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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Prays for the Eleven Disciples (17:11-19)
Jesus Prays for the Eleven Disciples (17:11-19)

Jesus prays first for God to protect the disciples by his name, which he has given to Jesus (v. 11; the NIV adds power). Many interpret this as referring to Jesus' revelation of the Father, and therefore the petition is that they remain loyal to what Jesus has revealed of God (for example, Beasley-Murray 1987:299). This is certainly true, and, indeed, Jesus' very address to God in this verse, Holy Father, captures much of that revelation. While God is commonly known as the Holy One, the expression Holy Father is not found anywhere else in the Bible. Holiness refers to divine otherness, the realm of the divine in contrast to the mundane. Thus, this phrase captures beautifully God's "purity and tenderness" (Westcott 1908:2:250), the "transcendence and intimacy characteristic of Jesus' personal attitude to God and of his teaching about God" (Beasley-Murray 1987:299).

But more is involved than just the revelation of God, for the goal of keeping them in the Father's name is that they may be one as we are one (v. 11). This oneness, as will be made clear soon (vv. 21-23), is not merely a unity of thought among those who receive the teaching of Jesus. It is a matter of shared life. So name here refers not just to the revelation, but to the reality that has been revealed—the Father himself. The name is the point of contact between Christ and his disciples in the Father. "God's Name is His revelation of Himself" (Lloyd 1936: 230). When he says (again speak-ing from an eternal perspective) while I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me (v. 12), he is referring to the protection they had by his own divine presence among them as the I AM. Jesus is asking God to continue to protect them by his powerful presence, a presence that will be mediated by himself and the Spirit, as he has taught in the farewell discourse (13:31—17:26).

If Jesus protected them, why did Judas fall away into destruction (v. 12)? Judas's failure to find life would raise questions for the disciples about Jesus' ability to protect them. Jesus points to two explanations for what happened to Judas. First, his action fulfilled the scriptural pattern of the enemy of the righteous sufferer (for example, Ps 41:9, which was referred to in Jn 13:18 regarding Judas). This does not mean Judas was locked into some deterministic plan but rather "Jesus knew himself to be one with, and had to go the way of, the threatened people of God in the world to fulfill their God-given task" (Ridderbos 1997:553-54). Thus, Jesus finds an assurance in the Scripture of the same sort he is offering his disciples, for they also are the threatened people of God.

The other explanation regarding Judas concerns Judas's own character as "the son of destruction" (NIV, the one doomed to destruction). While this expression can have the sense of indicating one's destiny, as the NIV takes it (cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:299), its basic idea is "to denote one who shares in this thing or who is worthy of it, or who stands in some other close relation to it" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker 1979:834). In Ephesians, for example, the expression "sons of disobedience" (2:2, RSV) is explained in terms of actions that flow from an inner disposition (2:3). So also here the reference is primarily to Judas's own character. The text reads, literally, "no one was destroyed [apoleto] except the son of destruction [apoleias]." Judas had heard the words and seen the deeds and even been the recipient of special signs of love from Jesus (see comment on 13:26), but in his heart he was not of the Father (cf. 17:6) and so did not receive with humility, faith and obedience the one sent from the Father. When one rejects the offer of life one is left only with destruction. The tree became known by its fruit. Jesus offered life to Judas, but he did not force Judas to accept it, for he does not force anyone's acceptance (cf. Chrysostom In John 81.2). The disciples have confidence because this same offer is made to them, as it is to everyone, and they have responded and received. Jesus is saying these things in the world, that is, in the arena of conflict, so that his disciples can have the full measure of his joy within them (v. 13). This joy comes from total confidence in the Father and in his protection as well as in the intimate communion with him such as Judas lacked.

While he was with the disciples Jesus kept and guarded them (v. 12) and gave them God's word (v. 14). This is the word that both comes from God and is about God. The same expression was used earlier (v. 6) to refer to the Father's own word, but here it is his word as expressed through Jesus (cf. vv. 7-8). This word of God sets them apart from the world and causes the world to hate them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world (v. 14), a point he repeats for emphasis (v. 16). Again, Jesus is speaking from the eternal perspective, for the disciples' removal from the world is not complete until they have received the birth from above (1:13; 3:3-8). Already they are hated by the world because of their association with Jesus, and the world's hatred will only increase as their association becomes union.

Having spoken of what he has done for the disciples while with them Jesus returns to his request that the Father keep them (v. 11b), which he now specifies in two ways. First, this protection is to be in the midst of the world, not through removal from it (v. 15). In their identification with Jesus they draw upon themselves the world's hatred of him, but they also share in his mission to the world, as will be spelled out shortly (v. 18). Second, the protection is from the evil one (v. 15). Behind this world, which hates them, is the evil one, for "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 Jn 5:19). The warfare motif runs throughout Scripture (cf. Boyd 1997) and is fundamental in Jesus' own understanding of reality.

Although Jesus is about to complete his work of salvation, God's warfare with the world will continue. Neither the Father nor the Son is going to abandon the world; rather they will continue to engage it, confront it and call it to repentance. "The disciples' place in the world is not something that they can give up because the world is not something that God can give up" (Ridderbos 1997:558). In some Christian circles today there is a healthy sense of this antagonism between the world and the people of God, though sometimes believers need to bring to this antagonism more of God's love for the world. Also, some forms of monasticism can be a direct contradiction to the Lord's will as it is expressed here, though at its best monasticism is a confrontation with the world. In other Christian circles this view of the world is unpopular, for there human culture is seen as an expression of God's word through his immanent Spirit. While God is active in culture, this latter view often leads to new revelations that contradict the revelation in Jesus and in the Scriptures as the Spirit has instructed the church. A passage such as the present one has "a message for an era that becomes naively optimistic about changing the world or even about affirming its values without change" (Brown 1970:764).

Jesus' second great petition is that the Father sanctify the disciples (v. 17). Sanctifying is not the same as the cleansing (13:10; 15:3), but it is related to the pruning (15:2). The word used here (hagiazo) is related to the word "holy" (hagios) that Jesus has just used of the Father (v. 11). It means to consecrate, to set apart. It is used for the preparation necessary for entering the presence of God (Ex 19:10, 22) and for the commissioning for a divine task, for example, that of a priest (Ex 28:41; 40:13) or a prophet (Jer 1:5; Sirach 49:7). The whole people of God are set apart for God as a holy nation (Ex 19:6), answering the call to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44), in contrast to the foreign nations (2 Macc 1:25-26; 3 Macc 6:3). All three of these nuances are relevant to Jesus' prayer. This sanctification is by the truth, that is, God's word. Such is a common thought in Jewish sources (Schnackenburg 1982:185), but here this word is Jesus' revelation of God in word and deed (cf. 15:3). Jesus is himself the Word (1:1), as he is the truth (14:6). God's word and truth correspond to what has already been referred to in this prayer as God's glory and name. They are all manifestations of God that point to and actually enable contact with him in and through Jesus. As the disciples share in God's glory (v. 22) and are in his name (v. 11), so here this sanctification means being drawn "into the truth, into the unity between Father and Son, and into salvation in such a way that the Father's being, his holiness, permeates them" (Tolmie 1995:225).

Because the disciples have God's truth they are set apart and sent into the world, just as Jesus was (v. 18). Like him they are to be in the world but not of it, judging and calling the world by being the presence of God's light, bearing witness to his love and offering his life in the midst of the world. They share in the very life of God in the Son of God through the Spirit of God, and thus they do the work of God as Jesus has done, revealing God's love and life and light. In this way, all three aspects of sanctification are evident: they are set apart to enter God's presence, indeed, to have his presence enter them; they are commissioned for holy service; and they constitute the holy people of God, restored Israel, who are distinct from all others in the world because of the divine presence.

Jesus concludes this section of his prayer with another reference to sanctification (v. 19), which draws out yet another nuance of the term and takes us to the heart of his work and the life to which he calls his disciples. When he says for [hyper] them I sanctify myself, he alludes to the consecration of sacrificial animals (Ex 13:2; Deut 15:19, 21) and so speaks of his coming death as a sacrifice (see comment on 10:11; cf. 1:29; 10:11, 15; 15:13; 1 Jn 3:16, Hoskyns 1940b:595-99; Schnackenburg 1982:187). It is the same theme as that found in the accounts of the Last Supper when Jesus says, "My body . . . for [hyper] you" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24) and "My blood . . . for [hyper] many" (Mk 14:24; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:301). Thus sanctification, like glorification, includes a reference to the cross, the moment of revelation when the truth of God—his heart of sacrificial love—is most clearly seen. The cross is the ultimate revelation of the truth, and thus his sacrificial death is necessary if the disciples are to be truly sanctified, an expression that could also be translated "sanctified in the truth" (en aletheia; cf. v. 17, en te aletheia). The cross is also the final and supreme act of Jesus' humility, obedience and death to self that have characterized his whole ministry and are at the heart of his relation with God. So his sacrificial death not only takes away the sins of the world (1:29) and reveals God; it also completes the pattern of life that he will share with them. For the disciples are to have their life in Christ, as branches are in a vine, thus sharing in his very life with the Father, which includes a death of self. They will live out the life of Christ by receiving life from the Father and by dying to self and the world (cf. Rom 12:1). And at the end, after walking as Jesus walked (1 Jn 2:6), their deaths, like Jesus', will also be a glorification of the Father (cf. Jn 21:19). Both sacrificial living and dying, whether by martyrdom or not, are part of the disciples' sanctification (cf. Chrysostom In John 82.1).

As the disciples bear witness to God in this way they will produce followers of God, just as Jesus has done. So the themes of consecration and sending lead naturally to the next section of the prayer, Jesus' petition for those who will believe as a result of the disciples' witness.

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