Beyond His death, Jesus expected a dynamic and growing church that would last throughout the ages. On the last night, before Jesus went to the Cross, He began to do what He now does eternally. A few hours before His arrest, Jesus interceded for His own disciples.
John chapter 17 is a prayer of three sections; in verses 1–5, Jesus prays for Himself. Verse 6–9 sees Jesus praying to the immediate group of disciples around Him. Finally, in verses 20–26, He prays for all believers yet to come.
On that night, when Jesus looked at the face of John, He saw the church of Ephesus and all the churches of Asia Minor. When He looked at Peter, He saw the whole of Pentecost and thousands more. When Jesus saw the gap where Judas Iscariot had been, he would have thought of the face of Paul and of all of the churches of Europe.
Jesus prays for the unity of the Church
In the final moments before His arrest, Christ could have prayed for His own strength, or maybe that the disciples would support Him, and would not flee from Him or His teachings. Instead, His prayer was dominated by one thought—the unity of the disciples.
Jesus knew that without unity, without oneness, the Church could never make the impact on the world that He wished it to. Unfortunately, the churches of the world seem to have never taken Christ's words on unity with the seriousness they deserve.
In verse 11, Jesus prays for the unity of the original group of disciples. Jesus knew that this was an incredible task because in the original group, there were incredible tensions. Just earlier in that evening, the disciples had had an argument as to who was the greatest among themselves. There were all kinds of tensions among that original group of disciples. For example, Matthew the Publican had sold out to Rome, and Simon Peter the Zealot had pledged to kill people like Matthew the Publican. "Lord, make them to be one." No wonder this permeated through Jesus' prayer.
In His prayer, Jesus moved beyond the disciples and prayed for the generations to come. In verse 21, what He had prayed for the disciples, He then prayed for all believers. It is interesting that Jesus asked God to give unity as a request. This suggests that unity is given and received, and not achieved. He looked to the Father and said grant to them the gift of unity. The unity of God's people can never be made or fabricated by man, instead it must be generated by the Spirit of God. Unity can never be organised by the church – it must be vitalised by the Spirit of God.
Christians are generally drawn to each other because we are drawn to a common centre—Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed that "they would be in us." Because that is the source of the power in that unity.
Jesus Prays for the Impact of a Unified Church
The impact of a unified church is that the world believes God the Father sent Christ the Son. "So that the world believe that you have sent me." The only thing that will convince the world of the divinity of Jesus Christ is the obvious and visible unity of His believers. John chapter 13, verse 35 says "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."Only the sight of unified disciples will convince the world of the truth of Jesus' message in mission.
We live in a world full of disunity. There is disunity in our homes, our families, our workplaces, our governments, our nations. Some believe that if we could just get a united theology we would compel the world to believe. However, united theology was never promised to do this. Human eloquence will not compel the world to believe, nor will the size of our churches. No denominational program, slogan, or goal will compel the world to believe. The only thing that will compel the world to believe, is a supernatural oneness in the family of God.
A truly unified community of people is a supernatural fact that must arise out of a supernatural cause. The world is so incredibly and fundamentally disunited that a perfectly united church would compel the world to confess that God is at work among us. A disunited church reverses the work of Christ and pretty much renders our witness to Him powerless and without effect.
According to the words of Jesus, if we do not reflect the unity that He desires we just as well strike down the Cross. This is because the world cannot believe the Father sent the Son unless we demonstrate it in spiritual oneness.
Only the unleashing of the power of Jesus Christ can impact our world in this way. We must take the gift of unity seriously in our own congregation. Just because it is a gift from God doesn't mean that we must be passive. We should act on this now.
It is the last thing Jesus prayed about before His arrest. This shows that this is a primary issue, and not a secondary one. It means that we must act now to see the church becomes unified as one.
In the church, we must act as unifiers, seeking common ground. He fact is that in every congregation, there are dozens of different opinions about the dozens of different things the church is trying to achieve. But every member of that congregation must make a decision to be a unifier in the midst of God's people. Otherwise, it makes room for division.
The need for this unity is not only within the walls of the church building, but also outside the church. Jesus says in the church and in the world be one, by what you say, and by what you do not say. If every single believer would guard their lips to say "What I say will be unifying rather than dividing." And when we hear something that is not unifying, we must not participate in it, and instead refute it.
The more we become
Christ's full glory will be revealed by Him in Heaven. "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory." (John chapter 17, verse 24). There is more to come. We will be perfectly one when we perfectly see His glory.
The more we look at Jesus Christ, the more we will see. The more we see, the more we will become one.
Christ's glory is the outward, visible expression of love between the Father and the Son. The second part of verse 24 states: "The glory You have given me because you loves me before the creation of the world." We will spend eternity meditating on the love between Father and Son.
Our churches will never be fully united by looking at the pastor, the leadership team, a program, or one another. Why not start now?
If we look towards Jesus Christ, we will be drawn to one another.
First published October 18, 2013
Lehi is a youth worker at Zeal Youth Centre in Wellington, NZ, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He loves painting, writing bad poetry, and doing life in the company of people with big hearts.
Lehi Duncan's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/lehi-duncan.html