“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.” (John 17:20-21 ESV)
In His High Priestly prayer before His arrest, Jesus asked the Father a request for those who would believe in Him through the gospel message communicated by His disciples (v. 20). This prayer was on our behalf.
What did Jesus pray for us? He asked the Father to make us unified: “That they may all be one.” This is not a call to unify at all costs – to throw off core beliefs and rally around the lowest common denominator. Rather, Jesus is calling us to a unity based on a common commitment to the entire gospel message. It is a holding to the complete revelation of God in Christ that has been passed down to us through the Word. We unify around the heart of our faith and a full adherence to the essentials of the gospel.
Jesus goes on to ask that this unity should be like the oneness between the Father and the Son (v. 21). God the Father and God the Son are united perfectly in love, purpose, and mission. Likewise, Jesus prayed for us as His followers to display a oneness in love, purpose, and mission. We are united to each other in Christ (“that they also may be in us”) as we are all connected to the true Vine (John 15). And so our unity should be like the unity of the Father and Son.
What was Jesus’ purpose in praying for our unity? “That the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21). Jesus asks that our oneness with fellow believers be a way for the world to know and believe that Jesus is the One sent from God.
Jesus intends that our unity as believers be displayed to and observed by the world. It is a means by which Jesus is showing Himself to a lost world. Our unity should be so compelling, our love for one another so sacrificial and others-first, our holding to the gospel so unrelenting, our shared mission so joyful, that the world cannot explain it by any other reason than that Jesus really must be the One from God.
The unity of believers is a significant matter to Christ. He asked the Father for it. He prayed that it would be like the oneness between Himself and His Father. And He expects that our unity will send a clear message about the gospel to the world.
Jesus prayed this for us. We should seek to unite with our fellow believers in this kind of biblical oneness. It mattered to Jesus. May it matter to us.