In John's gospel, this prayer in the 17th chapter, is the last prayer Jesus makes. In the other gospels, Jesus prays his last prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. No one knows what Jesus said entirely in that garden prayer—the disciples kept falling asleep.
But in the gospel of John, there is no account of the Garden of Gethsemane prayer. Just this long one in chapter 17. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was actually a prayer to God. But it was a prayer heard by all the disciples, and it was a significant enough prayer to them that they wrote it down.
In this prayer, Jesus talked to God about five basic ways he hoped the disciples would carry on in the task they would have when Jesus left them. These five themes make up a great short list for we believers in living out our witness.
The first theme Jesus prays for is that the Son (that is, himself) be glorified. When Jesus asked that he be glorified, he was asking to be more than honored. Honoring someone is a lot less than being glorified.
Being glorified meant that the invisible identity of God's divine splendor, power and radiance would be made visible in Jesus. Before the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, the glory of God was not plainly visible in Jesus. If it was, he wouldn't have been rejected and crucified. Jesus knew that his time had come. With his death and Resurrection, everyone would see unmistakably who Jesus was.
Whitworth College, where I attended, had a library. At least I think it did. Let's just say if you were given frequent flyer miles for the amount of time spent there, I wouldn't have earned any free trips or even an upgrade.
The only thing I really remember about Whitworth's library was a picture. It took up the better part of a wall once you got inside the front door. It didn't look like a normal painting. It was black and white, and what it looked like was a huge conglomeration of Guernsey dairy cattle markings and shapes. I ignored it most of the time, because I couldn't see any rhyme or reason to it. I had no idea why the mural was there. I asked the librarian about it one time and she would only say, "Keep looking at it; you'll see."
Then one day I saw it. I wasn't even in the library. I was outside on the sidewalk talking with some friends. I happened to glance through the glass doors, see the shapes, and it all suddenly was clear. It was the face of Christ. I didn't know why I didn't see it before. There he was, all the time, and I couldn't even see it—see him.
That, in a way, is what Christ prayed for, asking to be glorified. He wanted people to see him, once and for all, for who he really was—the divine Son of God. People had spent at least three years looking and looking at him and not seeing. Now it was time that they saw his true glory.
In a Time magazine article from several years back, the cover article was the question, "Who Was Jesus?" What caught my eye about that title was the past tense, as if Jesus was someone but isn't anymore.
In the article, four possible answers were given to that headline question. Jesus was either an "itinerant sage," a "hellenistic cynic," an "apocalyptic prophet," or, an "inspired rabbi." Notice what was left out of that list. None of the answers included the "glorified Son of God," the one with the visible identity and radiance of God himself.
If we are going to live like Jesus prayed, then first and foremost, we must recognize Jesus for who he really is—present tense. If we don't get this point of his prayer right, all the other themes of his prayer go mute. What Jesus wants in the first place is that we would all see the unmistakable divine connection between himself and God.
The second theme Jesus prays for is that each of his followers would receive eternal life. Jesus knew that there was a question that every person asks in their heart of hearts. It is a question that has probably been put there by God himself—a question that draws us all towards him.
It is the question that the great Presbyterian preacher of the early 1900's, Clarence Macartney, illustrated as he was on a walking tour of Norway. It was a bright July day. He sat at the top of a low hill overlooking a village which was but a cluster of cottages. Most of the people of the village were gathered outside the door of one of those cottages.
Then a group of men came out of the house carrying a crude coffin. It was laid on the flatbed of a low wagon, and the procession started for the road. Down the steep hill rumbled the wagon, followed by the company of mourners. At the foot of the hill, they took a road which led them through fields of sweet new-mown hay. After a pause at the gate of the churchyard, they came to the doorway of the gleaming white-steepled church.
The coffin was carried into the church, and in the space of a half hour they came out again into the clear sunlight and gathered around the freshly, hand-dug grave. For a little time there was a holy quieting that brooded over the fields of hay and the silver fjord beyond. Then the company broke up and went their several ways.
As the people came slowly up the hill again, Macartney said the question on his own mind, and must have been in the minds of those faithful folk, formed itself into a poem that he wrote in his journal as he sat there:
One question, more than all others,
From thoughtful minds implores reply,
It is, as breathed from star and pall,
What fate awaits us when we die?
Jesus, in his final prayer wanted to answer that question for all disciples and all time. Eternal life awaits those who have known and believed in Jesus as the Son of God.
Thirdly, Jesus prayed that he had finished the work God had given him to do. What a great feeling it must have been to look back over his short life and saw his life's purpose accomplished. Henry Ford once said, "You can't build your reputation on what you're going to do." Jesus' reputation had been built solidly on knowing what God's purpose for him was, and then setting out with a single-mindedness to accomplish that purpose.
Gian-Carlo Menotti, the composer of the musical, "Amahl and the Night Visitors," once said,
Hell begins on that day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts we wasted, of all that we might have done but did not do.
What Jesus prayed, and therefore what our task becomes in order to live fully, is to know clearly what it is that God has for us, and what his purpose for our lives is, and then accomplish that. It is in bringing our purpose to completion that gives us that great feeling of accomplishment when our life on earth is over.
In baseball, victory is determined not by hits but by runs. The player who gets to third base and no further doesn't get credit for three-quarters of a run. And so, with Jesus, one of the last things he said on the Cross was, "It is finished (or accomplished)." Jesus didn't say, "I almost got it done."
The fourth theme Jesus prays is that he had made God's name known to those God had given him. Notice what Jesus said there. He didn't say he had made God's name known to the whole world. He had only made God's name known to the people whom God had led his way.
Count Zinzendorf was part of a Lutheran splinter group called the Moravians, back in the early 1700's. The Moravians were known for their zeal for missions, and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Count Zinzendorf once told a group of mission volunteers who were being commissioned,
You are not to aim at the conversion of whole nations. You must simply look for seekers after truth who, like the Ethiopian eunuch (in Acts chapter 8), seem ready to welcome the gospel.
Thus, the Moravian missionaries didn't go out with exaggerated or unrealistic expectations. They simply and forcefully shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with those individuals and small groups God gave them.
That's what Jesus prayed and is how we are to live. We aren't expected to transform the whole world for Christ. But we are responsible for those God has given us.
And lastly, Jesus prayed, as he was leaving this world, for those who would remain in the world. Jesus was going to be with the heavenly Father God. But his disciples and followers would be left behind in a world that crucified him. Jesus knew it was going to be tough living in such a world. The reality is, the world is a hostile place for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Bible's message seems to be this message. From the Garden of Eden when the deceitful serpent appeared, to Moses negotiating with Pharaoh, to Abraham and Lot dealing with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, to the prophets preaching against the secularization and the compromising of religion, to the Crucifixion of Jesus, all the way to the final overthrow of evil in the book of Revelation, the one theme is this world has become so corrupt that it is an extremely difficult place for those faithful to God.
Jesus knew his followers would need special protection from God if they were to go on without him. So that is what he prayed for. If Jesus prayed for it, you know he got what he prayed for. Thus, we are to live as Jesus prayed—which means we are to live in this hostile world knowing we are under the protection of God Almighty. Knowing that, we can be bold and courageous in our discipleship. As it says in the book of Hebrews, "So we can take courage and say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6).
So these are the five themes Jesus prayed for in his final prayer before his death: glorify the Son, Jesus Christ; live life now with the joy of knowing you have eternal life; finish the work God has given you to do; make God's name known to those whom God has brought into your life; and, live as a fearless disciple, under God's ever watchful protection.