We have taken note of the inevitable hatred the apostles would encounter (see John17:14) – they were to form a society outside Jewry and they would therefore encounter opposition.
v. 15 Monastaries not the answer
With this in mind, the Lord Jesus presents a petition to his Father on their behalf; not that they should be removed out of the world, for thereby they would cease to be a witness, but that they should be preserved from the evil which would be their lot (v. 15).
Earlier in this series, we have mentioned the monasticism which developed in the Christian world, but while this represented an endeavour, and still does, to escape the contagion prevalent in society, it is not a way of witnessing directly to one’s fellow men.
Paul became painfully conscious of the abuses which arose in the Corinthian church, and he wrote positively to counteract these by offering a high ideal (see I Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20). At the same time, he reminded his readers, he had written instructing them to have no company with fornicators (5:9), by which he means willingly consorting with them. However, he recognized social contact with such persons was inevitable (v. 10) and to avoid this they would need to “go out of the world” (v. 10). This was not practicable or desirable for their spiritual development. In all this, we can discern an echo of the Lord’s own words in John 17:15.
v. 16 the disciple not part of the world
By virtue of their association with the Lord, the apostles no more belong to the world than does Jesus himself (v. 16) and so the Lord declares yet once more that his followers have been called out of the world (see v. 14 above). We see in this another evidence of how the basic themes of John 13-17 recur insistently. This is a token of their importance and we in our day cannot afford to ignore them. The societies of which we are members are experiencing moral decline at an accelerating rate.
v. 17 knowledge of the word is essential for discipleship
The preservation of his followers from evil, for which the Son petitions his Father (see v. 15 above) does not depend alone upon direct action from God. The part to be played by the Word in the life of the believer is here brought out: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (v. 17).
Paul likewise tells his readers the Lord surrendered his life for the church, “That he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word” (Eph.5:25-26). Here is what distinguishes the disciple from those with whom he must socially associate: his reverence for scripture. This is the essential sanctifying agent available to all.
Here again we see a basic and recurring theme in this great succession of chapters. In the allegory of the vine, the Lord had declared how important was the attitude of the eleven to his teaching (Judas had departed at this state); “Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you” (15:3). Yes, as we have seen there was much in what Jesus had said to them which was beyond their comprehension, and on one unhappy occasion, Peter had withstood his Lord and merited a strong rebuke, despite the fact his motive was good (see Matt. 16:22-23). It was their fundamental humility which distinguished Peter and the others: they were prepared to recognize their own occasional obtuseness and to learn from their Lord. So it should be with all disciples.
The teaching of scripture and the light it can throw on our path throughout our life are essential to faithful discipleship. Centuries before, the blessings of a right attitude to God’s word had been dwelt upon at length in Psalm 119. The sentiments in the psalm which deserve notice are too many to be highlighted now but we take note of two: “Teach me, O LORD the way of thy statutes: and I shall keep it unto the end” (v. 33); “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (V. 105). The pressures of modern life, of which we hear so much, can weaken our love of scripture; it is a danger against which we must guard.
v.18 Disciples must now continue the work of Jesus
The thought of the apostles taking on the role of Christ as communicators of God’s Word and witnesses to the Lord Jesus has already come to our notice and here (in v. 18) we encounter it once more. They have been “sent,” the idea which underlies apostleship. Once more we take note of Hebrews 3:1 where we are called upon to consider “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” Jesus is supremely the one sent; a whole series of passages in John stress this fundamental truth which is the explanation of the Lord’s mission. Here we take note of two: “For God sent not the Son into the word to judge the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (3:17); “AS THE LIVING Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me” (6:57) (Note 1).
Increasingly we come to appreciate how concerned the Lord is with the future responsibilities of these, his faithful followers, through all the vicissitudes and challenges they have had to face during their time with him. Moreover this concern is intimately bound up with his love for them.
v.19 Following the Master’s example of love
Early in this series we noted the Lord’s words: “even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (13:34). This deep affection for one another was to be the evidence that they were authentically the Lord’s disciples. But the prime responsibility lay with the Lord himself and so he declares “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth” (v. 19). The whole character of the Lord’s life is thus briefly brought into view.
At the age of twelve, in that lovely glimpse which Luke gives us of the growing lad, he made a high claim to Mary and Joseph: “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house? (or, “about my Father’s business”) (Lk. 2:49).
It is difficult for us as sinners to appreciate fully our Lord’s holiness, his constant desire to do what his Father required of him, and this was done gladly, not grudgingly. Even before the death on the cross, the Father showed his pleasure with His Son (see Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). After Jesus had announced to his apostles what awaited him in Jerusalem, he was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. It is surely no coincidence that the announcement of his sacrificial death is immediately followed by the record of his transfiguration, (see Matt. 16:21-28; 17:1-2; Mark 8:31-38; 9:2; Luke 9:18-26,28-29). By these declarations, the Lord was showing he was to suffer the cross in obedience to his Father’s will, and the Father on His part revealed His pleasure with the Son by transfiguring his body, in the presence not only of his three apostles, but before Moses and Elijah: his face shone as the sun (Matt. 17:2), even his clothes became exceeding white (Mark 9:3) and Luke, in his turn, testifies his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and dazzling (9:29). It was thus the Father who sealed His Son in the most dramatic way. Peter never forgot his privileged experience: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Pet.1:16).
v. 20 Salvation is offered to all
With the incomparable foreknowledge which was his, the Lord, preoccupied as he appears with the apostles and their witness to him, knows his mission is to embrace others: “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word” (v. 20).
While this is yet another evidence of the future importance of the apostles’ testimony, the Lord knew his work of salvation would extend well beyond the confines of the Jewish nation, a truth which was to be revealed to the astonished consciousness of Peter through the vision of Acts 10. Earlier, in the allegory of the Good Shepherd, the Lord had spoken of “other sheep” which were not of the Jewish fold, but would belong to the same flock (John10:16).
The distinguishing feature of all members of the flock is that they hear the shepherd’s voice and respond to it (vs. 3-5, and throughout the chapter). They cannot be misled by the voice of a stranger because they know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Familiarity with our Lord’s teaching, and that of the apostles, is the essential condition of enlightened discipleship.
The unity of the Lord’s followers is a subject we hope to consider in our next study.
Tom Barling, Teignmouth, England
1 Two verbs for “send” appear in John as in other parts of the NT: they are pempo and apostello. They are used interchangeably in the NT, as they are by John in his gospel. Thus, in ch. 5, where the Lord himself is speaking, we find the first word in v. 30, “I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me,” while in v. 38, we find the second, “For whom he sent, him ye believe not.” This could well be another example of the fondness for synonyms which characterizes John’s gospel. However, in ch. 17, apostello is employed exclusively, seven times in vs. 3,8,18 (2x) 21,23,25. This may well be significant, in view of the association of apostello with the word for “apostle” (apostolos). (See once more Hebrews 3:1).