20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)
The Problem of Sin: Separation from God, Alienation from One Another
Before the fall, in the Garden of Eden, it was a place of great unity and fellowship. Man had a peculiar fellowship with God that was uninhibited by sin, or doubt, or distance. It was a time when man had no shame or guilt before God, or between one another. As Garden Priest, Adam was responsible for making the world fruitful, and being fruitful himself. Fruitfulness is birthed from unity and unity of mission. Two people united in mission can be more fruitful than one person alone on a mission.
But what happened when Adam sinned and fell? When sin entered the world, things began to be broken. Adam and Eve were first filled with guilt and shame and sought to cover themselves and introduce distance between them and God and between one another. They were kicked out of the garden, the garden sanctuary of God, and thus lost that peculiar fellowship with God they once enjoyed. There was a new distance between God and man. Man’s mission of fruitfulness was made difficult with strife introduced in their relationship through temptations. They no longer shared that same perfect unity, and thus the fruitfulness of their mission was damaged. As sin played itself out, there was even greater disunity and disfellowship between their children, shown in the example of Cain murdering Abel.
We could go on throughout the Bible showing the effects of sin and how they destroy the unity and fellowship between men and God, but we all still experience some of those effects today, in our own lives. Many of us, if not all of us, have family members or other people in our lives who we are estranged from or where there is great strife or disunity. It is because of sin. It could be sins that we have committed against one another in our relationships, or sins of belief in false religions or false ideologies that bring separation in those relationships.
Sin is a destroyer, it seeks to destroy and make destitute, not to unite and make productive. This is one of the great lies of sin. Sin offers a fake unity when men sin together, but sin cannot bring unity, because unity is only obtained in the truth. Evil and powerful men think they can have success in their wicked schemes in this world, but they will ultimately fail because they will eventually turn and devour one another, because sin only destroys and divides. For the common man, sin will lie and offer a false unity or a false community or sense of belonging, if you come along and sin and join this particular crowd of people. Young people, do not believe this lie. You will never find a greater unity and belonging outside of Christ and His people. The unity and community of the world is false, it will leave you broken and lonelier than you ever were before. Let us take for example the so-called LGBT community. They offer only a false community, but that is the big thing that they advertise a total belonging and happiness in this community of people. We know this is a lie for there is no joy and fellowship in sin and rebellion, only heartache and destruction. And our human statistics even show that suicide has the highest rates among homosexuals. It is because they have found they have bought a lie. There is no joy or fulfillment in disobedience and rebellion against God. Many end up hating what they have become.
Besides that, we find that in general our society today is one of the most lonely societies on this earth. Those of us here today, may or may not think about this much, but we ought to keep it in mind as we seek to witness to those we come into contact with. So many people out there all around us in our world are extremely lonely and miserable. Everything in our modern world is designed to do this. iPhones, social media, lockdowns, fear mongering causing us to be suspicious and scared of one another, and a society that does everything to marginalize the family. We live in a land of scattered and isolated people, because we live in a land that is given over to sin and indulges in sin. And the people are paying the cost of their sin and they’re miserable. And when I look at the world around me in that light, I see a world that is primed and ready for the preaching of the gospel.
The Work of Christ in the Gospel: Union with God, Restored Fellowship with One Another
In verse 21, 22, and 23 Jesus prays for all of His people who would believe in Him, that the Father has given to Him, and that He would soon purchase on the cross, He prays for them that they would be one. Jesus, our Great High Priest prays for the success of the purpose of His High Priestly Work, that we would all be one in Christ. Christ who is the Greater Adam will not fail to bring about maximum fruitfulness in His work in the world, for His work is restoring the unity and fellowship of man and God, and men with one another. Jesus comes to make broken and scattered man one again and whole again. Christ brings about the unity necessary for fruitfulness and mission success.
This is one of the chief works of Christ in the gospel – to restore peace and fellowship between God and man. Where there was enmity because of the sin and rebellion of man against the perfections and holiness of God, Christ has come as the only sufficient, able, and acceptable mediator between God and man, sent by the Father to make peace by the blood of His cross. As the Apostle John writes in His first epistle, Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins. As the pure and spotless Lamb of God, Christ comes to the earth and goes to the cross, and there takes our sin upon Himself, takes that enmity, and strife, and He absorbs the punishment for sin, the just wrath of God, all upon Himself, for the sake of His people, all who would believe in Him, that the Father has given to Him.
It is through this work of Christ that the disunity, disfellowship, and destruction of sin that entered the world in Genesis 3 is being reversed, restored, and made new. Because of the finished work of Christ, when sinners come to Christ in repentance and faith, instead of receiving hatred and wrath from God that they justly deserve, they are rather loved and accepted and justified before God. This is because, in the oneness that Jesus prays for here, that is His work and mission, we are made one in Him, in Christ. Verse 21, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…” This oneness and restoration is only had in union with Jesus Christ, and since by faith we have union with Christ, through His finished work as our mediator, God looks upon us, and He sees us in His beloved Son. He sees us covered in His blood, clothed in His righteousness, and we then enter into true fellowship with God. In Christ, our sin and rebellion is not counted against us, it is washed away by His blood – atoned for – as our Great High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb.
Sinners who are lost, scattered, and lonely in the world, you may now come to Jesus Christ, repent of your sin and rebellion, and find restoration and wholeness in Jesus Christ and true unity and fellowship among the gathered people of God, in the Church. There is now rest that you can have from the lies and false promises of sin. The destruction that was set forth by sin at the fall is itself being destroyed through redeeming power of Christ in the gospel, which goes forth making new creations, new men and new women, to be one in Christ Jesus.
So this oneness or unity of which Jesus prays is first the objective unity accomplished for us by Christ’s work in the gospel. This union with Christ and fellowship with God is an objective reality that Christians possess. It cannot come and go or be shaken. And in this objective fellowship with God, there is objective fellowship and unity that Christians have with one another. We are the body of Christ. The objective unity we have is by virtue of being common recipients of the grace of God in Christ, by being redeemed by the same blood, by being indwelt by the same Spirit of God, and by loving the same Savior. Even Christians who have various different convictions and who have differing secondary beliefs, share in the same unity in the body of Christ, by being the elect of God.
This objective unity we have in Christ, cannot help but show itself in practical and outward displays of true unity in the Church. As the Church is sanctified in the truth, part of her sanctification is that she grow in practical unity together. Think about it, just a few hundred years ago, Presbyterians were literally persecuting Reformed Baptists, and now today that is great fellowship and friendship among Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. Now I’m sure there are some people who would see that as a downgrade, but I see that as historical sanctifying progress in the Church. And all we need is another few hundred years for more historical sanctifying progress, and the Presbyterians will just all become Reformed Baptists, and they’ll make all the curmudgeonly Baptists postmillennialists.
Church, one of the things we see in what Jesus prays for here, is that Jesus cares very much for the unity of His Church. He desires it. He prays for it. And He died for it. Thus, it is something we ought to care very much about and strive to obtain and preserve in the church.
A Contrast Between the World and the Church
There is a contrast between the world and the church in this High Priestly Prayer. One of the contrasts is that the world cannot have this unity, because they don’t know God as Jesus says in verse 25. Unity cannot be had outside the knowledge of God, for He is the source of unity, as the Father and Son are one.
Union and Fellowship: A Witness to the World
This is one reason why I say that the objective oneness of the Church in Christ cannot help but have a practical outward working unity that is experiential and observable, because Jesus prays that they would be one “so that the world may believe you have sent me,” verse 21; and verse 23, “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” So the world does not know God, but yet they look upon the Church, and they observe the lives of the people of God together, and they know that Christ was sent into this world. The union and fellowship of God’s People in the Church, is a witness and testimony to the world of the truthfulness of Jesus Christ. Now what Jesus doesn’t say is that they will all know it and like it and love the church for it. Many will see it and be converted through the testimony of the Church, others in the world will see the unity and fellowship of the church, and they will hate it. Those who are in the world, who are of their father, the devil, will tend to carry out the devil’s schemes. The enemy hates the union and fellowship of the Church. This union in Christ, union in belief, purpose, and mission in the world is the foundation of fruitfulness and success in the world. The enemy does not like that of course. His schemes are to undermine the Church as a unity. He likes to plant seeds of division. He likes to isolate. And that is what worldly and carnal people do when they sneak into churches, they seek to plant seeds of division and isolation among God’s people and that is real temptation among God’s people to fall into. It usually all starts very small, like seeds, in the thought life, and how we think about one another, in various sinful ways. We must guard ourselves, and be vigilant against sin, and repent and confess and forgive and reconcile always. We are one in Jesus Christ. Let us walk consistently together in our union with Christ.
The Role of Glory in our Union and Christ’s Desire to for us to be with Him
I want to briefly consider the role of glory in our union. I feel quite inadequate to address such a weighty subject, but I will offer you what I can as we see it in our text. Verse 22, Jesus says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” So in some sense there is a glory the Father gave to the Son, that the Son gave to, I believe primarily the disciples and then by extension to us. The best that I can make sense of this is to stay consistent with the way John has primarily talked about the unity and the glory of the Father and Son, which is mainly spoken of in terms of their unity and glory in mission – in the mission of redemption. Therefore the glory that Jesus has given to His apostles, and by extension to us, is the glory of His mission from the Father. The things Jesus came to do in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, teaching with authority, and shortly His death, resurrection, and ascension. All of those things the apostles were first hand witnesses and recipients of, and we also are by faith through their testimony and witness God has preserved to us. So this reception of the person and work of Jesus Christ, is that which makes us all one and unites us together in fellowship in the Son of God.
Now one of the other reasons that this is the glory I believe Jesus speaks of is because Jesus speaks of glory again in verse 24, but there it seems to be different than the way He speaks in verse 22. Verse 24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Verse 24 here hearkens back to what Jesus said in verse 5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” So there is a glory that Christ set aside in his incarnation in coming to this earth, that He receives upon the completion of His work and ascending to the right hand of the Father. What amazes me most about this is that Jesus expresses in prayer to His Father that He desires that all those the Father has given Him would be with Him to see His glory.
Church, do you know why to depart from the body is to be with Christ? Do you know why you get heaven in the presence of God when you die? It’s not because you deserve it. It’s not because you have earned and merited it by your righteousness and good deeds. It is not because you have riches to add to heaven. The reason is because Christ desires that you be with Him and see His glory. It’s not because we want to go there, it’s because Christ wants us there to be with Him. And so He accomplished the work necessary to bring us to Himself, and as our Great High Priest He goes before the Father and expresses His desire for us to be with Him in prayer. Why does Christ want you to be with Him? Because that’s what He desires, what else can we say? “Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His Saints” (Psalm 116:15).
God does not simply tolerate us. He does not simply put up with us. He does not simply save sinners and bring them to heaven to be charitable. But by no other explanation than that it is God’s Choice, He wants us to be with Him where He is. He desires His people. It is a wonder of grace.
An Unshakeable Foundation: The Father has Eternally Loved the Son, and has Loved us with the Same Love in His Son
Well Church, as we conclude our time here in John 17, we conclude with the most precious and foundational reality of Christ’s prayer for His people, His desire for our sanctification and unity, and His work in the gospel on our behalf. Jesus concludes His prayer with these words in verse 26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Why has Christ been revealed in the gospel? Why has Christ revealed the Father to us, and made Him known? That the love with which the Father has loved the Son may be in us.
Notice here, the prayer is that this love be in us, and Christ also in us. Here we see that this love and union with Christ is experiential. It is transforming. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, that we might be transformed to live according to the love of God and be sanctified in the truth, and bound up together with one another in the love of God. To have the love of God in us and Christ in us, is the foundational means of our love and unity with one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been loved with this same love and are indwelt with the same Spirit of God. It is the only love by which we can endure the hatred and persecution of the world and endure through great trials, knowing that God almighty has loved us securely in Christ.
But notice also, that the love that is in us, is the love that the Father has loved the Son with. That is to say that the Father loves His people as He loves His Son. This is beyond comprehension. Listen to what Calvin says here, “…since by faith we are engrafted into his body, there is no danger of our falling from the love of God; for this foundation cannot be overturned, that we are loved, because the Father hath loved His Son.” Church, we are as secure as Christ. If we are in Christ, God will no more stop loving us than He will stop loving His Son. As long as the love of the Father for the Son endures, so long does God’s love endure for those in His Son.
And what did Jesus say about the Father’s love for Him in verse 24? Jesus says to the Father, “…you loved me before the foundation of the world.” The Father has always loved the Son. The Triune God has always had perfect love, unity, and fellowship, from all eternity. That is to say the Father never had a point in which He started to love the Son, but He always has. It is a love without beginning, and thus a love without end. This is the love with which the Father has loved the Son and it is this love that is in us.
This is the Great High Priestly Prayer of our Lord. This prayer stands effectual and answered. It is the most perfectly pleasing and acceptable prayer to the Father, and He is pleased to hear it and answer. As we have seen over these weeks, this prayer reveals much of the glory of Christ, the relationship of the Father and Son, the mission of God in redemption through Christ, and the rich prayer life of Christ, and the loves and desires of Christ for His Church. Isn’t it so often true that the people and things we love the most and care most about we go most often and most fervent in prayer to God for. In a most pure and perfect way, so Christ, our great High Priest, goes to prayer to God for His people that loves and His Church that He cares much about. He desires that we be kept, that we be sanctified, that we be one, that we eventually be with Him where He is, and that we know the Father through Him and that love be in us.
How can we not be filled with love for Christ in seeing His love for us expressed in prayer to the Father? Indeed this great prayer has been given to us, to each generation of Christ’s Church, to strengthen our affections for Christ and stir our devotional life to God through His Son. In such a prayer we might find great assurance and confidence that we cannot be lost if the Father has given us to the Son and the love with which the Father has loved the Son be in us.
The applications to draw from such a rich passage of Scripture are many. The chief among them though would be that in receiving such love and care from Christ that we ought first return our love to God in Christ, and then that we ought to love one another. Does your heart burn within you at the Word of Christ? Does Christ clothed in the gospel raise your heart from within your chest? Does the love of the Father for the Son given to you, raise your love heavenward? Those who know God and who have been loved by God, love Him in return, and love His Christ, His dear Son.
And if this is true, do you love one another? Do you love the people of God? If you don’t, I already know you don’t love God. How can we who have been loved with such a great love not love one another? The same love of God within one Christian is the same love within another Christian. Each shares in the divine love of God. We will love one another. Church, let our hearts burn within us with love for Christ in seeing His affections for us in John 17, and let us then be compelled to love one another. May it be seen in many ways, in many actions of service for Christ and one another. But as we ponder upon this great prayer of Christ, let endeavor in our commitment to prayer, and may our love for Christ be seen in our consistency in going to God in prayer and spending time with Him in communing in prayer. Whatever weighs on your heart, whatever thing little or great sits upon your thoughts, take it to the Lord in prayer. Lay before God, commit it to Christ in prayer. And also, may your love for one another be seen in many ways, many acts of service, but also, let it be seen in praying for one another. Church, do you pray for your fellow Church members? Let us do so. If you ever struggle with loving a brother or sister, I implore you to go to God and pray for them, ask the Lord to help you love them, examine your own heart. And I am confident that if you spend much time praying for those who are hard to love or those who may be annoying or whatever the case may be, then Christ can change your heart, and He can change them. It is very hard to hate those who you spend time praying to God for.
Maybe it’s a struggle in your relationship with your spouse? Is there trouble in that relationship? Maybe a parent and child relationship? Maybe you get annoyed by your pastors sometimes? Go to God in prayer and pray for them, and seek strength from God to be changed, have them changed, or both of you changed. God works through prayer to change us. Whatever just irritates and itches at your heart, pray, pray, take it to Christ in prayer. If you commit to prayer every time and all the time, faithfully and consistently, God loves to answer prayer. He loves and cares about the unity of His people, He loves to answer those prayers. He loves to change and sanctify and grow His people. He will do it.
John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”