John 17 - The Trinity

John 17:20–23 (ESV) — 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.

Jesus’ words on unity:
(1) Jesus tells us that the Father and He are one – “be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (vs. 21).
·  Jesus’ unity with the Father is something He expressed before.
·  John 10:30 (ESV) — 30 I and the Father are one.
·  John 10:38b (ESV) — 38b …that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
·  I want to characterize this unity as “divine unity”.
·  This obviously deals with the trinity – a tri-unity.
·  They are distinguishable yet they are one – D.A. Carson.

(2) He goes on to pray that the “oneness” that He and the Father share can be participated in by the given – “may be in us” (vs. 21).
·  Jesus implies here that the given can actually partake in or be part of “divine unity”.
·  I want to characterize this unity as “shared unity”.
·  He seems to be referring to this unity as the unity that is “perfectly one” in verse 23.

(3) He also prays that in addition to participating in the “oneness” (“shared unity”) with He and the Father, that the given would “be one even as we are one” (vs. 22).
·  Jesus implies here that believers can, amongst each other, have a unity as profound as that experienced by Jesus and the Father’s “divine unity”.
·  This is something He also alludes to in verse 21 – “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you”.
·  I want to characterize this unity as “believer’s unity”.

So Jesus is praying for three types of unity in our text.
·  (1) Divine Unity
·  (2) Shared Unity
·  (3) Believer’s Unity
·  “The line of development is thus from the unity of Father and Son, to that of Son/Revealer and believer, to that of believers with each other” – AYBD.

In our lesson today, I want to deal mainly with the first of these – Divine Unity.
·  But first, however, I need to briefly say a few things about the others.


Shared Unity:
Shared Unity comes by way of participation with Christ, the Spirit, and the Father through the work and mission of Christ and the Spirit.
·  The Son and the Spirit’s Gospel work makes possible a Shared Unity with both them and the Father.
·  Their Gospel work is the basis for the new covenant we enter into with God as told of in Jeremiah 31:31.

Here are a few allusions to Shared Unity from the NT:
·  Philippians 1:5 (ESV) — 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
·  1 Corinthians 1:9 (ESV) — 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
·  1 Corinthians 10:16 (ESV) — 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
·  2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV) — 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

And with respect to John 17 and Jesus’ words, we experience a Shared Unity with God through our:
·  (1) Inclusion as the Given of God
·  (2) Participation in the Glory of God
o   See lesson “John 17 – The Glory of God
·  (3) Participation in the Name of God
o   See lesson “John 17 – The Name of God
·  (4) Participation in the Word of God.
o   See lesson “John 17 – The Word of God

D.A. Carson speaks of John 17’s Shared Unity this way:
·  “Jesus prays to his Father that these disciples may also be in us, probably alluding to the ‘union’ language of the vine metaphor (ch. 15). They are ‘in’ the Father and his Son, so identified with God and dependent upon him for life and fruitfulness, that they themselves become the locus of the Father’s life and work in them (cf. 14:12; 15:7)” – D.A. Carson.

Shared Unity obviously has other dimensions.
·  (1) Participation Eschatologically
o   Our future  glorification in the presence of God.
·  (2) Participation in Unity of Purpose with Jesus.
o   There is a shared unity of purpose with the work of Christ.
o   “The purpose, as in v. 21, is to ‘let the world know that you sent me’, to which is now added the further goal, ‘that you…have loved them even as you have loved me – Kostenberger.
o   In other words – Speaking the Gospel.
·  (3) Participation in the Love of God
o   John 14:23 (ESV) — 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Shared Unity as salvation:
·  Shared Unity in love and all its other forms is clearly conditional – “If anyone loves me”.
·  In fact, Shared Unity can be seen as salvation – “being one with the heavenly reality” of the Trinity – AYBD.

Believer’s Unity:
Philippians 2 specifically speaks of this kind of unity.
·  And Paul tells us it is grounded in having the:
o   Same mind”, “same love”, “full accord”, “one mind”, look “to the interests of others”, etc.
·  Acts 2:42 (ESV) — 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

This unity is often referred to as “koinonia”
·   “Koinonia” is the “living bond that unites Christians” – TDNT.
·  The context of the “koinonia” is the body of Christ – The Church.
·  And D.A. Carson warns that “Unless they [believers] are unified, how can they expect to give authentic, credible testimony to the Father, who is united with the Son and the Spirit in revealing himself and his salvation in Christ?” – D.A. Carson.
·  In other words, the Church of Christ is impotent without Shared and Believer’s Unity.

Another warning:
·  “Jesus was not praying for the unity of a single, worldwide, ecumenical church in which doctrinal heresy would be maintained along with orthodoxy. Instead, He was praying for a unity of love, a unity of obedience to God and His Word, and a united commitment to His will. There are great differences between uniformity, union, and unity” – BKC.
·  Was the reformation a violation of God’s call for unity?
·  How do you foster unity in your home in love and ‘obedience to God and His Word’ as opposed to an “institutional” unity?

Moreover, Believer’s Unity is impossible without Shared Unity.
·  1 John 1:3 (ESV) — 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
·  Believer’s “are to be one in purpose, in love, in action undertaken with and for one another, in joint submission to the revelation received” – Kostenberger.

And this brings us to Divine Unity – the source of this revelation.
·  The Divine Unity of the Trinity is foundational for all other forms of Christian unity and relationship.
·  If there is no Unity of Diversity in God – The Trinity – then the Diversity of Believer’s cannot be unified!
·  “The relationship of the Father to the Son and of the Son to the Father is the prototype of true solidarity” – AYBD.
·  Galatians 3:28 (ESV) — 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus [who is one with the Father – see John’s Gospel].

BTW – There is a unity that exists outside of Shared Unity and Believer’s Unity – Unity in Adam.
·  All of humanity is unified in having Adam as their “federal head”.
·  And in this context all desirable unities that Scripture speaks of are impossible – that includes love!


As we have said, the fundamental reason why unity is even possible is to be found in Divine Unity – the Trinity.
·  The Trinity “forms the pattern for unity” for believers – John MacArthur.
·  “Christian faith implies that apart from the tri-personal God of the Bible, human society lacks an adequate ontological foundation” – J. Scott Horrell.

Why is the Trinity foundational for all the unity just described?
·  To get at this truth we need to get a basic understanding of what the Trinity is.

Purpose of Trinity language:
·  “The historic formulation of the Trinity (derived from the Latin word trinitas, meaning “threeness”) seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is true” – J.I. Packer.
·  “We can say meaningful things about the Trinity (on the basis of God's revelation of them), [but] the Trinity is still unfathomable” – James Boice.
·  So what we are about to define is not the mystery, but our description of the mystery.

Definition of Trinity:
James White –
·  (1) There is one and only one God, eternal, immutable.
·  (2) There are three eternal Persons described in Scripture - the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. These Persons are never identified with one another - that is, they are carefully differentiated as Persons.
·  (3) The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, are identified as being fully deity---that is, the Bible teaches the Deity of Christ and the Deity of the Holy Spirit

ESV Study Bible –
  • (1) There is one and only one true and living God.
  • (2) This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • (3) These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  • (4) While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical.

Wayne Grudem –
·  God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.

Why is the Trinity not a contradiction?
·  “When we confess our faith in the Trinity, we affirm that God is one in essence and three in person. Thus, God is one in A and three in B. If we said that He is one in essence and three in essence, that would be a contradiction. If we said He is one in person and three in person, that also would be a contradiction. But as mysterious as the Trinity is, perhaps even above and beyond our capacity to understand it in its fullness, the historic formula is not a contradiction” – R.C. Sproul.

So What – Why the Trinity Matters:
Now we can answer the question, “why is the Trinity foundational for unity?

If God is not Trinity, then:
(1) There is no Gospel – James White.
·  If Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not God, our sins are not forgiven because Jesus was not a perfect and acceptable sacrifice.
·  So if there is no Gospel then we can’t be unified in God or with each other in any meaningfully objective sense.

BTW – When I speak of something as objective, I am saying that it is real and not relative or subjective.
·  In other words, it exists whether we do or not.
·  We are not needed; its existence is not dependent on us.

(2) There is no Unity in Diversity.
·  The unity of diverse things would be a subjective experience and not an objective reality grounded in God’s eternity which exists outside of us - objective.
·  “Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness” – Kevin DeYoung.

(3) Relationship – Then the existence of love, fellowship, glory, etc., is contingent upon us.
·  In the Trinity, these things have always existed; they are eternal.
·  They are not created.
·  Yet, if God is just one person then we would be necessary in order for God to love and have unity.
·  But, “…with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight – Kevin DeYoung.
·  We, therefore, are privileged to participate in the eternal unity and love of the Trinity not a created unity and love.
·  It is objective – it is real – it is ours to have!
·  It is not dependent on us.

BTW – This is one more reason why Jesus’ speaks of us being not of this world!
·  The world is created.
·  Yet, we are unified to something eternal.

(4) Adoption – Then we are not adopted into a family – the Trinity – but we are needed to make the family with God.
·  “Adoption, as the term clearly implies, is an act of transfer from an alien family into the family of God Himself. This is surely the apex of grace and privilege” – John Murray.
·  We are adopted into the godhead “family” and participate in their eternal communion as sons and daughters.
·  We do not make the “family”, we become part of it.
·  Again, God doesn’t need us for anything.

(5) Selflessness – There is no objective, eternal model of submission and selflessness.
·  Our participation in both Shared Unity and Believer’s Unity requires that we live a life of self-denial and “self-forgetfulness”.
·  Both of these things are modeled for us by the example set by Jesus’ and the Spirit’s submission to the work and authority of the Father within the Trinity.
·  …yet not my will, but yours be done” – Luke 22:42.

Final Thoughts:
It should be clear that in the Trinity there exists eternally all the things that matter – love, fellowship, family, selflessness, goodness, truth, glory, unity, diversity, etc.
·  These things are not created.
·  They are objective – they exist whether we do or not.
·  We are not needed.
·  Yet we, as creatures, are by grace given the privilege to participate in all of them.

And if God were not Trinity, He would not be God in any Biblical sense at all!
·  Eternity before creation (which was done through the Trinity) would be a lonely place.

“Though not to the same infinite divine extent, the spiritual life and power that belongs to the Trinity belongs also in some way to believers and is the basis for the church’s unity. This is what the Lord meant when He said, The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity. That stunning truth describes believers as those to whom the Son has given glory—that is, aspects of the very divine life that belongs to God. The church’s task is to so live as to not obstruct that glory (Matt. 5:16)” – John MacArthur.

Helpful Links:
InfoGraphic on Trinity
321 Gospel Presentation using Trinity
Monergism's Trinity Page