The last words of a loved one are often remembered and cherished. These words can be very revealing and edifying and can show what was a persons overwhelming concern as they anticipated coming to the end of their days on earth. The words that several of Gods servants spoke towards the end of their lives are recorded for us in Scripture. We can, for example, read the last words of Jacob (Gen 48-49); of Joseph (Gen 50.24-25); of Moses (Deut 33.1-29); of Joshua (Josh 23.1-24.28); and of Paul (2 Tim 4.1-22).
In the Lords final discourse with His disciples (Jn 13-16) He spoke to them of experiences they would pass through after He had returned to His Father in heaven. He spoke to them about His Father, about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the need for love and unity among them, and the fact that the world would hate them. After the Lord had finished speaking to the disciples they had the amazing experience of listening as He spoke to His Father of the glory of the Father and of the Son, and as He interceded for "his own" (Jn 13.1). They were given insights into the divine mind and will regarding themselves and those who would be saved in the future through their testimony. We are greatly privileged to be able to read in John 17 what the Lord said to His Father in His great intercessory prayer. The Holy Spirit has caused it to be recorded: this is holy ground indeed. The prayer has become known as the High Priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord was approaching the time of His substitutionary suffering, bleeding and dying on the cross, which would glorify His Father and make possible our salvation. He was thinking, however, not of Himself but of His disciples and of those who through the centuries would believe on Him and be saved (Acts 16.31). His prayer gives us an insight into the mind of the Lord Jesus (Phil 2.5). The Lord prayed to His Father and all the words He spoke were in accordance with His Fathers will, for His will and His Fathers will were always the same (Ps 40.8). The deity of the Lord and His co-equality with His Father are seen in the prayer when, for example, He uses the pronoun "we" in v.11 and "us" in v.21.
There were four things about which the Lord was particularly concerned regarding "his own" and these are recorded for us in vv.11,15,21,24.
"Keep through thine own name" (v.11)
The Lord prayed, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (v.11). The Lord knew that, after He returned to His Father, the disciples, because they, like their Lord, were "not of the world" (v.14), would meet with hostility and aggression (Jn 16.33). While He was with them the Lord had kept them safe in His Fathers Name, that is, in His power (v.12). The Lord had kept the disciples (Jn 6.39), who were a love gift to Him from His Father (vv.2,6,9,11,12,24). Now the Lord prayed that His Holy Father would keep the disciples in His own Name, that is, the infinite power which is Gods, and all that He is.
The Lord addressed His Father as "Holy Father", and if the Lord is to be glorified by His own who are in this unholy world, then they must be holy as God is holy (Lev 19.2). The Lords desire was that the disciples should be kept so that they would be "one" as were the Lord and His Father. The Lords desire was that they be united in holy thought, will, purpose, and Christlikeness. For true unity to exist there must be holiness. Unity delights God and His people, and brings blessings to all (Ps 133).
"Keep them from the evil" (v.15)
It was the Lords desire that His Father would preserve and keep His disciples from "the evil", that is, from Satan. The disciples, like all believers, were left in the world to grow in grace, serve God, proclaim the way of salvation, and teach the will of God in a hostile environment (Mt 10.16).
Believers are "not of the world". The Lord prayed for His disciples: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (v.17). Meditating on the Word of God in submission to the Holy Spirit and obeying the truths He reveals will result in sanctification. The Word of God shows us our present spiritual condition and the will of God for us on our pilgrim path on earth (Ps 119.105). If we have the Word of God in our hearts and obey it, we will be kept from sinning (Ps 119.9,11; Jn 15.3; Eph 5.26), and we will be enabled to grow spiritually and lead lives which are separated from the world and to God, serving Him in accordance with His will (1 Pet 2.2). The Lord had taught His disciples and shortly He would leave them, but Satan would seek to prevent them revealing to men the truths God wanted others to know. The Lord said, "for their sakes I sanctify myself" (v.19). He set Himself apart to do and complete all that His Father had sent Him to do. All He did was for His Fathers glory (v.4), and the salvation and blessing of believers. The disciples would not be overcome and the testimony destroyed, because Gods power is greater than that of Satan (1 Jn 4.4).
"That they all may be one" (v.21)
The Lord prayed, not only for those who were with Him but for all believers down through the centuries (v.20). The requirements for effective service which will please God are the same today as they have always been. If we are to speak and work for the Lord we must, by the power of the Spirit, and strengthened by the Word of truth, be sanctified for God, that is, set apart and separated from the world. If we are not sanctified, and clean and holy vessels fit for the Lord to use (2 Tim 2.21; 1 Pet 1.15-16), then we shall be overcome by the powers of evil and our testimony will fail.
The Lord prayed that all believers might be united as the Father and Son are united in holy harmony, love, purpose, intention, thought, and communication. This is seen at Pentecost where "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4.32), and we are to endeavour "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3).
Where there is unity, people will see the love of believers for God and for each other (Jn 13.35). The Lord prayed, "That they all may be one that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (v.21). When the Lord returns with His glorified saints, all men will appreciate that He was sent by His Father and that there is unity and love between the Father, the Son, and the children of God.
"That they may behold my glory" (v.24)
The Lords desire was that those whom His Father had given Him should be with Him. He prayed that "they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me" (v.24). The love in the Godhead is eternal, for it had no beginning. The world had a beginning but the Lord said, "thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world" (v.24). Sometimes God takes us outside our normal, time-bound ways of thinking and reveals amazing truths to us. He takes us back before creation, telling us that "he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1.4) and that it was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" that the Lord Jesus Christ should come to earth, suffer, bleed and die on the cross so that we might be redeemed (1 Pet 1.18-21).
We shall be with Him eternally (Jn 14.3; 1Thess 4.17), and each one of us will see His glory, the glory He had with His Father before the creation of the world, and the glory He acquired during His service for His Father on earth.
The Lords prayer in John 17 is a source of great blessing as we learn of the love and unity in the Godhead, of the love the Lord Jesus Christ has for us, and of the present and eternal desires for us of the One who always lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7.25).