A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 17:13-26 for Sunday, April 23, 2023.
(A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRODUCTION: Several years ago I read about a pastor who prayed the opening prayer for a session of Congress. An official came up to him afterwards and said: “Sir, that was the greatest prayer I have ever heard addressed to the United States Congress.” The pastor said: “That prayer wasn’t addressed to the United States Congress; it was addressed to GOD!”
Then I might ask my group: ??? “Can anyone remember a specific prayer, that was very memorable to you — maybe that you heard, or that someone prayed for you, or that you might say was the greatest that you ever heard”???
Then I’d say: This morning we are going study what is perhaps the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth, the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17.
We are in the last part of the Gospel of John; Jesus has just finished giving His disciples His last words of encouragement before He goes to the cross. He talked to them about the coming of the Holy Spirit and what He would do for them, as we saw last week.
THEN Jesus prays what many call His “High Priestly Prayer.” He prays for His disciples just before He goes to be betrayed, and to the cross. Some like to say THIS is the REAL “Lord’s Prayer,” that what we find in Matthew 6 is “The MODEL Prayer,” which He gave as an example for us, but this is HIS prayer that He prayed for His disciples — including US! It is THE most magnificent prayer ever — as we might expect, coming from the lips of Jesus Himself.
As such, I might consider reading this whole chapter through at some point in the lesson. It’s 26 verses long, so if it is read thoughtfully it should take a little over 3:00 — but as it is perhaps the single greatest prayer ever prayed, I think it would be very profitable to do. Find some point in the class where it fits best to read it in its entirety: maybe early in the session before you start the teaching; or it might be a powerful way to CLOSE the class, to really emphasize it after all that you’ve gone over. Either you could read it — or have someone in your class who is a good reader do it — or ask one of your church’s ministers to slip in and do it — or whoever you think might do it best; but be sure to ask them early enough in the week so they have time to practice and be familiar with it, so they can emphasize it the way that it deserves. You might also play a recording of it from an audio Bible or YouTube. I listened to some on YouTube this week. But I’d sure pray about reading/having it read straight through at SOME point in the lesson: and let the Holy Spirit of God use His word touch your class by listening to the greatest prayer that was ever prayed!
(I recorded a reading of John 17 and posted it on YouTube if you’d like to use it. As I mentioned, there are also some dramatized versions with graphics on YouTube that you may consider using as well.
LESSON OUTLINE for this week:
I. The Prayer Introduction (:1-3)
II. The Prayer Requests (:13-26) At least five different things Jesus prays for His followers.
I. The Prayer Introduction (:1-3)
The Lifeway focus passage is :13-26 but I would definitely cover a few things early in the prayer by way of introduction:
— In :1 Jesus opens the prayer by saying: “Father” (notice He addresses the Father, just as He taught us to pray, “Our Father …”) THEN He says “the hour has come” — what hour? The hour that He came to earth for; the hour that He would do the most important thing that would ever be done in the world: the hour when He would die on the cross for our sins.
(You may need to discuss here that the word “hour” here can mean MORE than “60 minutes.” Many times the word “hour” is used of a strategic time. For example, someone might say: “The D-Day landings were a strategic hour in the saga of World War II.” That doesn’t mean that D-Day only lasted 60 minutes; it means it was a strategic time. That is what Jesus is saying here. He is coming to this “strategic time;” this appointed “hour” in which He would go to the cross for us.
— Then in :2 He talks about the PURPOSE of His coming to this strategic hour: “That to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” This is why Jesus came, that we might be saved and have eternal life.
— And then Jesus does something very important for us in :3: He DEFINES eternal life:“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
This is so important, because we talk about “eternal life” a lot: “whoever believes in Him will have eternal life;” “Do you know if you have eternal life?” etc. We talk about eternal life a lot, but just what IS eternal life? Well, I love it when God just flat out GIVES us a definition of somethig in His word, so we don’t have to GUESS what it is; He TELLS us exactly what it is. (Like angels in Hebrews 1:14). So here God defines “eternal life” for us: “This is eternal life, that they may KNOW YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So “eternal life” is not just “streets of gold;” it’s not just “pearly gates.” Eternal life is KNOWING HIM!
As the old hymn says: “When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me!” (And we’ll talk some more about His glory later in this lesson in :24)
II. The Prayer’s Requests
I plan to open this section by asking my group: ??? “What is something specific that you like to pray for people, when you pray for them?”???
(For example, I know how important it is for us spend time with God every day, so one of my favorite things to pray is: “Lord, help them to get up every day and walk with You in Your word & prayer.” You/your group can share things that YOU often pray for folks. I’ll be interested to hear what people are praying!)
THEN I’d say: let’s look at what JESUS prays for us when He prays! What He prays for us is surely very important. AND we can learn from it, better how to pray for ourselves and for others. So what does Jesus ask for us in this prayer?
A. :15 is notable as He prays for our spiritual PROTECTION: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (or “evil.” This is similar to what we find at the end of the Model Prayer in Matthew 6, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil/the evil one.”
It is a prayer of spiritual protection, just like Jesus teaches us to pray in the last petition of the Model Prayer.
This is SUCH an important thing to pray — protection from Satan and evil — and yet many of us do not pray it. We should.
(This is one of the reasons why I love following the outline of Jesus’ Model Prayer every day. It covers everything we need to talk with God about every day:
— Begin with praise
— Pray for God’s Kingdom work (church, ministers, missions)
— Pray for matters of God’s will
— ASK for requests (“give us this day our daily bread”)
— CONFESS sins
— and then pray for spiritual protection, “lead us not into temptation/deliver us from evil” like Jesus prays here.
Many other model prayers are good: ACTS, etc. — but they don’t include praying for spiritual protection like Jesus’ Model Prayer does. And it is SO important. We are in a spiritual WAR every day. So is our spouse; so are our kids/grandkids/loved ones. One of the most important prayers we can pray for them every day is for their spiritual protection from the evil one.
In :12 Jesus prayed: “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me, and I guarded them and not one of them perished …”. Jesus said He GUARDED His disciples in prayer. That is what WE need to do with our loved ones too: GUARD them in prayer!
Several years ago, a Texas mother fought off three masked men who invaded the home where she and her little son lived. Using a pistol she had in her bedroom, she shot one intruder in the stomach and ran the other two off. Most of us applaud those who do whatever they have to do to protect their family.
But we also need to understand that there is a greater responsibility than just protecting our family physically — and that is protecting them spiritually. The greatest enemy your family has cannot be shot with a gun, or physically barred from your home. The greatest enemy your family has is spiritual, and must opposed by spiritual weapons. That is why we must learn to pray prayers of spiritual protection which call down the power of God to protect and to work in the lives of those we love.
What a privilege that Jesus prays for OUR spiritual protection — and it should encourage US to pray our loved ones’ spiritual protection as well. Don’t wait until they get in trouble to pray for them; guard them NOW. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!
— B. SANCTIFICATION :17 is also a vital verse. What does Jesus pray for His disciples here: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
First, He prays here that His disciples would be SANCTIFIED.
Well, that is a 25 cent “religious word,” “sanctified.” But what does it really MEAN?
“Sanctify”, the Greek word “hagiazo”, means to make HOLY.
This tells us something important: Jesus prays for us as His disciples, to be made HOLY. We are not to “stay like we are,” but are to be continually growing in holiness.
AND HOW does He say that we are to grow in holiness?
He says, “Sanctify them in the truth: YOUR WORD is truth.”
So we are made holy through His word: as we listen to it in lessons and messages; as we read it every day; as we study it; as we memorize it and meditate on it; as we seek to apply it in our life. His Holy Spirit takes the “sword” of His word and uses it to gradually make us more like Him: HOLY!
This should impact us: Jesus is praying for us to be holy. It is one of His most important requests for us.
We need to put ourselves in position to be made holy through His word: by being faithful in SS & church, listening to His word, reading it, studying it, memorizing it; meditating on it, and DOING it!
— C. SERVICE Here’s a real challenge in :18 “As You sent ME into the world, I have also sent THEM into the world.”
God the Father sent Jesus into the world, from His comfortable home in heaven, to reach and teach and care for people.
And what does Jesus say here: as the Father sent HIM, so HE is sending US!
What does this mean for us? It means that He will be calling us to go places that we are not comfortable going, to reach and teach and care for Him, just like Jesus did:
??? What are some examples of things God might ask us to do, that would be like Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth for us?
(Some answers might include: leaving the comfort of the USA and going on a mission trip; or just leaving the comfort of our front yard, to across the street to try to build a relationship with a neighbor!; or to leave the comfort of this Sunday School class that we love, to go and serve in a class of children, youth or adults! You/your group can think of a lot of ways …)
At some point I would point out that :20 is a significant verse: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.”
Had this verse not been here, one might have said, “Well, Jesus wasn’t praying this for everyone; it was just for His 12 disciples.” But here Jesus says this is NOT “on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word” — so He makes it very clear that this is a prayer for ALL of us as His disciples. Jesus is praying for YOU & ME here! That is amazing!
— D. UNITY What Jesus prays in :21-23 is SO important. Read/have someone read :21-23 and ask:
??? What is Jesus’ repeated prayer request here???
“That they may all be one” (:21)
“That they may be one, just as We are one” (:22)
“That they may be perfected in unity” (:23) “Unity” here is literally “into one”!
So at least THREE TIMES in this prayer, Jesus asks that His followers would be ONE. Which shows us that UNITY among His people is so important to Him! He doesn’t do that with any of these other qualities.
And notice WHY Jesus says it is so important for us to be one: He says in :23 “SO THAT (again there’s the purpose clause) SO THAT the world may know that you sent Me.” It is a powerful witness to the world when God’s people show His unity and love; and it hurts our witness too the world when we are not.
In 1867 Mark Twain took a steamship voyage to Europe and the Holy Land. In Jerusalme he went to the Holy Sepulchre, where they believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. It should be the most unifying places in Christianity — but Twain wrote in The Innocents Abroad that when you go in you see a contingent of Turkish guards, “for Christians of different sects will not only quarrel, but fight, also, in this sacred place, if allowed to do it. … Priests of any of the chapels and denominations in the Church the Holy Sepulchre can visit this sacred grotto to weep and pray worship the gentle Redeemer, but two different congregations are not allowed to enter at the same time, however, because they always fight.” (Mark Twain, The Innocent Abroad, p. 518, 526)
What a horrible witness to the Islamic guards, that the Christians cannot even be unified at the empty tomb of Jesus? It should remind us of the importance of being unified as God’s people, and the impact it has on lost people around us.
— E. Experience His GLORY. I LOVE :24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
There is SO much here:
— Where does Jesus want us to be? “With Me where I am.” He wants us to be with Him! “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Revelation 21:3 says in the new heaven & earth, “He will dwell among them.” We will be with the Lord. As :3 says, THAT is eternal life.
— Then WHY does Jesus want us to be with Him? What does He want us to do? “SO THAT (that’s called a “purpose clause” in Greek grammar; this is the purpose) SO THAT they may see My glory.”
This is why I like to call it “the Gospel of glory.” It’s all about the glory. God created us to be fulfilled by His glory. But we all sinned and fell short of what? “The glory of God”! Our sin separated us from the glory of God that we were designed for. But Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins, so that we could be reconciled with God — and II Thessalonians 2:14 says “It was for this that He called you through our gospel, that you may GAIN THE GLORY of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It’s all about the glory. The glory of His face; the glory of His presence (Psalm 16:11 “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 36:8 “You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.” Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” We will be “satisfied with His likeness” — with His glory. What we were made for, what sin separated us from, what Jesus brings us back to forever: the glory of God in heaven! It’s all about the glory!
— AND THEN notice yet another important truth in :24, where Jesus says: “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” This teaches us some important things:
— that Jesus EXISTED before the foundation of the world. He didn’t come into being in Bethlehem. As John says in Chapter 1, “all things came into being by Him.”
— It also teaches that the Father and the Son are two separate Persons, like we talked about in the doctrine of the Trinity a few weeks ago. You love another Person.
— AND that they have this LOVE RELATIONSHIP. It is a mistaken idea to think that God made us “to have someone to love.” No, the Triune God has perfect love and fellowship between them for all eternity. Thus Jesus could say to His Father: “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
No, God didn’t create us because He needed someone to love. God doesn’t “need” anything. The Triune God has always had perfect love in Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “before the foundation of the world” as Jesus says here in :24. But amazingly, He has chosen to allow us to come INTO that love, and experience that love, with them — as :26 says, “So that the love with which You loved Me may be IN THEM, and I in them”! We get to be in on the greatest love, forever and ever! THAT is what is waiting for us in glory!
There’s a lot more to be found here, and you may want to expand the lesson to include the whole of John 17 – though there’s a whole lot there! But these are the points I would highlight from the focus text this week; you may find/include others. But after we finished talking about what Jesus prays for us here in John 17, then I might ask my group:
??? “Which of the things we’ve seen that Jesus prayed for His disciples here in John 17 means the most to YOU???
(And of course each person will have their own answer to that.)
And remember you might consider closing your class by reading/listening to someone read through the whole High Priestly Prayer of John 17. Just have everyone bow their heads and listen to this magnificent prayer. It could be a powerful way to end this class session.
— If you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.
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Thank you Shawn for another great overview! I plan to use many of your applications and questions. I would appreciate your prayers for me as I teach this lesson.
Thank you very much for your insightful commentary on the High Priestly Prayer. I did not find our Sunday School lesson plan adequate for teaching this important passage so your commentary is much appreciated.
Thank you so much for your continued help with the lessons! Please pray for our class tomorrow. Last Sunday we had to bring in chairs!!
And God has answered prayer: We have a new pastor!