A question we rarely think about is this: ‘What does Jesus expect of everyone who believes?’
A third part of the prayer Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest provides a vital part of the answer. In John 17:21a we read: “I ask … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.
The all in this verse suggests that he is including everyone who comes to believe in him, as well as his disciples.
In the flow of his prayer, it is important to notice that he is not praying for ‘unity’ as we often think of it – a structural unity – but rather a ‘confessional’ unity. He is praying for a unity of understanding amongst all his people: the acknowledgment that he is the unique Son of God, sent by the Father to rescue humanity.
In other words, Jesus is praying that the essential truth of his relationship with God the Father will be at the heart of Christian belief. As such, he prayed for a unity amongst his people that reflects the unity of relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The unity that Jesus is speaking of here, is that all his people would receive and respond to his teaching the same way.
CHRISTIAN UNITY AND FELLOWSHIP
Furthermore, there is to be a unity of profound love and fellowship between his people because of their fellowship with God the Father and God the Son. His prayer reflects his teaching that true worshippers will ‘worship God the Father in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23).
And it is also important to notice that Jesus is praying for a ‘missional’ outcome to this unity: “That the world may believe that you have sent me”.
Division amongst men and women is the way of the world. True unity amongst the people of God for which Jesus prays facilitates gospel outreach – ‘so that the world may believe’.
Men and women in the wider world are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has loved, and continues to love, the world and is committed to drawing more and more people to the One he has sent. The unity in the faith of God’s people will be a sign that will draw many to faith.
Now, we need to note that Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Joining like-minded Christians together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency.
Jesus is not praying for this kind of structural unity. Rather he is praying for the essential union of hearts and minds that respond to the truth of Jesus. Ultimately he is praying that all his people – whether the first disciples, or you and me today – will be with him where he is: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am,…” (John 17:24).
So, the essence of this part of Jesus’ great prayer is that all his people throughout the ages will be with him where he is in the Kingdom of God. His intention for his people is that we all see the glory that the Father has given him, as God’s unique Son, because of God’s love for him. So Jesus continued: “That they may see my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24b).
This prayer of Jesus that we have touched on over these three Wednesdays tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering, and his passion. We see his commitment to glorify God. It tells us about the significant work of the disciples – if they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s extraordinary love and the forgiveness he holds out to us. Further, Jesus’ prayer tells us about us, and our need to work at the unity that springs from a united confession of faith.
Jesus’ prayer is not a ‘God bless…’ prayer. It is a prayer that instructs our minds and touches our hearts with the riches of God’s love.
You might like to pray this prayer: Lord, may we come to love you more and more, with all our mind, with all our heart, and from our very soul, so that you may be glorified in the lives of all who are united in a common confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
© John G. Mason