22 January 2014

John 17:11b-23

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (v. 21b)


In all the Octaves of Prayer for Christian Unity since 1908, this passage will probably have been read and heard more times than any other. Numerous meditations have been offered on it; many other prayers have quoted from it; and the longing for Christian unity has been inspired by it.

The prayer of Jesus in chapter 17 is set after a long speech to the disciples which follows their last meal together. During that meal, Jesus has washed his disciples' feet and given them a new commandment: love one another (John 13:34). During the speech, Jesus has told them what they can expect to happen to them in the future. The next day Jesus is crucified.

It is important to appreciate that, in his gospel, John uses the Greek word 'kosmos', which is translated 'world', in a number of ways. For example, he makes it clear that, in its broadest sense, the world is everything and everyone, created and loved by God; he also uses it to talk of the social world which hates Jesus and his disciples. In John 17, we read that the disciples are in the world (verse 11a) but do not belong to the world (verse 14) and that Jesus does not want them to be taken out of the world (verse 15) but has sent them into the world (verse 18).

Today's passage begins with Jesus asking his holy Father to protect the disciples so that they may be one (verse 11b); a little later he asks God to protect them from the evil one because they are in the world but, like Jesus, do not belong to the world (verses 15-16). Then Jesus asks God to sanctify them in the truth because he has sent them into the world (verse 17). The passage ends on the theme of unity and Jesus prays not only on behalf of his first disciples, but also on behalf of those who will believe in him through their word; he asks that they may all be one (verse 20).

To Ponder

  • In what ways do you think the Church needs to be protected today?
  • In what ways do you think the Church needs to be sanctified in or consecrated by the truth today?
  • Jesus prays that his first disciples and those who will believe in him through their word will be one so that the world may believe (verse 21) and know (verse 23) that his Father has sent him. How do you see the relationship between unity and mission?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Stubbens

Neil Stubbens is a Methodist presbyter who is currently the connexional ecumenical officer. Previously, he has served in the Barnsley, Southport, St Helens and Prescot, and Sankey Valley Circuits.