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That they may be one

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John 17:22

His Third Prayer

So far in this devotional series based on John 17, we have seen Jesus pray, firstly that we would see His Glory, secondly that we would receive His word, the word of God. This week we will be looking at Jesus’ prayer for unity in the body of believers.

From verses 20 – 23, Jesus prays that we would be one, even as Jesus is one with the Father. This is an amazing prayer.

John 17:20–23 (ESV)

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 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.

Three times Jesus prays that we would be one so let’s have a look at each of them.

The first mention is in verse 21, but the sentence starts in verse 20. Jesus is actually praying for us. Those who have believed by the word of the apostles. In praying for unity he does not mean uniformity for He and the Father are two distinct personalities with different functions. As the church grows there will be a diversity of individuals from all walks of life and cultures. The prayer hints at the idea of abiding in the vine from John 15 and maybe Paul had this idea in mind when he used the body metaphor in 1Corinthians 12:12-13. The idea is one of a vital relationship rather than a formal one, in which every part is an integral part of the whole, (vine or body, choose your metaphor). Merrill Tenney writes in The Expositors Bible Commentary that “The purpose of this unity is the maintenance of a convincing testimony before the world to the revelation of God in Christ and to his love for the disciples.”[1]

The second mention of oneness is in Verse 22. Jesus is praying that the glory that He has received from father and passed on to the disciples will be the means for us to be one and a witness to the world that Jesus was sent by father. This glory was the triumph of reconciling people to God. Again Tenney offers his insight,  “As Hebrews states, he was “crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death” in the process of “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:9–10). By sharing in his calling, they participate in his glory and are united with him and with one another.”[2]

Lastly, in verse 23, Jesus continues the previous thought and expands it “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.

Jesus recognises that Just as He is in the Father and the Father in Him, His prayer is that we would become perfectly one. In this context the word ‘perfectly’ means completely, or exactly one as God intended, as a witness to the world that Father loves us exactly the same as He loves His precious son Jesus. Merrill Tenney adds this observation,  “God and man are together involved in bringing the new creation into being. The effect of this united testimony is a confirmation of the divine mission of Jesus and of God’s love for believers.”[3]

The Last Word this week is from Steven J. Cole

Christian unity is important because it is a major factor in our witness to the world, so that they may believe in Jesus Christ.

Jesus mentions this twice: In John 17:21, He prays that we all may be one … “so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” In verse 23, He prays that we may be perfected in unity “so that the world may know that You sent Me.” Note that faith is not nebulous or subjective. Rather, faith centres on the truth that the Father sent Jesus, His Son, to earth. As John repeatedly emphasizes, He sent Him to be the Savior of all who believe in Him. But, how can the world believe in Jesus? Paul explains,

Romans 10:14–16 (ESV)

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

We are often the only Bible that people read. By our godly lives, by our verbal witness to the person and work of Christ, and by our visible unity with all true believers, we proclaim to the world the truth that God sent His Son to pay for the sins and give eternal life to all that believe (John 3:16).”[4]

Jesus prayed for unity because the job will not get done until we get together! Today ask God to let it begin in your heart.[5]


[1] Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 167.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Stephen J. Cole, Understanding Christian Unity (John 17:20-23), https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-91-understanding-christian-unity-john-1720-23 accessed 29/09/2020.

[5] Bob Gass, A Fresh Word For Today: 365 Insights For Daily Living (Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 259.

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