John 17 – A High Priestly Prayer?

In March I was asked by a student to participate in the presentation of his ordination papers and to pray over him. This was a bit of an honor, since this event was in a real sense sending the man off to pastor a church. Our own church witnessed the same sort of thing when two recent graduates were presented their papers before the congregation. Both men were prayed over by someone and they too were “sent off” to do the ministry for which they had been preparing.

John 17 is a prayer of consecration, a final prayer before the arrest and execution of Jesus. The disciples were given to Jesus by the Father, Jesus as taught them and passed God’s word to them, and now they are going to be sent into the world. They are in need of protection since the world will hate them just as it hated Jesus (John 16:1-4).

This chapter is often titled “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer” by Bible editors and in commentaries. According to Carson, this designation is as old as David Chytraeus (1530-1600), and is so common that it is difficult to call the chapter anything else. The icon image I used in this post dresses Jesus as a priest and gives him the title of “Eternal High Priest.”  Even the ESV calls this the “The High Priestly Prayer.”  Certainly Jesus is called the Great High Priest in Hebrews, but there is little else in the New Testament which uses that metaphor for Jesus.

But that is not how John presents the prayer, there is no implication that Jesus is functioning as a priest here, and it is difficult to know what a “priestly prayer” might be in a first century context. Perhaps the idea of intercession is what points preachers to call this a priestly prayer, but even this fails when one reads the prayer – Jesus is not interceding on behalf of his disciples!

Certainly Jesus is praying for his disciples, but the prayer is focused on how the disciples will be tested in the next few days, during the crucifixion and the time Jesus is in the grave. There is a real spiritual crisis of faith coming for these men as they will witness the arrest of their leader, the one they thought was God’s messiah. They will all deny their Lord in some way, from Peter’s famous denial to the more implicit denial of fleeing the garden. For the days after the execution of Jesus, these disciples will experience extreme doubts a perhaps even despair over the death of Jesus.

But after the resurrection, when their joy is restored, they will face increased persecution and pressure from both outsiders (who want to silence them) and insiders (who question who Jesus was and what he did on the Cross). Jesus is praying not only for their protection over the next three days, until the resurrection, but for their unity until he returns in power and glory.

18 thoughts on “John 17 – A High Priestly Prayer?

  1. Yeah, I think this may be veiwed as a high preistly prayer because of his intersession for his disciples. Yes he is praying because of the possibility of his disciples leaving him and falling away, he is praying that they will not become disunified through all of this. So, I think it is safe to say this is still an intersession on the disciples behalf. Jesus also prays for himself then prays for his disciples and then goes on to pray for future beilevers and for their unity! Out of all things, Jesus’s last prayer was to pray for the unity of his church. This is what shows the world around us who we are as followers of Christ. Our unity is what will glorify God. Yes, disunity has happened, we see it all the time, but this is a prayer from Jesus himself on behalf of us. God hears and answers prayer and I beileve that God has answered this prayer and is continuing to answer this prayer.

  2. I honestly think this prayer was meant for more than just the disciples. Not only did Jesus humble himself before the disciples in servanthood, but he also prayed for strength, courage, and perseverance through the tough times ahead of them, and honestly for us all. Although in context it does seem like he is directing this towards the disciples, it seems to me like Jesus is directing this more towards the latter Christians and even the world as we reach tough times and the even tougher times ahead of us. It is crazy to me to think that Jesus knows that the later Christians in the world are going to suffer and lack this unity with God just as the disciples lacked a unity with Jesus during his walk with them.

  3. As Jesus was in the garden he prayed and prayed before he was arrested. With this being said there was a lot of controversy with who Jesus was praying for. In the garden it seems like Jesus was praying specifically about and for the disciples as the next few days will be very tough. But in the same way I see it to be a little different as the world will be a lot different without Jesus in the world. With this being said I think that Jesus could have been praying for just the everyday people that he would minister to, to the high priests that despised Jesus. Jesus taught us that we must pray for our enemies and I think that Jesus was praying for everyone as there was going to be a lot of hardship towards later Christians and fellow believers. So, who was Jesus praying for in the garden? We will really never know but as we think on a broader scale we can see that me might be praying more for everyone than just his disciples

  4. Jesus’s prayer was for sure directed towards his disciples in preparation for what was to come after his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, as mentioned in your post. Jesus wanted his disciples to anticipate the challenges that were coming to disrupt their faith. By warning his disciples, Jesus was prepping their minds for the theological implications that were involved with his death. Although Jesus did not give out the specifics behind the significance of his final moments, he braced his disciples on the magnitude of the drawbacks it will have on their faith. The dialogue in John 17 also makes it clear that Jesus prays for himself and his disciples. As we look at John 17:14-15, it states, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be caught off guard and encourages them to arm themselves with the word of God in order to keep their faith firm.

  5. I had never thought of the High Priestly prayer as a prayer similar to a student praying for the speaker in chapel before the speaker essentially takes the stage. Now that I have that idea in my head, I can see that Jesus is praying for his disciples that they do not fall away from their faith and ‘pass’ the tests they will encounter. The disciples will have to see their teacher get arrested and be questioned about if and how they knew Jesus, to which they will deny Jesus each in their own way. The disciples understood how the Romans went about punishments. They did not want to be crucified as well. As mentioned in class, crucifixion was a very humiliating thing for those being crucified as well as for their families. It was meant to be shameful. It was something that people would avoid at all costs, besides Jesus who seemingly welcomed being crucified so that prophecy would be accomplished. The disciples will face persecution in the 72 hours between when Jesus is crucified and he will appear before them again, risen. They likely were ridiculed and teased by those saying “Oh your messiah is dead now he could not save himself. He’s not so great now is he. Where is he now?” Jesus is praying for his disciples to be protected by God in this time of uncertainty and pressure.

  6. I can see how this High Priestly Prayer could be seen as intercession, but I also take the position that P. Long takes on this topic. I have always read this chapter and took it as Jesus was praying for the disciples as they were about to go through something life changing. Their whole world was about to be turned upside down as Jesus was to be crucified. They would even turn to denying Jesus entirely. I believe that Jesus was praying that they would be “okay” as they were about to go through a lot.
    I also do not think that this prayer was intended just for his present followers. As we see in John 17:20, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (ESV). Clearly, Jesus here is saying that He is also praying for other believers in the future. Jesus intercedes for us to God that our prayers are heard and answered. This can be tied back to John 14:6 where Jesus declares that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can get to the Father but by Him (ESV). We can not get anywhere on our own, and we have a Savior who prays for us. This is a very humbling and calming thought.

  7. I believe that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 did not only apply to his current followers but also to those of us in the future who have decided to follow him. Some of the verses from John 17 that stand out to me are verses 15, which states, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one,” and 18, which says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world,” (NIV). With these verses, Jesus emphasizes the importance of followers of Christ to be a light in a dark world, just as Jesus was sent to do. As we are in this world, we will be involved in spiritual warfare, and Satan will do everything he can to separate us from God. Jesus understands that living in a sinful world is extremely difficult at times, but there is a reason why he wants us on earth for some time instead of immediately taking us to heaven. Through his prayer, Jesus is asking God that his present and future believers will remain in unity and be protected from the attacks of Satan. With our limited time that we have on earth, it is important to remain in unity with other believers so that we can lead others to knowing Jesus and continue to strengthen our relationship with God and other believers especially when Satan is trying to destroy our faith. Through demonstrating Christ’s love to those around us, we are giving God glory and helping expand God’s kingdom, which is ultimately what God has created each one of us to do.

  8. After thoroughly reading through this blog post and John 17, I think that this passage is much like a lot of the Bible; the stories are specific to the people of the time. When Jesus is speaking and praying for his disciples, he is speaking and praying for his disciples. However, the Bible gives us this information of the past and we can apply it to our faiths today. The Bible was written in the context of ancient times, but the beauty of the Bible is that we can still learn from it and find the truths that it holds for us still today. When Jesus prays for his disciples, he is praying for them and the trials they will have to endure after his upcoming death. However, Kostenberger points out that there is a section in his prayer where he prays for “later believers,” which would leave me to believe that Jesus would be praying for all future believers, myself included. Kostenberger states, “Jesus transcends the present; his reach goes beyond his immediate followers to those who will believe through their message” (p.163). I do believe that Jesus had and has the power to transcend time and go “beyond” the current believers of the time of his prayer in John 17. Jesus’ prayer does set an example for believers as well. He speaks to the Father and prays for those in his life, and those who will eventually believe. In this case, I would say that it is a great idea to follow Jesus’ lead and pray for those who are being persecuted, as well as for future believers in Christ to come.

  9. As I read this post and also read/reflect on John 17, I wonder how Jesus felt as he prayed and spoke with his disciples for the last time. Obviously, his message is clear as he prays for himself, his disciples, and all believers, but this truly must’ve been an emotional time for Jesus. As you read through John 17, it’s easy to pick up Jesus’ emphasis on how important it is to pay attention to the coming days and what his disciples would face. He cared for the disciples a whole lot, and even though he knew the outcome of everything, he was still fully human. I believe that his prayers in John 17 were his words, of course, but I also believe that they were God’s words as well, speaking through Jesus to his disciples and even himself. At the end of 17, vs 25-26 are powerful words. I think it is powerful that Jesus prays this over all believers but also over himself. He knew who he belonged to and the heart of his whole life was to see others also know their Father. That is powerful! In conclusion, I could see how my thoughts are more reflective than they are factual, but I truly am thankful that Jesus not only warned his disciples but also showed them his heart, comfort and love in his final days.

  10. Kostenberger Chapter thirteen talks a lot about Jesus’s prayer about himself, for his disciples, and for the believer. Kostenberger mentions how Jesus prays for the safety of His disciples because Jesus knows that His disciples are going to be prosecuted. Jesus also knew that His disciple’s faith would be tested when he was prosecuted, tortured, and killed. I like how you mentioned the despair these disciples would be facing I can’t even imagine how they felt. I think that Jesus’s praying for His disciples shows his compassion, love, and care for them He wanted to make sure to give them strength through the time that they would be prosecuted. While reading this blog and Kostenberger I’m curious about how Jesus felt while praying these prayers. Jesus knew that he would soon be arrested and prosecuted on the cross yet He still made the time to pray not only for himself but for his disciples and for the rest of the believers. I think that something that we can take away from this is that sometimes our life is going to seem hectic, and that nothing is going right for us, or that we are struggling and instead of just praying for the things going on in our lives we should remember to pray for others as well. Jesus prays for strength and that his disciples will stay strong in their faith, we can also pray about our friends and family staying strong in their faith in Jesus Christ.

  11. The prayer in John 17 being designated as “the High Priestly Prayer” has always been an area of confusion for me personally. And after reading this it seems even more of a confusing of a designation. I wonder if this was perhaps given this designation in an effort to give this passage a name at all, this name was chosen and it just stuck for some reason or another, like a nickname one gets in middle school that makes no sense and then it never goes away. There is I suppose, the possible reasoning in that Jesus is referred to as a high priest in Hebrews 4:14-16, but I see no specific connection to Hebrews and John 17. In addition to that issue if this is the reason for this section to be labeled “The High Priestly Prayer” then reasonably almost any action of Jesus could has “The High Priestly” label slapped onto it and remain accurate, such as “The High Priestly Feeding of 5000”, or “The High Priestly Cursing of a Fig Tree”. In the end the only conclusion I can draw from this is that I am glad that the titles grafted onto verses are not part of the scriptures themselves, and thus there is no deep spiritual mystery meant to be discovered through them.

  12. When I think about the commissioning of those that go out into the mission field the prayer of protection is a much-needed asset. To enter a society where your beliefs are not popular and can be met with harsh defiance and even physical endangerment. Jesus is portrayed in the picture as the “Great High Priest”, but this is not the way Jesus is portrayed through most of the New Testament except for in Hebrews. The “priestly prayer” shows no indication of Jesus acting in a priestly role but the idea interceding on someone’s behalf could be where the connection can be obtained. Jesus in praying for his disciples and requesting their protection shows that Jesus knows through his wisdom granted by God, exactly what they will face and does not want them to be unprepared with how to handle the persecution. Just by Jesus going to prayer for the disciples he is showing a way to battle the persecution through prayer. After the Jesus is crucified on the cross the disciples begin to waiver and have doubts and great sadness over his departure. After the resurrection the disciples once again feel joy, but it is short lived, not only the Jews still wish them ill will but others that don’t want to believe what Jesus did and why. Jesus prays to strengthen and unite the community of believers that will continue to exist in the future because of them and how they weathered the storm.

  13. John 17 records Jesus’ prayer that happens right before His arrest and crucifixion. Many have titled this passage the high priestly prayer. Jesus is the high priest but is not given that title in scripture except for in the book of Hebrews. With this in mind, we can see that “there is no implication that Jesus is functioning as a priest here” (Long). It’s hard to define what a “priestly prayer” was in the first century. Some have suggested that Jesus’ prayer is a priestly prayer on the grounds of intercession. However, this is not the case as Jesus is not interceding for His disciples. Jesus definitely prays for the disciples. But His prayer is about praying for the disciples to stand firm as they will be tested and persecuted. “Jesus is praying not only for their protection over the next three days, until the resurrection, but for their unity until He returns In power and glory” (Long).

  14. The prayer that Jesus prays in John 17 has to be one of the most beautiful prayers in all of scripture. At least, it is one of my all-time personal favorites. Examining Jesus towards the end of His life on earth, as He gets closer and closer to His eventual death on the cross, I never tire of wondering at how graceful, mindful, loving, and just how human Jesus carried Himself in the final days before His death. There is so much we can learn from His example. His faith in His Heavenly Father was profoundly evident during these last days. What may stand out to me the most, even above the power of this power, is the fact that Jesus is continuing to be selfless, and focusing on loving others. He selflessly prays for his disciples, and their future, and how they will be tested. Despite this heavy and foundation-shaking reality that is beginning to set in not just for Jesus, but also his disciples, Jesus goes forward in prayer and courageously prays- showing us yet another great example of His steadfast faith in His heavenly father. Even after Jesus is resurrected they will experience trials, and Jesus does everything in His power to equip and prepare His disciples- all in His perfect, Christ-like loving way.

  15. This is quite an interesting blog. Not as a “High Priestly Prayer”, but as an affectionate strong prayer that Jesus does for Himself, His disciples, and for the future people who would come to know Christ. It is an endearing action that Jesus does for the disciples as life for them would not be easy when He is gone and resurrected. Yet while Jesus was still in the world He protected the disciples, but considering he is returning to the Father, they would then be in need of the Father’s protection (Long, 138). Even though the disciple would run away and deny Him for a period of time, He still trains them to have stronger faith later on as they would get persecuted in the end.

    I find it amazing that not only that for Jesus to pray for the disciples and future Christians, but as well as Himself committing his imminent death over to God (Köstenberger, p168). He does not ask to be delivered from it, but instead have it bring glory to the Father. This shows how much He is an obedient and faithful servant when He knows what it is to become of Him.

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