The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:21-23 (2)

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John 17:21 – 23 “…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.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Last time, we began to look at the first of two specific requests Jesus makes in this part of the prayer, namely that of SPIRITUAL UNITY (17:21-23).   We saw that there is the PRAYER itself, in v21 and repeated in vv22-23.  Then there is the PURPOSE of the prayer, again stated in both v21 and v23.  And, sandwiched in the middle, in v22, we have the POWER of the prayer.

As we began to look at the PRAYER for unity, we saw that it is an EXISTING but an IMPERFECT unity.  Now we consider the fact that the unity Jesus prays for is a SUPERNATURAL unity.  This is surely the most difficult aspect of Jesus’ prayer for us to truly get our heads around. 

Let me quote Lloyd-Jones again. 

Now whatever may be said of these verses we are examining in Chapter 17, it is quite obvious that this statement is not to be handled lightly, and glibly, and loosely, as if its meaning were perfectly clear and self-evident.  Our Lord is dealing here with the mystical union which subsists between the three Persons of the blessed Trinity.  It is the highest mystery of the Christian faith.  And yet this is the term, the verse [v.22] that is being banded about as if its meaning were obvious, and indeed as if it had but one meaning, namely some external organizational unity.  Everything about the statement indicates the exact opposite.  It is concerned about a unity of essence.  That is the whole mystery of the Trinity.  Now this is the way in which our Lord Himself defines this unity which already obtains among his people and which he prays God to preserve and keep after his return to glory. [1]

The unity that already exists between believers, and for which Jesus prays so earnestly, is defined by the unity of the Father and the Son.

  • “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (17:21)
  • “…that they may be one even as we are one”

Charles Ross, who I have quoted more than once in this series of studies, says of this element of Jesus’ prayer, “Deep and unfathomable words, easily said, but not so easily explained!” [2] (Ross, 1967, p. 229)

We mustn’t miss the depth of this desire of the Lord Jesus.   He is not simply saying that he wants our unity as believers to be like the unity of the Father and the Son, but actually that we might experience and share in the unity enjoyed by the Father and the Son!

It is a unity which not merely reflects but actually participates in the unity of God —the unity of love and obedience which binds the Son to the Father. [3]

Now, since the unity between the Father and the Son is the model for the unity between believers, we must enquire as to the nature of that unity in the Godhead, though it is, of course, a vast and immense subject that would occupy us for many profitable hours.

Suffice it to say for our purposes in this study, that there are three features of this unity that we can learn from and aspire to.

First, there is UNITY IN DIVERSITY.   The Father and the Son are two distinct ‘persons’ within the triune Godhead; the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father.   At the baptism of Christ, for example, the Son stands in the water of the Jordan and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven.  The same was true on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the Son is seen by the disciples, along with Moses and Elijah, while they hear the Father speak from heaven.

They are two distinct ‘persons’ and yet they are one.  Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”. (John 1:30)

So in the church – local and global, on earth and in glory – there should be unity in diversity.

Second, there is UNITY IN ESSENCE.   As Lloyd-Jones said in the quote I referred to, this is not about external or organizational unity, but a unity based on the very essence of God himself.

Jesus prays (v21) that, “they may be in us”; not that we might become “in us”, but that the reality of being “in us” might become more and more real.  As soon as we become believers we are in Christ, and therefore in God.

Now the importance of this is that the unity for which Jesus prays can only exist between those who are truly regenerate and seek to live by and in the truth of God’s Word.   That is the error of the ecumenical movement, for example.   It is attempting a sort of external and organizational unity as a means of answering Jesus’ prayer that we might “all be one”.  But Jesus is praying this prayer for those who believe through the testimony of the Apostles.

Unity at the expense of the truth is not the unity which Jesus has in mind.  The unity of the Father and the Son is not one which overlooks major differences and distinctions and papers over the cracks.

Third, there is TRUE UNITY ONLY IN TRUTH

There is no supernatural unity between true believers and those who do not acknowledge Christ as the only true way to God, or the ultimate authority of the Scriptures, for example.   The truly born again man or woman cannot identify in that sense with other individuals or groups who profess to be Christian but deny the sufficiency of the saving work of Christ or refuse to submit to the teaching of Scripture.

Amos asks the question, in the familiar words of the AV, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3)  The actual original language is more specific than that, stating that they must have agreed to meet, but the question does refer to an ongoing relationship between these two parties.  As one writer puts it,

The relationship of walking together is not an accidental association but a state of continuous unity.  Those who repeatedly walk together do so because of unity, not just a scheduled appointment.

In the New Testament, Paul asks the question, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

We want and should be concerned about unity among true believers who accept the authority of Scripture, which is why our church constitution has these words – “True fellowship between churches exists only where they are faithful to the gospel.  For the sake of the furtherance of the Gospel, the Church is eager to be in fellowship with and identified with other churches and Christian organisations, but for the sake of the purity of the Gospel and the Church’s testimony any such involvement must be based on the agreement of all parties with the Church’s Doctrinal Basis.

[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1968). The Basis of Christian Unity: An Exposition of John 17 and Ephesians 4. London: IVP. pp12-13

[2] Ross, C. (1967). The Inner Sanctuary. London: Banner of Truth. p229

[3] Newbigin, L. (1982). The Light Has Come. Eerdmans. p234

[4] Smith, G. V. (1998). Amos. Tain: Mentor. pp148-149

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