The Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2023

May 6, 2024 | by Nichole Torbitzky

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John 17:6-19

Historical background and setting

As in last week’s passage, Jesus and the disciples are in the city of Jerusalem around the time of the Passover.  Remember that John does not set the ‘last supper’ at the Passover nor does the author describe Jesus as instituting communion at that meal.  Instead, the author depicts Jesus as giving the command to love one another and washing the disciples’ feet.  This passage comes just after Jesus has shown the truth of love as humility and service in the act of washing the disciples’ feet.  Back in chapter 14, it seems as if they have all left the place where they were having their pre-Passover meal and have been walking through Jerusalem toward the Kidron Valley (where they will arrive in Chapter 18).  Jerusalem would have been crowded considering that many people traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover from all over what is now Israel/Palestine and some surrounding areas.  In addition to the pilgrims and regular residents, Jerusalem would also have a substantial Roman presence including soldiers and dignitaries.

Let’s break it down

Today’s verses make up a section of a longer prayer that began at 17:1. This section of Jesus’ prayer focuses on the disciples.  The language is repetitive and is not an easy read in English because of that repetition.

17:6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

Jesus tells God, “I’ve made you (your name) known to the disciples (those you gave me).  They were yours, then they were mine, because you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Word here probably carries the double meaning of word as ‘teachings,’ but also calls back to the first chapter of John where Jesus is introduced as the Word of God.  Jesus may well be commending the disciples to God because they have accepted not only Jesus’ teachings about who God is as God’s own teachings, but also accepted and ‘kept’ Jesus as God’s word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

If the disciples have accepted both God’s teachings and Jesus as God’s word, then they have demonstrated that they understand that what Jesus teaches is what God would have us know.

17: 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Jesus is really driving the point home here.  He reliably gave God’s teaching to the disciples, and the disciples not only got that teaching, but also understand that Jesus came from God, and they believe that God sent Jesus.  (Yep, pretty repetitive.  But, maybe it is best to be super clear?)

17: 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours

Jesus is asking on behalf of those that God sent and who understand both the teachings of God and that Jesus is the Word of God, he is not asking for those who do not understand and do not ‘keep’ Jesus.  Jesus seems to be reminding God (or maybe the disciples or maybe the author is reminding the reader) that these disciples are God’s own and have been given to Jesus, they are only Jesus’ due to that gratuity on God’s part.

17: 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 

Once again, Jesus states that the disciples are not ‘his’ by his own virtue, but by the gift of God, and that in them we can see Jesus’ glory.  (This is pretty high praise.)

17: 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Even though Jesus has not gone through the passion, it appears that according to the author of John, Jesus is no longer in the world.  Often preachers will fudge this a little.  Preachers like to put this verse into the future tense and say that Jesus knows he will no longer be in the world, but we can’t get around the present tense used in the verb “I am.”  Somehow, Jesus is already gone from the world and the disciples are still in the world.  The word for world here is “cosmos.”  It is tempting to project a real dichotomy on the word ‘world’ and make cosmos out to be the realm of sinful people who reject the teachings of God.  I would be careful about drawing that dichotomy.  Cosmos means “orderly arrangement and decoration.”  While the cosmology of the writer’s time would have understood ‘cosmos’ or the ‘world’ as below the heavens, that does not necessarily mean evil or even the opposite of heaven.  It simply means its position in existence is below the heavens and therefore clearly not heaven.

Jesus addresses his prayer to “Holy Father,” (this is an accurate translation from the Greek) and asks for God’s protection in God’s name that has been given to Jesus.  This protection appears to be necessary for both the oneness of Jesus with God and the oneness of the disciples with each other.

17:12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

The theme of protection continues here.  Jesus reminds God that he has protected the disciples (who have been entrusted to him by God) in God’s name and not lost a single one except the one that had to be lost to fulfill scriptural prophecy. Exactly which scripture is fulfilled is not perfectly clear.  The two most likely references are Ps 41:9-10 and Ps 109:6-19.

17: 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

Jesus explains that he is saying these things for the disciples’ benefit, that they may have Jesus’ joy perfected in them.

17: 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

We’ve come back around to the word.  Jesus states again that he did what he was supposed to do, he gave the disciples God’s teaching, and the world hated them because they do not belong to the world, just like Jesus does not belong to the world.  Once again, it is probably best to resist the temptation of easy dichotomy that the world is evil because of this rejection.  Or at least the world is evil and this rejection is just further or final proof.  Jesus has already said that both he and the disciples belong to God.  The world didn’t hate them because of the word, but because they didn’t belong to the world.

17: 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

Here Jesus appears to acknowledge that he has protected the disciples up until this point, and now needs God to take over the protecting.  It should be noted that “evil one” is a reasonable translation from the Greek, but just “evil” is as reasonable.  He is also not asking for the disciples to be taken away from the evils or hate of this world.

17:16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Here Jesus reiterates that although the disciples remain in the world, even with him gone, they still do not belong to the world, but belong to God.  (And therefore, should be protected by God.)

17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Here Jesus gives God a command.  He commands God to make the disciples holy in the truth.  Since God’s word is truth, then the disciples need to be made holy in the teachings of God.

17: 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Jesus may still be explaining why the disciples need to be sanctified in the truth, because they are taking up Jesus’ mission, the disciples need to be holy by the teachings of God.

17:19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Jesus makes himself holy for the benefit of the disciples (who are his as well as God’s), who, made holy in the truth should also gain God’s protection and Jesus’ mission.

Mutuality, Compassion, Connection

There is a whole lot going on here.  Even when we break it down, it is still not truly easy to follow.  There are three basic themes I’d like to emphasize for our work this week: 1. Mutality 2. Compassion for the world 3. Understanding the word in its dual sense of both the teaching of God and the person of Jesus as the way to understand the connection between what Jesus teaches and who he is.


In these verses Jesus repeats himself, lingering on the mutuality of his relationship with God whom he addresses as Father. What is God’s, is Jesus’ and what is Jesus’ is the disciples’.  God’s mission for Jesus is Jesus’ mission for the disciples.  Just as things are for Jesus they generally are for the disciples. This passage is a golden opportunity to talk about the Amipotent God that Jesus shows to us.  Amipotent is the term coined by Thomas J. Oord to talk about how God is powerful even if God is not Omnipotent.  Oord’s website describes Amipotence as combining “two Latin words ami and potens. The first means “love,” and we find it in words like “amicable,” “amity,” and “amigo.” The second is the Latin word for power or influence, and we find it in “potential” and “potency.” Amipotence is pronounced, “am” (as in “Amsterdam”), with a short “i” (as in “it”), and “po-tence” (similar to “moments”).”[i]  God’s power comes not through bullying or coercing, but through loving.  Powerful loving, authentic love, is mutual, non-coercive, and expansive.  If Jesus prayed to a coercive, omnipotent, despot, this prayer would have been much different, don’t you think?  There would have been the kind of begging and coyness we see in Esther’s addresses to Ahasuerus.  Instead here, we see Jesus ask for protection for the disciples, because in their oneness with him, they are also one with God through Jesus.


Jesus’ care and concern for the wellbeing of the disciples is clear in this passage.  The author leads us to believe that Jesus is aware that his death is imminent.  In this awareness he wants to be sure that the ones he loves are taken care of and protected.  On top of that, Jesus is also showing a great deal of compassion for this world.  Jesus acknowledges that the world has rejected him and the disciples and yet, he is still sending them out into the world to help carry on his mission.  Preachers like to draw a dichotomy between “this world” and the heavenly world, or the kin-dom, or the world to come.  They often describe this world as evil and the kin-dom as good and perfect.  This world cannot be evil.  If so, Jesus would have no reason to send the disciples into to carry on his mission.  This world is the fertile ground of the kin-dom coming near.  Neither good, nor evil, this world is the focus of Jesus’ compassion.  As, it should be ours.  Since God is Amipotent, and Jesus demonstrates that kind of expansive love, then we are commissioned to act with love like the disciples.  It is a commission to love this world even when the people in it are hateful.


The connection between God and Jesus and Jesus and the disciples is made plain in these verses.  Often, Preachers will point to Jesus’ statement in 17:11 that “they may be one as you and I are one” as a prooftext that Jesus claims to be God.  The fully human/fully divine leap cannot be made based on this verse.  That Jesus talks about his oneness with God is undeniable.  Oneness does not carry the meaning the same.  If we read Jesus’s oneness talk in conjunction with his reminders that he has acted (to protect the disciples) in God’s name, we come to what Jesus means when he talks about his oneness with God.  It was common and well established practice in the time period of the writing of John’s gospel to have authorization to exercise God’s will and even manifest God’s presence in God’s name.  We see in Exodus 23:20-21 where the Angel going before the Israelites and this Angel will have the ability to forgive sins, the people are supposed to obey him because “my name is in him.”  We see this tradition of authorization to act on behalf of God, as God, in our passage for today.  This authorization to act in the name of God is the oneness Jesus references here.[ii]

Although Jesus is not claiming to be God here, Jesus is still claiming something powerful.  He is claiming his legitimate claim to act in God’s name, to act in oneness with God.  This claim asserts the deep connection between Jesus and God.  The connection feels like oneness.  While acting in another’s name is not very common today, we still do this.  Lawyers act in the name of their clients; spouses can act for each other with “oneness.”  I think this last one is a good example.  As married partners, one spouse can act in the best interests of the couple as if they were one.  Because, in a sense, when a marriage is going strong, they are one.  Neither partner gives up who they are as an individual and also they are one with their spouse.  This oneness only works well when a deep connection of knowing, understanding, and trust form the foundation of the partnership.

We know God to be the kind of God who makes and keeps connections so deep that each of us is internally related to God as we make our choices to become in each moment.  We know that as part of the World, we are internally connected to each other, as the events of existence come to together in each of an individual’s moments of becoming.

What we see in this passage is a powerful example of the loving God, who acts with boundless compassion in deep connection to the world.  I encourage relational preachers to emphasize the love and compassion, the connection and mutuality found in this passage as a model for how we should run our churches and live our lives.


[ii] If you’d like to delve deeper check out

Nichole TorbitzkyRev.Dr. Nichole Torbitzky is Associate Professor of Religion and University Chaplain at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. Her current research investigates Whiteheadian notions related to Christian atonement theory. She serves as the editor for the Center for Process and Faith’s Lectionary Commentary series. She co-edited the process and preaching book, Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God: Sermons, Essays, and Worship Elements from the Perspective of Open, Relational, and Process Theology.