What is the High Priestly Prayer?
The high priestly prayer is a prayer spoken by Jesus Christ about himself, his disciples, and his later followers, as recorded in John 17. This prayer is the special prayer of the Lord, and may be regarded as the sole example furnished by the evangelists of our Lord's method of prayer. The thanksgiving in Matthew 11:25 is the only other instance of any extent in the report of the prayers of Jesus, but even that is brief compared to what is here furnished. The fullness of this prayer clearly shows that it was uttered in the hearing of the disciples.
Their relation to it is remarkable. Auditors, they yet could not share in it. At the same time, it was a profound revelation to them both of the relation of the Master to God, and the character of the work which He had come to perform, and the part which they were to take in it. John gives us no hint as to the place in which it was spoken; John 14:31 indicates a departure from the upper room. But apparently the prayer was offered where the discourses of John 15 and 16 were delivered.
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.The first part
The first part of the prayer (John 17:1-5 ) is an expression of profound communion between the Son and the Father, and the prayer that the Father should glorify the Son, but with the supreme end of the Father's own glory. The absolutely unique character of Christ's relation to God is the calm assertion of John 17:4 . Its consciousness of completeness in the work which He had received from God, impossible for the children of men, marks the supreme nature of the Son of God.
The second part
In the second part of the prayer (John 17:6-19 ), our Lord prays for His disciples, to whom He has revealed Himself and His relation to God (John 17:7 , John 17:8 ). He prays that they may be kept by the Father, and for their unity. Their separation from the world is declared (John 17:14 ), and our Lord prays that they may be kept from the evil that is in the world, which is alien from them as it is from Him.
The third part
In the third portion of the prayer Christ's relation to His ultimate followers is referred to. Their unity is sought, not an external unity, but the deep, spiritual unity found by the indwelling of Christ in them and God in Christ. The prayer closes by the declaration that Christ's knowledge of the Father is revealed to His people, and the end and crown of all is to be the indwelling of God's love in man by the dwelling of Christ in him.
This prayer is unique, not merely among the prayers of our Lord, but also among the prayers of humanity. While it is distinctly a petition, it is at the same time a communion. In one or two places our Lord expresses His will, thus setting Himself upon a level with God. The fact of this prayer of triumph in which every petition is virtually a declaration of the absolute certainty of its realization, immediately preceding the prayer of Gethsemane, is both difficult and suggestive.
The anomaly is a powerful argument for the historic reality. The explanation of these contrasted moods is to be found in the depth of our Lord's nature, and especially in the complete consistency of His dual nature with the spheres to which each nature belongs. He is most divine; He is most human. In the fullness of the reach of the prayer and its calm confidence, the believer may find a ceaseless and inexhaustible source of comfort and encouragement. Attention might be called to the remarkable forecast of the history and experience of the church which the prayer furnishes.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).