“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)
Have you ever been in a park or at a work function or on a long plane ride and, in talking to a complete stranger, you discover that they love Jesus? What is that experience like?
The initial surprise. The sudden desire to know more about this person. The exchanging of stories. The sharing of significant scriptures. The glad testifying to how wonderful Jesus has been to both of your souls.
In an hour, or even less, you feel as though you have found a long-lost relative or a best friend you somehow forgot you had. You love this person you just met. He or she might know more about you than your natural family and the friends you grew up with, simply because this person knows and loves him.
If danger came to that park, or a terrorist threatened the safety of those on board, you would consider dying for this person. He or she — though you have had the pleasure of the acquaintance only for a short time — is your family. Family that will outlast the world. A bond binds you together that you cannot explain to an unbeliever. And some Christians themselves cannot explain it, unless perhaps they have spent time reflecting on a chief prayer of Jesus before he goes to the cross.
That They Would Be One
This love shared between Christians is not based on a shared interest — like the camaraderie of members at a local country club. The unity cannot be explained by natural liking. Jesus prayed for this kind of oneness to be found with his people:
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
This supernatural oneness is not only given by God, but it originates in God himself. God from all time has enjoyed a unity few things in this world can even begin to hint at. The triune God has enjoyed the fullest, deepest unity in himself as he has existed in perfect community before he spoke any creature into being.
Jesus brings this triune oneness — not any other kind he has witnessed on earth thus far — to his Father to ask that they might be one “even as we are one.” Trinitarian unity is prayed over the church that he intentionally leaves behind in a dark and divided world.
That the World May Know
This harmony sounds different than the pounded notes the world can produce. Jesus, facing his imminent crucifixion, prays again for his people’s unity, this time telling us more of its purposes:
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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 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. (John 17:20–23)
Two times, Jesus discloses, “so that the world may believe [or know] that you have sent me” — and once, “so that the world may know that you . . . loved them even as you loved me.” The supernatural adhesion of believer to believer, best seen in communities of local churches, ought to display to the curious world (1) that the Father sent the Son, and (2) that the Father loves the church. The love between Christ’s people tells the world about Jesus and about God the Father’s love for his Son’s bride.
Until the Lord’s return, Jesus desires his bride to be in unison. This union ought to model an ancient oneness, the truest oneness, the ultimate oneness: God’s oneness. Jesus prays that we might be perfectly one. Unity is the Trinity song sung over us as we pray, as we love, as we wait for him.