The Joy of Discipleship in Unity.

John 17 contains Jesus’s longest prayer, known as the high priestly prayer, which He prays after the upper room discourse, after telling the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because He is going away and they cannot come. Jesus prays this prayer with the agony of the cross before Him.

We learn from this passage that there is a joy that all true disciples of Jesus Christ have (John 17:13-19). Jesus continues praying for a joy based in unity (John 17:20-26). There is a direct correlation between true discipleship, joy, and unity.

The disciples who remain will have joy because they remain unified together and with the Father through the Son.

The Basis of this Unity is Truth

Jesus prays for unity based in truth (John 17:20), praying that His true disciples would be one. Referring to apostolic truth not denominational distinctives, Jesus prays for those who will believe based on the word of God (John 17:14, 17) preached by the apostles.

In John 16:12, Jesus refers to more truth to come by the Holy Spirit through the apostles for believers today. In John 17:20, Jesus prays for this authority of inspiration which is foundational to unity.

These men Jesus has spent time with and has appointed and sent out will be giving the truth received through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21, John 16). This necessary truth for every believer is articulated through these men by the Holy Spirit, though the full understanding of these things Jesus teaches in the gospels comes later.

Truth is expressed through the apostolic doctrine and based in unity. This essential unification through the doctrine of the scriptures is not an institutional, organizational, or denominational unity but a spiritual unity (John 17:21, Gal. 3:28). Jesus prays for the unity of all true Christians of all denominations of all time since the founding of the church at Pentecost.

Jesus expresses a spiritual unity with the Father. Paul describes this spiritual unity for the church, the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:12-13. (This is an example of looking to the epistles to better understand what Jesus has prayed in the gospels.) Each believer at the point of salvation is spiritually baptized into the body of Christ, the church.

The Spirit of God baptizes us into spiritual unity with the Son and spiritual unity with other believers in the body of Christ as Jesus has prayed for in John 17.

The Purpose of this Unity is Evangelistic

Jesus prays for spiritual unity with the purpose of evangelism (John 17:21-23). Our spiritual unity in Christ is visible and should display how the Father sent the Son so that the world might believe.

Our unity in Christ demonstrates that Christ loved the world. Our gospel influence is in the unity of the church body which magnifies Christ alone.

Jesus prays about a specific glory the Father had given Him and which Jesus has given His true disciples (John 17:22). This glory is the work of the cross (John 17:4-5), the specific work or mission Jesus was given to do by the Father.

Jesus has given His true disciples a mission to accomplish together in unity. The way that we live for Christ is an opportunity to display and demonstrate Christ to the world (Philippians 1:21). The life consumed with the work of Christ evangelistically displays the love of Jesus Christ (John 17:23).

This spiritual unity demands that believers love each other the way the Father has loved us (Ephesians 4:32) to demonstrate a lost world the love and forgiveness of Christ.

The Hope of this Unity is Eternal

The hope of this spiritual unity is eternal and based in Jesus Christ (John 17:24-26). Jesus knows the Righteous Father in contrast to the sinful world who does not know Him. Those who are true disciples know Jesus is the Righteous One and that He knows the Righteous Father.

Those who are in Christ have His righteousness and the love of the Father. Believers have a hope that is certain in Jesus Christ.

Application Points

  • Do you have a hope that is certain in Christ Jesus? The Bible says to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus, His death and resurrection. In Christ alone can you find forgiveness of sins and the hope of a secured eternity with Him.
  • Have you found joy in persevering in unity with your local body of Christ according to the truth of God’s Word for gospel purpose? You are a necessary part in the church body, gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body to demonstrate Christ’s love to a lost world.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore

Ephesians 4

Philippians 1

A Hymn to Encourage: "His Robes For Mine"

His robes for mine, O wonderful exchange
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered 'neath God's rage
Draped in His righteousness, I'm justified
In Christ I live, for in my place He died

I cling to Christ and marvel at the cost
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God
Bought by such love, my life is not my own
My praise, my all, shall be for Christ alone