John 17:9 “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”
Something seems to settle in Jesus’ mind as he hears the disciples’ response to his words. “Do you now believe?” he asks (John 16:31) and then concludes the intimate get-together with his longest recorded prayer. In it, Jesus sums up his feelings and his plans for the tight circle of friends gathered around him.
This famous prayer represents a kind of commissioning or graduation. In it, Jesus hands over his mission to the disciples and, by extension, to all believers who will come after them. Their previous missions, the preaching and healing excursions in the countryside, have been mere warm-up exercises. Now he is turning everything over to them.
An Unbroken Chain
Using language full of mystery, Jesus tells them that he must leave the world but that they must remain in it to proclaim him. They will now attract the hatred and hostility that have previously been directed toward him. Although they live “in the world,” they are not quite “of the world.” Something sets them apart from the world and binds them together to him in unity with God—a unity so close as to defy all explanation.
Jesus prays, too, for the unity of believers who will join them, stretching in an unbroken chain throughout history. “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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” (John 17:20–21). And then he leads the frightened little band toward his appointment with death.
Based on this prayer, how would you sum up Jesus’ “goals” for the church? How well do you see Christians today fulfilling those goals?