What does John chapter 17 mean?The last several chapters detailed Jesus' teachings during the Last Supper (John 13—16). Those statements warned about persecution, predicted the arrival of the Holy Spirit, encouraged Christian love, and even predicted the impending betrayal orchestrated by Judas. In this passage, John records an extended prayer from Jesus just prior to His arrival in Gethsemane. While the other three Gospels note Jesus' final, anguished prayers in the garden, John chooses to describe this penultimate invocation, often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer.
Christ begins by praying for Himself. This, along with His example prayers also recorded in Scripture (Matthew 6:9–13) prove it is reasonable to pray on our own behalf. The primary purpose of this is asking for God's will to be done; this is always for His glory (John 17:1), and our ultimate benefit (Romans 8:28–30). In this moment, Jesus notes that "the hour" has finally arrived for His sacrifice on behalf of mankind (John 3:16; 12:32–33). The means by which mankind can access eternal life is about to be fulfilled (John 17:1–5).
Next, Jesus prays for His followers. In the most immediate context, these prayers are for the apostles (Matthew 10:1–4). The men personally trained by Jesus will experience massive resistance as they preach His truth. However, it is their teaching that will lead others to faith in Christ (John 17:20). In that way, what Jesus says here has application to all believers, though the most direct meaning applies to His inner circle of disciples. The faith of these men is proven by their acceptance—their belief—in the message Christ has brought. Of those Jesus selected and taught, none have left, with the predicted exception of Judas (John 13:2–3). Christ prays that these men would be strengthened in their resolve, even as they are commissioned to remain in a hostile world (John 17:6–19).
Finally, Jesus expands His prayer to include all who will come to faith in Him. A major theme of this broader prayer is for loving unity. This is not only a direct command from Christ (John 14:15), but the primary identifier of legitimate Christian faith (John 13:34–35). Nonbelievers cannot see or experience God (1 Corinthians 2:14), so a main mission of believers is to demonstrate God's truth to the world (Matthew 5:13–16). Christ also repeats several points made earlier in this prayer, and the gospel of John, including His eternal existence and the importance of unifying, godly love (John 17:20–26).
Following this prayer, John will move quickly to describe Jesus' arrest in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1–3). Chapter 18 will then explain the sham trials which result in Jesus eventual crucifixion in chapter 19, and His resurrection in chapter 20.