The Unity of Christ's Disciples
Topic: English Passage: John 17:20-26
We have finally come to the closing portion of the great, High Priestly prayer of Jesus Christ. This is a profound prayer that Jesus made in the hearing of His disciples on the night that He would be betrayed and arrested.
There’s a lot packed into these final verses, so we’re going to just jump right into it, starting in verse 20 and going to verse 26. Let me read it for us. John 17:20-26.
20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
In last week’s message, we saw how Jesus prays multiple things for the disciples. We said that he prays for their protection. He prays for their unity. He prays for their joy. And He prays for their sanctification.
But of those four, as we come to the final section of the prayer, it seems as though one of those components stands out among the rest. And that is the unity of Christ’s disciples.
Repeatedly, Jesus says He wants His people to be one. He says it in verse 21, verse 22, and verse 23. So, clearly this is something Jesus care a lot about.
Yes, Jesus wants a protected church. He wants a joyful church. And He wants a sanctified church. But what it seems like here is that what Jesus wants most is a united church. Jesus wants a united church. The unity of the church is foundational.
If a church is united, the way the Bible describes unity, then its members are going to be protected. They are going to be made joyful. And they are going to be sanctified.
Jesus cares about unity. And what I’d like us to see this morning is five components of the kind of unity Jesus wants for, and ultimately give to, the church. These are five aspects of Christ’s blood-bought unity.
The first aspect we’ll look at is the extent of our unity. [La extensión de la unidad] The extent of our unity. Look at it with me in verse 20. This is the verse that lets us know that this prayer is not just for the eleven disciples.
John 17:20—I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.
Jesus is praying about an extensive unity, including far more than these 11 disciples. He’s praying for everyone who is going to believe through them.
Who is that? In the immediate context, that would include all the people who come to faith in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost [Pentecostés].
But it would also include everyone else who comes to faith in the rest of Acts, that is, people from Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and people from the ends of the earth.
Throughout all the generations, that includes every single person who has ever, or will ever, come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. They will hear the message of the Apostles, either directly, or as it’s been recorded in Scripture. That is the message that has been going out in the power of the Holy Spirit for almost 2,000 years.
There’s a really impressive video online at gospelmap.com. I don’t know who made it, but it charts on a world map the spread of Christianity from the death of Jesus all the way to today. And you can see its spread alongside some of the other world religions and world empires.
The gospel spread into Northern Africa. By the end of the first century, it had already made it to modern-day England. And even when the Roman Empire was split, the gospel of Christ remained, and it had pushed from Western Asia into central Asia, and even into modern-day China.
Then Christianity spread into Russia and northern Europe, and then through all of England, until finally, once the Middle Ages are over, Christianity cross the Atlantic and lands in the American continents. And it starts spreading again.
By the time the United States becomes a nation, all of Central America, and most of South America has been affected by the gospel. And in the rest of the world, it continues to spread.
Now, we recognize that not every group who falls under the general heading of Christianity is authentic, and not every person who lives within the reach of the gospel is saved. But wherever the gospel goes, God has genuine converts. Those are known as the elect.
And Revelation tells us that groups consists of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
The true gospel continued to spread around the globe until one day, the gospel came to you, right? Somebody told somebody told somebody told you. And if you’re a Christian, you responded in repentance and faith. You embraced Jesus Christ. You believed that He died for your sins, that He was raised from the dead, that He is the rightful King of all creation.
If you’re here today, and you don’t embrace that, you will perish. You will be judged by a holy and infinite God. But in love, He is calling you to surrender your life to Him. Turn from your sins, and serve Jesus Christ.
If you do that, not only will you be saved, you will become part of a family. That’s what Jesus’ prayer here reminds us about. There is a unity that extends into every nation and across every generation. It is the greatest unity imaginable. It’s the unity of those who belong to Jesus Christ.
Look at the prayer again. Jesus is praying for everyone who will ever believe in the message of the Apostles, and here’s the request, verse 21—That that may all be one.
Jesus is praying for, and we could say, then, He is guaranteeing, the unity of the elect. How does that unity come about? It happens in salvation. So, Jesus is praying that the gospel would prevail. He is praying for the salvation of all whom the Father has ordained for it. Salvation in Christ is what unites us.
And similar to what we said last week, the fact that God has an eternally fixed and ordained plan doesn’t undo the means by which He accomplishes that plan. The means of salvation is faith in the proclaimed word. But the means by which faith comes is the work of the Holy Spirit, which happens because of Christ’s intercession.
Do you get that? Before anyone else ever prayed that you would come to salvation, Jesus was praying for you. He was praying that you would be united to the eternal family of God.
Jesus knows that this is all part of an eternal plan. And He’s praying that it would be accomplished. Repeatedly in this prayer, notice how Jesus refers to believers.
Verse 2—Those whom You have given to the Son.
Verse 6—Those you gave Me out of the world… You gave them to Me.
Verse 9—Those whom You have given Me.
Verse 11—Them which You have given Me.
And verse 12—Them which You have given Me.
All of us who have trusted, or will trust, in Christ are part of an eternal gift from the Father to the Son. We are the bride of Christ. And we’re not just given to Jesus, but we are united to Him. The Bible says we are in Him.
This is a major theme in the New Testament. Those who believe in Christ are united to Him. We are in Him. He is in us. And we are united to one another.
First Corinthians 6:17 says “the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” This is a profound unity, reaching out into every part of Christ’s life, and into every part of our lives, and reaching out into every person who trusts in Jesus Christ. That’s the extensive unity that Jesus is praying for, and which the Father will accomplish.
Our unity with Christ and in Christ is the basis of our unity with one another. We are united to one another because we are all united to Christ. And this such an immense topic, both doctrinally and practically, that I’ve decided that after today, we’re going to take another break from John, and we’re going to study this topic a little more in depth.
Christian unity is directly addressed in practically every New Testament epistle. It has implications for every part of your life. And so we’re going to spend some time studying it a little more.
For now, though, we’re focusing on Jesus’ prayer for unity. And again, it’s an extensive unity.
Back in John 10:16, Jesus was speaking about the salvation of the Gentiles, the non-Jews, and He said: “I have other sheep. They will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” That’s us and the rest of the believing world. We are that one flock.
This is such a different picture than we get in our American, individualized culture. So many people talk about a “personal” relationship with Jesus, and they can either forget, or ignore, or be completely oblivious to our corporate relationship with Christ.
We’re all vines on the same branch. We’re stones in the temple. We’re sheep in the same flock. We’re all members of the same body. That’s so important that you understand.
We are connected intimately and spiritually to every single person who has embraced the true gospel. Whether they are Baptist or not, whether they speak your language or not. Whether they are American or not. We’re all citizens of the same kingdom.
If you don’t have that corporate mindset for the church, both globally and locally, you are either spiritually dead or spiritually hamstrung.
Do you know that word? The verb “to hamstring.” In ancient times, the winners of a battle might sometimes cut the hamstring tendon of the horses for the opposing army. And it debilitated them. It made them useless, powerless.
That’s what happens in your Christian life if all you think about is yourself and Jesus, or your family and Jesus. Don’t do that. Jesus prayed for an extensive unity for all who would believe—past, present, and future.
So we need to learn from those who’ve come before us, and we need to partner with those who are next to us, and we need to prepare those who will come after us. We’re all in this together. It’s an extensive unity.
Secondly, I want you to see the essence of our unity. The essence of that unity. Our unity is not an abstract idea. It’s connected to something. And that is the unity within God Himself. This isn’t the first time Jesus mentions it, because it’s so important.
Look at verse 21 again—that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.
The pattern for the unity of the church is the unity within the Trinity itself. Our God is a relational God. That’s why He is eternally a God of love. You can’t love if it’s only you. But our God is Trinitarian. He’s the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. One God, one substance or essence, but three Persons. We know that it’s mysterious, but that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s what Jesus taught. He is One with the Father. He does what the Father does.
And that unity between the Father and the Son is what Jesus wants for the church. He wants us to express and to enter into the eternal, perfectly loving relationship that He enjoys with the Father.
I remember my high school football coach telling the team that we needed to hang out with each other outside of practice. He wanted us to eat lunch together. He wanted us to be united.
But His desire for our unity didn’t mean that he was having lunch with the other coaches. And it didn’t mean that we would get to have lunch in the teachers’ lounge. He was asking something of us that he didn’t necessarily have to have for himself. There was still some kind of separation there.
But with God, there’s no separation. God is not asking us to have some kind of unity that He doesn’t have. His unity is not separate from ours.
Those who belong to Christ, are united also to the Father and to the Spirit. First Thessalonians 1:1 says the church is “in God the Father.” And First John 4:15 says the Father is in us.
Romans 8:9 says we are in the Spirit. And 2 Timothy 1:14 says the Spirit is in us. In Christ, Peter says, we become partakers of the divine nature. We enter into the blessed eternal unity of God Himself. We get to eat in the teachers’ lounge!
The beautiful unity that exists within the Trinity is the same kind of unity that God extends to the church in Jesus Christ. We will never become God or gods, but we enter into life with Him. That’s eternal life. That’s the true joy of heaven. That’s the essence of our unity.
Think about that this week. Let your heart be filled with that image, and then praise Christ for what He’s done. He’s letting you into the teachers’ lounge.
Well, next we come to the effect of our unity. This is the third characteristic—the effect of our unity. Besides uniting us to one another and to God Himself, where is all this headed? What is one of the practical outflows of all this?
Look at verse 21 again—that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
So, what’s the effect? Our unity is a testimony to the truth about Jesus Christ.
Remember, Jesus is not of this world. That’s the claim He made to the people: “I have been sent by My Father… Before Abraham was I AM.”
The majority of the Jews and the religious leaders rejected that claim. They refused to accept it, even though Jesus’ life bore evidence. His teaching was none like they had ever heard. And His miracles were inexplicable from a human perspective.
But from a physical and earthly perspective, Jesus is gone now. And so are the Apostles. So what is it that bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ? It’s our transformed lives. It’s power of His resurrection seen in our new life. And part of that new life is the unity we express.
This world is contaminated with disunity, right? You see it everywhere, both on a family scale or a community scale, and on a global scale. How many rivalries are there at school or at work? How many families are broken? How many nations are torn apart? How many people are hurt or killed because of racism or nationalism or whatever other kind of “ism”?
This world has a unity problem. And the world wants to sing about and hope for unity, but they have no clue what it really is or how to g`et it.
But when they look at the true church, they will see it. They’ll see see people from all different walks of life, with all different kinds of backgrounds and cultures and gifts and abilities, and they see us united. We don’t all look the same, but we’re all on the same team.
Why? How did we get a unity that this world doesn’t have?
We got it through and from a Man who was not of this world? We found it in Jesus Christ, the Son of God sent by God to this world.
Guys, do not underestimate the power and the effect our unity produces. And don’t minimize what’s lost when you and I do not walk in unity with one another. That’s another reason I want to do a series on this topic. It’s such an important issue.
Our unity is an evangelistic tool. It’s a testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ. There was a German skeptic and poet from the 1800s who once said to a Christian: “Show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your redeemer.”
Do you get what he’s saying? How can we tell people about the other-worldly message and power of Jesus Christ, if your lives, individually and collectively, look just like everybody else’s? That’s not going to glorify God.
But if the world sees our unity, if they see us standing firm in one spirit, striving together (side by side) with one mind for the faith of the gospel, they’ll know there’s something different. They’ll know there’s something that we have that this world cannot offer. That’s the effect of our unity.
Yes and amen, but how does it happen? How do we make that happen? How do we make progress in unity? How do we take substantial, visible steps toward a united church?
We’re going to take some time in the coming weeks to unpack some of the doctrinal and practical aspects of that. But for today, I just want us to notice the words of Jesus. And I’m going to call this the energy of our unity. The energy of out unity. What drives all this? Where does it come from?
Look at verse 22—The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.
Again, Jesus brings up unity. And He says that what leads to it is the glory that was given to Him by the Father and which He has given to His disciples. So the driving force, the energy behind our unity is the glory of Jesus Christ. But what is that talking about?
It can’t be talking about some kind of intrinsic glory that Jesus received from the Father, right? Because Jesus wasn’t created. As the eternal Son of God, He was never missing any glory that the Father needed to give Him.
But coming as a man, Jesus passed something from the Father to us, right? He showed us God’s glory. That’s John 1:14—we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. So, what is that glory?
Christ’s glory, in His earthly ministry, had three major expressions. And these were all things passed from the Father to us, by Jesus Christ.
The first expression of Christ’s glory is His truth. The teaching Jesus gave came from the Father, and He passed that on to His disciples. And it has been recorded in Scripture for our edification.
In verse 8 of this chapter, Jesus says: “the words which You gave Me I have given to them.” And we know from verses 13 and 17 that it is Jesus’ word, Jesus’ teachings, that brings joy and sanctification. So we can think about Jesus’ glory in terms of the teaching He had given His disciples. And that truth leads us to salvation in Christ and into a greater expression of our unity in Christ.
A second expression of Christ’s glory is His life. I’m talking about the attributes of God that He made known by His miracles and by His compassion. He showed us God’s power. He showed us God’s love. He showed us God’s character. And by having Jesus’ example, we are then shown how to live in unity.
The most recent example of that, at least in John’s gospel on that night would have been Jesus washing their feet. He said: “whatever you saw Me do for you, go and do likewise. Do it for one another.” He showed us how to walk in unity—by laying down our own rights and preference and privileges and humble serving one another. That’s how we walk in unity. That’s how we express the glory of Christ.
The third expression of Jesus’ glory is His death and resurrection. Jesus has already said: “My hour has come.” And that’s the hour of His suffering and His death. It’s also the hour of His glory.
Practically nobody saw it at the time, but when Jesus died, He was putting the glory of God on display. God is holy and righteous. He will condemn all sin. But He is also gracious and merciful. And the cross of Jesus Christ is the means of salvation. It’s the reconciliation of a holy God with sinners.
So Jesus accomplishes a full redemption, a perfect atonement, and He applies it to His disciples, to those whom God has given Him. And it is that sacrifice which saves us and sanctifies us, and allows us to walk in unity.
It takes the blood of Jesus to swallow your pride and confess your sin, but it also takes the blood of to swallow your pride and be reconciled to a brother or sister in the Lord.
It’s the blood of Jesus, as Ephesians says, that breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between believers and brings us together in Him, and sets us apart from the world.
The glory of Jesus is seen in His teaching, in His life, and in His death. And it is that glory that drives and energizes our unity in Him, both in the global church and in the local church.
God’s amazing, other-worldly love for us is supposed to spill out into our love for one another. And going back to the effect of our unity, our love for one another is supposed to point back to God’s love.
Look down at verse 23—I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
That’s an astounding statement. The Father loves us in the way that He loves His one and only Son. And the world will see it.
Now, that doesn’t mean that God gives us a comfortable life, right? That love includes discipline and difficulty. But it’s all for our good, and for God’s own glory.
The Father loves the Son perfectly, and He sent Him to die. And He loves us too, and He has us here to take up our own cross and follow Him.
Following the way of Jesus won’t be easy. But that path is energized by the glory of Jesus and by the Spirit of Christ, so that the world can see the difference.
Now, we recognize that that love and that unity is imperfect, right? This is what it means to live in a fallen world and in fallen bodies. We’re tainted by sin. We’re seduced by sin. Every good and God-honoring thing in this life is tainted. At best, what we have is a preview of something better, right? It’s a glimpse of what will be perfectly true one day in the kingdom of God.
And this brings us to our final attribute for today. And I’m going to call it the expectation of our unity. We’ve seen the extent of our unity, the essence of our unity, the effect of our unity, the energy of our unity, and now, finally, the expectation of our unity. This is our hope because it’s Jesus’ hope as well.
Look at verse 24. And as much as I want you understand what it’s saying, I want you to feel it too. This is the longing and expectation of Jesus.
Verse 24—Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
Here, Jesus is no longer praying for people to come to faith, or for people to walk in holiness. He’s not praying for our justification or our sanctification. This is a prayer for our glorification.
Jesus is going to die. And He’s going to be buried. And on the third day, He is going to rise in glory. And not long after, He’s going to ascend to the right hand of the Father. And having accomplished the redemption of God’s people, He will, as Philippians 2 says, be highly exalted by God and given a name that is above every name. And at His name every knee will bow in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus is eternally and gloriously both God and man. And it is His glory that will shine for eternity. Revelation says that the new Jerusalem will have no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Right now, we see the glory of Jesus Christ dimly and imperfectly, but one day, we will see it in its fullness. And it will light up everything in a dazzling splendor.
And when we go to worship in the New Jerusalem, the Bible says, there is no temple there anymore. There is no physical place that helps connect us with God. The Temple is the Lord God, the Almighty, the Lamb. That’s the true joy of heaven. We will see God in Jesus Christ. We will see and know and delight and be satisfied in His glory.
That’s what Jesus wants for you and for me. That’s what He’s praying for. That’s His expectation. So, He prays: “Yes Father, unite the disciples in this world. But unite them perfectly in the kingdom and in the new heavens and the new earth. Make sure they are there with Me, to see My glory.”
Jesus prays for the justification of His people. He prays for the sanctification of His people. And He prays for the glorification of His people. I’ve said it already. Heaven will be a united multitude—people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
And what are they doing? How are they united? They’re united in worshiping the eternal, glorious Lamb of God.
The more you love and worship Jesus now, the more prepared, and the more eager you will be to worship Him in heaven. That’s what heaven is.
“I will glory in My Redeemer, who waits for me at gates of gold. And when He calls me it will be paradise, His face forever to behold. His face forever to behold.”
That’s the privilege and the blessing of the children of God. And that is the glory that world cannot see.
Look at verse 25—O righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me. 26I made known to them Your name [who You are], and I will continue to make it known.
Jesus makes the Father known to us now, and He’ll continue doing it for all eternity. We will always have more to know about God, and Jesus will make Him known to us.
Jesus will continue to make the Father known to us, verse 26—that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.
We will love one another perfectly for all eternity. And yet, Christ wants that love to start now. And to continue growing in our expression of that love. And the expectation of our future unity should compel us to grow in it right now.
I’d like to close by having us look at First John chapter 3. First John chapter 3 That’s gonna be near the back of your Bible.
I think the default mode many times when we read the Bible is to read it from an individual perspective. We personalize it. You make it about you.
And that’s not wrong. But you also need to remember that the Bible is not just about you. It’s not just speaking to you. God’s word is speaking to US. It’s about US.
So as I read the opening three verses of First John 3, I’d like you to hear it, not just from a personal perspective, but from a corporate one. Listen to it, from the aspect of Christian unity.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.