Departure and Joy
Jesus’ departure also means joy for His disciples (John 17:13), for Jesus is going to be glorified and will send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to be with His disciples (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). He will not leave them as orphans (14:18). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a sign not of Jesus’ absence but of His victory. This is also cause for the disciples to rejoice (v. 28; 16:20–24). The Holy Spirit will guide the disciples into all truth, and elsewhere we know that the Spirit equips God’s people for ministry, for the sake of unity (Eph. 4:1–16). Though Jesus is departing, He encourages His disciples to continue to abide in Him that their joy may be full (John 15:11; 1 John 1:3–4). This they do inasmuch as His words abide in them (John 15:7; 17:14). As we pull the pieces together, we can say that even though Jesus is departing, we can have continued fellowship with Him—in union with Him—by means of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
Kept in God’s Name
Jesus specifically prays that His disciples be kept in God’s name (John 17:11). The petition to “keep them in your name, which you have given me” (emphasis added) may refer to the power of God’s name by which the disciples are kept, or perhaps to the identification of the disciples as those who bear God’s name and are to be kept faithful to His character. The goal of this keeping is stated explicitly in 17:11: that the disciples may be one in a way that reflects the unity of the Father and the Son. Instead of being marked by the world, the disciples must be marked by and kept in God’s name. Similarly, disciples are entrusted with God’s Word (v. 14), and those who love Him will keep His commandments (14:15). Those who reject Jesus also reject His Word (8:37). In this, too, we see a difference between true disciples and the world.
In the World, Not of the World
The disciples must be kept in God’s name because they do not belong to the world, though they live in the world. In this respect, the disciples mirror Jesus Himself, who was in the world but not of the world (John 17:14–16). Jesus came from above; He did not come from this world (3:31; 8:23). As such, Jesus was hated by this world. Given this reality, Jesus’ disciples should not be surprised to discover that the world hates them also (15:18–19; 17:14). The world is at once an object of God’s love (3:16; 12:46) and is set in continual opposition to God (7:7). In this world, disciples are salt and light; they must not (indeed, they cannot) seclude themselves from the world but must continue to live in this world. Even so, they have been chosen out of this world (15:19). Jesus tells His disciples that this world will bring trouble for them, just as it did for Him; but they can also be encouraged, for Christ has overcome the world (16:33).
The prayer of Jesus for His disciples is not simply a historical record about past disciples; it is a living Word that provides encouragement for today. Most directly, Jesus’ prayer (and many of the statements He makes in the Farewell Discourses) has the first disciples in view. Yet Jesus’ prayer also makes clear that the lineage of disciples beyond the core disciples is in view as well. Jesus prays both for His immediate disciples and for those who will come to faith by means of the first disciples’ testimony: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). The horizon of this prayer thus includes all disciples who come to faith through the Apostolic witness and its legacy, including the Apostolic legacy recorded in Scripture. For it was to these disciples that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them (14:26; 15:26–27). Since the Apostles are foundational to the church (Eph. 2:20), Jesus’ prayer for the security of His disciples has in view all subsequent generations of disciples as well.