John’s Gospel is the only one who tells us about this prayer. John’s five-chapter discussion about the last supper and the journey to the garden where Jesus will be arrested comes to a conclusion with Jesus praying for the disciples who have followed him as well as the disciples who will follow in the centuries to come. He prays for protection, sanctification, life, and unity.

To Protect

He prays that the disciples will be protected. Why ask for protection other than the presence of danger? Jesus knows that evil permeates the world and in particular every human heart. Echoing the prophet Jeremiah, he knows that the heart is deceitful beyond measure. In chapter two he remarked that people loved the darkness and would not enter the light because their deeds were evil. Aside from the deliverance that even the followers of Christ need, Jesus prays to his Father for protection.

To Sanctify in the Truth

To separate his followers from evil and set them on a new path of life, he asks God to sanctify them (set them apart) in the truth. God’s word, of course, is the truth. We’ve already seen in this Gospel those who have no clue what is the truth. Pilate will certainly ask, “What is truth?” But more than that Jesus criticized his detractors not only for not knowing the truth but also for being so enmeshed in the evil world that they were actually sons of the devil. Jesus calls him the “father of lies.” Like him, there are people in the world who fail to recognize the truth because they are in reality children of this father, not the heavenly one.

To Live by the Truth

To be separate from the father of lies demands not only a renunciation of lies but also being filled up with a whole new set of lifelong principles. These can only be found in God’s Word, and Christ’s followers must become saturated, sanctified, and transformed by them. The famous Russian dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, encouraged his readers to “live not by lies.” The world is inundated by the devil’s lies. For us to gain the eternal life promised in much of this prayer, we must be set apart by God’s truth.

To Gain Life after Life

Certainly Jesus assumes the presence of a higher being; he calls that being his own Father. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has claimed a special connection with his Father. The assumption that there is something greater than us mere mortals has barely been questioned seriously until the advent of Darwin’s theories of Evolution. Jesus assumes the presence of a supreme being, not to mention that he claims to the be the Son of that being. Jesus prays that in experiencing his Father, we may experience life that goes on after this mortal life is ended.


Unity is perhaps the most profound of his requests. Although Jesus has in mind unity of belief and purpose for his followers, I like to think that we begin that journey by union with the Father that was severed long ago. Union with the Father in Heaven represents the earliest conflict that arises after creation: the Fall, separation from God who is the true and only source of life. Death entered the picture, and history ever since has been characterized by the death and destruction of humanity. That is about to end as Jesus in John 18 will fulfill his role of rescuing us from death by his own death on the cross. Not only does he pray for this, his death will bring it about.

And yet, many people fail to achieve unity with the Son and the Father and thus fail to have the hope of eternal life. Jesus has conquered death but the father of lies keeps many from believing in life after the grave. Here’s hoping that in your life Jesus’ prayer finds its fulfillment.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC and The Lazarus Chronicles

See a conversation starter for John 17 here.