HOW JESUS PRAYS FOR YOU by Hywel R. Jones for Core Christianity
John 17 has been known as the “High Priestly Prayer” of the Lord Jesus Christ for many years. Its opening words make it clear that it was a prayer Jesus himself prayed, and it is essential to give full weight to that fact. But this does not mean that Christians may not use this prayer in appropriate ways. It is important that they should do so. It has significant bearings on the faith and life of the church because the incarnate Son was talking with his own Father about their saving intervention in a fallen world.
It is clear that Jesus is now praying for his disciples. But which ones? Was he thinking only of those who were to become his apostles, or did he have others in mind? The ESV’s translation of “people” (v. 6) opens up the larger possibility, for there were others who had been following him (Luke 8:2, 3) to whom more were added prior to his resurrection and ascension (see Acts 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:6). However, we think the older translation “men” is much better for three reasons. First, Jesus refers to them as being with him and to all of them as having been “guarded” by him, with the single exception of the “son of destruction” (v. 12). Second, what he says about “name,” “word,” and “world”—the three words that dominate this section—better fit that particularity of reference. Third, the final phase of the prayer is prefaced with “I do not ask for these only” (v. 20). Making this specific identification does not, of course, mean that all that Jesus said in these verses referred to them exclusively, any more than that they are excluded from what he says about others in the subsequent verses.
In John 17:6–8 Jesus says, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.”
In our culture, whatever a person’s name may actually mean, it says nothing about his or her character or significance. That is not the case in the Bible, where a name is not just a means of identification but a disclosure of identity in the purpose of God. This is why name changes are of particular importance; for example, “Abram” to “Abraham” (see Gen. 17:5). So it is with God’s “name,” which reveals the kind of deity he is, as does the word glory when used of him. Those two terms are often combined, as in the expression “the glory of his name” or “glorious name.” In the Old Testament, his personal name is “the Lord” (see Gen. 15:7; Exod. 3:13–15). Rendered with more than a touch of mystery as the “I AM THAT I AM,” or the “I will be what I will be,” it combines his eternality and supremacy. These are manifested in covenant commitment to his people by a threefold redemptive activity of (1) hearing/seeing their need, (2) coming down to deliver them, and (3) leading them on (Exod. 6:2–8). This is the rich background to Jesus’ reference to his Father as “the only true God” and to himself as the One “whom [he] has sent” (v. 3).