John 17 – Was Jesus' Ministry a Success?

In what is often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, it is said that Jesus prays for the following:
·  Himself
·  His disciples
·  Believers

And with each of these three, Jesus seems to speak on two things:
·  (1) His Work on behalf of each.
·  (2) His Petitions on behalf of each.

His work is revealed in the indicatives He uses:
·  For example – glorified; manifested; given; came; kept; guarded; made known

His petitions are revealed in the imperatives and subjunctives He uses:
·  For example – glorify, keep; sanctify; may all be one; may believe; may know; may be with me

Rabbit Trail:
I think it is important to notice one thing about Jesus’ Work and Petitions before we go on.
·  It is significant that the order of Jesus’ prayer is Jesus-disciples-believers.
·  The Gospel can only pertain to us because it is first and foremost about Jesus!
o   His glorification and His actions on behalf of the Father and in fulfillment of Scripture.
·  No Jesus – No disciples – No believers

In other words, the Gospel is justification by faith, but it is more than that.
·  It is Jesus’ fulfilling and completing the plan of the Father and the story of Israel in Himself (who He is, what He has done, what He is going to do) – through His action in history at the pleasure and leading of His Father.
o   Jeremiah 31 & Ezekiel 36, e.g.
·  “The Story of Jesus…is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s Story and because the Jesus Story completes Israel’s Story, it saves” – Scot McKnight.

Back to the lesson:
·  So as we said, Jesus’ prayer addresses His work on behalf of Himself, the disciples and believers.
·  And it addresses His petitions on behalf of all three.
·  Over the coming few weeks we will deal with each of these.

Today, however, we are going to define the lens through which we are going to see these and the prayer as a whole.
·  Jesus prayer is in many ways a reflection and summary of His ministry thus far.
·  And to get at its meaning, I think it is important to get a sense of this “lens” from Jesus’ perspective.
·  So, this is a humble effort at sanctified speculation to do just that.


There are two things I want us to keep in mind as we work through Jesus’ prayer over the coming weeks.
·  (1) Jesus gives us a glimpse into what is most pressing on His heart.
·  (2) Jesus considered His work and ministry a success.
·  We will work through these one at a time.

(1) Jesus’ prayer gives us a glimpse into His heart.
·  He was moments away from being betrayed, arrested and crucified.
·  Given this context, the work He highlights and the petitions He makes are presumably things He considers deeply important.
·  And if this is the case, then these things were certainly pivotal to Him and deserve our attention.

(a) For example, He speaks four times of the disciples and believers being one, like He and the Father are one.
·  How can we be one like Jesus and the Father are one?
·  I think it can be said that, as Jesus nears His crucifixion, this concept is very important to Him.
·  So we need to be diligent in trying to understand what He means.

(b) Another example is His use of language referring to the disciples and believers as being given to Him by the Father.
·  He uses this type of language 6 times in this prayer.
·  What is He saying and revealing with this language?
·  His repetition of it at this hour would seem to reveal it is an important element in His theology.

(c) Another example is Jesus emphasis on the Word of the Father.
·  He speaks of it directly or indirectly at least 6 times.
·  Why is the Word of the Father so important to Him?

(d) And in a final example, Jesus speaks of either the Father’s glory or His glory eight times in this prayer.
·  Again, I think it is obvious, especially with the cross in view, that this is crucial to the theology and purpose of Jesus’ ministry.
·  We need to try and figure out why.

(e) In fact, I would go so far as to say that from this prayer, we could come close to one possible definition of the Kingdom of God from Jesus’ perspective.
·  The Kingdom of God is where the glorification of God is sought by a unified, elect body of believers living by and speaking the word of God in love and obedience to the King.
·  He certainly lived this by example and said as much in this prayer.
·  He glorified the Father; He was unified with the Father and believers; He gathered the chosen; He spoke the word.
·  And He certainly did all these things in love and obedience to the Father.

So the lens through which we are going to look at Jesus’ prayer gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart.
·  It shows us what might be most important to Him at this point in His ministry.
·  And even, to some extent, His view of the Kingdom of God that He is inaugurating.
·  But, this lens also gives us one more important insight.

(2) Jesus saw His ministry as a success.
·  This is evident due to the way Jesus characterized His ministry throughout John’s Gospel as seen through his words in verse 4 of His prayer.

Jesus’ work characterized in John’s Gospel:
·  John 4:34 (ESV) — 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
·  John 5:36 (ESV) — 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
·  John 14:31 (ESV) — 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
·  John 15:10 (ESV) — 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

And in John 17 He gives us a final characterization of His work thus far.
·  “…having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (vs. 4).
·  Here Jesus is clearly acknowledging that He has been obedient to the Father’s direction in His ministry thus far.
·  And in fact, we all know that on the cross, He will utter the words, “It is finished”.
·  The success of the cross required Jesus’ perfect and active obedience to the Father throughout His life and ministry.
·  His prayer is a giving thanks and acknowledgment that this has been done.

This leads to a huge implication concerning the difference between success in the Kingdom of God and the success of the world.
·  I think we have to explore this before we can appreciate what Jesus is doing in His prayer.

(2.1) Jesus’ Work – Kingdom Success or Worldly Failure:
·  To get at the significance of this implication, we need to think like the world for a moment.
·  And from the world’s perspective, Jesus’ ministry could easily be seen as a failure.
·  Why?

(a) Concerning the Disciples:
Jesus’ very own, hand selected disciples had a serious comprehension deficit in spite of the fact that they spent 3 years with Him.
·  John 12:16 (ESV) — 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
·  John 13:7 (ESV) — 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
·  John 20:9 (ESV) — 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
·  Luke 9:44–45 (ESV) — 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
·  Luke 18:31–34 (ESV) — 31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things

Jesus’ disciples’ record of loyalty was also far from stellar.
·  John 18:2 (ESV) — 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples
·  John 18:25 (ESV) — 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
·  Mark 14:37 (ESV) — 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?
·  Matthew 16:23 (ESV) — 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
·  John 16:32 (ESV) — 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.
·  Mark 14:50 (ESV) — 50 And they all left him and fled.

(b) Concerning the People of Israel:
The people of Israel who witnessed Jesus’ signs, wonders, words and teaching rejected Him even though He was God Himself living and walking in their very presence.
·  John 5:18 (ESV) — 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
·  John 6:66 (ESV) — 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
·  John 7:1 (ESV) — 1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.
·  John 11:46 (ESV) — 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
o   Some believed in vs. 45 and here some told on Him.
·  John 12:37 (ESV) — 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,
·   Luke 9:53 (ESV) — 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

(c) Concerning Spiritual Blindness:
·  John 12:37–40 (ESV) — 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
·        Luke 9:44–45 (ESV) — 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them [the disciples], so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
·  Luke 18:34 (ESV) — But they [the disciples] understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
·  Proverbs 25:2 (ESV) — 2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

So, from a worldly perspective, if Jesus really was God, Creator, Ruler, Messiah and Savior, how on earth could all that we just surveyed happen?
·  If Jesus was God incarnate, why was He rejected by so many?
·  Though clearly many did believe in Him (John 4:39; John 4:41; John 4:53; John 7:31; John 9:38; John 11:45; John 12:42).

How could Jesus consider His ministry a success if so many rejected Him?
·  Didn’t He come to seek and save the lost?
·  Wasn’t the main reason for His incarnation to save people?
·  And if so, why would God harden hearts and conceal things from them?
·  This would seem to run counter to a successful ministry.

Yet, as we saw, Jesus saw His work as a success, as accomplished.
·  How can this be?
·  Perhaps the answer will be found in the Kingdom of God description we alluded to earlier.
·  The Kingdom of God is where the glorification of God is sought by a unified, elect body of believers living by and speaking the word of God in love and obedience to the King.

By way of introduction then, we have seen the following:
·  (1) Jesus prayer gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart.
·  (2) And His prayer shows us that success in the Kingdom of God does not look like the success of the world.

And with respect to (2), some very interesting questions are raised.
·  So, as we work through Jesus’ prayer, we will dive deeper into His heart and into the Kingdom of God and try to address the questions raised above.