How Does Prayer Relate to Mission and Unity?: Andrew T. Lincoln on Jesus’ prayer in John 17

While studying for my message this past week, “Praying One: learning to pray for unity from Jesus’ Prayer,” I encountered this insightful explanation from Andrew T. Lincoln about how Jesus’ prayer for unity relates to the mission of the church.

Jesus’ first petition for all believers, ‘that they may all be one’ (v. 21), is a request for unity—both for the disciples and for those who will come to believe through their witness. It is clear that what is envisioned is a unity that results from believers participating in the foundational unity that already exists between the Father and the Son. Again, the grounds for the petition follow. In verses 22-23 Jesus states that he has already laid the basis for the unity requested in the petition by giving to the disciples the glory that the Father has given him. God’s glory—that is, the honor and reputation of the divine name—has been bestowed on Jesus. Jesus, therefore, has granted to his followers a share in that glory by making known to them the divine name (v. 6) and by enabling them to share in his own reputation and honor (v. 10b).

This complete unity between Father, Son, and believers (‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,’ v. 21a) has as its goal the world’s coming to know the truth about Jesus’ mission: ‘so that they world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21b). Its purpose, however, is not only knowledge about Jesus. It is also that the world might know the truth about believers’ relationship to God—a relationship in which they, as well as Jesus, are loved by God: ‘so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (v. 23; cf. 14:21-23).

The community in which the believers’ witness is embodied is to be a united one, and the issues at stake in Jesus’ mission hinge on the reality ‘that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me’ (v. 23b). Since the truth established in the cosmic trial has to do with the unity that exists between the One who is sent and the One who has sent him, it is not surprising that the testimony to that truth is to be displayed by the oneness of the witnesses.

It is not simply that the unity of the witnesses mirrors the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. Rather, the unity of the believing community actually participates in the unity that defines the relation between Jesus and God (cf. v. 21). For the goal of its mission is not only that the world comes to know Jesus’ identity as the One sent by God, but also that it comes to know that his followers are loved by God just as Jesus is loved by God (v. 23c). How does the world come to know God as love? Not only through hearing the witness that Jesus’ death was God’s loving gift to the world, but also through seeing and experiencing the enacted witness of a community that is united in loving acceptance of one another.

Andrew T. Lincoln, “God’s Name, Jesus’ Name, and Prayer in the Fourth Gospel,” in Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 168-169.

Praying One: learning to pray for unity from Jesus’ prayer

As we continued our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I explored Jesus’ prayer in John 17 as a key to the unity of the church and an example for how prayer contributes to unity. I concluded the message with a time of prayer based on Jesus’ requests in John 17:20-26.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You.” (John 17:20-21)

A Summary of Jesus’ Prayer in  John 17

  • Jesus prays for Himself (John 17:1-5)
  • Jesus prays for His immediate disciples (John 17:6-19)
  • Jesus prays for future disciples (John 17:20-26)

Diving Into Jesus’ Prayer for Unity

  • Jesus’ prayer for those who will believe in Him through His disciples’ word (17:20)
  • Experiential oneness derived from the divine oneness (17:21)
  • This oneness tied to the world believing Jesus was sent by God (17:21)
  • Glory given to Jesus now given to the disciples for unity (17:22-23)
  • Unity as a reflection of being loved by God (17:23-26)

Jesus’ Prayer and Our Prayers

  • Jesus prayed uniquely
  • Our prayers can echo Jesus’ prayer
  • We will only live unified by prayer

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of prayer and unity in one or more of the following ways:

Praying Ourselves Toward Unity

Jesus-Praying-in-the-Garden Dore

Whenever I think about the unity that we are called to as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ under the Fatherhood of God,  I often wonder how we actually can move into that reality? If you’re like me, you can look back at the history of the church and see divisions: between Eastern and Western churches in the great divide of the 11th century; the Protestant reformation and the division from Rome in the 16th century; the radical reformation of the Anabaptist movement within Protestantism in the 16-17th century; the breaking of the Wesleys with Anglicanism, which lead to the Methodist church in the 18th century; etc. Although the list could go on, you probably get the point.

Now, we can certainly talk about the unity of the church, but how do we attain it with such a checkered past?

Alongside all the apparently practical advice about dealing with our pride, learning to love one another, and so on, I’d like to suggest that there is one essential element that we must put into practice if we want greater unity in the church. It is something Jesus modeled for us. In fact, the only time that the word “unity” appears in the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – is when Jesus is doing this one critical activity. What is that critical activity? Prayer.

Over the next few days, I want to approach the topic of unity through the lens of prayer. In John 17, where Jesus enters into prayer before going to the Cross, He asks for God’s glory to be displayed in Him, for His current disciples, and future disciples. Specifically, when we turn our attention to verses 20-26, we see that Jesus prays for His future disciples to be unified.

What I am after in this series of reflections is this: if we want to be One Church – if we want to experience unity with other believers and with other churches for God’s glory – then we must pursue prayer.

To put it more simply: Prayer is the pathway to unity. Conversely, without prayer we cannot experience unity in the church.

[This is the first in a series of posts on unity through prayer from John 17.]

Jesus Praying in Difficulty (discussion questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message at Eastbrook Church this past weekend from John 17 entitled “Jesus Praying in Difficulty.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. This week we conclude our series on prayer from the life and teaching of Jesus. Whether you are on your own or in a small group, take time to read John 17:1-26 aloud.
  2. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 follows an extended time of teaching with the disciples. Jesus turns from interaction with His followers to interaction with His Father. How would you describe the relationship between the Father and the Son from what you see in John 17: 1-5? (You may also want to notice how many times Jesus refers to God as ‘Father’.)
  3. Looking at those same first verses, what would you say is the centerpiece of Jesus’ mission on earth?Read More »

Jesus Praying in Difficulty

This week at Eastbrook, I concluded our series “Pray Like Jesus” with a message entitled “Jesus Praying in Difficulty” from John 17.

The main point of my message was that if we want to pray like Jesus then our life of prayer should be shaped what concerns Jesus in His life of prayer.

You can listen to my message online at the Eastbrook web-site here. I’ve included the outline for the message below:Read More »