In no literature can there be found the simplicity and depth, the grandeur and fervor of this last prayer.†
But about half way through we learn that this prayer is also on behalf of all future believers:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (vs. 20).
Jesus reasons with God, explaining the grounds for each request as well as the intended consequence. We can read these petitions as Jesus’ priorities for all Christians today.
And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me (vss. 22-23, see also vs. 11).
Jesus asks that the same spiritual union He enjoys with the Father will be experienced by all believers. This will be the source of evangelization, manifested in the obvious distinction between the world and believers, who are united to God in love through Christ.
God’s Love is the fundamental key to understanding salvation history.
But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely (vs. 13).
The reality was that the disciples would suffer persecution and with the exception of John eventually be martyred. Jesus’ joy is based on His union with the Father. Though He was teaching the disciples, and they believed in Him, they could not experience the joy of a spiritual union with the Father until Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them. …I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one (vss. 14-15).
“Evil one” could also be translated just “evil” and is the same request as we make in the Our Father, “…deliver us from evil”. The reason Jesus gives for this request is that as Christians we no longer belong to the world, so we need protection from the prevalence of evil when Jesus is no longer physically here to provide it.
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth (vss. 17-19).
“Consecrate” is to set aside someone or something for a divine purpose, which in this case is being sent into the world to proclaim the truth. Jesus is referring to Himself by “Your word is truth” (see John’s prologue, 1:1ff.). The word for consecrate is also translated as “sanctify”, “make Holy”. Holiness cannot be separated from truth.
For a Reunion in Heaven
Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world (vs. 24).
Note the reasoning here: the basis for asking God to bring us to heaven is so that we could experience Jesus’ glory that was given to Him out of God’s love for Him from eternity. We would have to be there with Jesus for this to happen.
John comes back to this in his first epistle:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
†Sheen, Fulton J., Life of Christ. New York: Doubleday, 2008, p. 448.