The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:1-26 (John 17:1-26)

4. The high-priestly intercession . Audible communion of the Son with the Father . The prayer which now follows reveals, in the loftiest and sublimest form, the Divine humanity of the Son of man, and the fact that, in the consciousness of Jesus as the veritable Christ of God, there was actually blended the union of the Divine and human, and a perfect exercise of the prerogatives of both. The illimitable task which writers of the second century must have set themselves to accomplish, if they had by some unknown process conceived such a stupendous idea without any historical basis to support it, has actually been so effected, that a representation is given which adequately conveys such a synthesis. The author of the Gospel does, however, draw rather upon his memory of that night than upon his philosophical imagination for a passage which surpasses all literature in its setting forth the identity of being and power and love in the twofold personality of the God-Man. We are brought by it to the mercy-seat, into the heaven of heavens, to the very heart of God; and we find there a presentation of the most mysterious and incomprehensible love to the human race, embodied in the Person, enshrined in the words, of the only begotten Son. It need not perplex those who believe that we have the words of Jesus, that this prayer of sublime victory and glorious promise should be followed by the agony and the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, where the glorification of the Son of man passed into the advanced stage of his willing and perfect surrender to the Supreme Will. Hengstenberg finds explanation of John's silence touching that agony in the supplemental character of the Gospel, which does not repeat a description of a scene already familiar to all readers of the synoptic narrative. This may account for the mere form of the record, but does it meet the perplexity that arises as to whether the scene of Gethsemane could possibly follow John's narrative? Is not such a conception incompatible altogether with the cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me"? Our answer is a reference to John 12:27 , where there is the exact counterpart of the scene in the garden. Nor is a mysterious troubling of the Redeemer's soul elsewhere absent from the Johannine narrative. At the grave of Lazarus, as well as when the Greeks wrung from his lips the cry, "Father, save me from this hour," followed by "Father, glorify thy Name," we have the blending of an utterly indescribable affliction with a triumphant acceptance by him of the Divine purpose of his mission and the will of his Father. Throughout these discourses he is meditating his departure with all its accompanying grief and agony. He describes the way he is about to take as one which would be like the travail-pang of a new humanity; but in his capacity of living in the light of the Father's will, he treats the whole mystery of the cross, the grave, the resurrection, the ascension, as already achieved. Throughout this prayer he regards the work as finished, and the new order of things as already existent. Thus he had prayed for Lazarus and for his restoration from the grave, and he knew then that God heard him; but still he wept, and, groaning within himself, came to the sepulcher. It should also be remembered that ( John 14:30 ) he had expressly said that he was then about to encounter the prince of this world. The perfect humanity of Jesus, on which John continually insists, does entirely justify the rapid changes of mood and the vehemence of the emotions which were in their conflict issuing in sublime courage and perfect peace. The school of Renan, Strauss, and others, following the lead of Bret-schneider, see insuperable difficulties, because they have an idea of Christ's Person which would render it inconceivable and incredible.

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:20-26 (John 17:20-26)

(3) Prayer for the Church Catholic in all time .

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:21 (John 17:21)

That they all may be one . My prayer is that the many may become one, form one living glorious unity;—every part of which spiritual organism, while living a separate and differentiated life, is yet a part of a whole. In the natural sphere, as the parts of a whole organism are mere and more developed, and increasingly resemble individualities in their separation, they are in the same proportion dependent on the whole for the life that is in them. Even in a highly organized community, as the separate individuals have more and more personal consciousness of special function, they become the more dependent on the whole, and in one sense lost in the unity to which they belong. The branches in the vine form together one vine; the members of a body, being many, are one body and members of one another. It is open to discussion whether the καθὼς clause, which here follows, characterizes the above statement, as Meyer and many others urge, or whether, with Godet, the sentence, "That they all may be one," should not be taken as a general statement, to be followed by the καθὼς clause, which characterizes the following words. The first method is a more rational interpretation, nor does the sentence drag. According as thou, Father , (art) in me, and I (am) in thee ; i.e. the relation between the Father and Son, the manner in which the Father lives in the Son, as in his organ or instrument of manifestation and object of supreme affection, and as the Son is in the Father, abiding ever in the light of his glory, in the power of his Name, and as these two are thus One in being, so, or similarly, the believers are to live in and for each other, becoming a unity, just as the Father and Son are unity. In order that they themselves also may be [one £ ] in us . This ἵνα does not offer a parallel sentence in apposition with the former, nor is the "that" to be inverted, with Godet, who translates, "that according as thou.., they also may be one in us;" but it is the climax of the whole unifying process, after the likeness of the union between the Father and the Son, viz. that they themselves may be included in this unity. Though they are thus to be lost in God, yet they do not lose their own individuality. Nay, in proportion to their organic relation to the fullness of the Godhead and the completeness of their own spiritual fellowship with one another, will this personal consciousness of theirs become more and more pronounced. There is yet a further process contemplated, viz. in order that the world may believe ( πιστεύῃ , as in the next verse; γινώσκῃ , in the present subjunctive, rather than the aorist) that thou didst send me . The spiritual life and unity of the Church will produce an impression on the world which now rejects the Christ and does not appreciate his Divine commission. The union which springs from the blended life of the various and even contradictory elements in the Church will prove the reality of its origin. The world will believe,—this is the final purpose of the intercession concerning the disciples; so though above he did not pray for the world as the then immediate object of his intercession, the poor world is in his heart, and the saving of the world the end of his incarnation. If the union between the Father and the Son is the sublime type of the union between those who shall believe, it is not the union of a great society in accordance with certain invincible rules of affiliation and government. The union between the Father and Son is not a visible manifestation, but a spiritual inference. The common indwelling in the Father and Son, the identity of the spiritual emotion and purpose in all who have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, will convince the world by producing a similar inference. Alford: "This unity is not mere outward uniformity, nor can such uniformity produce it. At the same time, its effects are to be real and visible, such that the world may see them."

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:20-21 (John 17:20-21)

Christ's prayer for all believers.

Our Lord, having prayed for himself and for his apostles, now prays for the whole body of believers.

I. HE PRAYS FOR THE BELIEVERS OF ALL GENERATIONS TILL THE END OF TIME . "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word."

1. All believers have , therefore , an interest in Christ ' s prayer .

2. The word of the apostles—that is , not merely their narrative of gospel facts , but their revelation off gospel principles—is the instrumental means of faith . ( Romans 10:17 .) A capital place is thus assigned to the Word in the conversion of the world.

II. THE GREAT END OF THIS PREACHING OF THE WORD . "That they all may be one; that as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

1. The oneness prayed for is not that of believers with one another , but that oneness which is the foundation of visible unity—the union of believers with Christ, and through him with God.

2. It cannot refer to a visible unity , because it is a unity of successive generations of believers, who cannot be in the world at one and the same time.

3. It is a unity resembling the union of the Father and the Son , and is therefore more than a mere moral unity of purpose, or opinion, or co-operation. It is an essentially vital unity ( Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 4:4 ). God is its essential Center.

4. The ultimate design and result of this oneness is its effect upon the world . Where disciples are seen to be

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:20-21 (John 17:20-21)

Comprehensive intercession.

Human selfishness, narrowness, and hopelessness may well be rebuked by the breadth and brightness of this prayer. The High Priest pleads for his people, and in so doing sweeps the horizon of time, sounds the depths of human need, and grasps the invisible aim of the universe, the yet unrealized purpose of God himself.

I. THE EXTENSIVE RANGE OF CHRIST 'S INTERCESSION . At the very time when those nearest to him were about to be exposed to great danger, the Lord Jesus, without forgetting these, directed the gaze of his mind over a wide field of vision, and included in his comprehensive intercession all who in coming ages should believe on him through his apostles' witness. This marvelous sweep of high-priestly regard and interest is testimony to:

1. Christ's Divine foresight. He beheld in prophetic vision the martyrs and confessors, the missionaries and bishops, the scholars and preachers, the pure and lowly in private life, who should attach themselves to his doctrine and to his Church. As in an instant and at a glance, Christ summoned before his eyes and his heart the vast multitude who should constitute the Church militant through long millenniums to come; and he prayed for all.

2. Christ's Divine claim. In realizing the objects of his intercession, the High Priest regarded all as personally related to himself. Those for whom he pleaded were those who should believe on him. This fact is implicit witness to his high claims. Who but he could so rank mankind?

3. Christ's wide sympathy and benevolence. That such a Leader and Master should plead for his adherents, his friends, and the promulgators of his faith seems natural; common affection seems to account for this. But how vast was the love apparent in this prayer, which included within its scope the myriads who were yet to come into existence! But his whole Church was dear to his Divine and tender heart.

II. THE CONCENTRATED PURPORT OF CHRIST 'S INTERCESSION . Doubtless the same prayer which was offered for the twelve was offered for all subsequent disciples, that all might be kept in the Name of the Father, and that all might be sanctified by the truth. But the expressed request here presented on their behalf should receive attention. It was for their unity . Not for their uniformity, in outward organization, in rite and ceremony , in uttered creed and liturgy; but for their spiritual unity, as is apparent from the petition that it might resemble that of the Father and the Son. A unity of life is here intended, like that of the branches in a vine rather than that of a bundle of staves. The Master desired for his disciples that they might have the same faith in himself, the same brotherly love one towards another, the same benevolent disposition towards the world. The value which Christ thus set upon true unity is a standard to which we are called to conform. That which Jesus made the object of his desire and prayer must be beautiful in God's view, and is worthy of our appreciation, our best endeavors for its promotion.

III. THE GLORIOUS AND ULTIMATE AIM OF CHRIST 'S INTERCESSION . HOW magnificent the end which our Lord sought, not only by his prayer, but also by his toils, his sacrifice, his death! Nothing short of the world's belief in his mission, and adhesion to himself! We cannot understand by our Lord's words merely that he looked forward to the world's assent to a great fact, or to the world's forced acknowledgment upon the judgment-day. He desired that the world should come to believe both in the sending and in the sent One. However appearances may be against such an expectation being realized, faith apprehends the prevalence of the Redeemer's kingdom in the world. The influence and ministry of the Church, under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, is intended to promote the world's salvation. When it appears to us difficult to cherish hopes such as those which are justified by the declarations of Scripture, it will be well for us to check our despondency by remembering the prayer of the High Priest. That for which the beloved Son of God has pleaded, and ever pleads, will surely come to pass. And thus faith shall be rewarded, and Divine love shall have full and eternal gratification.—T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:20-23 (John 17:20-23)

Christian unity.

Notice it—


1. Believers are to be in unity . Many and yet one, one and yet many. Many members, but one body; many bodies, but one Spirit; many believers , but one spiritual community. They are to be one with each other, with Christ, and with the Father.

2. Their union is to be universal . "Tidal they all may be one." There is to be no exception. It is not optional, but the universal rule of the society and law of its great Head. They are to be one:

3. The union is to be perfect . They are to be perfected into one. It is not a sham union, but a real one; and perfection is its goal, although gradually attained. Something like this is the import, scope, and ideal of this grand union, of which Christ is the Author, President, and Inspiration.


1. Its model is Divine . "As thou, Father, art," etc. Its model is the union of the Father and the Son. What union was this?

2. Its basis is Divine . "That they may be in us, and one in us."

III. IN ITS PRACTICAL AND EFFICIENT MEANS . How does the Divine go forth and effect the unity of the human? What are the means used?

1. The union of believers with Christ by faith , and his union with them . Faith brings Christ to the soul, and Christ brings that soul to the Father and to all in him. "I in them, and thou in me, that they may," etc. These are the efficient means used and the order of their operation. Thus faith unites believers to him, to the Father, and to each other. As the sun is the center of union in the solar system, so Christ is in the Christian system.

2. The endowment of the Divine glory . "The glory which," etc. What glory was given to Christ which he also gave to his disciples?

3. The prayer of Jesus on their behalf .


1. The perfection of each individual believer . Perfect unity of all can only effect the perfection of each one. Not one believer can be perfected till all believers are. No member of the body can be absolutely free from rain until every member is. Believers must be perfected into one ere one can be absolutely perfect.

2. The conversion of the world .


1. Christian union is of supreme importance . It is the goal of Christian life and the perfection of Christian character, and essential to individual and social sanctification. It is the central idea of Jesus and the burden of his prayer, and with regard to Christian character. With this his great prayer ends.

2. The Christian Church lacks in nothing so much as in this . It is essentially imperfect in the present state, especially taken as a whole; but no virtue today is so absent from it as real spiritual union.

3. This should be diligently and prayerfully cultivated . All hindrances to it should be excluded—which, in a few words, are selfishness, self-seeking, and pride, with their injurious progeny. Let these be driven out, and let the Church make the same efforts for inward and spiritual union as it makes for outward reforms; then it will shine with the true glory of the Lord, with the true light of its mission, and with convincing effects upon the world.

4. To attain this let Christ occupy his proper position in each believer , and in the Church as a whole . Let him be the sole Prophet, Priest, and King. Let his self-sacrificing life and love be the center, example, and inspiration of every believing heart; then we shall soon have a true Church of Christ on earth.—B.T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

John 17:21 (John 17:21)

A prayer for unity.

I. LOOK AT THIS PRAYER IN THE LIGHT OF PENTECOST . Within two months from the utterance of the prayer, the apostles, through their spokesman Peter, uttered forth their first great word concerning their glorified and ascended Master, and in that same day there was added to the apostles about three thousand souls. Thus within this short time the first company of them believing in Jesus through the word of his apostles made its appearance. Jesus was not turning a bare possibility into a certainty when he referred so confidently to those who would believe in him through the word of his servants. What faith he had in humanity! Some who have watched and, as they would say, studied mankind, speak of them as a physician might speak of some one very ill, when he says the sick person cannot possibly get better. Jesus, on the other hand, is the Physician, who, while he allows that things are indeed very bad, magnifying our natural misery and helplessness to the utmost, yet at the same time proclaims in trumpet-tones a real cure, though the only one. Three thousand were added to the apostles. They all became one company, not only in spirit, not only in ultimate aim and hope, but in the most literal meaning of the word. Thus at Pentecost there came an outward unity such as the world had never seen before.

II. LOOK AT THE DISCORDS AND BREACHES THAT SOON MADE THEIR APPEARANCE . The unity of Pentecost did not and could not last; it was but the outcome of a fervid, first love, and as time rolled on those who had been thus united lapsed into their old separation and contrariety. The old man, full grown and vigorous, is not to be dispossessed by the new creature in Christ Jesus without a serious struggle. Even in the first days a Meat deal happened that might almost make one think the disciples of Jesus set no store at all by their Master's prayers, and never troubled to recollect the desires on which he had set his heart. No proper means was taken to nourish and cherish the power of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of all the believers. Thus it is little wonder the widows had to complain that they were neglected in the daily ministrations. Little wonder, too, that Peter, the very leader on the Day of Pentecost, proved unfaithful to the principle of Christian unity. He either forgot or had never properly comprehended that in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile; and so he wanted Gentiles to become Jews before he would allow them to be Christians.

III. WHAT WE INDIVIDUALLY MUST DO FOR UNITY . Jesus wants the world to believe that the Father has sent him—sent him out of another world where all is harmony, into a world where, apart from him, all is discord. And the world will only believe when it sees beautiful, lovable things done under its very eyes. We must each of us be a real unity, entirely in accord with Jesus our Master, even as he was in entire accord with his Father. As the Father was seen in Jesus, so the Christ should be seen in us. The spirit of the loving, laboring, life-giving Jesus should be worked into the very foundation of our nature; then that small part of the world which has to do with us may indeed believe that One has been sent from heaven to make men into a happy and united family.—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary