“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15
We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…
– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)
– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…
~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).
Today we also discover that praying for those we disciples includes PRAYING FOR THEIR PROTECTION FROM THE WORLD AND THE EVIL ONE (John 17:9-15). Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven, “9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10).Jesus did not “pray for the world” the night before His death, He prayed for the disciples whom the Father gave Him because they belong to the Father (“they are Yours”) and to Jesus (“Yours are Mine”), and Jesus will be departing from them soon. This is another affirmation of Jesus’ equality with the Father. The disciples belong to both the Father and the Son. Only God in human flesh could make such a claim of reciprocal ownership with God the Father! 1
It is not that Jesus did not care about the world – He does! But the night before His crucifixion, He needed to focus on His disciples because their needs were great. When Jesus says, “I am glorified in them,” He is referring to the disciples who now believe that Jesus is from the Father (cf. John 17:8). Every time a person comes to faith in Christ as the One sent by the Father, Jesus is glorified in them!
Christ would no longer be with His disciples when He would ascend to heaven, so He prayed: “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11).Christ prays to His “Holy Father” to “keep” them “through” or “in” His Father’s “name.” The word “name” refers to the character of God. 2 Jesus is asking the Father to keep the disciples loyal to His Father’s character while they are “in the world.”
Sometimes Christians miss what Jesus just said. He does not say His disciples should live out of the world or as far away from the world as possible. He says, “these are in the world.” Some people think that to live a holy life you must live as far away from the world as possible. So you have a whole movement of people called monks who live far away from people in monasteries. You have churches that think they must live as far away from non-Christians as possible to live holy lives. But that is not what Jesus is praying here.
Christ is praying that His disciples would live distinctly holy lives “in the world,” not distant lives from the world. Because if we are the light of the world, and we are (Matthew 5:16), how is the world going to see it unless we live among them? If we are the salt of the earth, and we are (Matthew 5:13), how is the world going to taste it unless we live among them? So when Jesus prayed for us, He doesn’t pray for us to be taken out of the world. He prays that we would be kept loyal to the Father’s character while we live in this world.
This is the only time in the gospel of John that God is addressed as “holy Father.” The use of this title of God prepares the way for Jesus’ prayer to “sanctify” His disciples through the Father’s “truth” (cf. John 17:17-19). The purpose of praying for the Father to keep them loyal to His character was so they “may be one as We are one.” Christ wants us to live in unity with one another like He and the Father do, so the world can see what God is like. But Satan and the world want to divide the body of Christ, so our witness is less effective in the world.
Next Jesus prays, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12). Two different words are used for the word “kept” in this verse. The first word for “kept” is the same word used in verse 11 (etēroun) and has the idea of “to keep, hold, or preserve.” 3 Christ said He had kept or preserved their loyalty to the Father’s name or character.
The second word for “kept” (ephylaxa) means “to guard, protect” 4 and focuses on Christ keeping them secure from being spiritually “lost” or perishing after they believed in Him (John 10:28-29). Not one believer has ever been lost by Christ nor ever will be lost by Him (John 6:35-40). Judas, “the son of perdition” (NIV – “one doomed to destruction”), never believed in Jesus in the first place (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11). Judas’ unbelief does not mean Jesus failed, but that Judas fulfilled Scripture in Psalm 41:9 which spoke of David’s friend betraying him. Judas “destroyed” himself by refusing to believe in Christ and thus fulfilled Scripture and God’s purpose.
“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13). Christ had kept the disciples loyal to God’s character while “in the world,” but now He was returning to the Father (“now I come to You”) and so He prays “these things I speak” in My prayer about keeping My disciples loyal to God’s character and guarding them from perishing is so “they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” If the disciples remained faithful to God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, they would have a “full measure” of the joy that He had (and will have – Hebrews 12:2) in obeying His Father (cf. 15:10-11; 16:20-22, 24).
“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.” (John 17:14). What did Jesus give the disciples that caused the world to hate them? The Father’s word about His Son and eternal life. The disciples were “not of the world” in their position because of their faith in Christ just as Jesus was “not of the world.” What makes the world hate believers is the truth of God’s Word. One way to get the world to love us is to let go of what makes them hate us – God’s Word and its truth.
Comedian, Bill Cosby, used to do a comedy routine about the time he was an American football running back. He was this 120-pound scrawny little kid playing against these 300-pound linemen on the other side. The quarterback said, “Cosby, you’re going to get the ball,” and they handed him the ball and these 300-pound defensive linemen are charging at him and they look like they are going to kill him. But then all of a sudden, Cosby realizes that they didn’t really want him. They wanted the ball. So he gave the other team the ball.
It us easy for us to do that as believers. We realize that the world doesn’t really hate us personally, it hates the truth that we live by and for. So we let go of the truth. But then there is no light and no salt. Jesus says, “I have given you something that’s very powerful and very dangerous. Be aware of it. I have given you God’s Word. And because it is truth that cannot be denied, it makes people love you, but it also makes people hate you. Your friends may hate you. Your family or neighbors may hate you. You need to be aware of this,” Jesus says. So Christ was very honest with His disciples (and us) about this.
“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). If the disciples were taken “out of the world” they would have no witness to the world. Hence, Jesus prayed that the Father “should keep them from the evil one” while they are in the world. The word “keep” is the same word used in verses 11 and 12a, and it refers to them being kept safe from Satan and the world which he rules through deception, so that they remain faithful to the Father.
Too many Christians either withdraw from a worldly environment or they live like the world wants them to live to protect themselves. Christ wants neither response from His followers. Jesus wants us to remain faithful to God while living in a hostile world, looking to the Lord to protect us. We are to live for Christ “in this world – in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, marketplaces, and civic arenas. Yet, we are not to adopt the world’s perspective or let it dictate our values. We must operate on earth from a heavenly perspective, God’s perspective. God’s Word is to determine our understanding of right and wrong. Though we are in the world, we must not be of it.” 5
Prayer: Father God, we pray that our lives and the lives of those we disciple would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your protection and security, not in fear. Deliver us from fear if we are facing it. Father, we pray You would keep us and the people we disciple loyal to Your character while we are in this world so the full measure of Jesus’ joy will be in us. Thank You for giving us Your Word which can cause people to either love us or hate us. Regardless of how people respond to us, help us to hold fast to Your truth so that our lives will be transformed into Your likeness and more people can come to know Jesus as the Giver of everlasting life. Holy Father, please protect us from the evil one in this world whose deceit and rebellion take many different forms. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 545).
2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 459; J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 305.
3. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 814-815.
4. Ibid., pg. 868.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.