John 17:20
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Neither pray I for these alone.—Comp. Note on John 17:9. The thought of the work to which the Apostles are to be consecrated and sent leads on to the wider thought of the Church which shall believe through their word, and the prayer is enlarged to include them.

But for them also which shall believe on me through their word.—All the best MSS. read, “but for them also which believe;” but the sense is not affected by the change. As we have again and again found in these chapters, the future of the Church is so immediately in our Lord’s thoughts that it is spoken of as actually present. “Their word” is their witness concerning Him through which men should believe (John 15:27). He had manifested the nature of God to them; and they who had received His word and witnessed His work would become, by the indwelling of the Spirit in them, the means of extending this revelation of God to others. They would do this by means of the word which, in His name, they would preach. (Comp. Romans 10:14 et seq.)

John

THE HIGH PRIEST’S PRAYER

John 17:20 - John 17:26
.

The remainder of this prayer reaches out to all generations of believers to the end. We may incidentally note that it shows that Jesus did not anticipate a speedy end of the history of the world or the Church; and also that it breathes but one desire, that for the Church’s unity, as though He saw what would be its greatest peril. Characteristic, too, of the idealism of this Gospel is it that there is no name for that future community. It is not called ‘church,’ or ‘congregation,’ or the like-it is ‘them also that believe on Me through their word,’ a great spiritual community, held together by common faith in Him whom the Apostles preached. Is not that still the best definition of Christians, and does not such a conception of it correspond better to its true nature than the formal abstraction, ‘the Church’?

We can but touch in the most inadequate fashion the profound words of this section of the prayer which would take volumes to expound fitly. We note that it contains four periods, in each of which something is asked or stated, and then a purpose to be attained by the petition or statement is set forth.

First comes the prayer for unity and what the answer to it will effect {John 17:21}. Now in this verse the unity of believers is principally regarded as resulting from the inclusion, if we may so say, of them all in the ineffable union of the Father and the Son. Jesus prays that ‘they may all be one,’ and also ‘that they also may be in us’ {Rev. Ver.}. And their unity is no mere matter of formal external organisation nor of unanimity of creed, or the like, but it is a deep, vital unity. The pattern of it is the unity of the Father and the Son, and the power that brings it about is the abiding of all believers ‘in us.’ The result of such a manifestation in the world of a multitude of men, in all of whom one life evidently moves, fusing their individualities while retaining their personalities, will be the world’s conviction of the divine mission of Jesus. The world was beginning to feel its convictions moving slowly in that direction, when it exclaimed: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another!’ The alienation of Christians has given barbs and feathers to its arrows of scorn. But it is ‘the unity of the Spirit,’ not that of a, great corporation, that Christ’s prayer desires.

The petitions for what would be given to believers passes for a moment into a statement of what Jesus had already given to them. He had begun the unifying gift, and that made a plea for its perfecting. The ‘glory’ which He had given to these poor bewildered Galilaeans was but in a rudimentary stage; but still, wherever there is faith in Him, there is some communication of His life and Spirit, and some of that veiled and yet radiant glory, ‘full of grace and truth,’ which shone through the covering when the Incarnate Word ‘became flesh.’ It is the Christ-given Christ-likeness in each which knits believers into one. It is Christ in us and we in Christ that fuses us into one, and thereby makes each perfect. And such flashing back of the light of Jesus from a million separate crystals, all glowing with one light and made one in the light, would flash on darkest eyes the lustre of the conviction that God sent Christ, and that God’s love enfolded those Christlike souls even as it enfolded Him.

Again {John 17:24} comes a petition with its result. And here there is no mention of the effect of the answer on the world. For the moment the thoughts of isolation in, and a message to, the world fade away. The partially-possessed ‘glory’ seems to have led on Christ’s thoughts to the calm home of perfection waiting for Him who was ‘not of the world’ and was sent into it, and for the humble ones who had taken Him for Lord. ‘I will that’-that is a strange tone for a prayer. What consciousness on Christ’s part does it involve? The disciples are not now called ‘them that should believe on Me,’ but ‘that which Thou hast given Me,’ the individuals melt into the great whole. They are Christ’s, not merely by their faith or man’s preaching, but by the Father’s gift. And the fact of that gift is used as a plea with Him, to ‘perfect that which concerneth’ them, and to complete the unity of believers with Jesus by bringing them to be ‘with Him’ in His triumphant session at the right hand. To ‘behold’ will be the same as to share His glory, not only that which we beheld when He tabernacled among us, but that which He had in the pouring out on Him of God’s love ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Our dim eyes cannot follow the happy souls as they are lost in the blaze, but we know that they walk in light and are like Him, for they ‘see Him as He is.’

The last statement {John 17:25 - John 17:26} is not petition but vow, and, to our ears, promise. The contrast of the world and believers appears for the last time. What made the world a ‘world’ was its not knowing God; what made believers isolated in, and having an errand to, the world, was that they ‘knew’ {not merely ‘believed,’ but knew by experience} that Jesus had been sent from God to make known His name. All our knowledge of God comes through Him; it is for us to recognise His divine mission, and then He will unveil, more and more, with blessed continuity of increasing knowledge, the Name, and with growing knowledge of it growing measures of God’s love will be in us, and Jesus Himself will ‘dwell in our hearts by faith’ more completely and more blessedly through an eternity of wider knowledge and more fervent love.John 17:20-23. Neither pray I for these alone — I do not make my apostles the only subjects of this my last prayer; I pray likewise for all such as shall by their word, whether preached or written, be brought to believe on me, in whatever age or nation; that they also, being influenced by the same Spirit, and possessed of the same love; may be one — Truly and intimately; (see on John 17:11;) as thou, Father, art in me — Dwelling in me by thy Spirit; and I in thee — By a constant, indissoluble union; that they also may be one in us — Closely and vitally united to us, and deriving from us the richest supplies of divine wisdom and grace, power, purity, and consolation. This also is to be understood in a way of similitude, and not of sameness or equality. That the world may believe — That, seeing their benevolence, charity, and holy joy, the people of the world, the carnal part of mankind, may believe that a religion productive of such amiable fruits is indeed of divine original. It is plainly intimated here by our Lord, that “dissensions among Christians would not only be uncomfortable to themselves, but would be a means of bringing the truth and excellence of Christianity into question: and he must be a stranger to what hath passed, and is daily passing, in the world, who does not see what fatal advantage these divisions have given to infidels, to misrepresent it as a calamity, rather than to regard it as a blessing to mankind.” — Doddridge. Here we see Christ prays for the world, and may observe that the sum of his whole prayer Isaiah , 1 st, Receive me into thy own and my glory; 2d, Let my apostles share therein; 3d, And all other believers; 4th, And let all the world believe. And the glory which thou gavest me — With respect to my human nature, namely, to be a habitation of thyself by the Spirit; I have given them — Have bestowed on them the honour and happiness of having a measure of the same Spirit dwelling in them, enriching them with various gifts and graces, stamping them with thine image, and communicating unto them thy divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4. That they may be one, even as we are one — May possess the closest union, and enjoy a most holy and happy fellowship with us and with each other here, and in consequence thereof may dwell together with us in eternal felicity hereafter. I in them — Dwelling in their hearts by faith; (Ephesians 3:17;) and thou in me — By thine indwelling presence; that they may be made perfect in one — May possess the most perfect and uninterrupted union of love and purity, without any jarring affection or disposition, and through that union may grow up into me their living head in all things, till they arrive at the measure of the stature of my fulness, and are perfected in that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. That the world may know that thou hast sent me — That the clearest demonstration may thus be given of the efficacy of thy grace in creating men anew, and constituting them saints indeed, visibly and justly the favourites of Heaven; and that it may be manifest to all that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me — And hast conferred this grace upon them for my sake.17:20-23 Our Lord especially prayed, that all believers might be as one body under one head, animated by one soul, by their union with Christ and the Father in him, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The more they dispute about lesser things, the more they throw doubts upon Christianity. Let us endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, praying that all believers may be more and more united in one mind and one judgment. Thus shall we convince the world of the truth and excellence of our religion, and find more sweet communion with God and his saints.Neither pray I for these alone ... - Not for the apostles only, but for all who shall be converted under the preaching of the gospel. They will all need similar grace and be exposed to similar trials. It is a matter of unspeakable joy that each Christian, however humble or unknown to men however poor, unlearned, or despised, can reflect that he was remembered in prayer by "him whom God heareth always." We value the prayers of pious friends. How much more should we value this petition of the Son of God! To that single prayer we who are Christians owe infinitely more real benefits than the world can ever bestow; and in the midst of any trials we may remember that the Son of God prayed for us, and that the prayer was assuredly heard, and will be answered in reference to all who truly believe.

All may be one - May be united as brethren. Christians are all redeemed by the same blood, and are going to the same heaven. They have the same wants, the same enemies, the same joys. Though they are divided into different denominations, yet they will meet at last in the same homes of glory. Hence they should feel that they belong to the same family, and are children of the same God and Father. There are no ties so tender as those which bind us in the gospel. There is no friendship so pure and enduring as that which results from having the same attachment to the Lord Jesus. Hence, Christians, in the New Testament, are represented as being indissolubly united - parts of the same body, and members of the same family, Acts 4:32-35; 1Co. 12:4-31; Ephesians 2:20-22; Romans 12:5. On the ground of this union they are exhorted to love one another, to bear one another's burdens, and to study the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another, Ephesians 4:3; Romans 12:5-16.

As thou, Father, art in me - See John 14:10. This does not affirm that the union between Christians should be in all respects like that between the Father and the Son, but only in the points in which they are capable of being compared. It is not the union of nature which is referred to, but the union of plan, of counsel, of purpose seeking the same objects, and manifesting attachment to the same things, and a desire to promote the same ends.

That they also may be one in us - To be in God and in Christ is to be united to God and Christ. The expression is common in the New Testament. The phrase used here denotes a union among all Christians founded on and resulting from a union to the same God and Saviour.

That the world may believe ... - That the world, so full of animosities and fightings, may see the power of Christian principle in overcoming the sources of contention and producing love, and may thus see that a religion that could produce this must be from heaven. See the notes at John 13:34. This was done. Such was the attachment of the early Christians to each other, that a pagan was constrained to say, "See how these Christians love one another!"

20-23. Neither pray I for these alone—This very important explanation, uttered in condescension to the hearers and readers of this prayer in all time, is meant not merely of what follows, but of the whole prayer.

them also which shall believe—The majority of the best manuscripts read "which believe," all future time being viewed as present, while the present is viewed as past and gone.

Three things are evident from this verse.

1. That Christ did not pray for any reprobates, not for any that were and should die unbelievers: he prayed before for those who actually did believe; he prays here for them that should believe; but we never read that he prayed for any others. Now whether he laid down his life for those for whom he would not pray, lies upon them to consider, who are so confident that he died for all and every man.

2. That by persons given to Christ, cannot be understood believers as such; for Christ here prays for those that were not actual believers, but should believe.

3. That faith cometh by hearing; Christ here prays for those that should believe

through their word, that is, the apostles preaching the gospel. Neither pray I for these alone,.... Meaning his immediate apostles and disciples, for whose preservation and sanctification he had been particularly praying in John 17:19; and now, that it might not be thought that these were his only favourites, and the only persons he had a regard for, and to whom his intercession and sacrifice were confined; he adds,

but for them also which shall believe in me through their word: Christ is the object of true faith; which faith is not a mere assent of the mind to any truth concerning Christ, as that he is the Son of God, the Messiah and Saviour of the world; but it is a spiritual sight of him, of the necessity, fitness, and suitableness of him as a Saviour, a going forth unto him, laying hold on him, and depending upon him for life and salvation; of which the preaching of the Gospel is the instrumental means: it is indeed a gift of God, and a fruit of electing grace, and which is secured by it; hence our Lord knew that there would be a number, in all successive generations, that would believe in him, through the ministry of the word; and for these persons, and their conversion, and the success of the Gospel, to the good of their souls, he prays.

{6} Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

(6) Secondly, he offers to God the Father all of his, that is, all those who will believe in him by the doctrine of the apostles: that as he cleaves unto the Father, receiving from him all fulness, so they being joined with him may receive life from him, and being loved together in him, may also with him eventually enjoy everlasting glory.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 17:20-21. In His prayer for the disciples for their preservation and sanctification (John 17:11-19), Jesus now also includes all who (comp. Romans 10:14) shall believe on Him (πιστευόντων, regarding the future as present) through the apostles’ word (διὰ τοῦ κηρύγματος αὐτῶν, Euth. Zigabenus). The purpose for which He also includes these: that all (all my believing ones, the apostles and the others) may be one (ethically, in likeness of disposition, of endeavour, of love, etc., on the ground of faith, comp. Ephesians 4:3 ff.; Romans 15:5-6; Acts 4:32).

This ethical unity of all believers, to be specifically Christian,[198] must correspond as to its original type (καθώς) to the reciprocal fellowship between the Father and the Son (according to which the Father lives and moves in the Son, and the Son in the Father, comp. John 10:38, John 14:10-11, John 15:5), the object of which, in reference to believers collectively, is, that in them also the Father and the, Son may be the element in which they (in virtue of the unio mystica brought about through the Spirit, 1 John 1:3; 1 John 4:13; 1 Peter 1:4) live and move (ἵνα κ. αὐτοὶ ἐν ἡμῖν ὦσιν).

This ethical unity of all believers in the fellowship with the Father and the Son, however (comp. John 13:35), shall serve to the unbelieving world as an actual proof and ground of conviction that Christ, the grand central point and support of this unity, is none other than the sent of God. “That is the fruit which must follow through and from such unity, namely, that Christ’s word shall further break forth and be received in the world as God’s word, wherein stands an almighty, divine, unconquerable power and eternal treasure of all grace and blessedness,” Luther, in opposition to which, Calvin gets into confusion by introducing the doctrine of predestination, making of πιστεύειν a reluctant agnoscere; so also Scholten. Thus the third ἵνα is subordinated to the first, as introducing its further aim; the second, however, because containing the definition of the aim of καθὼς, κ.τ.λ., is related to the first explicatively.

[198] “Non vult concordiam coetus humani, ut est concors civitas Spartana contra Athenienses,” Melanchthon.John 17:20-26. Prayer for future believers.20–26. The Prayer for the whole Church

20. Neither pray I for these alone] More accurately, But not concerning these only do I pray (see on John 14:16). The limitation stated in John 17:9 is at an end: through the Church He prays for the world (John 17:21).

which shall believe] The true reading gives, who believe. The future body of believers is regarded by anticipation as already in existence: the Apostles are a guarantee and earnest of the Church that is to be.

on me through their word] Perhaps through their word on Me would be better. The order of the Greek insists on the fact that those who believe believe through the Apostles’ word.John 17:20. Ἀλλὰ καὶ, but also) Christ, the Wisdom, is קהלת, the Preacher in the congregations (Ecclesiastes; Psalm 40:9; Psalm 22:25).—[περὶ τῶν πιστευσόντων, for them who shall believe) Those about to believe, in this passage, come under the name of believers. In a similar manner, it is said in John 17:22, I have given them glory; with which comp. ch. John 11:52, “Not for that nation only, but that He should gather in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”—V. g.]Verses 20-26. -

(3) Prayer for the Church Catholic in all time. Verse 20. - Neither do I pray (ἐρωτῶ) for - concerning these alone, but also for those who believe on me through their word. The Lord summons the future into the present. He speaks of having once for all sent them, and he sees rising before his eye the multitudes in all ages who would believe their testimony as if already doing so. The universal Church rejoices in the fullness of his love and the greatness of his wish concerning the individuals who believe. The prayer is an eternal intercession. Shall believe (πιστευσόντων)

The best texts read πιστευόντων, the present participle, that believe. The future body of believers is conceived as actually existing.

On me through their word

The Greek order is, believe through their word on me. "Believe through their word" forms a compound idea.

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