Jesus Christ Prays for His Followers by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gayest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (John 17:6-19).
In the first part of our study of John 17, we finished at the end of verse 5.1 We have seen how this great high-priestly prayer of our Lord can be divided up naturally into three main sections: in the first, verses 1-5, he prays for himself; then from verses 6-19 we have his prayer for his immediate followers, and, finally, from verse 20 to the end we have his prayer for those who would believe on him through his disciples—‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’
We have already considered the first section, in which our Lord prayed for himself. It is a great, comprehensive prayer in which we saw outlined and displayed, in a sense, the whole realm of Christian doctrine, as our Lord pleads with his Father that he might grant him grace to go on with the work which he had given him to do, and that he might not fail or falter as he came to the supreme test and crisis, namely, the laying down of his life as a ransom for many.
So now we come to this second section which starts at verse 6 and goes on to the end of verse 19. There has been much debate as to whether in this section our Lord was praying for the apostles only or whether he was praying for all who had believed on him up to that point. It is a question which cannot be finally decided. Those who believe he was praying only for the apostles, the innermost circle, always quote verse 12, in which he says, `While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gayest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.’ That seems to indicate that he was talking about the twelve, and saying that he had kept all but one, Judas, who would fail and deny him, according to the scriptural prophecy to be found in the Old Testament. But most of the remaining statements would indicate, I think, a wider circle: those to whom he had manifested his name, all those who had been given to him. He had not only been given the apostles, he had been given all believers: `Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee’ (v. 7) and this is something which is true, of course, of every believer. So, in the last analysis, we cannot settle this question any more than we can settle many other questions which are of no final importance. We cannot be dogmatic about it, and this does not matter, because even if the statement is confined to the apostles, it is obviously something that is true also of all who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, that is confirmed by verse 20, where he says, `Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ And he goes on, in a sense, to offer the same petition for future believers as he has offered at this point for those who have already believed.
That, then, is just a mechanical, preliminary point. The great matter before us is to observe the terms of the prayer, and it divides itself up very naturally. There are two great things here: our Lord prays for his followers, and he says why he does so. Some would put it as strongly as to say that he pleads for them; he does not merely make requests, he produces arguments and makes statements. In other words, he is giving reasons for praying for them. This is a point which we must surely observe, for it is of great value to us. It reminds us again that God’s omniscience is no reason for our not telling him things which he already knows. You must often have found yourself facing a particular difficulty or situation. You feel that because God knows everything, there is no point in telling him anything about it. God knows our need, he knows all about us before we get on our knees to pray, so why then do we need to tell him anything? And the quite obvious conclusion to that thought is that there is no need to pray at all: if God knows all about us, why not let things take their course and all will be well.
Now the answer to that is what we find in this prayer. Our Lord knew, in a way we can never know, about God’s omniscience, his perfect and complete knowledge, and yet he told his Father certain things about those disciples, things which God knew already. He prayed about them and repeated them, and, of course, that is characteristic of Bible prayers everywhere, not only the prayers of our Lord but also those of the apostles and of the saints of the Old Testament. This is something which is wonderful the moment you begin to contemplate it. God after all desires us to think of him as our Father. It is a kind of anthropomorphism; it is God stooping to our weakness. The human parent enjoys listening to the child saying things and telling him things which he knows already; he does not resent them, nor does he regard them as a waste of time. He derives great pleasure from them, and we are to learn from this that our heavenly Father delights to see us coming to him, and stating our requests, and giving our reasons. There is an example of prayer in the Old Testament, where that good man, Hezekiah, even takes a letter and spreads it out before God, as if God did not know all about it, and as if to say, `Here it is, I come to you with this letter and I ask you to take charge of it and to do something about it’ (2 Kings 19:14).
So as we come into the presence of God with our requests and our petitions, let us never fear to bring the details, for nothing is too small for God’s loving care and attention. He is interested in us as a father is in a child, everything about us is of the greatest interest to him. Read again the Sermon on the Mount and you will find that our Lord says that in an extended form in Matthew 6 where he uses the argument about God clothing the lilies and caring about the birds of the air. Nothing, he says, happens to them apart from God, so how much more is he interested in you and me, and in everything that happens to us, and everything that is connected with the minutest detail of our lives. `In nothing be anxious,’ writes the apostle Paul. It does not matter what it is (he uses the most all-inclusive word he could have chosen). `In nothing be anxious; but in everything’— there it is again!—`by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’ (Philippians 4:6, RV). Our Lord prays for his people and he adduces the reasons why he prays. Let us ever, as we come to God in prayer, remember his great and glorious example and do the same ourselves.
So I should like first to look at this section, from verse 6 to verse 19, as a whole. There are many ways in which one can approach a passage of Scripture such as this. One way is just to take it verse by verse, verse 6, verse 7, verse 8, and so on, right through. This is a legitimate way of approaching the Scriptures, but it seems to me that a better way, especially with a section like this, is first to look at it as a whole and to extract from it the great principles, and then, having them firmly in our minds, to come back to the details. I have often compared this with the analysis of a great piece of music, which is divided up into movements, each of which may again be sub-divided. It is a great thing to listen to the whole. It is a great thing, too, to listen to these separate big parts and to analyse them. It is much better to do that than to go along thoughtlessly from movement to movement, section to section, and note to note, as it were. So with a passage of Scripture, having got hold of the big principles of the essential teaching, you are able to understand the details in a way that you would not be able to do if you had not started in that manner.
With this section, therefore, I propose to adopt the method we used with verses 1-5. We saw that there were great doctrines enunciated in that first section and we shall find exactly the same thing here. It seems to me that the fundamental division of this passage can again be put in this form: firstly, why our Lord prays for his followers, and secondly what he prays for them. It is as simple as that. Now if we take the chapter and just read it through, without trying to get at the principles, then there are certain statements here which seem to be rather difficult and almost confusing. But we must realize that there are only these two big things dealt with here: our Lord puts first the reasons why he prays for these people, and then he gives the requests afterwards. Therefore, as we start reading at verse 6 we find a positive statement—`I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.’ He makes a categorical statement like that in his prayer because it is only after he has adduced certain reasons that he brings the petition. Of course you find that the two things are really intermingled but for the sake of clarity of thought they ought to be kept separately in our minds as we look at any particular detailed statement.
Let us, then, summarize the first section. Why does our Lord pray for these people at all? Here he is facing his own death, the greatest and the most terrible moment in his life is at hand, and yet he pauses to pray for them. Why does he do it? The answer is all here. He does it first and foremost because of his great concern for the glory of God. While he is on earth, the glory of God is, in a sense, in his hands. He has come to glorify his Father and that is the one thing he wants to do above everything else. And now as he is going to leave these people, over and above his own concern about dying is his concern about the glory of God: it is the one thing that matters.
Secondly, he prays for them because of who and what they are. They are the people to whom he has manifested the name of God; the people who have been given to him; the people to whom he has given the word: people who believe certain things. That is the definition of a Christian and they, and they alone, are the people for whom he has prayed.
Then he prays for them because of their task, because of their calling. He is going and he is leaving them in the world to do something; they have work to do, exactly as he had been given work to do. You see the logic of it all? God sent him, he sends them, and he prays for them especially in the light of their calling and their task—the work of evangelizing. There are other people who are going to believe on him through their word, and so they must be enabled to do this work.
He also prays for them because of their circumstances, the circumstances in which they were placed in the world. He says that they are going to have trouble in the world: `I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’ (v. 14). There is an antagonism to the Christian in this world—the Bible constantly tells us that the world hates a Christian as it hated his Lord. The apostle Paul reminds Timothy of this. Timothy is frightened because he is being persecuted. He cannot understand it, but Paul tells him that `all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Our Lord says the same thing in John 15: `The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you’ (v. 20), and again: `If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?’ (Matthew 10:25).
That is the argument here. He is thinking of these people in this gainsaying, contradictory world, and because he knows what they are going to endure, he prays for them. He knows the persecution which follows inevitably, in some shape or form, whenever anybody becomes a Christian. It does not always mean that we will be thrown into prison or a concentration camp, or molested in a physical sense, but as certainly as we become like the Lord Jesus Christ we will have to suffer for it—`We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). Persecution can be very subtle—a mere glance from one person to another, the faintest suspicion of a smile or a curl of the lip, some little indignity thrust upon you—it manifests itself in a thousand and one ways. The astounding thing is that though we are told to be prepared for it, so often when we receive it, we are taken by surprise and wonder why it happens. Do not expect, my friend, that the whole world will rejoice if you become a Christian. You will probably receive enmity and hatred and persecution from certain people. It happened in the case of our blessed Lord, and his followers must always be ready to meet it.
But the last reason he seems to adduce here for praying for these people is that he is anxious that his own joy may be fulfilled in them. We must not stop at what I have just been saying. Our Lord was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, he was condemned and crucified on a cross, yet the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, `Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…’ (Hebrew 12:2). There was a fundamental joy deeper than all the suffering, deeper than all he endured by way of the contradiction of sinners against himself, and he was anxious that his followers might know this. He wanted them to experience his own peace, his own inimitable joy. This is possible for any Christian, in spite of all I have said, and in spite of the world in which we live. So if we are not experiencing this joy as something deeper than all these other experiences, then, to that extent, we are failing in our discipleship.
Then, secondly, let me summarize what he prays for them. The primary object of his prayer is not so much that they may be one with one another, as that they may be kept in true unity with him, with God the Father, and therefore with each other. That is the nature of the communion. Obviously this has to be worked out in greater detail, and never perhaps was this more necessary than today. This is a chapter which has been much misquoted and misinterpreted, so we must be clear as to what exactly this prayer for unity among believers really is; our Lord does pray for them in that context, and he goes on repeating it.
The next thing he prays for them is that they may be kept from the evil one—the devil, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air—and the evil that is in the world as the result of his activities and efforts. Our Lord does not pray that they may be taken out of the world—we sometimes wish we could pray that, the idea of monasticism is somewhere down in the depths of all of us. We want to retire out of the world and arrive in some magic circle where nothing can disturb us. There is a longing in the suffering, persecuted Christian to get out of the world. But our Lord does not pray that they may be taken out of the world in any sense, nor that they may be taken out of it by death, but rather that in it they may be kept from the evil. Your business and mine as Christian people is to be in the midst of this world and its affairs, and still remain true and loyal to God, and be kept from the evil. `Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,’ says James, not to retire out of every vocation in life, but rather, `To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’ (James 1:27). What a glorious but tremendous task it is! And of course it is much more difficult than segregating yourself and going away to live in seclusion and isolation. The task of the Christian is to be right in the midst of this world and its affairs in order that he may do this work of evangelism, spreading the gospel and the kingdom of God, while the whole time, keeping himself unspotted from the world. Christ prays that his followers may be kept unspotted, that they may not be harmed and tarnished and polluted by the evil world in which they find themselves. It is a glorious task.
And his last petition is that they may be sanctified, that they may be set apart for this great work which he has given them to do: `As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth’ (v.19). He sanctifies himself and he wants them to be sanctified in the same way. That throws an interesting light on the meaning of sanctification. If you just extract the word `sanctify’, what our Lord is praying here is that these Christians may have some additional blessing of sanctification. But you can see at once, when you take it in its context, that it again means that he is still concerned about this great and grand objective which he always has in the forefront of his mind and of his heart.
There, then, is a general analysis of his prayer for these people. Why does he pray for them? Well, we have seen the answer. What does he pray for them? Once again we have seen that the requests and petitions arise naturally and inevitably from a consideration of who these people are, the circumstances in which they are placed and the task which they have been given to do. And the only further point I would make here is one which is surely of the greatest possible value, something which comes with comfort and with consolation and encouragement, namely, what we see here in this section about the Lord himself. Here he is praying for his followers, not only for those immediately of his own time but for all who are going to believe in him throughout the centuries, and therefore for us. Let us look at him as he thus prays; let us look at certain things which stand out very clearly about his person. Notice his claims. He says, for instance, `They … have known surely that I came out from thee’ (v. 8). Here is, apparently, one who is just a man. He is to be taken by cruel people in apparent helplessness and weakness and is to be crucified on a cross, yet he speaks of himself as one who has come out from God. Here is another great assertion of his unique deity: he is proclaiming that he is the eternal Son of God come from heaven to earth to dwell among men. He repeats it by saying, ‘Thou didst send me.’ He is not one who has just been born like everybody else, he has been sent by God into this world.
Then in verse 10 he does not hesitate to say a thing like this: `I am glorified in them’—a tremendous assertion that he is not only man, he is the Son of God, verily God himself, and that as he is the glory of the Father, so the disciples are to be his glory. He has glorified the Father, and he is glorified in them by what they are going to be, and what they are going to do. You notice our calling, you notice that we, as Christians, have the privilege of being men and women in him—that through us the Lord Jesus Christ himself is glorified. It is our conception of the Christian that is wrong. I feel more and more that most of our troubles arise from that fact. We must start by contemplating again what a Christian is, how the New Testament describes him, the place in which he is put, the dignity it ascribes to him—the glory, this special relationship to the Lord and to the Father.
And then he says in his prayer, `That they may be one, even as we are.’ He is one with God. He does not hesitate to assert it and to claim it: `I and my Father are one’ (John 10:30). He, a carpenter, one who had not passed through the schools, is one with God, God in flesh on the face of the earth—it is stupendous. In other words, to sum it all up, he has been sent by God into the world for this specific task. He said it in verse 4 when he prayed for himself `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ There is the most exalted claim that a person in the flesh has ever made, but at the same time, observe his humility. He, who is the Son of God, does not hesitate to say so and to assert it, but notice the way in which he describes his coming into the world. He has been sent into it by God. Did he come to speak of himself and manifest himself and his own glory? No, he says, `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world.’ That is something which should humble and humiliate us to the very dust as we read these gospels and look at this person who is none other than the only begotten Son of God. Observe his self-abasement; he does not call attention to himself, he is all along manifesting the glory of his Father. It is God’s name, the Father’s name, that he is concerned about, and here he reminds his Father of that: `I have manifested thy name…’
And then we see how he describes the Christians as his Father’s people: `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world.’ He does not say, `I am going to pray to you about my converts’, or `I am coming to you about the people who believe because of my preaching’, or `because of my miracles’, or `because of what I have done’. No, his view of his people is that they are the Father’s people, the Father’s children, and they believe on him because they have been given to him by God for that purpose. Was there ever such humility, such self-abasement and self-effacement? He is God, very God, and yet everything belongs to the Father, and the praise and the glory are ascribed to him.
Then you notice that in the eighth verse he goes so far as to say, `I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me’, and we find him constantly repeating that right through the gospel records. It is one of the most amazing things of all, that here we have the Son of God teaching the people, and yet he always emphasizes that nothing he says is of himself. This means that he never uses his own thoughts or words. The Father has given him certain words to speak, and he speaks them.
There is something terrifying about this. If that is true of the preaching of the only begotten Son of God, how much more should it be true of our preaching. The business of a man standing in a pulpit is not to speak his own words but to be biblical. He must expound this word because it is God’s word, and he must speak the word that he is enabled to speak by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord was in utter subjection to the Father and everything he did and said was that which was given to him by the Father. So I would beg you again to meditate upon this. Consider this picture and examine yourself in the light of it—see the utter humility of our Lord, his self-abasement, his self-effacement and his complete dependence upon his Father.
Then the other thing, as I have already mentioned, is his supreme concern about the glory of God, which comes out everywhere. In both the first and the second sections this is his one petition: `Father … glorify thy Son’—why?—`that thy Son also may glorify thee.’ That is the reason—not himself, but that he may go on to glorify the Father to the end. And here he prays the same thing for these disciples. He says that this is really the only motive for making disciples at all, it is the only reason for preaching the gospel. Let us not misunderstand one another about this, but, I repeat, over and above our concern for the souls of men and their salvation should be our concern for the glory of God. What we should emphasize to men and women outside Christ and sinners in the world today is not, primarily, the fact that they are sinners, and unhappy because they are sinners, but the fact that their sin is an assault upon God and is detracting from his glory. Our concern about the glory of God should come even before our concern for the state and the condition of the sinner. It was true of our Lord, and it is he who sends us out.
But let me end on this note. Observe his care for his followers. He reminds his Father that he kept them while he was in the world. How easy it is to read the gospels without seeing that all the while he is watching them, and keeping them, and shielding them against the enemy. But now he is going out of the world and here he is praying to his Father to keep them. He pleads with him to look after them and commits them to his care. They are his Father’s but they have been given to him and he gives them back—`keep them from the evil’ (v.15). If we but realized the concern of our Saviour for us as we are tried and tempted and beset by sin and Satan, it would revolutionize our whole attitude towards everything.
And, last of all, we should note his loving attitude towards them. Some astounding things are said here. Indeed we would almost be right to query them when we read what he says of these disciples: `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world’—then notice—‘thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.’
How can he say that? As we read the gospels and look at these disciples, we see them quarrelling with one another, we see their jealousy of one another and their desire for pre-eminence over one another, and finally we read how at the end they all forsook him and fled. Yet what he said about them was, `they have kept thy word’. He did not criticize them, he prayed for them. I thank God for this above everything else. `If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, 0 Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared’ (Psalm 130:3-4). We have such a High Priest, sympathetic and understanding, loving, seeing what is true of us, committing us to God in terms like that, not mentioning the deficiencies, the weaknesses, the faults and the failures, but saying, `they have kept thy word’. And because of that he commends us to God the Father and beseeches his loving protection around and about us.
Well, we have simply entered into the portals. These are but preliminary considerations on our way into this magnificent edifice in which we shall be reminded, as I have been trying to show you, of our Lord’s own view of the Christian, what he is, his task, his business in the world, his destiny, and the glory which belongs to him.
May God bless these thoughts to our minds and to our hearts, and, above everything, let us ever think of him, our faithful High Priest, our Representative, our Advocate, our Intercessor, who, in heaven and in glory at this moment, has the same character as he had when he prayed on earth for his followers. (193-205)
1. Saved in Eternity (Crossway Books, 1988)