High Priestly Prayer of Jesus Christ

(All Bible verses quoted are from New King James version, if not mentioned otherwise.)


John 17 contains the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. The prayer follows the Last Supper and the long farewell speech. It is said just before His betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. The prayer may be divided into three sections. First, Jesus prays for Himself, then He prays for His disciples, and He closes the prayer by praying for all believers. This is commonly called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.


Jesus was preparing for His death on the cross as the Lamb of God, for the atonement for our sins. He offered His life as the ultimate sacrifice that would completely cleanse His people from sins and save them for eternal life.


Jesus was praying an intercessory prayer as the only mediator between His people and God. He did not instruct His disciples to pray as He did because only He would intercede before God and He is the only mediator.


Jesus' High Priestly prayer is rich in theological insights. It reveals the relationship between the Father and the Son, the nature of salvation, Jesus' mission on earth and His relationship with the believers.  The Prayer reveals His heart and His concerns as He was about to finish the earthly mission.

 Jesus our High Priest


Let us start our study by learning how Jesus becomes our High Priest. The office of a High Priest was instituted by God when He gave the Law to the Israelites through Moses, on the Mount Sinai. (Exodus 28 – 29). Aaron and his descendants were chosen as priests, with the tribe of Levi serving as assistants in the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:5-10). The duty of the High Priest was to mediate between man and God. The priest interceded for Israel before God. The High priest was selected from the Levite tribe. He would enter the Holy of Holies, only on the Day of Atonement, to offer the sacrifice that would temporarily cover the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7).


The Old Testament priests belonged to the Levite tribe. But Jesus was not born in the tribe of Levi, He was born in the tribe of Judah. He never served in an earthly Temple and never sacrificed on any earthly altar. So it is impossible to consider Him to be a continuation of the Levite priesthood established by the Mosaic Law. He must have another descendancy of priesthood.


In fact, the Old Testament High Priest was a shadow of the real high priest that was to come in Jesus. The letter to Hebrews reveals this spiritual mystery and explains how Jesus is the New Testament High Priest.


Hebrews 6: 20 “….even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”


Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14. Verse 18 says that Melchizedek was the king of Salem and he was the priest of God Most High. He met Abraham on his victorious return from a battle. During the meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything that he brought back from the war. This ascertained Melchizedek's priesthood and authority. Melchizedek is a priest to bless Abraham and he was a higher authority to accept tithe from him. The writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. His priesthood is based on authority rather than on lineage (Hebrews 7:11-17). It is a kingly priesthood. Where as the Levite tribe was not a royal descendancy. 


That is affirmed also by Hebrews 7: 15 and16


Hebrews 7: 15, 16

15  And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest

16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.


Hebrews 9: 11 and 12 explain how and where Jesus presents His sacrife as a High Priest.


Hebrews 9:11, 12

11  But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.


But the Old Testament High Priest was a fallible human. So he was required to make a sacrifice for himself before he went to the presence of God. And he offered the same sacrifices, repeatedly. The sacrifices of the Old Testament High Priest did not offer a permanent atonement for the sin of humans. But Jesus offered a spotless sacrifice of Himself on the cross which is eternally sufficient for the remission of human sin.


Hebrews 7:23, 24

23 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.

24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.


Thus, in brief, Jesus has become our New Testament High Priest and in Him started a new tribe of priests.


Farewell Address


John narrates the High Priestly prayer after the farewell address of Jesus. The farewell address is recorded in John 13: 31 to 16: 33. Jesus and his 12 disciples were celebrating the feast of Passover. After receiving the bread dipped in vine from Jesus, one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, left them to meet the chief priests of the Temple. His intention was to betray Jesus. After Judas left them, Jesus spoke the long farewell speech. He started by saying: “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” (13:31). The intention of the farewell speech was to comfort, exhort and instruct His disciples.


In John 13: 33, 34 Jesus said, "Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, 'Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus ends His farewell speech by saying, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)


High Priestly Prayer of Jesus Christ

After the farewell speech, Jesus continuous to the High Priestly prayer. He was winding up His earthly ministry. The last thing He had to do was to intercede for His disciples and those who may believe in Him in future.

Jesus prayed audibly so that His disciples could hear it. He wanted them to understand and learn His intimate, passionate intercession with the Father. In verse 13, He prayed: "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13). One purpose of this prayer was to bring comfort and hope to the troubled hearts of the disciples. This prayer might have comforted the troubled hearts of the eleven.

 Prayer for Himself (17:1-5)


The prayer may be divided into three parts for the convenience of our study. The first part is verse 1 to 5. It is a prayer for Jesus Himself. This part of the prayer gives glory to the Heavenly Father and requests glory for Himself.


John 17 starts with these words: “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come….” (John 17:1). Jesus begins His prayer with the word "Father." The word reveals a close relationship and intimacy of the Father-Son. It is different from the Jewish concept of relationship with God. They were afraid to pronounce the Word God. But Jesus calls God, “Father”. Thus He is denoting that He has a better relationship with God than Abraham, Moses and David. Jesus is also introducing a father in God to us. After resurrections Jesus said to Mary, “… I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” (John 20”17). God is our Heavenly Father. In Galatians 4: 6, Apostle Paul says: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"

Jesus continues to declare that, “the hour has come” (17:1). The hour of His self sacrifice for the atonement of human sin has come. Th sacrifice includes his death, burial, resurrection, ascension and glorification. On several occasions before Jesus said, "My hour has not yet come." But now it has come because it is a predetermined hour. The hour has come to glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify the Father. (17:1)

Jesus prayed for His glorification on the cross. With the cross in full view Jesus prays that the Father will glorify Him. The cross was the means of true glory. The whole ministry of Jesus pointed to this moment. It is His mission, the covenant and the kingdom. Without it, the purpose of His coming to the earth and everything He has done so far would be meaningless. Cross is the height of heavenly glorification of Christ.

Our glory in life is to believe in Christ and glorify God in everything we do. When we lift high the name of Jesus Christ we glorify the Father. To glorify the Son through our life is to glorify the Father. The Son obeyed the Father unto the death on a cross. There Jesus fulfilled the promise to Abraham: "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22: 18).

Verse 2 contains an important spiritual truth. Jesus has authority over all flesh. He may “give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” The "authority over all flesh" is a Hebrew expression to denote all mankind. The connotation is that humans are weak as compared to the strength and eternity of God. And Jesus has authority to give eternal life.


At another occasion Jesus said: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44). In John 6:37, He said: " All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." Both these verses do not mean that Jesus was going around to save all who He saw on His way. Only those who are drawn to Jesus by God the Father will have eternal life through Him. The election of God by His sovereign authority is acknowledged here. The Father makes the election of saints and Jesus saves them for eternal life.


In verse 3 Jesus says that, knowing the Father and Jesus Christ is eternal life. Knowing, as Jesus said here, is not an intellectual or emotional knowledge about God, it is a long lasting intimate relationship. This meaning is evident in the response of Mary to the angel Gabriel when he announced that she is going to conceive a child: “Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" (Luke 1: 34). Other examples for using the word, “knowing” for an intimate relationship is Matthew 7: 23 and Luke 13:27. Here Jesus speaks about the Last Days when many will come to Him claiming that they have prophesied, cast out demons and done wonders in His name. But Jesus would reply, “'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Jesus is saying that He never had an intimate relationship with these counterfeit Christians. 


So when Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”, He meant a long, intimate relationship with God and Jesus Christ. Only those who are elected “before the foundation of the world” will have this intimate relationship. This relationship can give eternal life to the elect. (Ephesians 1:4)

Jesus declares in verse 4 that, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” It is a declaration made before His crucifixion. The surety of the victorious sacrifice on the cross is expressed here. There will be no going back in His mission. The sacrifice will not fail. By the time Jesus spoke these words, Judas Iscariot might have fixed the deal with the chief priests to betray his master. Jesus is ready to suffer the trial, torture and crucifixion. And He knows that the Father will rise Him from the dead on the third day. The mission will be accomplished. The war will be won. Satan and his kingdom will be defeated for ever. And the triumphant celebrations will begin on the cross.

The first part of the prayer ends with a request for the glory Jesus has together with God. He is requesting not for a new glory, but the same glory which he had with the Father before the world was found. It is a shared glory. John started his gospel by saying that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1,2). That means, Jesus was with God, He was equal with God and He was God. Again in 1: 14, John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John wanted to convey this spiritual mystery to his readers: Jesus is God.

The word “glory” is repeated five times in this part of the prayer. Jesus was praying not to receive glory independently from the Father, but to be glorified to the praise of the Father. Jesus prayed for glorification in order to exalt the Father. The prayer for the glory is like saying, ‘Bless me Lord so that I will be a blessing to You.’


Prayer for His disciples (17:6 -19)


In the second part of the prayer, Jesus prayed for his disciples. The prayer is recorded by John in 17: 6 to 19. There were only 11 disciples around Him. Judas Iscariot left them during the Last Supper to betray Jesus that would lead to the crucifixion.


Verse 6 says: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (17:6). Verse 9 says: "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” (17: 9) He faithfully ministered to His disciples, giving them the Father's words. They received the word and knew that He is God. They believed that the Father has sent Him (John 17:8). Jesus has revealed the true God to them.


Everything Jesus has ultimately belongs to the Father in heaven. This revelas the oneness of the God head and the Son. So disciples also belong to the Father. They are not picked by Jesus, but “You gave them to Me”. They belong to the Father and were given to Him and He is glorified in them. In a wider sense, God and the Son are glorified in the believers. The sovereignty of God in election of the saints is emphasized through out the prayer.


In verse 11, Jesus prays that He will be no longer in the world with the disciples. He is going back to the Father. So far the unity among the disciples was kept strong by the presence of Jesus. Now the same unity may continue among them even in His absence. 


Verse 12 bears a spiritual mystery. The presence of Jesus among the disciples kept away the “evil one”. Now Jesus is preparing to go away from the world. So He said: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (17:12). Jesus is saying that the disciples we kept safe from satan while Jesus was with them. None were lost except Judas Iscariot. This verse speaks about the eternal security of the elect saints. And also it signifies that all in the crowd are not elected. Jesus kept all His disciples safe. His wish was to give them all eternal life. Salvation and the Kingdom of God was offered to them all. Jesus never showed any discrimination or bias. But Judas went out of the fold. He had the free will of choice either to believe Jesus or to betray Him. He chose to betray his master. Why Judas went out of the protection of Jesus. It is because, he was not one among the elect saints. Though he remaind within the sheep fold for some time, he could not be protected. So he was lost. Matthew 22:14 says: “For many are called, but few are chosen."


In the absence of Jesus, the disciples wavered in their faith. Later we see them running away as He was arrested. Peter denied thrice any relationship with Him. And after His burial, they left their mission and went back to fishing. But they were kept in their salvation and relationship with Jesus. They were elected not to be lost, but to be preserved to eternity.

When Jesus died on the cross, He knew precisely for whom He was dying. He knew the He was dying not for all but for many. While He was offering the vine cup to the disciples during the Last Supper, Jesus said: "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). His atonement was limited in extent but it was unlimited in power. Indeed, He would save all who had been appointed unto salvation. He has authority to save all who are drawn to Him by His Heavenly Father.


Jesus knew what awaits for the disciples in this world, after His death. They cannot confirm to the principles of this world, because their master also did not confirm to this world. Jesus had a different value system which almost always opposed the values of this world. Jesus proclaimed a value system different from the Jewish traditions. So the world will hate them as they hated Jesus. (17:14).


So He prays to protect them while they are in this world. He was not praying to take them away from the world and keep in a secret safe place, but to protect them from the evil one (John 17:15). Going away from this world is not the mission for the disciples. Revealing God and proclaiming the Kingdom of God among the nations is their task. They should fulfil their purpose of living. So Jesus prays to God to “keep them from the evil one.” (17:15). It is a request to preserve them in times of satanic trials and temptations. Jesus does not promise that we will escape trials and tribulations, but that we will endure it. We will be kept safe from all evil.


Everywhere Jesus is connecting the disciples with the Father. It is not Jesus alone doing the work, but He did everything as the Father instructed Him to do. John 5:19 says: “Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”


Though the disciples do not belong to the world, Jesus sends them into the world as the Father sent Him into the world. (17:18). So they must be sanctified by the truth which is God’s word (17:17).

The sanctity of the disciples is not earned by them. It is a gift shared by Jesus. "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (17:19). Disciples are sanctified because of the sanctification of Jesus.


Sanctification by God is the greater thing a believer can wish for. Sanctification is not mere separation. It is not the Pharisaic external sanctification. It is not rites and rituals of any religion. It is not seclusion from the world. It is inclusion and yet holy. It is sanctification by God’s word which is the truth.


Jesus is the best model for the sanctification about which He spoke. He lived in this world, eating and drinking with the sinners. He touched the lepers and the blind. The unclean woman touched His garment. He healed the servant of a gentile Roman centurion. He delivered the daughter of a gentile Canaanite woman. Those who touched Him and those who were touched by Him became clean. But He did not became unclean by the sins of men.


Sanctification is separation from sin. It comes to us from Christ. Christ fulfilled the sanctification on the cross for all who believes in Him. We are sanctified by the work of Christ on the cross. The sanctification of Christ is received by us through faith and the process is fulfilled is us by the Word of God and the enablement of the Holy Spirit.


Jesus prayed the High Priestly Prayer because He was going to the Father soon and He wanted His disciples to “have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).


Prayer for all believers (17:20-26)


John 17: 20 to 26 is the third part of the High Priestly prayer. It is a prayer for all believers. This includes the disciples and all who believe in Jesus through their testimony. The testimony is not limited to the 11 apostles. All believers are supposed to witness Jesus in their life. Jesus has been not just choosing believers but disciples. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 is to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”. Through the witness of these disciples the world may believe that God the Father sent Him. (17:21). Jesus relys on the true Christian life of the believers. 


Jesus once again emphaises the unity among the disciples including the believers. He wanted them to live in unity, just as He and the Father are in perfect unity (John 17:21). Unity among believers is possible if they are one in the Father and the Son. (17:21). Jesus and His Father are one in one eternal unity. If the believers live in them, they also will become a part of the divine unity.


Jesus cites the unity between the Father and the Son as an example for the unity that He desires among the believers. He describes this unity as, “You, Father, are in Me, and I in You”. (17:21). This statement reveals the Trinitarian mystery that the Father and the Son are not two persons but one and is God.


In His prayer, Jesus gives so much importance to unity among his people. Unity is the very characteristic of the divine Trinity. Trinity is one essence, existing in three attributes or personae. The unity of the Trinity is unity of being, essence and purpose. Jesus expects the same divine unity among His people also.


Jesus’ chosen disciples were not from the same social or financial background. Though all of them were Jews, their religious views were not similar. Their expectation of Messiah was not the same. Simon the zealot was a religious fanatic and was politically aggressive. He hated Romans and all who served the Roman Empire. But Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. Peter and John were of different character. But they all served in unity because the divine unity was among them through Jesus Christ.


From the example shown by our Lord, we should realize that unity and uniformity are not the same. Jesus did not pray for uniformity but for unity. There is a vast difference between unity and uniformity. Unity is best demonstrated in diversity; uniformity is threatened by diversity. Uniformity is fitting everybody and everything into a single pattern. Unity is not thinking, speaking, dressing and acting alike. Unity is divine that knits together all diverse things. Uniformity is human. It is human effort to appear externally the same. Unity is not found in uniformity, it is seen in union. Unity reflects the presence of the Triune God.

In church, ministry, family and in nations we should look for unity not uniformity. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 makes this point clear.   


1 Corinthians 12: 4

4    There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5    There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.

6    And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

7    But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:

Paul further explains this spiritual truth by the analogy of the different organs in our body. Paul says, “For in fact the body is not one member but many.” “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.” (1 Corinthians 12: 14, 20).

Our unity lies in fundamental factors. Though details are important, unity between Christians should not be hindered by holding differing views concerning the details of doctrines.


Jesus will live in the believers and the Father lives in Jesus. Thus all the believers “may be made perfect in one”. (17:23). It is a sign that God loves them as He loved Jesus. So Jesus shares the glory which God has given Him. He shares it with all believers (17:22). The glory makes them one in the Father.


In Isaiah 42: 8, we read, “I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.” Here God says that He will not give His glory to gentile gods. But Jesus willingly shares the divine glory which He has received from the Father, with all who believes in Him.


Verse 5, 22, 24 and many other scriptures in the Bible are clear expressions of the deity of Christ. Jesus shared the glory of the Father in eternity past.


It is a great consolation for us that the love of God will be in us as He loved His Son. And Jesus will be in us. It is an eternal promise. In Matthew 28:20, after giving them the Great Commission, Jesus promises the disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age."


In verse 24 Jesus reveals three mysteries. He has been with the Father and the Father loved Him “before the foundation of the world”. All believers will be gathered together in a place where Jesus is. There they will be with Christ forever. And they shall see His glory as the Father has given Him. This is the blessed hope that Apostle Paul expresses in Philippians 1: 23 “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”


This prayer reminds us of an incident happened while Christ was on the cross. A thief hanging on another cross accepted Jesus as the king of the kingdom of God. So he called out, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Jesus gave him a triumphant and hopeful assurance. "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 42, 43). The promise is to all who believe that Jesus is Christ.

In verse 25 He states that the world has not known Jesus and the Father. The world could not understand and receive Jesus. And so they could not receive God. The world has no intimate relationship with God or Jesus. If they knew Jesus, they would have known God also. After the narration of the parable about the seed and the sower, the disciples asked Jesus for an interpretation of it. Then Jesus replied:


Mark 4: 11, 12

11 And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,

12 "so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.'"


That means there are two groups of people in this world. One understands and receives the mysteries of the Kingdom of God and another group are not supposed to understand it. They may see and hear, but will not understand the spiritual mystery in it. Some may know God through Jesus. Other do not know God because they do not accept Jesus. Some receives the grace of God for salvation and others will be passed by. Salvation is only for the elect and the predestined. Salvation is not for all human beings.


Hebrews 7:24 and 25 say that, Jesus has an unchangeable priesthood. He always lives to make intercession for all who come to God through Him. Jesus is able to save all who come to God through Him. But this does not mean that all human beings are saved. Many will not know Jesus and will not accept the grace for salvation. None will be predestined for hell. But many will be passed over.


Verse 26 is the last verse in the prayer of Jesus. “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." Here is a continuity of revelation about Jesus Christ and God. Jesus has declared the Father’s name and will continue to declare it. It is purposed to continue the love of God in us through Jesus Christ. 


Our Lord allowed the disciples to hear the High Priestly prayer, in the hour of anxiety and distress. And the Spirit of God has preserved the whole prayer for us as well. The High priestly prayer of Jesus assumes the sovereignty of God in election, predestination and salvation and perseverance of the saints. But the story of Judas Iscariot reminds us that all in the fold are not the elect. While we are here on this earth, we have a purpose and a mission to fulfill. For that we must be empowered by sanctification. We receive sanctification from God through Jesus Christ. Sanctification is bearing the glory of God. 

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