The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:20

John 17

John 17:20 – “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

As we come to v20 we move into a new section of Jesus’ prayer, and one which is immensely encouraging for us personally.  As we have noted previously, in the first 6 verses of this prayer as we have it recorded by John in chapter 17, Jesus prays for himself; and then, in verses 7-19 he prays for the small group of disciples who were with him on that evening and had been with him throughout his earthly ministry.   We have also seen that, in many ways, what he prayed for them also applies to us.

But now, in this last section, Jesus broadens his focus and looks into the future and prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.”  And that, of course, by God’s grace, includes you and me who are believers.

“…there is not a child of God now on the face of the earth, nor shall there ever be, but is included within the scope of this priestly prayer.” [1]

I want to focus on two aspects of this part of Jesus’ prayer, both of which I trust that you, like me, will find enormously encouraging.

First, apart from anything else, that statement tells us two things about “the word” that the disciples will speak.  Now let’s make sure we understand what Jesus means by “the word”.  The “word” here refers to the message passed on to the disciples by the Lord, and you will remember that Jesus spoke about this back in verse 14, and we saw there that it could almost be taken as a synonym for, or equivalent to, the gospel.

So, in broad terms, Jesus is referring here to the message of the gospel which includes, but is much broader than simply their recollection of Jesus’ personal life and teaching, it is their preaching of the gospel.

It is the very foundation of the church, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:20.  The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”; the teaching, the preaching, the message of the servants of God in both Old and New Testaments.  The “word” that Jesus is speaking about here, we can take as the Scriptures, the revealed word of God.

Now, says Jesus in his prayer, two things are going to happen when the disciples, especially after the Saviour’s death, resurrection and return to glory, become his witness “to the end of the earth” (Acts 2:8)

First – their ministry will be fruitful. 

Men, women and children will believe in the message they preach.   That’s how you and I were saved.   A friend perhaps shared the good news of the gospel with us; we heard a faithful preacher or Sunday School teacher; we read a tract.  Whatever the particular circumstances we heard “their word” and by the grace of God operating in our lives, we “believed”.

And that’s a personal encouragement and assurance to us as well.  You see the messengers may be different and the situations different, and the language spoken different – but the message, the word, is the same and we have the same promise of God on its effectiveness.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Isaiah 55:10-11

Do you notice something there?  It is, says God, “my word” .  Go back to John 17:14.  Jesus says, “I have given them your word”, and then in v21 he prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.”   So “their word” is God’s word, and that’s what makes it successful.  Our words don’t have that power, that life giving, life changing, life creating power; but God’s words, even on our lips do.

So the word is fruitful – people will believe it. 

Secondly, Jesus tells us that all believers – all those for whom he is praying here – become believers “through their word”.

In other words, a believer is, by definition, someone who has heard the word of God in one form or another and in one way or another, and who has believed it; savingly believed it.

As Paul teaches, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. (Romans 10:17).

Did you notice that? The “my word” of Isaiah 55, is the same as “the word of Christ” and, when faithfully preached and taught, can also be described as “their word”, the word of his disciples – which includes you and me as we preach and teach and gossip the gospel.

“He does not recognise any other means, capable of bringing men to saving faith in him, except that of the Divine word…There is no ordinary means of coming to faith in Christ – of saving faith in him – according to this passage, except that of the Divine word.” [2]

Now, here’s the second main encouragement I want to take from this one verse of John 17.  It’s this, that Jesus has prayed for you and me, and, as we know from Scripture, continues to pray for us.  If you are a believer, someone who has come to faith through the testimony of the disciples recorded for us in the Bible – and there is, as we have seen – no other sort of believer, then on that night back in AD 30, as Jesus was in the shadow of the cross – he prayed for you.

Friends, this is a truth that should warm your heart and which you should treasure.  You were on the mind and heart of Jesus as he prayed, just as you are always on the heart and mind of Jesus, now as our Great High priest in heaven.

It’s always encouraging to know that someone else, a fellow believer, is praying for us, but how much more to know that Jesus is praying for us, and that even on the night of his betrayal and arrest was praying for us.

You will remember from the Old Testament that when the High Priest went into the presence of God, he did so, bearing on his breastplate the names of the 12 tribes.  He went in to God’s presence representing them and praying for them.

Well, says, William Hendriksen

“…engraved upon the breastplate of the great High Priest are the names not only of those chosen out of the tribes of Israel but also of those drawn from the world of heathendom.” [3]

[1] Charles Ross The Inner Sanctuary London: Banner of Truth, 1967 p228

[2] Charles Ross The Inner Sanctuary London: Banner of Truth, 1967 p229

[3] William Hendriksen John Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1954 p363

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