The need for unity

“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one – I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23 NET)

As the time of Jesus’ betrayal approached, there were many things on his mind. Some of these we have recorded in John 13-16. In John 17 we find Jesus in prayer to the Father. In my opinion, this is one of the most revealing and comforting prayers that Jesus offered, as it reveals what was on his heart, and we find that he was concerned about his followers, even those in the far distant future.

Although we often imagine this prayer being offered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and there are paintings depicting such, the text is silent about where Jesus prayed this prayer. The discussion Jesus was having with the apostles in chapter 13 continued without a break into chapter 14. At the end of chapter 14 we find Jesus saying, “Get up, let us go from here” – which would seem to indicate that this was the time they left the upper room. Jesus’ discussion continued with his apostles throughout chapters 15 and 16, with this prayer in chapter 17. It is not until the beginning of chapter 18 that they arrived at the Garden. Although the other gospels record Jesus also praying in the garden, this prayer does not seem to have been at that time, but before they arrived there.

Jesus prayed for three things in this prayer. He first prayed for himself, that the Father would glorify him in what was about to happen (v.1-5). He then prayed for the apostles, realising what they were about to go through, that they would be kept safe and unified (v.6-19).

The last group Jesus prayed for was “those who believe in me through their testimony.” He was praying for those who would become Christians through what the apostles taught. Ultimately, that includes those of us today who have listened to the words recorded in the New Testament and have responded through obedience and become Christians. That is quite a thought, that as Jesus was about to go to the cross he had us in mind!

Notice what he was concerned about: “that they will all be one.” He was concerned that his followers in the future would be unified, just as he and the Father were one. The reason for this is simple: “that the world will believe that you sent me.” Christian unity is a testimony to the world that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God!

How can we expect the world to listen to the good news message that we are trying to proclaim if we are not unified with other Christians? Do we not realize that when we are characterized by discord that we are sending a mixed message to those around us? We may be saying we are following Jesus, but our actions are drowning out the message.

Let us truly be one that the world may be won – for Jesus!

Readings for next week:
12 January – John 21
13 January – 1 Timothy 1-3
14 January – 1 Timothy 4-6
15 January – 2 Timothy 1-2
16 January – 2 Timothy 3-4

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