That They May Be One

Dr. Brian Allison

I recently met a pastor friend whom I had not seen for awhile. He had lost weight. He looked emaciated, haggard, and tired. When this brother saw me, he quickly approached me, wrapped his arms around me, and said, "Brother, it is good to see you." I enjoyed the greeting, but I was taken aback a little because this brother had never done that before. I thought, "Hummm, maybe this brother is feeling weak or fragile, and that he just needs someone to be close to or to receive support from." I asked, "How are things going?" He said, "Not good." He was embroiled in a church problem; and he said to me, with a sad countenance, "Brother, I think there may be a split." That is a heavy burden to bear. One of the grand designs of the saving work of Christ (and we do not often think about this) is the oneness of the body of believers. One of the main reasons why our Lord came into this world, suffered, and died is that He might have a people who know spiritual union and communal unity.

Praying for glorification

John 17 comprises the high-priestly prayer of Christ. Our Lord loved to pray. In this chapter, we find an intercessory prayer. Here our Lord is praying for His people. Keep in mind that He is about to exit this world by way of the cruel crucifixion. He is about to experience the heavy weight of God's awful wrath. Though He is about to undergo the deepest pangs of suffering, He is thinking about His people and prays mainly for them – clearly an evidence of His great love. The overriding theme of this prayer is the glory of Christ – that is how it begins and that is how it ends. In this prayer, our Lord offers four petitions. One concerns Himself, and the other three concern His people.

Christ's first petition concerns Himself – "These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee'" (v. 1). Christ expresses His filial affection; He addresses God as "Father;" and He says, in effect, "Father, My time to die has come – the reason why You commissioned Me to come into this world has finally come." As our Lord anticipates the cross, He projects beyond the cross, and He considers His resurrection in glory; and He petitions, "Father, glorify the Son [that is, 'Grant that I may receive again the divine majesty and splendour that were Mine before the world began']." What our Lord prays for is the manifestation of His deity which was concealed for a season in order that He might fulfil the Father's will.

This is not a selfish prayer on the part of our Lord, for the grand end of this petition is the oneness of His people. Even when He prays for His own glory, He has in view His people; He is concerned about them. Thus, we read in verse 22, "And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one." The certain acquisition of this future glory is indicated by the use of the perfect tense. Jesus asserts that the majesty and the splendour that God would give to Him, would also be given to His people, for His people are in spiritual union with Him, so that what is His is theirs; His inheritance is their inheritance. So, the grand design of the bestowal of Christ's own glory, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is that His people may be one.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him so that He, in turn, may glorify the Father, what does He mean? As we continue to read in this passage, we realize that God is glorified through the redemptive work of the Son in the saving of sinners. As the Son is glorified in the manifestation of His deity, involving the reception of all authority and power, the exercise of His authority and power has the design of bringing people to a saving knowledge of Christ; and accordingly, having come to that saving knowledge, people's eyes are opened to who God is, and consequently they cry out, "Abba, Father!" They worship God – they praise Him, they thank Him, they bless Him for His goodness, love, and mercy. That is how the Father is glorified.

If you are a born again believer, if you have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ, then your eyes have been enlightened, and you now see God for who He is; and your natural, immediate response should be to worship Him, that is, to bring glory to His name. That is what the glory of Christ is all about. The display of the glory of Christ involves saving sinners so that they might praise God. So, first, Jesus prays for His preincarnational glory – the revelation of His deity and the demonstration of His divine authority and power – to the end that the Father may be exalted and praised by redeemed sinners.

Praying for preservation

The first petition refers to the Saviour Himself, the other three petitions refer to His people. In verse 11, our Lord prays for the preservation of His people – "And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name [through Your power], the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are." The Lord prays that the Father would preserve His people, primarily the apostles, but also all believers, as we further read in the passage. Our Lord prays that the Father would keep us from evil – from harm's way and from the devil – assuring our safe arrival to His heavenly kingdom. But what is the grand design of this petition? As the verse says, "that they may be one" – that believers might know the reality of spiritual union which is the foundation for spiritual, intimate communion.

Now, notice what this spiritual oneness is compared to? – Jesus prays, "Even [equal to] as we are one." Jesus prays that we as believers might be one, a oneness that is comparable to that which exists between the Son and the Father. What kind of oneness does the Son enjoy with the Father? We cannot even begin to define it; we cannot even begin to understand it. It is so sublime and indescribable. It is an ineffable, profound connection that God the Son has with God the Father; and yet, Jesus prays that we, His people, should have the same kind of experience amongst ourselves. That is possible; and we shall see such a communal relationship because Jesus' prayer will be answered. Personality quirks, temperamental oddities, and peculiar idiosyncrasies will not forestall such a unity because grace and the Spirit can overcome all these variables. But take heart, O devil-assaulted saint, for Christ has prayed that you may be kept. You may be struggling, you may be going through a difficult time, experiencing the onslaught of the evil one, but the Saviour has prayed for your deliverance, and will pray for it.

Praying for sanctification

Notice Christ's second petition for His people – "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth" (v. 17). Hallelujah for this petition! Jesus prays for our holiness. Do you appreciate that? God requires that we be righteous, upright, holy, and godly. Oftentimes we struggle to evidence such character of behaviour, and still fall flat on our faces, being riddled with guilt and shame. We say, "I am never going to pull this thing off, I am never going to be like Jesus. I cannot do it." You are right, you cannot do it, but Jesus has prayed that it will happen; and His Spirit will actually achieve it. The Spirit will make us just like Christ – holy. This very petition is our guarantee. The Spirit is the agent of the process, and God's Word is the means – "Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth." Through faithfully receiving the Word and obeying it, we become just like Jesus.

Again, the grand design of the petition is spiritual oneness – "That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also might be in Us" (v. 21b). In our times of unholiness, ungodliness, and walking in the flesh, we do things that we dislike, we say things that we detest, we behave in ways that we disdain; and we may wish we hadn't done them. We may deeply hurt one another, even inadvertently. Often we can act carnally; and yet here is our confidence that Jesus asks the Father to sanctify His people – to make them holy – by the Word, that they may experience spiritual union, so that there may be love, unity, harmony, community, and fellowship.

Notice the consequences of this spiritual union – "That the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (v. 21c). Our spiritual union and unity witness to unbelievers that Christ has come into the world to die for sinners, and that there is salvation to be received and enjoyed. What do unbelievers think when they see the Church in ruins, and God's people at each others throats? Do you believe that they want to be a part of such a community? Would you want to be a part of that kind of community? Many unbelievers are turned off Christianity because they see too many hypocrites in the Church. Why would anyone want to be a part of a hypocritical society that says one thing and does another? But in that expressed unity, the world will know that Jesus was sent; and such expressed unity is our responsibility as believers.

Praying for companionship

Notice Christ's third petition for His people – "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world" (v. 24). Our Lord prays for the presence of, and the fellowship with, His people. Jesus wants us to be with Him. Why does He desire our fellowship and presence? He wants us to see Him in all His glory – His magnificent beauty and exquisite majesty. Is that self centred? Absolutely not. Why does Jesus want us to see Him in His beauty and majesty? That we might love Him, desire Him, and be ravished with Him.

Notice how this intercessory prayer ends, "And I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou didst love Me may be in them, and I in them" (v. 26). Again, the grand design of the saving work of Christ is the spiritual union of His people, deep oneness, that we might know spiritual, intimate communion. Again, our Lord's prayer will be answered, but God uses means. Because Christ prayed this way, we are to pursue it accordingly. God allows us to be part of the answering of Christ's prayer. We have a responsibility, in the mystery of God's will, to bring this prayer to realization. Ephesians 4:1ff. reads, "I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all and through all and in all." I made mention of my pastor friend at the start of this message. When he said to me, "I think there may be a split," I said, "Brother, I want to give you Psalm 133 – the psalm of unity and its consequential blessing." It is in the face of brotherly unity that the Lord pours out His blessing and declares His glory.

Is there a Christian brother or sister with whom you have had a falling out? Be honest now. Is there someone whom you have hurt, of whom you need to go and ask forgiveness? Or, is there someone who has hurt you, whom you need to address because your fellowship is being hindered? Christ died for the union and unity of His body; and He gives us the awesome responsibility of making that true. God gives us the awesome privilege of being a part of the means of answering Christ's prayer. Shall we disappoint Him? Let us be obedient so that we may indeed be one.