The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:11

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me”.

Now, in our 13th study in this precious prayer we actually come to the first of Jesus’ specific requests for his disciples.

Previously I said that there are four requests that Jesus makes in this prayer, but looking more closely and more carefully, I discover that actually there are just two.

The first is the prayer to “keep them” (v11), and that one request has three, what we might call, sub-sections:

  • keep them in your name (v11)
  • keep them…that they may be one (v11)
  • keep them from the evil one (v15)

The second comes in v17 – “Sanctify them in the truth”.

Jesus prefaces his prayer with the final reason he gives for praying for his disciples in this way, namely the fact that he is returning to the Father and they will remain in a world that hates them (15:18 – 16:4) without his protecting presence.

“Oh! There is something deeply affecting in this reiterated reference to his own departure.  It would seem as if his heart were overflowing with the most tender concern for those that were to be left struggling behind.” [1]

Notice again how Jesus speaks about things yet to come as if they had already happened, so certain is he of the future.  “…I am no longer in the world”, though there are yet six weeks before his ascension.   In v4 he declares that he has “accomplished the work that you gave me to do”, and yet his crucifixion is still to take place.

“Jesus here speaks as if Calvary is past; so certain is Calvary!  In his thought he is even now on his way to the Father.” [2]

The Saviour’s Address

As we look at the prayer itself, I want you to notice first of all how Jesus addresses God.  He prays, “Holy Father”.  It might surprise you to know that this is the only occurrence of this expression anywhere in Scripture, but it is hugely helpful to us as we consider how we should think of God and approach him in prayer.

That expression, “Holy Father”, brings together two enormous truths about God that we need to constantly hold in tension.  God is both indescribably and incomparably holy – other than, different from, set apart from all that we are – but at the same time he is, if we are born again of the Spirit of God, our Father.

Yes, God is holy and transcendent and pure and exalted and a thousand other things beside, but wonder of wonders he is intimately connected with us and accessible to us as our Father, our Abba!

Yes, God is our Father, our Abba and we can relate to him and come to him with as such but we must never forget that he is also the one who is so holy and transcendent that Scripture describes him as “holy, holy, holy”.

Friends, if Jesus, who was of the same nature and essence as the Father, approached God in this way, how much more should we?

The Saviour’s Appeal

From his address to God we turn to his appeal; “keep them in your name, which you have given me”, and there are two things to consider here.

First, Jesus appeals to the Father to “keep them”.  That word has, among other things, the idea of surveillance, of standing guard over something, or preserving it.   It is the same word that Jesus used of the disciples in v6 though there, of course, we saw that it also has the idea of believing and obeying.   We might translate this idea as watch over, something Jesus has been doing throughout his time on earth (v12).

What Jesus doesn’t spell out at this point is what it is that the disciples need keeping from.  The fact that they need keeping and preserving and being watched over indicates that they faced a danger.   In v15, Jesus specifically prays that they be kept “from the evil one”, and so that would certainly be implicit here as well.  But I think that at this point, what Jesus is alluding to is simply the fact that by being “in the world” they need to be kept, because the world is a danger for, and hostile to, God’s children.

“The world and the devil are daunting enemies, and Jesus’ concern about them in his prayer is a summons to vigilance and prayer for protection. D. A. Carson pointedly observes: ‘The spiritual dimensions of this prayer of Jesus are consistent and overwhelming. By contrast we spend much more time today praying about our health, our projects, our decisions, our finances, our family, and even our games than we do praying about the danger of the evil one.” [3]

Then Jesus prays that the Holy Father would keep them “in your name”.

The NIV chooses to translate Jesus’ words as “by the power of your name”; the AV goes for “keep through thine own name”.  I am sure the ESV is right to opt for “in your name”, not least because it parallels with what Jesus says in v12 – “I kept them in your name”.  Jesus is now asking the Father to do something he has been doing while he has been on earth, physically present with the disciples.

God’s name is his revealed character; God’s name embodies his person.  You will remember that back in v6 Jesus said, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world.”   By manifesting, or revealing, God’s name to the disciples, Jesus was making God’s character known and that revelation of God will now keep them, as they remain loyal to the truth Jesus has shared with them, and allow it to shape them.

God’s name tells us what he is like, who he is, what are his concerns.  Jesus is asking that they would be protected by being kept faithful to his revelation of the truth. If we apply this to ourselves, it means being protected by being kept faithful to the Word of God.

Matthew Henry puts it like this,

“Keep them in the knowledge and fear of thy name; keep them in the profession and service of thy name, whatever it cost them. Keep them in the interest of thy name, and let them ever be faithful to this; keep them in thy truths, in thine ordinances, in the way of thy commandments.” [4]

If we would be kept by God, the means that God uses to keep us is by walking in fellowship with him as we live in and by his revealed truth.

[1] Ross, Charles The Inner Sanctuary London: Banner of Truth, 1967 p216

[2] Hendriksen, William John Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1954 p356

[3] Milne, Bruce The Message of John: Here Is Your King Leicester: IVP, 1993 pp244-245

[4] Henry, Matthew Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible Hendrickson, 1994 p2031

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