In Summary: This passage is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. Throughout this chapter, Jesus prays for His disciples, both present and future.This chapter is pretty straightforward, and I think we need to be careful not to make Jesus saying strange things here.
A couple of main points that this prayer does touch are worth noticing. First is the idea of glory. Jesus is headed to the Cross, but His prayer is about glory. There is no sense here that the Cross is anything but the intentional point of His life. I know I hit this subject often, but we need to remember that Jesus’ death was no accident, nor was it the plans of mankind. This is the glory He came for: to redeem His people to Himself.
The second point is found exemplified in John 17:11 about the world. Recurring throughout, Jesus highlights that He is leaving the world, but the disciples will remain in the world. These disciples are connected to the world, but also linked to Jesus. They are no longer of the world, or loyal to the world, but remain within its borders.
In Focus: Focusing in this passage, I like John 17:20. There is, of course, the cheering factor of knowing that Jesus prayed for those of us who were not even born yet. That is not the only thing to note in this verse.
Another aspect to note is that Jesus’ statement here lets us know that He knew generations would follow His current disciples. It is either necessary to place this statement on the pen of a later writer or acknowledge that Jesus let His disciples know at this point that they would not see His literal return. It would come in time.
In Practice: What, then, do we do? First, we follow the example of Jesus and we pray. That should be clear, but it bears repeating. Second, we acknowledge our unity with other believers. This is how Jesus prayed for believers: not as Baptists and Presbyterians, but as His disciples.
Isn’t about time that became our focus?
In Nerdiness: The imagery of “in the world but not of it” would have been very clear for people within the Roman Empire. Rome conquered and held many places, but few people were considered to be “of Rome.” Instead, they were “in Rome’s Empire” but not “of Rome.” They had fewer rights, fewer opportunities.
Consider the Gauls, the Jews, or the Egyptians. These all retained their own customs and religions. They held tightly to their own heritage, though they were in Rome. Further, one could go to the edge of the Empire and find the Celts. These are the historic situations which should give us some insight into how we live as people in the world but not of it.
So break out the Asterix books, the hieroglyphics, and the kilts. We don’t belong here, we just live here.