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.

8 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.

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