Chapter 19: Keep the Disciples Safe

In This Chapter

Scripture
A Quick Dip
Reflecting
Diving Deeper
A Special Group
Keep Them Safe
The Son of Perdition
Complete Joy
The Purpose Clause
Spiritual Versus Physical Safety

Scripture

I revealed your name to these people whom you have taken out of the sinful world and entrusted to my care. They were yours, and you entrusted them to me, and they have carefully guarded your Word — your divine revelation in me. Now they know in their hearts that all the things which you have permanently placed in my care are from you; for the teachings which you have entrusted to me, I have entrusted to them. They accepted these teachings and truly understood within the depths of their hearts that I came from your side, and they believed that you sent me.

I pray for these people. I am not praying for the sinful world, but for those whom you have entrusted to me because they belong to you. All those who are mine are yours and yours are mine, and I have revealed my own significance to them. I am no longer going to be in the sinful world. Though these are going to remain in the sinful world, I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep safe* within the power of your name those whom you have entrusted to my care, so that they may be one in heart, mind, and purpose just as we are one in heart, mind, and purpose. When I was with them in the sinful world, I kept them safe within the power of your name. Those whom you entrusted to me, I protected, and not one of them was lost except the son of perdition, in order that the prophecy of Scripture might be fulfilled. And now I am coming to you, and I am speaking these things here in the world so that my people may experience my joy perfectly accomplished within them. I have permanently entrusted your Word to their care, and the sinful world has wrongfully hated them because they are not part of that godless world, just as I am not part of that godless world. I am not praying so that you would remove them from the sinful world, but so that you would keep them safely away from the Evil One. Spiritually, they no more belong to the sinful world than I belong to the sinful world.
–John 17:6–16

A Quick Dip1

Sinful world: Also translated in this passage as the fallen world or the godless world, the sinful world is the part of creation that has turned away from God and remains separated from God by sin, hatred, and evil. The sinful world stands in direct contrast to the Kingdom of God, which is the portion of creation that has accepted God’s grace and has entered into a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Word — your divine revelation in me: At the beginning of the Gospel, John identifies God’s Word as both the creative power that first brought the world into being, as well as the One who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word of God is most clearly revealed to us through the words and works of Jesus Christ.

Accepted: To accept another’s teachings means more than receiving words of wisdom; these teachings are treasured within one’s heart and used to guide one’s daily life.

Pray: Here John again uses the Greek word erotao to refer to Jesus’ prayer; see Chapter 16.

Holy: This word describes God’s innermost nature. To be holy is to be pure and perfect. Holiness is the opposite of anything that is earthly and creaturely.

Keep safe: Note here that this request is for spiritual, not physical, protection. Jesus is asking God to keep his followers spiritually unharmed.

Within the power of your name: Literally, this phrase means “in your name.” Remember, the name represents one’s power and will. Here the effect (keeping the disciples safe) is brought about by keeping them in (near, close to) God’s name/power/will. Spiritual safety rests in one’s nearness to God’s powerful presence.

One in heart, mind, and purpose: Sometimes translated as united, being made one means adopting identical patterns of thought and will; it means to desire and to work toward the same goals. Those who are united act together as a single unit to achieve the same objective.

Protected: The image here is that of someone vigilantly standing watch over something. The original word described a shepherd guarding a flock of sheep.

Lost: This word does not mean to temporarily lose one’s way. To become lost means to wander around and then to be destroyed; it is to perish. This word conjures up another shepherding image: that of a sheep wandering away from the protection of its shepherd and being devoured by predators.

Son of perdition: This is a horrible phrase; it describes someone who is destined to destruction and ruin, someone who has fallen victim to eternal destruction and torment. And what is the cause of this terrible destruction? It is the victim’s own choice that leads to this devastation: when the son of perdition chooses to wander away, he becomes lost and, ultimately, he perishes.

Joy: This is an action noun; joy is rejoicing, and it describes an active response rather than just an inward feeling. In John 16:20-24, Jesus compares his own joy to a woman in childbirth; the sorrow of suffering is replaced by the joy of salvation as new life is brought into the world. Jesus wants the disciples to experience this pure, perfect joy.

Perfectly accomplished: This word is difficult to translate into one or two English words. In one sense, perfectly accomplished means to bring something to its highest degree. I like to image a bottle of soda that is shaken up and about to burst — this is the way Jesus wants his joy to feel within us. But to perfectly accomplish something includes more than a bubbly feeling; it is achieved only after one has finished an assignment completely and without a single error.

Wrongfully hated: This word describes both an undeserved feeling (to hate someone without a cause) and an unjust action (to persecute that person out of that hatred).

Evil One: The Wicked One, the devil, the ruler of the sinful world. This is the one who turns away from God and stands in direct opposition to God.

Reflecting

  1. What exactly do you suppose Jesus wants God to do when he asks God to keep the disciples safe? What do you want God to do when you ask him to keep your loved ones safe?
  2. Who was the son of perdition? What happened to him? Why was he not safe?
  3. Have you ever experienced the type of joy described above? What triggered your joy?
  4. Have you ever perfectly accomplished an assignment? If so, was that accomplishment accompanied by a feeling of joy?
  5. Why does Jesus make a special effort to point out that he is not praying for God to remove his followers from the sinful world? What does this mean in terms of their safety?
  6. Why does the sinful world hate and persecute Jesus’ followers?

Diving Deeper

A Special Group

In the next two sections of his prayer, Jesus turns his attention to the needs of his disciples. His petitions are now for them. At the beginning of this passage, Jesus prays, “I revealed your name to these people whom you have taken out of the sinful world and entrusted to my care.” Here Jesus describes the disciples as a special group of people whom God has called out of the arena of the fallen world and into the arms of Jesus’ protective care. Two things are noteworthy: first, the care referred to is spiritual, not physical. And secondly, the entrusting is permanent. Jesus’ care for these followers will never cease.

This movement of the disciples away from the fallen world and into Jesus’ care reminds me of the story of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah’s movement away from their homeland and into the promised land symbolized their movement toward a new relationship with God. The disciples’ movement into Jesus’ protective care is likewise the mark of a new relationship with God. Jesus established this new relationship when he revealed God’s name to this special group, and during the three years that Jesus has spent with the disciples, the relationship has flourished: “They have carefully guarded your Word — your divine revelation in me. Now they know in their hearts that all the things which you have permanently entrusted to my care are from you; for the teachings which you have entrusted to me, I have entrusted to them. They accepted these teachings and truly understood within the depths of their hearts that I came from your side, and they believed that you sent me.”

So much has happened! The disciples have guarded — preserved and obeyed — God’s divine Word. They have received Jesus’ teachings as having come from the Father himself, and they have used these teachings as a guide for their lives. Even more importantly, Jesus has been able to pass the torch — to entrust these teachings to the disciples for their preservation and deliverance to others. However, the most significant development over the past three years is that the disciples have come to truly know and to sincerely believe that God sent his Son to them. This belief — this faith, this trust — has cemented the new relationship.

It is for this special group that Jesus prays when he says, “I pray for these people. I am not praying for the sinful world, but for those whom you have entrusted to my care because they belong to you. All those who are mine are yours and yours are mine and I have revealed my own significance to them.” This band of believers belongs to God; they are the Father’s beloved possessions. Likewise, they belong to Jesus, and it is to these cherished disciples that Jesus has revealed his importance — his power to give eternal life. Yet now Jesus must leave this group behind: “I am no longer going to be in the sinful world. Though these are going to remain in the sinful world, I am coming to you.” In his petition, Jesus now reveals his greatest concern for these followers.

Keep Them Safe

The second request that Jesus makes in his final prayer is this: “Holy Father, keep safe within the power of your name those whom you have entrusted to my care.” Jesus is concerned about the spiritual safety of his followers. There are many dangers and temptations lurking about in the fallen world, and after all, the disciples are only human. Jesus does not want to leave them spiritually unprotected. So he prays, “Holy Father — my perfect Daddy — keep them safe.”

Jesus continues, “When I was with them in the sinful world, I kept them safe within the power of your name. Those whom you have entrusted to me, I protected.” The Greek word used here brings to mind the image of a shepherd standing guard over his flock. In John 10, Jesus used the same image when he declared, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…my sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:11, 27-28). While Jesus was on earth, he created a fold for his sheep — a place of spiritual safety within the sinful world. The sheep who followed the Shepherd into the fold were completely protected. Nothing could snatch them away from the Shepherd’s hand.

Of course, this was not a physical place like a synagogue or the Temple or even an upper room. Instead, it was a spiritual refuge, a place Jesus describes as “within the power of your name.” Within. Near. Close to. Moving into the safety of the fold meant moving spiritually closer to God’s name. It meant moving into the obedient circle of God’s will, into the trusting circle of belief in God’s power. According to Jesus, our spiritual protection rests in our nearness to God’s powerful presence. While he was on earth, the Shepherd showed the sheep how to move closer, how to move into the safety of the fold. Now the departing Shepherd is asking his Daddy to take over his watch, to stand guard over the fold, to maintain this place of safety, to stay close to his sheep.

Unfortunately, not all of Jesus’ sheep are safe. Jesus continues, “Those whom you have entrusted to me, I protected, and not one of them was lost except the son of perdition, in order that the prophecy of Scripture might be fulfilled.” Jesus foresaw that lifeless body dangling from the rope which was pulled tightly about its neck. Quite unexpectedly, we encounter the most disturbing image in Jesus’ prayer.

The Son of Perdition

The son of perdition. The son of destruction. The son of eternal torment and pain. Judas. What happened to Judas? Why didn’t Jesus protect Judas? Did Jesus lack the power to protect him, or did Jesus just not want to save this one disciple? These are wretched questions, yet we need to understand the answers to them.

I myself believe that the key to understanding Judas lies within a single word: “Not one of them was lost except…” The word lost conjures up another shepherding image. A sheep becomes lost when it wanders away from its shepherd’s protection. Judas is the sheep who chooses to wander away. He leaves the fold in order to wander back into the sinful world, and, like all lost sheep who refuse to heed the Shepherd’s call, Judas eventually falls victim to predators of destruction. His betrayal was foreseen and foretold in Scripture: “Yes, even my good friend, the one whom I trusted, the one who ate my bread, he has lifted high his heel in order to crush me” (Ps 41:9).

In Judas, we see that while Jesus possesses both the power and the desire to protect us, we still possess the power to walk away. In Judas, we also see the horrifying consequences of such a choice. To leave the fold, to turn away from our relationship with Jesus, to wander away from the light of salvation and love is to wander back into the darkness of sin, separation, ruin, destruction, and torment. Such a choice is real. Such consequences are real. In Judas, we see that our Savior — as much as he loves us — will not remove these destructive consequences from our lives. Why not? Because to remove the consequences is to remove the choices. And the sheep are not slaves. They are free. If they choose to remain in the fold, nothing can snatch them away. Yet they can always walk away. Do not misunderstand the meaning behind Jesus’ prayer: while Judas’s choice was the fulfillment of a prophetic foretelling, it was not the fulfillment of Jesus’ desire. Judas was free to choose, but in his choosing, he surely broke his Shepherd’s heart.

Complete Joy

Standing in sharp contrast to the son of perdition are the remaining eleven disciples. Just as Jesus has foreseen Judas’s choice to wander away, Jesus has also foreseen the disciples’ choice to remain close to God’s protective power. Knowing that these beloved followers will remain spiritually safe, eternally safe, brings Jesus the highest measure of perfect joy.

Jesus wants the disciples to see what he sees. God will maintain a place of spiritual safety within the fallen world. Though the Shepherd is leaving, the disciples have nothing to fear. The fold is still secure. So Jesus can pray, “And now I am coming to you [Father], and I am speaking these things here in the world so that my people may experience my joy perfectly accomplished within them.” Jesus wants the disciples to see their future — their eternal safety — so that they can share this state of pure and lasting joy.

The Purpose Clause

The spiritual safety of the disciples is very important to Jesus, but we must note that he does not ask for safety just for safety’s sake. Again we find a higher purpose behind the request: “Holy Father keep them safe…so that they may be one in heart, mind, and purpose just as we are one in heart, mind, and purpose.” It is not the disciples’ safety but their unity — their ability to come together with a singleness of thought, will, and action — which is the ultimate goal of Jesus’ second request.

How does spiritual safety bring about this unity, this oneness? Sharing common experiences, common feelings, and a common bond leads to unity. When the disciples move into the safety of God’s presence, they share the common experience of having a close relationship with their loving Father. When they realize that his protective care is eternal, they share that common feeling of perfect joy which Jesus has just described. When they respond to the call of the same Shepherd, they discover that strong bonds — strong relationships — bind them to one another and into one flock. Yes, these shared experiences unite the disciples into a single unit.

This unity is extremely important to Jesus, as we shall see in the next chapter. It is a goal for which he truly yearns. However, Jesus makes it clear that this unity is built on spiritual, not physical safety. The future of this flock is by no means a happily-ever-after fairytale.

Spiritual Versus Physical Safety

Jesus prays, “I have permanently entrusted your Word to their care and the sinful world has wrongfully hated them because they are not part of that godless world, just as I am not part of that godless world. I am not praying so that you would remove them from the sinful world, but so that you would keep them safely away from the Evil One.” The disciples are indeed a unique group. Spiritually, like Jesus, they are not part of the sinful world. The sinful world lives separated from God by sin, hatred, and evil. The disciples do not belong to this world. They belong to the Kingdom of God, redeemed by God’s Word and restored to a right relationship with him. Yet physically the disciples continue to live within this fallen world. This brings conflict, hatred, and persecution upon the disciples. Jesus understands that spiritual safety will often result in physical and emotional pain. Yet he refuses to ask his Father for the disciples’ physical safety; he will not ask God to physically remove them from the godless world. He only prays for spiritual safety.

Why? Why does Jesus not also pray for the disciples’ physical protection? Jesus had the desire to ask his Father to keep the disciples safely away from the Evil One. Why did he not also have the desire to ask that they be kept safely away from the sinful world and its hateful persecution? We cannot find the answer to these questions here in this part of Jesus’ prayer. The answer to our why questions — the higher purpose, the greater goal — lies in the next section of Jesus’ prayer. When we find this answer, we will also receive our invitation regarding how Jesus wants us to incorporate these insights into our own prayers. So let us now turn to the next request.

>> Chapter 20: Sanctify Them


Chapter 19 Footnotes

* Imperative verb = Jesus’ actual request to God; this is what Jesus is asking God to do.
1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s