Christ the great, final, and ultimate High Priest comes before the Father with power to intercede for His disciples with three requests to bring before His Father. What can we learn about the heart of the Savior from His intercessory requests? What are the three prayer requests that the High Priest presents to His heavenly Father?
In John 17, Christ intercedes earnestly and powerfully for His disciples. His prayer has come to be known as the High Priestly Prayer even though nowhere in this prayer do we find the words “high priest.” Yet, Christ clearly shows His priestly role in the very form and substance of this prayer. What was Christ’s role as the Great High Priest? As question and answer 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism says of Christ, He is “our only high priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body has redeemed us, and ever liveth to make intercession for us with the Father.” These priestly roles (especially intercession) are on display throughout this section of the prayer (John 17:19–26). Jesus, the Great High Priest, intercedes for the sake of His disciples, and indeed for the whole church. He prays for His own, those whom the Father has given Him.
Christ the great, final, and ultimate High Priest comes before the Father with power to intercede for His disciples with three requests to bring before His Father. What can we learn about the heart of the Savior from His intercessory requests? What are the three prayer requests that the High Priest presents to His heavenly Father? John 17:19–26 tells us that Christ prays for His own and for their consecration, unity, and glory.
His Own (vv. 24–26)
Jesus prays for His own whom He loves with an everlasting love. In the conclusion of His prayer, Christ points us to the truth of election. Election is seen both in the time period mentioned and in the parties identified in His concluding words. Notice the time period at the end of verse 24. Christ is speaking of His Father’s love that was given to Him “before the foundation of the world” (17:24). What kind of love goes back before creation? What kind of love did the Father give the Son that may also be given to His people (v. 26)? This love describes God’s compassionate doctrine of election. As Belgic Confession article 16 describes it, “God is merciful in . . . saving . . . those who, in the eternal and unchangeable divine counsel, have been elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works.” The Father’s love that is before creation is pointing to this eternal and unchangeable counsel.
Furthermore, Christ’s concluding words point to the two parties in election—those who are given to Him by the Father and those who are not. In verses 24 and 25 Christ speaks of those “whom you have given me” and those in“the world” who “[do] not know you.” In these words, Christ identifies the elect and the reprobate. Belgic Confession 16 points to both of these parties when speaking of “those who . . . have been elected” and “the others” whom He leaves “in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.” The distinction between these two parties should not lead us to the fatalistic conclusion that “whatever will be will be.” Rather, when we hear the High Priest’s final promise in this prayer, we should desire to be used as instruments to proclaim the truth of His electing love. Our consecrated Savior is praying that His elect will be consecrated in the truth of His Word and united to the Father through Him in order to share in and show His glory.
Consecration (vv. 17–19)
For this request of consecration, we should consider John 17:17, 19. In verse 17, Christ asks the Father to “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” In verse 19, He states that “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” In these verses we find the same Greek word appearing three times, translated both as “sanctify” and “consecrate.” Either translation of this term helps us see that Christ is using priestly language. He is interceding so that His disciples would be sanctified or separated from the world just as Christ Himself is separated and consecrated. This encourages us to consider two points from this intercession: first, how the Son requests the disciples’ sanctification, and second, how the Son reminds us of His consecration.
In Christ’s request for the disciples’ sanctification, He asks the Father first to point them to the truth of the Word. In verse 17, “truth” is mentioned twice. After the general request to be sanctified “in the truth,” Christ concludes by affirming that the Father’s “word is truth.” The request certainly applies to the disciples in a unique way. They would not only be those who knew the Word of truth incarnate, but they would be inspired by the Holy Spirit as His instruments to preach and to write God’s Word. The request has special meaning for the disciples, but the request also applies to all who are God’s people. The only way to be sanctified or consecrated to God is through the power of God’s Word.
Then Christ reiterates this request for sanctification at the end of verse 19. But now He begins to point them to the truth of Himself. He does so by reflecting on His own consecration: “For their sake I consecrate myself” (v. 17, emphasis added). Christ’s statement shows how the content of the Word’s truth is Jesus Christ, the High Priest who has consecrated Himself to save them. For the disciples to be sanctified, holy in the sight of our Father, they needed to be set free by the truth of Jesus Christ, which is only revealed in the truth of His inspired Word.
Christ’s request is answered when we consider what happens in the book of Acts and throughout the Epistles. Peter’s first sermon appeals to the Word and points to Christ (Acts 2:14–36). Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians preaching the “word of the cross” (1:18, 23). Throughout Scripture, we are called to receive the truth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, though this request is specifically for those first-century disciples, the content of this request for sanctification still applies to all who follow Christ. We are all called to be sanctified as living sacrifices of thanks. Paul uses this same priestly language at the beginning of Romans 12, where we are called to be a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (v. 1). Thus, we see that Christ’s request for His disciples was answered. These same men for whom He prayed went forward as Apostles. Moreover, in their messages and prayers, the disciples also asked for all Christ’s followers to be sanctified. So, while this part of Christ’s intercession had His disciples in mind, we see how it also applies to us, as those who follow Christ and His Word.