8 May 2016

John 17:20-26

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. 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.” (vv. 20-21)

Psalm: Psalm 97


These verses form part of a prayer of Jesus (John 17:1-26), often known as the "high priestly prayer" because it shows Jesus in priestly role, ie standing between the people and God interceding on behalf of the people. John is the only Gospel writer to include this prayer which concludes a long discourse (starting at John 13:31) set after supper and immediately before Jesus goes out with his disciples to a garden where he is betrayed. John presents Jesus giving a farewell address which also looks to the future (cf the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 29:14-15).

Earlier in the discourse Judas had left the meal and Jesus had predicted Peter's betrayal. Perhaps these signs of division and crumbling within the band of disciples lead Jesus to make this impassioned plea for unity, the paramount theme of the prayer. He expresses the hope that all who come to believe because of the word of the disciples "may all be one". Past and future are fused within this longing for unity as Jesus' words look back to the foundation of the universe (verse 24) and forward to the establishment of some sort of future following (verse 20). All who continue to read and use the passage today are thus brought into the scope of this prayer. The unity for which Jesus prays is to be of the same nature as the unity experienced between Jesus and God, whom he addresses as "Father" (verses 21, 24, 25).

Union with God (verses 21, 23) and sharing in the glory of God (verse 22) are cited by Jesus as the means by which this unity may be achieved. The fruit of such unity will be missional, giving rise to belief in an unbelieving world. Firstly that it is God who has sent Jesus (verses 21, 23) and, following on, that God's love for the world is as strong as his love for Jesus (verse 23).

Mission also lies behind the final verse where through the unity between Jesus and his disciples, demonstrated as love, the world may also come to know God and God's love.

To Ponder

  • It's one week until the start of Christian Aid Week. Is it enough that Christians work together for the relief of poverty and the development of potential (whether through Christian Aid, All We Can or other charities)? Or does the desire for unity for which Jesus prayed need further expression. If so, what more could churches do?
  • How do you understand Jesus' words "The glory that you have given me, I have given them" (v. 22)?
  • John Bell's hymn "Because the Saviour prayed that we be one" (StF 675) asks in verse 4 for God to "guide us". Throughout this week our theme is 'Guiding Light' - look out for rays of that light today.

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.