Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Bread of Life, The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, Mothers Day
Volume 8 No. 480 May 11, 2018
III. Featured Articles: The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

by The Rev. William D. Oldland

Gospel: John 17:1-11

The Gospel:

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
- John 17:1-11

When we think about prayer a wide variety of possibilities come to mind. For example, we might think first of the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught us. We might think of the Psalms. Some of us might think of intercessory prayer. In intercessory prayer we pray for the needs of others and ourselves. We even might think of healing prayer. In all of these cases, prayer is communication with God.

We can say that we are aware that we can talk with God. We can share out thoughts, our concerns, our hopes and our fears with the One who created us. We know from the scriptures that Jesus did the same. We know that Jesus took time to pray in the wilderness. We know he would go off by himself and pray to God and then come back to his ministry with the disciples.

Today's lesson from John is another instance of Jesus praying. In fact, this prayer is referred to as Jesus' high priestly prayer. It is different from other times Jesus prays in scripture. This prayer is done before the disciples. They hear every word. It is a time when Jesus prays for the community, allows the disciples to see the richness of the intimacy Jesus has with God the Father, and gives us a glimpse of the possibility of eternal life with God.

First of all, we should be aware that we only have one part of the prayer. The prayer encompasses all twenty-six verses of chapter 17. We only have the first eleven. Secondly, we should be aware of the timing of this prayer in the Gospel. This prayer is offered at the end of the evening with the disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus has washed their feet, taught them and had a meal with them. Judas has left the gathering to go and bring the guards to arrest him. The end of the evening is at hand. Furthermore, the end of Jesus' ministry is at hand. The arrest is soon to come and Jesus' death is fast approaching.

So, before he leaves with the disciples to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has one final prayer with his disciples. Jesus begins the prayer with acknowledging that his ministry is about over. The hour has come.

He has taught all he can teach. He has shown the ones who God gave him everything he can. His ministry has not been just about teaching about living a righteous life. His teaching has not just been about healing. A major part of his teaching has been about the relationship Jesus, the Son, and God, the Father, share. Jesus and God share an intimate relationship. He addresses God not by title but as father. He exhibits the intimacy that a father should have with their children and the children with their parents. Their relationship is founded on perfect love and trust. Throughout this prayer Jesus shares this intimacy. He constantly calls God, Father. He constantly refers to God's glorification of the Son, not that the Son may be glorified by people, but that God would be glorified by all people. What the Son does reflects on the Father and what the Father does reflects on the Son. They live in a perfect unity. Jesus shows us the depth of their relationship for two reasons. First, it is an example to us of the way God intends relationships to be. It has been God's intention for the relationship of God to creation and creation to God to be this loving, this caring. It was also part of God's plan for us to love one another in this manner. Now, we all know that our relationships are not this perfect. We get in the way. Our thoughts and our desires, our personal wants and our own needs get in the way of this depth of love. The point is Jesus shows us what God intended. Jesus shows us what God desires for us. Jesus shows us the depth of relationship for which we are to hope and pray. His intimacy with the father can be our intimacy with the Father.

It is for this kind of relationship that Jesus prays for us. As Jesus prays at this time of his death he prays for us. He does not pray for himself. He prays for the disciples. His prayer for them is that they will continue to be loved and to love God. God gave them to Jesus and now Jesus returns them to the care of God. He wants them not to be lost during the trial ahead. He wants God to love them and care for them when He is no longer in the world with them. In that respect, Jesus is praying for us. We are the disciples now. Jesus prays for our relationship with God. We are the recipients of the Gospel message. Weare the ones who know God is the One who created us and loves us. We are now the ones who need to feel the deep abiding presence of God in our lives.

Isn't it simply amazing that Jesus is so concerned for the disciples when he knows the crucifixion is coming soon? The cross looms ahead of him and yet, he prays for those whom he loves. Jesus knows that God is going to take care of him, but he still has to face the worst the world can offer. What a wonderful witness to us about the depth of trust and love.

To that end, Jesus also gives us a glimpse of our eternal hope. In the very last line of to day's prayer Jesus asks for us to experience the depth of the love of God. He asks for us to be one as they are one. We are asked to be bound to one another and to God in that deep abiding love. It is a love that we are to strive for in our everyday lives. Yet, we know that we can not attain it now. Even though we can not attain it now we will feel it one day. There will come the day when we will experience the love of God to the fullest. We will be one with God as Jesus is one in the fullness of love. Living in the fullness of God's love is our hope and our prayer. It is to that end that we live and work on this world.

For in truth nothing else matters. The clothes, the possessions, the accolades and the honors are all naught if we don't have love. Everything is just fluff if we are not striving to attain the perfect love of God in all our relationships. Even though we can not attain it fully now, we can begin to understand the depth of God's love as we love in this world. Sometimes I wish it was easy. Sometimes I wish that when we loved everybody would automatically love back. But love, the unconditional love of God is funny. It has to be freely given and freely received. God gives freely but we have to receive it. Likewise love one to another has to be freely given and freely received. If either party has strings attached or conditions it is not the love of God that is being shared. Our lives are an opportunity in this world. Our lives are an opportunity to learn to receive and to give the incredible rich love of God. We are to learn to receive it freely and give it freely. When we don't receive it or others don't receive it from us, then the love can not continued to be shared. I pray we will have open hearts. I pray our hearts would be like deep chalices. I pray these deep chalices would be filled with love overflowing that we would be empowered to share God's love with others. Please join me in prayer.

Source: St. Thomas' Episcopal Church

Graceful Unity

by Glenn Monson

Gospel: John 17:20-26

The great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus ends with the words which form our gospel reading, John 17:20-26. In this passage we hear the rallying cry of the ecumenical movement: "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." We hear Jesus' repeated prayer to the Father that all believers might be one, even as the Son and the Father are one. This fervent prayer serves to remind us that unity amongst Christians is not, like so many things in the Christian faith, a result of works, but of grace. As St. Jerome reminded us: "We are not one in the Father and the Son according to nature but according to grace. For the essence of the human soul and the essence of God are not the same."

(The following questions attempt to unearth questions of concern to Law and Gospel preachers. For a more extended discussion of this genre please see my new guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?

The words of Jesus in this text show the great heart our Lord has for the world and for his followers. The final verse clinches it: "I made your name known to them, and I will make it known [in the Cross], so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." All of these words are gospel words for they proclaim to us the love of the Son for us all.

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?

Any word of Law, i.e. any word which functions to lift up our need for Christ, is barely present here. At one point Jesus reminds the Father that the world does not know the Father, but beyond that there is no hint of our need for Christ. Of course, we might infer that if Jesus is praying so fervently for the unity of all believers, then perhaps we rightly assume that disunity is our natural state and in that way, we stand in desperate need of a God who can bring us together.

3. With whom are you identifying in the text?

We are those who are overhearing this prayer. We are not addressed directly, but we overhear Jesus praying on our behalf. We are therefore those who are privileged to witness the love of God for the world and all believers. We are those who stand in awe of this love and can only sing praises to God for this marvelous love.

4. What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?

We might be tempted to view this whole text as a call obedience, especially the call to seek unity. It is clear that the Son desires unity for believers, but at no point in this text does Jesus exhort his followers to pursue this. This text is not an exhortation to do something that only God can do. Perhaps our call is to get out of the way, and to repent of any actions or attitudes that hinder unity.

5. Exegetical work:

There are a plethora of commentaries on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus but a couple of comments that are helpful to me are: 1) Lamar Williamson: "This unity [which Jesus prays for] is spiritual, constituted by their mutual indwelling with the Father, the Son, and each other." And "this unity is a gift from God, not an achievement." (Preaching the Gospel of John, 229f); 2) Raymond Brown: This unity involves both the vertical (God and us) dimension and the horizontal (us and our neighbor). Christ is praying for unity, not "simply human fellowship." (The Gospel According to John, 774f); 3) Gerard Sloyan: "It was a remarkable time in the history of one infant church, the Johannine, when a vision of the world as it might be and the history of one actual community came together. The congruence of the world believed in and the world lived in may have already passed by the time the Gospel was written. Its author wants believers to live in hope until the parousia, but knows that the only way to make any sense out of that strange concept of the final coming is to live it now." (John, Interpretation series, 199).

Blessings on your proclamation!

Source: Law & Gospel Everywhere

The Great High-Priestly Prayer

by Yeulett, Paul

The seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel constitutes such a deep and rich passage that no summary of it can ever quite do it justice. It is quite difficult to discern a clear structure in this prayer. It is like a spiral staircase, going round and round, revisiting themes and developing them further. It is true that Jesus prays first for himself, then for the apostles, then for all the other believers, but this division is not as clear or watertight as we sometimes imagine. Attempting to deal with this chapter is like being permitted to handle the crown jewels.

The Son of God prays publicly to his Father

This has been called the Great High-Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is Jesus entering the Holy of Holies, not the innermost division of the earthly tabernacle or temple, with the physical ark of the covenant or the physical mercy-seat, but the eternal Son of God entering into innermost communion with the eternal Father and – this is the point we need to see – doing so as the great high priest for all the people for whom he came to offer his own blood. The Day of Atonement was the great day of the year for the people of the old covenant, a day of the highest drama. Here in this passage is the parallel for us as new covenant believers. We will never get closer to glory in this present life than we do here in being able to read John 17. Here the curtain is lifted, for these twenty-six verses, on the precious and intimate communication between the Father and the Son, which the Holy Spirit has preserved for our blessing.

In this connection, it does indeed seem that Jesus spoke this prayer quite deliberately and intentionally in the hearing of his disciples, especially the beloved apostle John, who faithfully took these words down. It was a prayer, in one sense, uttered in the most holy place, but at the same time it was a prayer that was proclaimed to the men who would be the foundation stones of the church. Jesus does not retire somewhere; he goes nowhere, but lifts up his eyes and speaks audibly to his Father. It was a prayer which was at the same time a sermon, a preached prayer.

A Prayer bathed in Love

Don Carson says that 'this Father-Son relationship is bathed in unfathomable love' (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, Crossway, p.95). Although love is not mentioned until verse 23, we need to see that this passage climaxes with love and that love is a great theme of this passage.

Jesus says 'Father', and we must see this address as something uniquely sacred. It is true that Jesus teaches us to call God 'Our Father'. It is true that after his resurrection Jesus will speak of God as 'my Father and your Father'. We will come and see what great privileges are bestowed upon us. But this prayer is not like the Lord's Prayer, a model for us to follow. Here the Son addresses the Father in the context of that unique and eternal relationship. The Son was the Son before he became incarnate, before he became Jesus. And from everlasting, Father and Son have been joined in a bond of love. Twice in John's Gospel, in 3:35 and in 5:20, we read that 'the Father loves the Son', and then we come to John 15:9: 'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you' and the three statements at the conclusion of this prayer. Additionally, in John 14:31 we read 'I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.' Indeed we can go further and see that the fact of the Trinity means that love, real, active, given and received, is something that is exercised by God, indeed defined by God.

The great truth that God is one God, and yet Three Persons, makes it possible for the statement 'God is love' to have meaning. A Unitarian, or a Jehovah's Witness, or a Muslim, can never begin to approach the concept of the love of God in the way that we must, as we see the love given and received by the Father, the Son and indeed the Spirit.

But when we have thoroughly digested this we need to look at verse 23: 'I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.' This is the great and almost incredible truth – the Father loves believers just as he loves the Son. The great love and goodness of God to his people is all grounded in the love which the Father had for the Son before the foundation of the world. God's love for his people is the extension of the Father's love for the Son. We also see how this love from God to his people becomes the measure of our love for one another. A practical question: how do we stir up love in the church? Not only by reflecting on God's great love for us, but by going even further and seeing the love the Father has for the Son. See the Father-Son-believer triangle of love that is described throughout these chapters. This is what we have been caught up into!

A Prayer leading to Glory

How does this death show the love of the Father for the Son? Perhaps the fact of the crucifixion itself obscures, in our own minds, the love of the Father for the Son. By what distorted, even perverted kind of logic can the cruel death of Jesus upon a Roman cross ever be a demonstration of the Father's love for the Son?

To understand the answer to this question we need to see that love is not the only powerful theme in this prayer – no less great is the theme of glory. Let's go back even further. Don Carson goes on to reminds us how John begins his Gospel by talking about glory 'we have seen his glory' (1:14) and comes back to it again and again. This can be linked to Exodus 32-34 where Moses was seeking God's glory. So in this great prayer, Jesus is answering Moses' own prayer, 'Show me your glory'. In Exodus 33:19 the prayer of Moses of the previous verse is answered. God will cause all his goodness to pass before Moses; this goodness is God's glory.

Now, in the glorifying of Jesus, God's goodness will come upon his people in a great shower of blessing. From John 12 the occasion of the glorifying of Jesus becomes clear; it is going to happen through his death. Here is the hour that Jesus' whole life and ministry has been moving towards. This is the hour of glory for the Saviour. He had spoken of this hour in John 12:27-28: 'Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour!” But for this purpose I have come to this hour. “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”' When will this happen? The answer – when Jesus has made his soul an offering for sin. Then both the Father and the Son will be glorified; the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father.

The Father loves the Son and consequently he desires that all will honour the Son. He loves the Son and consequently desires that every knee will bow to him. Take the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation. In Chapter 4 the Father is on the throne, receiving glory, honour and praise. In Chapter 5 the Lamb approaches the throne, opens the scroll and is himself the object of the same glory, honour and praise as his Father. The whole thrust and direction of this prayer is that believers might see the glory of God in Christ. This is seen especially in verse 24, 'Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.' What will be the business of eternity? What, indeed, is this Christian life which begins here on earth and carries on beyond the grave? Is it not this – knowing God, which means knowing Jesus Christ whom he has sent?

Paul says in Philippians 3:10 'I want to know Christ', and we might reply, 'But Paul, you do know him! Who could know him better than you?' 'But I want to know him better and better', says Paul. My very heart and flesh cry out for the living God, and that means that I'm crying out for Christ.

A Prayer that is answered Today

What is the Lord's Supper all about? It is Jesus Christ drawing us into this rich fellowship with himself and his Father. He eats and drinks with us, which in itself is a mark of this fellowship – but he tells us that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, so that we see that by his death, his death for us, and by that means alone, we are brought into this eternal fellowship with the Triune God. The broken body and the shed blood – this is the measure of his love for us, and this is the basis of our love for one another! How fitting that this prayer was spoken so close in time to the Supper that the Lord had instituted. How right, therefore, that we should consider it so close in time to our own observance of that same Supper. In one sense, two thousand years of history vanish at a stroke. The bread and wine set before us speak of the same sacrifice as did the bread and wine which were set before the disciples. The prayer spoken and preached by Christ then is the prayer that needs to be spoken and preached today. The love of the Father, and the seeing of Christ's glory – this meal shows how these things are real and true right now.

But the meal itself is a symbol of a deeper reality. Last and best of all, do we see who is praying here, and do we see the assurance that this prayer will be answered? 'For what Jesus here asks, Jesus obtains. Yes, brethren, this prayer was answered, is being answered still, and will continue to be answered, until the last vessel of mercy is gathered home.' (Charles Ross, The Inner Sanctuary, p.201). How will the Father, who is one with the Son, refuse the prayer offered by his Son? Here is our own deepest assurance and comfort – Christ was heard, and so as we cast ourselves upon him, we know that his prayer will be answered for our sakes. It was for our sakes that he came into this world, made this prayer, and offered himself up as the Lamb that was to be slain.

His prayer is being answered now, in the world, as men and women receive the redemption which Christ has purchased. Christ is glorified on the earth as men and women believe in him and are brought into that loving unity of fellowship with Father and Son which is the heart of his prayer and the centre of our own lives and experience.

About The Author:

Paul Yeulett was one of the speakers at the Banner of Truth Youth Conference in April 2010 in Leicester.

© Copyright 2018 Banner of Truth


by Dr. Janet Hunt

Gospel: John 17:6-19

"Holy Father, protect them in your name so that they may be one as we are one." (John 17:11)

The unity Jesus speaks of here is all too rare it seems to me. I'm tempted to say that's a rather recent phenomenon, but I know better. Whether it's in the church or in the world, unity can be short-lived and hard to come by.

I know this to be so for you see, I did a stint as an elected member of a library board some time ago.

I agreed to do this because I have always been a lover of libraries. A visit to the public library was a regular and frequent event for us as children. I can still remember when I went to visit the college I would eventually call my own. I stepped into even that relatively small library and walked into the stacks and felt simply overwhelmed by the possibility of all there was to learn. Today when I walk into the university library in the community I now call home, the smell alone takes back to that moment every single time.

I served a few years on a library board because a member of my congregation knew this about me and asked if I would be willing to serve in this way. I served in this way because it seemed, at the time, like a good way to contribute to the larger community I then called home.

Only the experience turned out to be less than I had hoped -- this my first effort at such public service. For while I don't doubt that others at that monthly table were also lovers of libraries, those meetings turned out to be altogether unpleasant events marked by hidden agendas and political backbiting and surreptitious efforts to undermine the head librarian. Some of this I picked up on right away. The rest became increasingly evident over time. To be sure, though, many of the motivations and reasons behind all of it will always elude me as I would never be privy to the small town politics that played out behind the more public agenda we shared. I did know this though: unity, or ‘oneness', was nowhere to be seen.

I never answered the call to such civic duty again. And while the world and I are probably no worse off for my having avoided such opportunities, it is, of course, so much different for the Church - for God's people - of whom Jesus speaks today. Oh, unfortunately the political reality can be much the same, regrettably. However, the consequences of such for God's people can be so much more profound.

Indeed, it occurs to me now as the newest member of the library board, I wasn't so very different from the newest member of many a congregation council. One who, in their case, loves Jesus and loves the Church and wants to make a difference. Only they step into the room and there are things going on under the surface which they can't begin to comprehend. Some of those things, to be sure, are generations old and even those engaging in them may have trouble articulating their source or meaning. The result, unfortunately, is that some of them will also never agree to serve again. Others will choose to leave the community of believers altogether.

No, indeed, the unity Jesus speaks of now is sometimes nothing like what you and I experience.

In fact, a few years back, I had a visitor on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday afternoon. This guest was not known to me. He came without appointment, wondering if we could visit awhile. As we sat and talked he began to weep… speaking to me of the congregation he called home which was by then so divided, he didn't want to raise his children there. "I grew up with that," he said. "I want something different for them."

This individual was willing to risk it one more time - looking for yet one more church home where he might glimpse some of what Jesus intends for us in his prayer today. Too many will make the decision to go it alone - never engaging with the Church again. And while imagine it is possible to sustain one's belief alone, it surely can't be easy. For the Church at its best is support to us in times of struggle and loss and hurt. The Church at its unified best enables us to see where God is calling us to live differently in the world - both together and alone. The Church as 'one' - the Church Jesus calls us to be today recognizes the differences between us, but calls us still to move forward in what binds us to each other: A common love of Jesus and the world God made.

Now I know there are examples of 'unity' all over every congregation I've served. I celebrate those, to be sure. Only I grieve still more the energy and hope that is lost when this is not so. I grieve still more God's children who are sometimes driven away when that which divides us is greater than that which makes us one.

And so I believe and so I have learned that it is only as we emphasize what we have in common that we are able to bridge that which would divide us. This does not mean we ignore our differences, for that only leads to a false and fragile unity. This does mean that we address those differences standing firm in those truths which we hold together. In recognizing our mutual 'createdness', for one. In the acknowledgement that God is God and we are not and the humility that engenders among us and between us. In a celebration of the gifts that are present in each of us: again, God's own handi-work. In our mutual love of Jesus. In our willingness to work together to discern what our faith is calling us to in the world. And in the daily acceptance of the certainty that we will not always succeed, but we will always be forgiven and given what we need to begin again. In Jesus' name. Amen.

How about you? What examples of unity among God's people come to mind when you hear Jesus' words for us today? Is it easier to think of examples of unity or is it easier to come up with examples of its opposite?

What are the characteristics of the 'oneness' or unity Jesus speaks of in this Gospel lesson? What are the clues in the text itself?

Often when I've been in conversation with church leaders in conflict I've cited my library board experience. I then go on to say that in the Church we have so many more resources at our fingertips to address conflict: to be 'one' in spite of what separates us. What might those resources be?

Malankara World Journal Archives
The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus
Malankara World Journals with the Theme: The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

Volume 7 No 424 July 7, 2017
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Volume 7 No 418 May 26, 2017
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