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The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:9

John 17:9  “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

As we have seen, there are three sections to the prayer, in each of which, the focus of Jesus‘ praying is different.  In verses 1-5 he prays for himself; in 6-19 he prays for the first disciples who are with him on that night; and in 20-26 he prays for you and me and for all who will come to faith through the witness of those first disciples.

We’re in the middle of that middle section where Jesus is praying for those first disciples, and we have previously noted that he doesn’t actually begin the prayer itself until verse 11, and so we’re not going to get there until our next study.

Before he expresses his DESIRES for them for them in the second half of this second section of the prayer, he expresses his DESCRIPTION of them, much of which is true of all believers, but some of which is uniquely true of them.

Jesus’ disciples are those:

  • to whom Jesus has manifested the Father’s name (v6)
  • who were given to Jesus by the Father out of the world (v6)
  • who have kept the Father’s word (v6)
  • who know that all that Jesus gave them, was given to them by the Father (vv7-8)
  • who know and believe that Jesus was sent by the Father (vv7-8)

Now, in vv9-10 he gives three more descriptions, things which are true not just of the first group of disciples but of all true disciples, but I want you to notice first of all what Jesus says at the beginning of v9 – “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me”, in other words, the disciples who were with him on that night.

I am so glad the ESV has rightly translated Jesus words as “I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world…..”

The AV somewhat unhelpfully translates that second phrase as “I pray not for the world” which is grammatically correct but nonetheless misleading and has caused some people, even eminent Christians, some concern.   Even the great Campbell Morgan, Lloyd-Jones predecessor at Westminster Chapel, wrote in his commentary on John’s Gospel, “I read that verses for years and I did not like it.”

The problem was that he understood it wrongly.  He read it as if Jesus was saying, ‘I never pray for the world’, whereas what he is actually saying is, ‘I am not praying for the world’ as the ESV has it.  Jesus is simply making clear that in this prayer, at this time, he is praying for his disciples and not for the world in general.  He is not saying he never prays for the world, and the word here means the world of unbelievers.

How do we know that Jesus is not saying that he never prays for unbelievers in the world? 

Well, let me give you two examples when Jesus prays for those who are – when he prays for them – unbelievers in the world.

Luke 23:34 – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”    As he dies on the cross, the Saviour prays for those who are putting him to death, and, I would suggest to you, that involves not just the soldiers who are actually hammering the nails but also all who were humanly responsible to these events, those, for example, who stood around the cross mocking and sneering.

Have you ever wondered how, indeed if, that prayer was answered?  Well, I believe we have a clear indication of that in Acts 2.  In his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter accuses his listeners in Jerusalem of being complicit in Jesus’ death: “…this Jesus…you crucified and killed by hands of lawless men”.

Then we read in 20:37 that, “…when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said…what shall we do.” 

And then 2:42 records that those who “received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

Were not some of those who were present at Calvary and who heard Peter’s preaching, and who “received his word” those for whom Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

Let me give you one more example of how Jesus sometimes prays for unbelievers.  Later in this, The Real Lord’s Prayer, in v20, Jesus broadens the object of his prayer to pray for “those who will believe in me through their word”.

At the time that Jesus prayed that prayer, those for whom he was praying for were still part of “the world” of v9, but would in the days and months and years following hear firsthand and read the word of witness from the disciples and would be saved. And that number includes you and me who have been saved through our hearing of the testimony of the biblical writers.

We sometimes think of those who prayed for us before we were converted – family members, friends and others.  But has it ever crossed your mind that Jesus prayed for your soul long before you were converted, even as he goes on praying for you now that you belong to him?

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