“I’ll pray for you” can be meant sincerely or haphazardly. But as Dr. George Gunn pointed out in his message “Christ’s High Priestly Prayer and the Holy Spirit,” wherever Jesus’ prayers are recorded in Scripture, every word is packed with earnest, fervent, and eternal significance. While Scripture often highlights Jesus slipping away to pray, it is rare for the contents of one of His prayers to be recorded. An exception is John 17.
Speaking in the second general session of the 2021 GARBC Conference, Dr. Gunn unpacked four requests in this prayer. The first was for Himself; the other three apply to Jesus’ followers. And while the Holy Spirit is not directly named in John 17, He is essential to all four requests.
First Jesus prayed that He would be glorified. “The essential idea behind glorifying somebody is to cause someone to have an opinion—a right opinion,” said Dr. Gunn. The Holy Spirit had a crucial role in this work of glorifying Christ. He took the truths about Christ and applied them to the disciples and to us by extension. Jesus Christ was first glorified through the cross (Philippians 2:8), because “in the cross He was made known for Who He was,” Dr. Gunn explained. Jesus Christ was also glorified through His ascension (Philippians 2:9).
Moving to His followers, Jesus prayed that the Father would keep His saints in His name (John 17:11). In a sense believers wear God’s name; it is a marker that they belong to Him. Specifically, the Holy Spirit seals and marks believers in this way (Ephesians 1:13). In His sovereign power, God will guard, protect, and preserve those who belong to Christ. But human responsibility is also involved. Verse 6 points out that believers also need to keep something: God’s Word. True Christians have no danger of losing their eternal salvation, but they could lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Through the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11–18) and the revealed Word of God, believers can be kept and protected from stumbling.
Then Jesus prayed for His saints to be sanctified. When something is sanctified, it is separated, dedicated for a purpose, and cleaned. For this to be true of believers, they must be sanctified through the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). “Instantaneously, the moment we believed, we were sanctified positionally,” Dr. Gunn reminded the audience. “But it remains to be lived out experientially.” Sometimes the filling of the Holy Spirit is conceived as being primarily a mystical dynamic. But a comparison of Ephesians 5:18–19 with Colossians 3:16 shows that the Spirit’s filling is tightly connected to the Word of God. A paraphrase of this point might be “Let the Holy Spirit fill you with the Word of Christ.”
Finally, Jesus prayed that the saints would be unified. This only happens through the working of the Holy Spirit. While there is much diversity of individuals in the church, God’s desire is for the Body of Christ to be one, and this only comes through humility and the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18–21). Instead of divisiveness creeping in, as it did for Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2), believers should have a love for one another that leads to unity.
“If Jesus ever used the expression, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ you can be sure He meant it,” Dr. Gunn emphasized in conclusion. “He did pray for us. He prayed for you, and He prayed for me the night before He went to the cross.”