The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand
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John 17: The Real Lord’s Prayer

Introduction

There are many ways in which we can learn to pray, but perhaps the best is to listen in on and learn from those who are more experienced in prayer.

There are certainly those who seem to have a special gifting in prayer and when we see and listen to them, we sense something special of the very presence of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit on their lives and prayers.

At the end of the day, prayer is better caught than taught, as it were, and who better to learn from than the Master himself.

The term ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is usually given to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray and which forms part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.  But surely the term ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is most appropriate for this most moving and profound prayer of Jesus that is recorded in John 17, and which was prayed on the evening of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.

John MacArthur makes two very helpful comments by way of introduction to this prayer.  He writes “Very little is recorded of the content of Jesus’ frequent prayers to the Father so this prayer reveals some of the precious content of the Son’s communion and intercession with Him.  This chapter is transitional, marking the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of his intercessory ministry for believers.” [1]

The transitional nature of this prayer is truly quite stark.  Although prayed before his crucifixion, before his resurrection and ascension, some of Jesus words sound as if they had been said after those events, with emphasis added in italics.

  • 17:4 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do”
  • 17:11 “…I am no longer in the world”
  • 17:12  “While I was with them…”
  • 17:24  “I desire that they also…may be with me where I am

It’s almost as if Jesus is, how can I put this, living in both worlds – earth and heaven, present and future.

The Setting of the Prayer

It’s not the most important thing we will consider as we work through this prayer, but it is worth noting that a mistake is commonly made by commentators and writers when they say that this prayer was prayed in the Upper Room on the evening of the Last Supper.  That doesn’t accord with the biblical record.

At the end of John 14, we read these words of Jesus to his disciples, “Rise let us go from here.” (14:31).  And, at the beginning of chapter 18, we read, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” (18:1)

Taking those two verses together, without any contradiction, it would appear that the contents on chapters 15, 16 and 17 were spoken by Jesus as he and his disciples walked through the streets of Jerusalem from the Upper Room, and was concluded as they left the city itself and passed through the Kidron Valley on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane.   All in all, it would have been a distance of somewhere between 1 and 1.5 miles, and as they walk through the streets and surroundings of Jerusalem in the dark of the night, Jesus teaches his disciples and prays with and for them.

The Structure of the Prayer

The prayer divides neatly into three sections:

  • Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5)
  • Jesus prays for his disciples (17:6-19)
  • Jesus prays for his church (17:20-26)

Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5)

We always taught not to begin prayer with selves in the frame and for good reason.  It is very different for Jesus, and for very good reason as we shall see.

“…he lifted up his eyes to heaven”

Jesus’ posture in prayer was relatively normal for a Jewish man in prayer at that time, and far removed from the traditional way we have been brought up to pray, especially here in the west, with head bowed, hands folded and eyes closed.

There is, of course, no one posture in prayer that is commanded in Scripture and several are described, but one of the common ones would have been that of standing with arms outstretched and almost certainly accompanied by eyes opened toward heaven.    It was a symbolic act of looking in the direction of the one to whom prayer was aimed.  See, for example Psalm 119:48; Isaiah 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:8; cp Luke 18:10-14 and Jesus actions at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11:41.

“…and said, Father”

Six times in this prayer, the Saviour addresses God as Father, once describing him as “Holy Father” (17:11) and once as “Righteous Father” (17:25).  I believe I am right in saying that more than 100 times in the gospel accounts do we read of Jesus speaking of God as his Father, so it’s not surprising to find him here, at this particular moment in time, speaking to God in such a way.  It was, of course, his frequent references to God as his Father that so angered the religious leaders of the day and increased their hostility to him.

We ought also to note, in passing, that Jesus never addressed God as “our Father”.  The only time he uses that expression is when he is teaching his disciples to pray and is, in effect, putting those words in their mouths.

“…the hour has come”

This expression and the next are closely intertwined as we will see, but let’s just notice this for a moment.  Again and again in the gospels we read words to the effect that the hour has not yet come.  See for example John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20).   But now it has.

The time (Greek: hōra, ‘hour’) is the divinely appointed moment, set down in eternity past before time itself began, for Jesus’ substitutionary death by crucifixion.  This is the moment for which he had come.  This is the moment to which all other moments had been leading.  This was the reason why he had set his face to go to Jerusalem.   But what’s remarkable and striking is that Jesus speaks of it, as will see in a moment, in terms of honour and glory.

But I also want you to notice that the recognition and acceptance of this momentous moment in time does not lead to some sort of fatalistic resignation on Jesus’ part, but to prayer.   He prays that the very thing ordained by the Father in eternity past would come to pass.

It’s a reminder to us from Scripture, that the truth of God’s sovereignty should serve as an incentive to prayer, not a disincentive.  I am reminded of the example of Daniel in chapter 9 of his prophetic book.  We find Daniel reading the Old Testament scrolls and specifically of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the length of the Babylonian exile.  Daniel, who had been in Babylon for almost all that time quickly does the sums and realises that he is in year 69 of the 70 predicted.

His response is not to settle back and wait for events to take their course.  He is not disincentivized to pray; the very opposite.  We read, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and please for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” (9:3)

You see God ordains the end, but he also ordains all the means by which that end will be accomplished, and among the means for the accomplishing of Jeremiah’s prophecy was the prayers of an exiled Daniel.

“…glorify your son”

Jesus prays that his Father will accomplish the purpose of this appointed hour, that purpose being the glorification of the Son.  We will need to revisit and focus on the word in coming studies because it is one of the key words in Jesus’ prayer, occurring as it does, in one form or another, 8 times.   In this context, at this point, the primary meaning of “glorify” is ‘to clothe in splendour’, or ‘to honour, as v. 5 makes clear.

Now, when the world honours or glorifies someone, it does so by heaping praise or power or riches on them.  But when Jesus prays that the Father glorify him as the Son, he is praying for the horrors of Calvary to be poured out on him; for all the unspeakable horrors that he is to experience within a few hours to happen.

It is in the cross, in the indescribable physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings of the Saviour that we see, uniquely, displayed the glory of God.

John Calvin put it like this, “For in the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theatre, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God shines indeed in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross.”

Another writer puts it powerfully in this way, “The hideous profanity of Golgotha means nothing less than the Son’s glorification.”

So, when Jesus prays that the Father would glorify his Son, it is nothing less than a moving expression of his own willingness to obey his Father even unto death, the death to which he had consented before time began.

“…that the Son may glorify you”

Here’s where we return to the idea I floated near the start of this study.   Here is why it is quite legitimate and proper for Jesus to begin his prayer by praying for himself.  And the reason is that although he is praying for himself, he is doing so with an even greater burden on his heart.  He prays that he might do that which glorifies and honours his Father.

The glorification of the Son is not an end in itself. Jesus prays this prayer so “that the Son may glorify you.”  Jesus’ prayer that the Father might glorify the Son is out of a desire that he, by being glorified by the Father, might himself glorify the Father.  It is no less than a deeply moving expression of his own willingness to obey the Father even through such a death.

Jesus knew what would bring glory to God, what would honour God, what would reveal him to be who he is.  Jesus knew that his obedience, not just in life of obedience but in a death of self-sacrificial substitution for sinners, would reveal and display the glory of God like nothing else.

The glorification of the Son entails and is for the glorification of God the Father. That’s why Jesus begins his prayer with a prayer for himself, because in praying for himself he is revealing his passion for the furtherance and revelation of his Father’s glory.

So, as we observe the Master Pray-er, what do we learn?

First, we are reminded that we too, like our elder brother, can approach the omnipotent, all-glorious God of the universe and enabled and prompted by the indwelling Spirit of God as believers, address him as Father, as our Abba.  There are surely few greater privileges in the world.

Second, our prayers – all our prayers – and especially our prayers for ourselves, should be motivated by exactly the same passion that motivated our Saviour: ‘Do in me, and with me, and to me, whatever will bring you the most glory, honour and praise.’

And we’ve only reflected on verse 1!


[1] MacArthur, John     The MacArthur Bible Commentary     Nashville: Nelson, 2005  p1412

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