by Mike Phay
Three Ways that Jesus Prays for Our Protection
“And 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. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:11-16)
Jesus’ absence from the world should cause a certain amount of angst for His disciples because true disciples have a strong, irresistible, innate desire to be with Jesus. As the Apostle Paul attested when pondering his own death: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23, italics mine).
Although the believer’s final destiny is to be with Christ, Jesus purposely leaves us in the world – which happens to be a very hostile place for those who are associated with Him. And yet this is the inevitable and assigned lot of all of Jesus’ disciples. In fact, Jesus intentionally requests that His followers not be taken out of the world (v. 15). In other words, He intended to leave us here. He intended for us to be here in the world right now – not accidentally, but for a purpose: and His purposes are always perfect.
If we look at the end of this section, we can see that the unifying danger from which all other dangers in this world come is Satan himself, leading Him to pray: “keep [protect – NIV] them from the evil one” (v. 15).
As Jesus prays against Satan’s influence, He draws our attention to three ways in which Satan works in this world. Let’s look at them one at a time:
Satan is a murderer
“He was a murderer from the beginning…” (John 8:44)
We see from the very beginning of God’s story that Satan is the Ultimate Vandal. Unable to create anything by himself, he takes what God has created as good – life, wholeness, unity, peace, relationship – and destroys, vandalizes, and seeks to reverse it. Death comes when there is division, enmity, and hostility – the destruction of God’s good, creative purposes.
In the Genesis story, Satan subversively brought enmity between Adam and Eve, between both of them and God, and also between them and the created world. In the biblical view, life is relational unity (John 17:3), and death is separation – ultimately, separation from God. But in so many other ways, whenever we experience hostility and division – broken relationships, fractured peace, reversed unity – death is in play.
Jesus specifically prays against this Satan-wrought divisiveness amongst His disciples: “Holy Father, keep [protect, NIV] them in your name…that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11). Satan – the devil – is, as Peter tells us, our adversary. He “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Prey is at its most vulnerable to a predator when it is isolated and alone, away from the flock.
So where Satan would bring death into our lives by keeping us isolated and lonely, Jesus prays us together. Where Satan would have a heyday of deadening our souls by over-individualizing us, Jesus died to make us a people. To bring us together. To create unity where there was once only enmity, separation, and death. Jesus prays against Satan’s murderous ways by praying for our unity.
We keep ourselves safer by staying with the flock – by being with God’s people, His church. And by making it a priority to not allow yourself to get caught alone, isolated, and vulnerable.
Satan is a thief
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10)
But what does Satan steal, that Jesus thinks it important for us to retain? In verse 13, Jesus prays, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
Satan wants to take your joy. Actually, he wants to keep you from having Jesus’ own joy. And what was Jesus’ joy – what he calls his ‘food’? To do the will of His Father.
Hear it from Jesus’ own lips: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12)
Where does joy come from? Obedience. How do we obey? Through love.
Satan’s ploy of joy-thievery is to draw us into disobedience, which looks like self-centered, narcissistic, ego-maniacal, non-loving lives. The ironic thing about this is that the way in which we are actually able to combat Satan’s attempted burglary is to give more love – to pour ourselves out and empty ourselves for the sake of others. The more we empty ourselves in love and obedience, the more capacity we have for joy. The more of ourselves we let go, the more joy we get.
Obedience through love brought Jesus joy. Pouring Himself out for us and for our salvation brought Jesus joy: “who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2, italics mine). Obedience through love will bring us joy, too. Trying to hang ontyourselflf and your comfortable, self-focused life? That is the way to lose all joy.
Be assured that the enemy of your soul does not love you. He has not given up one iota of himself for you. So why give him anything? Why forfeit your joy to him? On the other hand, the Savior of your soul loves you perfectly. He has given up all of Himself for you. Are you willing to give Him your self and trust Him with everything?
Satan is a liar
“…he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
Already in this Gospel, Jesus has told his disciples that they will face tribulation and hatred in this world (John 15:18-16:4; 16:33), so those who belong to Jesus should expect to be hated, persecuted, and even killed. This is because Jesus has given us God’s word – the Gospel – and as a result, we – like Jesus – are not of the world (v. 14).
Like oil and water, Hatfields and McCoys, Republicans and Democrats – the world and disciples should repel each other. Those who have received and believed in God’s word in the Gospel have not merely given intellectual assent to a set of truths or propositions, but have been given a new identity in Christ. We are new creations. We have been rescued out of the world, out of the domain of darkness, and have become children of light. And light repels darkness. And the darkness hates it. Despises it. Can’t stand it.
Perhaps Satan’s most subtle and powerful weapon in his arsenal against believers is the lie (“has God really said?”) that discipleship does not necessitate a repulsive-to-the-world radical reorientation of one’s life around the Gospel. When would-be-followers-of-Christ swallow Satan’s deception here, the tension between them and the world is removed. Opposition abates. Life becomes peaceful and comfort ensues.
This is why the so-called Prosperity Gospel is so popular (and so demonic): it requires no radical reorientation around God, His Kingdom or His commandments. The result of buying into this lie of “comfortable discipleship” is that our powers of discernment (Hebrews 5:14) are dulled and the things of the world – rather than the things of God – hold sway over us, clouding our vision and adjusting our eyes to a near-sightedness that views this world as the only one.
This is the essence of the spiritual battle taking place beneath the tangible, sensible, physical world. This battle is very real, and it is very important: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
So when Jesus affirms that we are not of the world, and thus opposed by the world (in verse 14 and again in verse 16) – and asks that we not be taken out of the world – He is purposefully leaving us in this place of tension, opposition, hatred, persecution, and even death. And he knows that the struggle will be a struggle of endurance and faith which sees beyond the opposition to the smiling face of our Savior. And so, Jesus asks His Father to “keep them from the evil one” (v. 15), a protection that, I am convinced, includes opening our eyes not only to see but also to be aware of the Kingdom that is ever-present beneath the veneer of this world.
We are in the world, where the stakes are high. The Good News is that Jesus prays for your protection and mine. He prays that our perspective, our unity, and our joy will be protected by the Only One who can truly protect them: our Holy Father, God Himself. And a life of faith desperately clings to God’s power, displayed in Christ’s finished work: a new identity in Him. The perils of ignoring or rejecting Him or pursuing our identity elsewhere are dire and destructive. Judas Iscariot, caught isolated and divided from Jesus and the other disciples, is the ultimate example (v. 12).
Satan is the enemy of our souls. He is a murderer, a thief, and a liar. He will rest when we are destroyed, empty, vacuous, and dead. But Jesus…
And here it is, the two words that make all of the difference: But Jesus…
- But Jesus is the Savior of your soul.
- But Jesus is the Author and perfecter of your faith.
- But Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects you from attack.
- But Jesus holds onto you with a grip that cannot be broken by anything in all of creation.
- But Jesus is on the throne of the Universe.
- But Jesus has prayed for you.
- But Jesus is praying for you even now, as we speak, interceding with words of complete authority on your behalf, to His Father who loves Him and listens to Him and will fulfill all of His promises in you and for you…forever!