4. Jesus intercedes for the church's unity (John 17:20-26)
20 Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.
Christ grounded his disciples in God’s love and the Spirit’s power, asking his Father to keep them from the Evil One prior to his crucifixion. After becoming sure that the prayer on behalf of his apostles and the Church was answered, he looked forward to the future and saw multitudes of believers springing from the message of his apostles. The image of the crucified Victor over Satan and sin drew them in. Through their trust in the living Christ the Spirit would descend into their hearts so that they would share in the grace of divine life. By faith they were united with the Father and Son in eternal oneness.
Christ prayed for those believers who would believe through the apostles. Surprisingly, when he prayed they were not yet found. His words prove the basic trustworthiness of the apostle’s message. So what is the gist of his demand for us? Did he pray for our health? our prosperity, our future success? No! He asked his Father to grant us humility and love, so that we may be one with all sincere Christians. We should not think we are better than others or find their conduct unbearable.
The unity of believers is the aim of Christ, the Church that is split contradicts his plan for it. However, this unity that Christ requested cannot be built on ecclesiastical arrangements, but is a spiritual bonding in prayer and Spirit above all else. As God in essence is one, so Christ besought his Father to bring in all believers into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that all may be secure in Him. Yet Christ did not pray, "That they may be one in me or You", but "in Us". Thus, he implies that this perfect unity peculiar to Father and Son in the Spirit, is the model. He wishes to raise you to his level because outside the Trinitarian fellowship there is nothing but hell.
The aim of being established in God’s unity is not to please ourselves spiritually, but for us to witness before others who live afar from God. Hopefully, they will realize that they are dead in sin and wicked in their pride and slaves to their passions, and so they need to repent and turn to the Savior. You who are clinging to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will receive strength to be humble, loving, in spiritual freedom to love everyone who believes; rejoicing in their presence and with them become costly witnesses to Christ’s love. We are all proof of the deity of the Man Jesus. If only all Christians were sincere, no non-Christians would remain in the world. Their love and peace would draw all and would transform them. Let us give heed to Jesus’ demand and unite! Do you intend to remain a cause for people not to believe in Christ, because you refuse to be united with the believers and contribute to the division of the church, which is the body of Christ?
22 The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23 I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me.
What is Jesus’ glory? Is it his radiance or the light of his majesty? No! His glory is hidden behind his humility, patience and gentleness. Every virtue of the Spirit’s gifts is a ray of his glory. Thus John saw, testifying, "We have seen his glory." He was not referring to the transfiguration or his resurrection alone, but also to the mean manger and his cruel cross. In these the glory of divine love appeared clearly where the Son emptied himself of obvious glory and represented the essence of his majesty in the form of man. This glory Jesus has bestowed on us. The Spirit of Father and Son descended on us.
The purpose of this distinction given to us is not for display and self-advertisement, but that we might submit in unity for service, and meet for mutual services and aim to honor others. With these spiritual principles Jesus asked his Father for the same unity and fellowship that characterizes the Holy Trinity, to shower us with these traits. The love of God is the measure to test the Church. He it is who moulds us into his eternal image.
Truly, God in his fullness indwells the Church (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 2:9). Or do you lack the courage to utter the words that come in the same passage, "In Christ the fullness of deity dwells bodily, and we are complete in him". This apostolic testimony is the proof that Jesus’ prayers before his death were answered. We worship and praise the Lord because he does not despise us, wretched and guilty as we are, but he has cleansed and sanctified us and joined himself to us, so that he might live his life through us.
Jesus was confident beforehand that we could be perfect in love and humility. Let us love and honor one another. Not perfection in wealth, abilities, wisdom, but in mercy and love and kindness is what he desires in us. Compassion and tolerance was his primary aim when he said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This commandment sums up his attitude to loving enemies. But in his intercessory prayer he intended a higher degree of perfection, a spiritual unity in the Church and with God. The Spirit does not lead to introversion or isolation, but to the fellowship of saints. The Trinitarian unity is our pattern, and we do not represent God in the world unless we are one. As individuals carried the image of God in the Old Testament, more so should the Church with its members show the image of Holy Trinity.
Harmony within the Church impresses the worldlings to see that we come from God. They begin to see that God is love. It is not mere words or long explanations which create faith in themselves. It is joy in the assemblies of God’s children that speak louder and better than long sermons. So did the Holy Spirit unite the early Church in Jerusalem in a spiritual genuine oneness.
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for leading us, the unworthy, to faith in you. You have made us your servants by the witness of your love. We worship you, because you cleansed and equipped us to become members of your spiritual body. Ground us in the love of the Holy Trinity. We magnify and praise you and beseech you to give us power to live in our churches in practical and living unity.
- What did Jesus request from his Father for our benefit?