This past Sunday I taught on John 17:11-19. It’s a large swath of scripture (for me at least) to cover in one class, but it was valuable to trace many of the themes repeated throughout the passage here. Below are my notes – I hope you find them profitable!
17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.  While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
These verses are so rich and so full of meaning that it almost has to be taught in weeks upon weeks of study, however, because we are a bit behind schedule I am going to address these verses as a collective group. The key points that we’ll examine are listed below.
- Jesus had been guarding the disciples during His time on earth and now wanted to ensure that they were kept in the “name” of the Father.
- Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, yet He still chose him to be a disciple (one of the 12). He has been in control of all things from the beginning and knew the scope of His redemptive purpose from before the foundation of the world.
- Jesus is readying His disciples for His departure. Again, He knew His mission and that He would soon leave the earth and be taken up into the splendor of heaven.
- Jesus’ words were spoken in order to sanctify us and the disciples (vs. 17) and bring them joy (vs. 13).
- This word that He has given us is what will cause us to be separated from the world (vs. 16) and hated by the world (vs. 14).
- Christians are to be in the world (vs. 18) yet not of the world (vs. 16). In this way our mission is like Christ’s (vs. 18) who was sent into the world by the Father.
Kept in the Name (vs.’s 11-12)
What does it mean to be “kept in the name” of the Father? D.A. Carson says it “is taken to have instrumental force, i.e. ‘by your name’…the petition means ‘protect them by your name’ or, more periphrastically as in the NIV, protect them by the power of your name.”
The interpretation is really difficult, but I think that a hint is found (rightly) by Carson in Psalm 54:1, which says:O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
This is a synthetic parallelism, which basically says that God’s name is equivalent to God’s power – His attributes are summarized by His name, not an uncommon theme in the OT.
So I think that Jesus is asking God to protect the disciples according to His own power and might and will. All of this is heightened by verse 11 which rings in our ears with majesty as Jesus addresses the Father as “Holy Father” – not simply “Father.” We are reminded in one title that God is both personal and transcendent in majesty. He is holy, and He is Father.
These truths add framework for our understanding of what Jesus is saying. God is our Father who loves us, but because He is God and not simply any other “father”, He is able to keep us by His power.
Picture, if you will, a dying parent arranging for a small child to be kept in the guardianship of a loving, kind, generous, extremely wealthy in-law – your favorite aunt or uncle. It is right to grieve the passing of the parent, but they are interceding to ensure the child is taken care of to the best degree possible. Jesus is doing that here, and doing it to the enth degree. He is commending His sheep to the hands of the Father.
Therefore, we know that God’s attributes like His power, His might, His goodness and grace and so forth, are all being brought to bear in our lives and in this world in order to accomplish His will and take care of us, His adopted children.
That the Scriptures May be Fulfilled (vs. 12)
Jesus was a student of the Old Testament, and as we listen to His discussions with the disciples throughout the gospels we get a real sense that He knew exactly what He was destined for – the cross. All that He did then was “in order that the Scriptures may (have been) fulfilled.”
I picture Jesus as a conductor of a grand symphony who stepped into the orchestra pit and started playing a complex part in the symphony. He knew all the music, He wrote the notes! He steps into history to complete His grand symphony of redemption. This is what it means to hear Him say that what He’s doing are, “that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.” Understand – its not just that He’s read the book, He’s the author of the book! He’s completing His own story and including us in His work of art here.
So specifically, the Scriptures that are being fulfilled here is that Judas would betray Him. We read in Psalm 109:8:May his days be few; May another take his office!
Jesus sees this as fulfilled in Judas, and Peter does as well. For we read later in Acts 1:16-20 the following:
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong1 he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,May his days be few; May another take his office!
Readying Them for His Departure (Vs.’s 11 and 13)
As I mentioned earlier, it was not a new thing for Jesus to talk about His departure, he has already said earlier in John 14:12, for instance, that He would be leaving them. But now He is saying the time has finally come, the moment is upon Him. That’s why He says, “But now I am coming to you” to the Father.
It is certainly true that Jesus submitted to the Father, but He is equal to the Father in divinity. So He has the right to assert that He is coming to the Father. There aren’t really any people who can say things like this if you think about it from a human perspective. We know for certain that we’ll be with Him upon our death, but we have no idea when that will be. Jesus knew both. To me this is another evidence of His deity.
Also, I think we can’t move past this idea of His imminent departure without noticing the depth of compassion He shows to the disciples. He’s so caring, He is so loving, and so very selfless. These are not the words of a doomed man going to the gallows, these are the words of a man who would soon take death in a stranglehold and crush it to death! So He’s under no delusions about what is about to happen next. He’s not living in an alternate reality or fooling Himself into thinking the worst won’t happen. He knows the worst will happen, and He’s facing that headwind straight on.
So all that He says here He intends to fulfill. He does not needlessly cast out kindnesses or empty hopeless expressions that are vain as one plunges into the harsh truth of reality. He knows both the reality and the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:1-3), and this truth adds a great deal of weight to His words.
His Words Had a Sanctifying Purpose (Vs.’s 13, 17)
Jesus explicitly leaves us an earthly inheritance in order that we may experience “joy” and “sanctification” in Him. What is that inheritance? It is His word.
Is it any wonder that the author of Hebrews tells us that His words are “living and active”, or that Paul commends us to the “renewing of our minds”? No indeed. The words of Jesus endure for all time, an inheritance to the church that will never fade.The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Ps. 119:160)
These words both set us apart from the world (sanctify us) and they bring us great joy. How is it that they do this?
First, we receive greater joy as we know God more. We know more about God from what He has revealed in His word. There is nothing else that has sanctifying power – the Holy Spirit uses the Bible. THAT is His means. Not whatever pops into our minds, but what has been given to us from His revealed word. And this idea of being “set apart” is something that happens necessarily by a transforming of our hearts. The more we find our only joy and hope in Christ, the more we find the things of the world desirable. The two simply don’t go hand in hand. We cannot love the world more than we love God if we are immersing ourselves in the word of God.
The take away for us here is that if Jesus, in the final hours of His life and the final moments of his time with the disciples, had this one important request of the Father on their (and our) behalf, then it ought to be given some real serious consideration. If Jesus saw the Scriptures as the key to keeping the disciples close to God when He left, then I think we ought to do everything in our power to follow His lead and spend massive amounts of time in the word.
The benefits are probably pretty obvious, but I still want you to soak in the emphasis that Scripture itself claims for itself:
This is where we learn His promises: And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. (2 Sam. 7:28)
It guards us against sin and keeps us on the paths of righteousness: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11) and “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” (Psalm 37:30-31)
It gives us knowledge of the gospel and eternal life: For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)
It is necessary for our spiritual growth: Jesus answered Satan with this truth by saying “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). And Moses had said as much when he said to the Israelites, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of reasons why we need to study and be immersed in God’s word, but I think you see from these passages that across the canon of Scripture there is a clear emphasis on the need to be studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s word.
It is God’s Word that Separates Us From the World (Vs.’s 14, 15, 16)
Pastor Dennis gave a sermon recently in which he spoke about this a little. The question he was addressing is “why will the world hate us?” The answer is because we have the word of God living inside of us and they hate that word just as they hated the Word incarnate.
When the Word incarnate was amongst them, He shined light upon them and that light exposed their darkness and “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1 – Mary’s Magnificat):
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Earlier we heard Jesus saying the same thing in an expanded passage in the 15th chapter of John:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father also.  If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.  But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25 ESV)
This teaching isn’t unique to John’s gospel either. This is a theme throughout the ministry of Jesus and is found in other gospels and recorded in the life of Paul and Peter who were rejected by the Jews, and in some cases stoned and left for dead. Such was the virulent response of those who heard the message of the gospel. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised when friends leave us, when family spurns us, and when colleagues at work shun us and even file complaints against us. There is a cost to following Christ – have you counted that cost?
Christians Must be in the World but not of the World
I’m writing these notes sort of post-fact because this section I never got to for a few reasons, but mostly because the header doesn’t so much illustrate one verse, but rather the pervasive thought of this entire section. When I taught this Sunday morning I think I probably mentioned this idea of being “in” but not “of” the world throughout the course of my entire discussion.
However, let me just say a few words here about this thought. The key really is found in the idea of balance. Just like in eschatology and salvation we must balance the already/not yet, so too in what we might term ecclesiology (which this has a little to do with) we must not retreat entirely from the world, yet we must not let the world where we’re immersed completely envelope our lives to the point of saturation. We must not allow our surroundings to dominate our priorities and the direction of our lives. It has been efforts at reform in the church throughout the ages that have swayed back and forth and very few times do we not overreact and overcorrect.
That we are to be in the world and yet not “of” it is evident from the fact that we have to fight a spiritual battle in the first place. That is not to say that the flesh isn’t enough of a battle for us, but certainly the world has its place in our tripartite division of adversaries – the third being Satan, of course. So this shouldn’t be a foreign or ethereal concept whatsoever. This is intensely practical because it’s a daily issue and its something every Christian has interaction with.
Probably the key Pauline verse that deals with this in my mind is Romans 12:2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
The assumption here is that we are “in” the world, is it not? Yet there is an admonition here and that is that while we are in the world we need to be “renewing our minds” – this is extremely closely tied to Jesus’ own conception as to how the Christian must battle the elements of the world when He states “sanctify them in truth…Your Word is truth.”
And so the right way (I think) to read this passage is to see that Jesus wants them in the world. He wants us engaging the world. But He also wants us engaging His word. The assumption is that if we are in the world we need to be in the word otherwise we won’t have the ability to stay afloat in our faith – we’ll be gobbled up by the cares and concerns and idols of this world.
Therefore, we are not to retract our advance into this world. We are not to shy away from developing relationships outside of our church friends. We are to love people and care for them, and they are to see Christ’s light shining through our words and actions. They will likely hate us, as they did Jesus, but we will be ultimately encouraged, sanctified, and set free to live lives of joy so long as we are immersed in the Word of God. There can be no greater evidence than this that Jesus highly prized time in Scripture. If He prized it so, oughtn’t you?