John 17:9-23

Jesus, The Intercessor

         January 12, 2003                       2002, J.W. Carter              Scripture quotes from KJV

This lesson is concerned with intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer involves praying to God on the behalf of others.   What does it mean to intercede? Intercession is to stand between two parties for the purpose of the benefit to one, another, or both. The American Heritage Dictionary defines intercede as "To act as mediator, to intervene." The last lesson in this series concentrated on praying "In Jesus' Name.", praying to God within the context of His divine through Jesus' authority to do so. This lesson will look at how to pray "in Jesus Name" for others.

Many people maintain a prayer list? Why is this done? Some churches regularly publish a prayer list to its members, usually containing a comprehensive itemization of those members and friends of the church who are experience health-related problems and/or crises.  Such lists remind us of the identity of  those who we have identified as in need of specific prayer requests. Is praying for one another a Biblical teaching, or a church tradition? Consider a small set of scriptural examples of calls to or the application of intercessory prayer:

1 Samuel 7:5. Then Samuel said, "Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you."

1 Kings 13:6. Then the king said to the man of God, "Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored." So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king's hand was restored and became as it was before.

Mat 5:44. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Mat 19:13. Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.

Luke 6:28. bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Col 1:3. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,

Col 4:3. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

1 Th 5:25. Brothers, pray for us.

2 Th 1:11. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.

2 Th 3:1. Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

Heb 13:18. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

James 5:14. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James 5:16. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Our study of prayer has centered around the activities in the Upper Room when Jesus met with the disciples for the Passover meal immediately prior to his capture. Here, Jesus prays for the disciples and for us in what is often referred to as the "High Priestly Prayer." It is a prayer of intercession. As it is read, listen for the specific requests that Jesus makes. 

John 17:9 

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

According to this verse, for whom is Jesus praying? Identified as "those you have given me," Jesus is clearly referring to His faithful disciples.  The text specifically limits the prayer for those who are not of the world, implying at least the disciples before him. Verse 20 goes on to include the body of believers for all time, making these verses also relevant to modern believers.  Consequently, Jesus is praying for today's faithful just as much as He is for the disciples who were with Him in the upper room. So, if you personalize this prayer, look at what it reveals:  Jesus states that God as given us (or you, personally), to Him.  Does God give us to one another? What people has God given you? At a minimum God has given you your children, your family, your closest friends, and the people in your church.

John 17:10 

All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.

How has Glory come to Jesus? According to Jesus, He is glorified through the testimony of those who are faithful to Him. Consider the following definition of glory (American Heritage Dictionary), and consider how Christians glorify Jesus through their testimony.

  1. Great honor, praise, or distinction accorded by common consent; renown. 
  2. Something conferring honor or renown. 
  3. A highly praiseworthy asset. 
  4. Adoration, praise, and thanksgiving offered in worship. 
  5. Majestic beauty and splendor; resplendence. 
  6. The splendor and bliss of heaven; perfect happiness. 
  7. A height of achievement, enjoyment, or prosperity. 

John 17:11

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one.  What does Jesus pray for? (That we would be protected by the power of God's Name.) For what purpose? (So that we would be united in fellowship with each other and with God.)

Since we have the content of this prayer, the disciples were hearing it as Jesus spoke it.  Herein Jesus communicates yet another time that He is leaving, and will leave the disciples behind.  This will bring an experience of crisis to the disciples.  What are some of the dangers that will confront the disciples in Jesus' absence?  One of the specific concerns of Jesus in this prayer is the maintenance of the unity in their fellowship.  Up to this point, this has been maintained by Jesus on a regular basis. Now the disciples need protection from that which would cause a break in fellowship with each other and with Him.  What are some of the events that would cause the fellowship to disband?  The crucifixion is going to be a difficult experience for them to understand.  The grief and disillusionment that they will experience has the power to take a tremendous toll.  It is evident that the disciples did return home after the crucifixion.  At a time like this, the disciples will need particular protection against the evil one who would seek to disassemble the fellowship and by so doing, end Jesus' ministry.

What are some of the things that cause us to break fellowship with each other and with God?  Without fail, we can identify each such action as one of sin.  Usually it is pride that divides fellowship, and it is certainly not love.  Love brings about reconciliation, and God's love can reconcile any divided fellowship.   If we are not united with God, we fail to have the power to overcome the evil one, and are powerless to accomplish any act of God's purpose either in our own lives, or for the behalf of others.  If Christians are not united with one another, their testimony to the lost world becomes impotent, and they cannot grow in knowledge and faith.  

When faced with crisis, Jesus' first concern was for the unity of the body of believers, both among themselves, and with God.  We should never forget the importance of this facet of Christian life.

John 17:12 

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

It may be interesting to observe the last part of this verse. It is Judas Iscariot that Jesus is speaking when he says, "the one doomed."  Note that Judas has just left the room. He has yet to carry through his betrayal and his subsequent suicide. Ever since that day, the name Judas has come to mean "One who betrays another under the guise of friendship," (American Heritage Dictionary.)  Some would argue that Judas was saved, but succumbed to the temptation for power and profit.  Scripture repeatedly shows that Judas Iscariot never made a commitment to Jesus as Lord, even though he spent three years with him.  Though Jesus was in a position to bring all of the disciples to salvation, He was unable to bring Judas.  Likewise, Jesus cannot change the heart of any person who willfully rejects Him.  That "hard heart" is the one, unpardonable sin, a state from within which no person can be saved.  Consequently, it is the most dangerous of all sins, since it has the power to kill the spirit of a person, condemning them to an eternity separated from God.

John 17:13

 "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

For what benefit is Jesus praying for here? It is Jesus' desire that all of His followers would have the full measure of joy within them, a joy that would be destroyed by any disunity brought on by crisis. Are you living with the full joy that Jesus has for you? Consider Jesus' statement recorded in  John 10:10.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus intends upon us to live a life that is overflowing with joy. What is keeping us from doing this?  Rather than having our focus on Jesus, we tend to focus on the problems of our world and feel powerless to do anything about it.  Our love is overpowered by anxiety.  Our peace is overpowered by the turmoil of our circumstances.  Jesus came so that those who believe in Him would surrender to Him those attitudes and concerns that would rob us of our joy, and take upon ourselves His love that we would fully experience the peace and joy that Jesus offers.  It is the evil of the world that is robbing Christians of their joy, and a thief is successful only when he operates unseen.  Just as a robbery is stopped by the light of a witness, Satan's power to rob Christians of their joy is destroyed when he is exposed for what he is doing.

John 17:14-15 

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. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

What is Jesus saying in Verse 14? (1) We have His Word. What does this mean? We have the revelation, through the Scripture and through the Word of God's purpose in the world and in our lives. (2) We have the power of God's Word and the Authority it represents. That is, we can do many things in His name, as well as pray.  Jesus also says that we are not of this world, and we are hated by it. Consider Ephesians 6:12 

Eph 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our battle is often waged against people, but when we look closer we find out that people are to be loved.  We are attacking the wrong target.  We struggle against the strongholds that Satan has been able to set up in our lives: We struggle against the personal strongholds in our own lives that are like chinks in our armor where we give Satan authority to take away from us the joy that Jesus has for us. We struggle against the ideological strongholds of this present world, bombarded by the unholy messages that this world projects. We also struggle against cosmic strongholds that are demonstrated by Satan's ungodly interference in God's work. Here Jesus is praying for us for protection from the last two of these, the world, and from the evil one.

John 17:16-17 

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

What is Jesus praying for here? Jesus desires that we would be set apart for sacred use; consecrated, made holy; purified. In some ways, sanctification is a process. Though we are set apart at the event of our salvation, we still grow in our faith, in our understanding of him, and in our spiritual maturity. This word, "sanctify" is an active verb that states that an action is to be taken in our lives: that God's Truth will live in us to make us Holy.  It is truth that cleanses us of the unholiness of falsehood.  We are to embrace God's truth and reject the false truths of this world whether them come from secular voices or even from man-authored church dogma.  The only truth is God's Word, and it is only through that Word that man can be truly sanctified.  The world and its religions try many other methods to reach God, but there is only one way, and that is through the one and only truth.

John 17:18 

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

As Jesus is praying for the faithful, note that they have been specifically sent into the world in the same way that He was sent into the world. Jesus is praying for the ministry of Christians and their mission, clarifying its source and its purpose. Jesus is the source of ministry, God's word is its foundation, and the Holy Spirit is its only source of power.  It is Jesus and only Jesus that commissioned the dissemination of the truth to the lost world.

John 17:19-23 

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus repeats his prayer for unity. How important is it that we, as Christians, are united?  What causes disunity? (Satan's interference with the fellowship of the body, usually through the weakness of our pride and need to be in control.) So, let's summarize some of the things that Jesus was praying for on our behalf in these verses (9-23). What are they?

  1. That we are protected by His power, vs.11.
  2. That we be united with one another and with God, vs. 11, 21-23 
  3. That we are kept safe, vs. 12.
  4. That we may have complete joy, vs. 13.
  5. That we are protected from the world, vs. 14.
  6. That we are protected from Satan, vs. 15.
  7. That we be set apart for God's purpose (Sanctified.), vs. 17.
  8. That we be sent into the world on His behalf, vs. 18.
  9. That we would receive His glory, vs. 22.

As Jesus prayed for Christians, they should pray for one another.  The writer of the book of James, traditionally the half-brother of Jesus, writes of the necessity of intercessory prayer.  Jesus' prayer for Christians was largely concentrating on the spiritual aspect of their needs, an area we often overlook when we pray for one another.  Usually, we pray for each other's health.  Such prayers are consistent with a ministry of intercession.

James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James addresses the way to respond to times of sickness. What would be the natural way to respond to sickness? Often in times of crisis, people find themselves placing blame, experiencing depression, and lashing out at God  with questions such as, "Why did you let this happen?"  They search for a quick remedy, dependence on others, and wallow in self pity.  Here James provides some Godly responses to sickness. The first is to notify the elders of the church.  Note that the necessity of personal prayer is already identified in the previous verse. Why should the elders be notified? Those who are leaders in the church body should be aware of the needs within the body so that they can pray for you and enjoin others to pray also. They might also be in a position to mobilize those who see this as an opportunity to minister to someone in need.  Such actions empower the ministry of the church as the afflicted further understands the real source of healing.

Why do you suppose James advises the practice of anointing with oil? Anointing symbolizes one as separated out for God's total purpose, placing the individual completely into the Lord's hands.  Note that modern usage is often variant with the scriptural purpose. It is not meant for the cleansing or ridding of sin (as us used in the extreme unction of last rights), but rather to identify the afflicted as one who is separated out for God's purpose and as one who is subject to God's promises.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

Note here that the healing source is prayer and not the anointing with oil. Furthermore, that prayer should be offered up in faith which ultimately recognizes and desires the fulfillment of God's will, not our own.  Did miraculous healing end with the apostolic age? (No.) All healing is ultimately miraculous, from the tiny scratch to the devastation of the body due to illness and trauma.  Even the most sophisticated modern science can only describe the simplest of healing processes, yet cannot replicate it.

Is this verse a medical credit card which can be used to assure healing in all instances of our desire? (No.) We do not know God's complete and ultimate purpose for our lives. We know only that we do not want to be afflicted.  God's purpose in a persons affliction might be to bring that person home to Himself.  We never fully know, we can only trust God's heart.

Some notes about modern "Faith Healing":  Many will take these two verses out of the context of God's attributes, and use them to justify healing-on-demand. Some problems encountered with this philosophy include: 1) It rejects God's ultimate purpose for the afflicted, 2) It treats God as our servant who will jump to our commands.  If faith-healing practices were useful as practiced by some on the fringe of theological application,  why do any faith healers wear glasses? How would any man die? Total and successful faith healing leads to earthly immortality.  Christians would have to jump in front of trains to die, and that might not even work.  Often the demand of healing amounts to no more than the testing of God, and results in no more than the evaluation of the lack of faith in those who are not "miraculously" healed.  Often our affliction is a direct consequence of our sin or the sin of others. For example, we may abuse our bodies through smoking, overindulgence, sloth, or a variety of other means. A prayer in faith recognizes this sin as sin. It then seeks and receives forgiveness for that sin, but God requires repentance.  It is ultimately God who is in control, not the individual who is interceding in prayer.  It is only when the prayer is raised up by one who is abiding in Christ and praying in His will, is the culmination of that prayer consistent with the desire of the person who raises it.  (John 15.)

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

James encourages us to share with each other our needs, our afflictions, and even our sins. Why do you suppose this is so? Note how much emphasis is placed in these verses on praying for the forgiveness of sin rather than praying for deliverance from the affliction.   "Sin is both the root of sickness and the sting of it. If sin be pardoned, either affliction shall be removed in mercy or we shall see there is mercy in the continuance of it." (M.Henry)

To whom are we to confess our sins? (To each other.) Why is this so difficult? For what purpose are we to share the confession of our sins? The purpose for confessing sin to one another is to give us someone who can pray for us, and garner accountability to one another.  It is easier to overcome an addiction when one knows that others are fighting the battle in prayer alongside the afflicted.

Note that the 13th verse directs persons to pray for themselves; the 14th verse directs to seek for the prayers of ministers or leaders; and the 16th directs Christians to pray one for another.  Intercession is to be extended to all.

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful. What makes a man righteous?  No man can be righteous on his own, but rather is granted a state of righteous in the gospel by the grace and mercy of God through Christ in his true desire for that which is Godly, and a true disdain for that which is ungodly. (Ps. 66:18)

Christians are called to pray one for another.  For this to be effective we must share our needs with one another.  Though James' example concerns praying for each other's physical needs and needs to be freed from the sins that still afflict, Jesus' example was to pray for the Holy Spirit to provide the spiritual resources needed to overcome a time of crisis.  Our prayers for one another should not be limited to stated desires for physical healing, but include the entire spectrum of human need with sensitivity to God's ultimate purpose, a purpose that will be accomplished both through prayer, the actions that accompany prayer, and through God's working in our lives.