Rev. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” 

John 17:20-23

Stand with me before Calvary.

Gaze with me upon the suffering Savior.

If there is ever a time that we are inclined to question the reality of hell and Gods punishment for sin, we had better pause a moment at the cross. Listen: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” This is the Son of God crying out of hell.

But why?

The answer is in the words of our text.

Father, that they all may be one!

The Lord Jesus is very much conscious of two worlds. Concerning the world of the lost, He prayed in verse 9: “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou gavest me.” Here in verse 21, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them which shall believe on me through their word . . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” You see, there are two worlds, the world of the lost and the world of the saved.

Our great High Priest presses to His bosom the world for which He was about to shed His blood and who would believe on Him through the gospel. These included not only the disciples, not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles. Jesus is fully aware that, not very far in the future, the veil of the temple will be rent and the darkened windows of men’s hearts would see the light and come to faith.

That unity could be accomplished only in the death of the Son of God.

The focal point of faith is that cross.

Literally verse 20 reads, “. . . believe into me.” The idea is that man comes from the outside and by faith comes into the inside to abide with Christ.

Such a union with Christ produces a twofold confession.

First, verse 21, “. . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” This deals with the true identity of Jesus. He is not the son of Joseph and Mary. He dwelt with the Father in eternity, and in the fullness of time was sent into the world. He is the only begotten Son of God! Upon Him the Father laid the guilt of the sins of all His elect, appointed Him to endure the sentence of death that followed, and opened the way to the heavenly glory.

Secondly, verse 23, “. . . that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” What a wonder. Such knowledge is not of the flesh, it is the knowledge of faith. With such knowledge of faith we know that even while Jesus hanged upon the cross the Father loved Him, and in that way of the cross opened the way of love to us His people.

The banner over Jesus was love.

Amazing love: My God, why hast thou forsaken me!

That the world may know that thou hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Such love produces true unity.

For that unity Jesus prays, that those who believe on Jesus may be one.

Three different times Jesus expresses this in this portion of His high priestly prayer. In verse 21 He says, “. . . as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us”; and in verse 22, “the glory which thou gavest me I have given them that they may be one even as we are one”; and finally in verse 23, “I in them and thou in me that they may be made perfect in one.”

From these expressions, we conclude that Jesus is saying two things about this unity. First, there is a beautiful union between Jesus as Mediator and His Heavenly Father, the Triune God. This union which they enjoy together is the model for union between the saints, that they may be one even as we are one. Second, the union between the saints is not independent of Jesus, but draws its life from the union Jesus has with His Father and that makes it real. “. . . that they also may be one in us.”

This is profoundly spiritual.

It ought to caution us that Jesus is not here praying for outward, denominational unity between churches. Much less does He pray for such unity at any cost. The ecumenicalists of our day ought to study this passage more carefully before they quote it so glibly in support of their compromising and apostasy.

Indeed, we must labor for specific expressions of the true unity of the church while we are on earth. Such outward unity must not be separated from, but founded upon, the prayer of Jesus.

Think of this: “the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them that they may be one.” What is that glory? In verse 5 Jesus spoke of it as “the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Being the only begotten Son of God, Jesus partook of the divine nature. In that intimacy with the Father, Jesus participated in the divine activity, the eternal counsel of peace, the creation of the world, the providential care .of the universe. He emptied Himself of that glory and became a man. He Who was rich became poor. While on earth He prayed that all His own might enter into such intimate union with the Father as He enjoyed with Him. He gives to us the “glory” necessary to accomplish this by renewing us in the image of the Heavenly Father, as Paul wrote later: “. . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind and that ye put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:23, 24). This forms the basis for true fellowship one with another.

There is more.

The unity for which Jesus prayed also includes a communion of love: “. . . as thou Father art in me and I in thee.” God loved His Son, and that love was expressed most intimately in the eternal decree when the triune God spoke His eternal good pleasure into the ears of His Son. Jesus prayed that the church might be so united with Him that He would speak the words of His Father into their ears and they might hear and rejoice in Him.

Finally, Jesus prayed for the unity of purpose: “. . . that they may be made perfect in one.” “Perfect” here is “complete.” Jesus seeks the completion of the church, the gathering of every member and the ultimate consummation of all things, that this church would bring unto the Father praise and glory. As all things begin in Him, so all things must end in Him. To Him be glory forever.

The urgency for this unity is expressed by Jesus in two ways. First, verse 21: “. . . in order that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” and the second in verse 23: “. . . that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved me as thou hast loved me.”

This unity within the church is crucial for the success of the gospel which is preached.

If the world (not the ungodly, but those to be saved) is to believe and know that God sent Jesus, the world of the believers must be one and united. This is what makes the church attractive and draws others into her midst. The opposite is also true: if the church is divided, separated from the Father and Jesus His Son, forsakes the truth, and even forces a union without unity, this is an offense to the believer. Jesus prayed for true unity. That is essential for the complete gathering of the church throughout all ages.

Well may we bow before this high-priestly prayer as we consider the wonder of Calvary.

Jesus realized that the unity of His own, both with Him and with His Father, was exclusively in the hands of His Heavenly Father. For that reason He prayed. He prayed at the foot of the cross, “Father, that they all may be one!”

The answer to this prayer came to Jesus in two ways.

First, the answer came at the cross. Unity required the payment of sin. This Jesus did in humble submission. From the cross He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He gave His life a ransom for many. With a loud voice He shouted, “It is finished,” and gave up the ghost. To be sure, the earthquake, open graves, rent veil followed; but most of all the resurrection of Jesus from the dead sealed the unity of the believers in the forgiving love of God.

Second, the answer came on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was given to Jesus so that the gospel might be preached throughout all the world and the world might be brought to their knees and confess that salvation is by grace alone. The church is made one by the effectual preaching of the gospel, for then believers come to know God as the Sovereign God of salvation from eternity to eternity.

God continues to answer this prayer of Jesus.

How precious it is to be included.

Did Jesus pray for you? The common bond of faith unites believers everywhere, in all places and at all times.

The ultimate answer is in the church triumphant.