John 17 contains the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in any of the Gospels. Jesus prays this after He finishes His final instructions to the disciples and before He is betrayed, arrested, and crucified. First, Jesus prays for Himself, then He prays for His disciples, and He closes the prayer by praying for all believers. This intercessory prayer is commonly called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.
The office of high priest was instituted at Mount Sinai when God gave the Law to the Israelites through Moses. Aaron and, subsequently, his descendants were chosen to be priests who were responsible for interceding for Israel before God (Exodus 28 – 29). One priest was selected as the high priest who would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to offer the sacrifice that would temporarily cover the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7). When Jesus came, He offered His life as the ultimate sacrifice that would not only cover the sins of the people but completely cleanse His people and save them. Jesus is the ultimate High Priest, and His intercession for us in John 17 is a wonderful, multilayered example of His love.
As Jesus begins His High Priestly Prayer, He reveals that His purpose in coming to earth was to glorify the Father by giving eternal life to those who believe in Him. Although Jesus is God and was with the Father before the world began (John 17:5), He humbled Himself and came to earth as a man so people would know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” whom He sent (John 17:3). Now, the hour had come when Jesus’ work on earth would be finished (John 17:1), and Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him as He prepared to finish the work that would “give eternal life” to those who believe in Him (John 17:2).
Jesus continues His High Priestly Prayer by praying for His disciples. The eleven who remained with Him had accepted Jesus’ words, knew that He is God, and believed that the Father sent Him (John 17:8). Jesus talks about the Father giving the disciples to Him and the disciples belonging to the Father; Jesus and the Father have everything in common (John 17:6, 9–10). Jesus mentions that glory has come to Him through the disciples (John 17:10). Jesus prays that the Father would protect the disciples since He will no longer be present in the world. He prays not that they will be removed from the world but specifically that they would be protected from the evil one (John 17:15) by the power of Jesus’ name (John 17:11). Jesus says that the world hates the disciples because they are not of the world, just as Jesus is not of the world (John 17:14, 16). But Jesus has given His followers the Word and sent them into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus (John 17:18). Jesus prays that His disciples would be sanctified by the truth, which is God’s Word (John 17:17) and that they would be unified (John 17:11).
After praying for His disciples, Jesus also prays for everyone who will believe in Him through their message (John 17:21). Jesus’ desire, expressed in His High Priestly Prayer, is that all of His followers would be in complete unity, just as He and the Father are in perfect unity (John 17:21). Jesus prays for believers to be in God so that the world will believe in Jesus (John 17:21). When believers are united and abide in God, the world will know that God loves them and that He sent Jesus for them (John 17:23). Jesus loves the world, and His sacrifice that brings eternal life is for anyone who believes (John 3:16–17). Jesus says He has given believers His glory that they may be one as He is one with the Father (John 17:22). Jesus also prays that all who believe in Him will be with Him and see His glory (John 17:24). Jesus affirms that, whereas the world does not know the Father, He does, and He has made the Father known to His disciples. Jesus will continue to reveal God to His followers so that God’s love will be in His disciples and that Jesus Himself will be in them (John 17:25–26).
Jesus says that He prayed the High Priestly Prayer because He was going to the Father soon and He wanted His disciples to “have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).
As our Great High Priest, Jesus continues to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), and His High Priestly Prayer is an example of what His intercession looks like. Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). His High Priestly Prayer, with its themes of unity, indwelling, glory, and giving, shows the profound extent of that salvation.