It must be sought and a human effort must be made as well.
All of this is dependent on knowing God. Jesus made Him known (vs. 6) not only through his life example, but, more importantly in this chapter, also through his teaching. Without the word of God, holiness can never be a part of our lives (vs. 17).
When we know and obey God, our lives will be different from the world; different because we are seeking to be holy like God, looking for our great reward in his presence and finding blessing until that day in the comfort and company of our brethren who are accompanying us on the journey.