This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the entire New Testament. Jesus is clearly one who prays a great deal, and we can gain a great deal of insight into prayer in this chapter. For the purpose of these notes, I will attempt to resist the temptation to engage in theological discussion or analysis of what the prayer consists of or what this or that “means” from a theological point of view, instead I hope to focus more on what we can learn about prayer itself. A good point of beginning is to take notice of Jesus’ posture as He prays; note that He is not sitting quietly with bowed head and closed eyes but rather is looking heavenward with eyes wide open. In fact, He is most likely standing with the disciples, and if you take note of His language, it might seem that He is not speaking in a very quiet voice. Of course, we might say that our traditional posture results in a contrast because Jesus is the second person of the Godhead while we are not. Might not this view overlook the fact that we are His co-heirs? Well, it’s food for thought anyway…
Jesus opens this prayer by praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled; this is and has been the principle focus of Jesus throughout His ministry. Praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled is entirely consistent with the idea that the fulfillment of God’s purpose is the reason for His being on the earth in the first place, and by extension is also consistent with the idea that this same purpose is our reason for being His disciples. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has used the expression “glorify” to refer to his death and resurrection, His work of atonement on the cross, and this is not different here. Being thus “glorified” is God’s ultimate purpose for Jesus. Returning to the glory of heaven as He was before coming to this world is indicative of His having completed His work (purpose) in the world.
In 6-19, Jesus is interceding for His disciples. He will complete His work of “glorification” very shortly and return to the Father, but they will remain in this world and they will have a rough time of it here. In a way, this section reads almost like a report, for Jesus repeats three of the things that He has just taught the disciples in chapters 14-16. Keep in mind, that while we have been looking at these things over a period of weeks, and they cover the last few chapters, chapters 14-17 all occur in one place in one evening over a short span of time; a dinner. Those three things that He repeats here are: 1) the belief that Jesus came from God (16:30); 2) the promise of complete joy (16:24); and 3) the coming hate of the world (15:18). Then He prays for God to protect them as Jesus has protected them. It is instructive for us to note that this “protection” was not always to protect them from the harm that the world might inflict upon them, and the book of Acts records quite a bit of that harm. Indeed, nearly all of them would be killed by the world eventually. The “protection” that was provided for them was a protection of their faith and their message, the two things that enabled them to serve God’s purpose.
Verses 20-26 are broken into two smaller sections, the first of which is vv. 20-23. In these verses, Jesus is praying for the unity of all believers so that the world may see it and believe their message. The message is the point, for it is through their message they have received that the gospel will be spread and the commission He left them with (Matt. 28:18-20) will be accomplished; it is the purpose of God again. The second section within these verses is vv. 24-26 where Jesus prays for all believers in their ultimate destination: eternity with Him. Note that there is a comparison in all of this: Jesus is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God sent him, and then He returns to God’s heavenly presence. The believer is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God has placed him there and then goes to God’s heavenly presence with Christ. This is our purpose, our challenge and our destiny. Jesus has taken this seriously enough to die on the cross, the Apostles took it seriously enough to suffer and die for their message: How seriously do we take it?
Jesus has taught the disciples that they will have a powerful prayer life; that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Each time He has spoken on this point, the context has been doing God’s work; serving God’s purpose. You will have noticed by now that every aspect of this prayer is in this same context: God’s eternal purpose. Our prayers are powerful things, how much more powerful they could be if they were for God’s purpose to be accomplished rather than that we get the things we want?