John 17:1-8, 20-26: January 12—Prayer for the mission
Jan 5, 2014

Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
The prayer of Jesus in John 17 serves as the model prayer. Appropriately, believers may designate this prayer “the Lord’s Prayer.” Another title given to this prayer is “The High Priestly Prayer” as Jesus intercedes for His immediate followers as well as believers throughout the centuries.” Since the prayer recalls the language of the Shepherd Discourse in John 10 in terms of the intimate knowledge between the sheep and the shepherd (John 10:14-15) as well as the Shepherd’s concern upon the oneness of the flock (John 10:16), some designate this prayer the “Shepherd’s Prayer.” 

Whatever designation give to this prayer of Jesus, the prayer focuses on the mission of redemption. Perhaps the proper title for this prayer is “The Mission Prayer.” What does this passage teach believers about praying for missions?

First, Jesus’ prayer teaches the focus of prayer is relationship with a missionary God (John 17:1-5). First, notice the posture of missionary praying (v. 1). Jesus looked up to heaven to the Father. No one in the Bible prayed with eyes closed. Psalm 123:1 typifies the believer’s posture in prayer, “I lift up my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. Like a servant…” (HCSB). Second, mission prayer entails a relationship of intimacy with God. Six times in this prayer, Jesus addressed God as 

Father (1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). Perhaps our failure to engage in mission prayer corresponds to our lack of intimacy with God. Third, Jesus prayed for the mission rather than selfishly. The key terms “hour,” “glory,” and “authority” reveal the mission nature of the prayer. The “hour” refers to the “hour” of God’s timing for the Son’s sacrificial death on the cross for human redemption. In the ancient world “glory” had the connotation of “opinion.” The ancients connected “opinion” and character. In the Fourth Gospel, God’s glory refers to the fame of His reputation as Redeemer. In His ministry, Jesus purposed to bring God glory through redemptive sacrifice. Here, as well as the Great Commission, mission and authority are intertwined. Finally, the purpose of the mission is the granting of eternal life. Eternal life is an intimate knowledge of God, rather than mere length of life. The verb “know” is a continuous action verb—that they may continually know You—is the sense. The biblical term “knowledge” describes intimacy rather than mere knowledge about God.

Second, Jesus’ prayer affirms that the essence of discipleship is obedience to the mission (John 17:6). John 17:6 summarizes the mission of Jesus—to reveal the name—the real character of God. Second, discipleship means separation from the world  (v. 6) for the purpose of Jesus sending the disciples on mission to the world (v. 18). The world is unbelieving humanity in opposition to God. Jesus, thus, connected discipleship and mission. Third, discipleship means obedience—keeping God’s word. The verb here describes an on-going obedience rather than a one-time or occasional obedience. 

Third, Jesus’ payer detailed necessary conditions for success in the mission (John 17…). First, certainty provides the foundation of mission success (v.8). Without certainty that God sent Jesus into the world to be the only path of salvation, disciples have no reason for mission. Second, because the mission involves spiritual warfare, mission disciples need spiritual protection (v. 11, 12, 15). Third, Jesus highlighted the importance of unity for the success of the mission (v. 11, 21, 23). Unity of believers reflects positively on the nature of God; whereas, disunity reflects negatively on the nature of God. Jesus connected the unity of believers with the purpose of evangelism (v. 21). Fourth, joy and mission are inseparable (v. 13). Fifth, holiness (sanctification) is a prerequisite for mission success. The Word serves as the instrument producing holiness in the lifestyle of believers.­

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