(John 17:22-23 ESV) 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
In John, “glory” means to see God or Jesus as they truly are. Thus, “glory” has a dual meaning here. In one sense, “glory” is the way God or Jesus appears in heaven — as a King whose radiance lights heaven itself. To see Jesus’ “glory” is to see him as divine, co-equal with God, enthroned in heaven, surrounded by thousands of angels in worship. The resurrection and ascension demonstrate glory in this sense.
But “glory” also refers to the crucifixion, the suffering that must be endured in this life as a true follower. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, his humble service and submission to God — all these things — also show the true nature of God and therefore his glory.
Thus, Jesus has given the disciples the same “glory” he has because they are called to participate in the same washing of feet, the same lowly service and submission, the same mission from God, all for the purpose of revealing the true nature of God and Jesus to the world — and all to ultimately culminate in their being taken to the very presence of God — in glory.
This, Jesus says, is the path to true unity. It’s not studying to get the exegesis of every single silence just the same. It’s having a common mission accomplished through shared service, submission, sacrifice, and suffering. It’s following the same path because we all are following Jesus.
The goal is that the disciples be “perfectly” one. Jesus is quite plain here. It’s not merely that we should consider unity an unattainable ideal to be wished for. No, to be effective, the world should see us in the present age as completely unified.
Moreover, Jesus is not praying over a single congregation. As hard as we struggle to be united even within our congregations, he is begging God to visibly unify all disciples.
I say “visibly” unify because he expects the outside world to see our unity and so be brought to faith in Jesus. We must not only be unified, we must show the unity in a way the persuades the world that is Jesus is Lord.
Sad, isn’t it, that we’ve missed this mark so very badly. Just as sad is how many of us respond to this plea: we blame everyone else for not agreeing with us on every single point. We demand that our own consciences and intellects be the standard by which all believers are judged, as though we were God himself. And this leads to nothing but division and rationalization.
There’s another point here rarely commented on. Jesus expects our unity to demonstrate that God “loved them even as you loved me.” We don’t appear to the world as objects of God’s gracious love unless we are united.
After all, if God loved us, surely we’d have learned to love others the very same way. And if God loves us by grace, and not by works, so that no one can boast, surely we should love each other the very same way — and so be united.
If we can’t overlook the errors and sins of our brothers in Christ to be visibly united with them, well, obviously we must be believe that God doesn’t overlook the errors and sins of our brothers in Christ — and so we must not think God loves them sacrificially. God wasn’t willing to let Jesus’ death do them any good.
Do you see how it fits together? Do you see why the love that Jesus exemplifies and commands in John 13 is the same thing as the unity he prays for in John 17?
His mission fails if the world doesn’t recognize his disciples as belonging to him and loved by God. His crucifixion is pointless if we can’t love those who don’t deserve it — who can only be loved as an act of unmerited favor.
Indeed, until we’re ready to heal the lame and blind on a Sabbath and until we’re willing to spend time sharing the gospel with sinful Samaritans, we won’t have enough of Jesus in us to love as we must, much less be unified as we are commanded.
(John 17:24-26 ESV) 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus concludes by praying that the disciples will be “with me where I am.” This is a proleptic reference to his return to heaven; but it’s also a literal reference to being on the road toward self-sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus then declares that he will continue to make God’s name known (though his crucifixion and through his disciples) so that his disciples will share in God’s love.
Jesus is saying that making his name known — continuing his mission to bring the truth to the world — allows God to love the disciples as God loves Jesus. That is, God will be with them to the end, just as God will be with Jesus to the end. Indeed, he’ll resurrect them just as he will soon resurrect Jesus.
This is also how Jesus will dwell within them — by making his name known. The continuation of his mission, the spreading of the Kingdom, is his mission and the purpose of the Kingdom.
How does the church become united? Well, by participating with Jesus in his mission to let his name be known — by spreading the gospel. When we do mission together, when we do evangelism together, when we support church planters and missionaries together, when we make plans to take our hometowns for Jesus together, we become united in a way that transcends mere doctrinal agreement.
The people you are closest to are not the ones who agree with you on everything. No, it’s the people you’ve labored alongside, those who’ve partnered with you in a mission you considered important.
Men who served together in war are bound to one another in a way that transcends ethnicity and social class and education and denomination. They had each other’s back. They risked their lives together. They planned the attack or defense together. And so their hearts are joined together for the rest of their lives.
Do we want unity in Christ? Then look for ways to serve beside each other doing those things that we are passionate about and that involve real sacrifice, real cost. When we labor together in this way, unity will come.