The Agora
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16. Christ’s Prayer for the United Ecclesia (John 17)

Christ’s great intercessory prayer, recorded in John 17, is the most intimate outpouring of the Son’s heart to the Father that is recorded in all of the Bible. The apostles heard the words as they followed their Master, but the thoughts were too deep for them at that stage. In a way, perhaps, we today are just as unprepared for the crystal clarity, the uncompromising perfection implicit in his words:

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Elaborating on the request first uttered in v. 11 (“that they may be one”), Christ repeats this wonderful prayer four more times (vv. 21 — twice, 22, and 23). It must be to the great embarrassment of strict separatists that this particular aspect is so emphasized in this place. But never mind how difficult, how humanly impossible it appears, this unity is an achievable goal, with Christ’s help.

“ ‘That they all may be ONE.’ Here the word ‘one’ is not masculine, but neuter, and probably presupposes ‘one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13) or ‘one Body’, for both of these are neuter nouns. No matter. ‘That they all may be one....that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (v. 21). Instead they are not all one, not by any means as much as they might be. And if the world quizzically comments: ‘How these brethren in Christ love one another!’ it is certainly not helped to believe in the Christ they all honour” (H. Whittaker, “Block Disfellowship”, The Testimony, Vol. 43, No. 513 — Sept. 1973 — p. 343).

“The only way that believers can show that they dimly perceive the immensity of what Jesus sought from his Father, is to make this harmony of love and consideration so real in their individual and ecclesial lives that people of the world recognize it as the practical manifestation of the life and teaching of Jesus — even though they themselves may not always respond to it. Particularly in this way is the Master glorified in his household.

“The conscious and deliberate effort of every member of an ecclesia is needed to preserve this divine unity: it has to be a community effort. The joy of it is that Jesus is part of this cooperation. He knows that difficulties will arise in ecclesias; he knows that it is only by ‘getting together’ that ecclesias can solve difficulties; that is why he promised, in case of dispute, to be ‘in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:20). Why do we so frequently forget, or ignore this?” (J. Marshall, “The Living Ecclesia”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 108, No. 1280 — Feb. 1971 — p. 54).
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