Jesus Prays for Our Unity
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.”- John 17:20–21
As we have noted, the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus features three sections. In the first section, Jesus prays for Himself (John 17:1–5). In the second section, Jesus prays for His first disciples, though much of what He prays for applies to His disciples in every generation (vv. 6–19). In the final section, Jesus prays for those who will believe in Him through the words of His original disciples (vv. 20–26). He prays for those disciples who did not see Him during His earthly ministry but who depend on the testimony of the disciples who did. In other words, He prays for us.
Before considering what Jesus prays for regarding us, let us note two things about His praying for those who will believe in Him on account of His first disciples’ testimony. First, in distinguishing His first disciples from those who hear and believe their words, Jesus establishes a categorical difference between the first disciples and later Christians. The difference is not in terms of the benefits of salvation, for we are co-heirs of grace with the first disciples. The difference is one of authority. The words of the Apostles have a unique authority in the church that the words of other Christian leaders throughout history do not and cannot have. The testimony of the Apostles brings us to faith; the rest of us only point to that testimony and faithfully share it with others. Ultimately, this means the New Testament—the Apostolic testimony written—is, along with the Old Testament, our only infallible authority for faith and practice.
Second, that Jesus prays for those who will believe through the Apostolic testimony implies that the Apostolic mission will be successful. People will come to faith in Jesus. Our Lord did not leave us with the task to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18–20) as if it were something uncertain. No, His gospel will go forth and convert the nations (Hab. 2:14). Therefore, we who join in this mission to make disciples of every tribe and tongue participate in the greatest and surest task ever given to humanity.
What does Jesus pray for regarding us? Our unity. This unity does not eliminate all distinctions, for it is modeled on the unity of the Father and the Son who, though one, are also distinct (John 1:1). Furthermore, this unity is rooted in the truth. We do not become one by agreeing to disagree on essential matters but by being sanctified in the truth and taking that truth to all nations (17:17–19). If we do that, the world will believe that Jesus reveals the Father (v. 21).
The unity for which Jesus prays in today’s passage is not an organizational or bureaucratic unity. Instead, Jesus is praying for unity in truth, love, and mission, just as He and His Father are united in truth, love, and mission. As Christians unite around the truth, love one another, and work together to make disciples, the world will know that Jesus is the full revelation of the Father.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 1:10–17