John 17:23 – I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Three times Jesus prays for the unity of the church. What is this unity? There is an effort that has been going on for some time to bring about a union of believers, to unite them in one great worldwide church or some organization. We are told that this will at last be the answer to this prayer of Jesus. But I find it impossible to accept that explanation. I do not believe that the church has to wait twenty-one centuries before the prayer of Jesus is answered or that an organization will accomplish what the Holy Spirit (seemingly) has been unable to do. I believe that the Holy Spirit has been answering this prayer from the very beginning, and when we understand the nature of the unity for which Jesus prayed, we will see that the prayer is indeed being answered and has been all along.
What is the nature of that unity? Several things in this passage give us a clue. The first is in verse 21–that all of them may be one. What does this all mean? If you look back in verse 20 you will see that Jesus prays, not for them alone. Who are them? The apostles, the eleven for whom he has been praying in the previous section. He continues, but also for those who are to believe in him through the apostolic witness–the great body of Christians around the world and through the centuries. These two groups, He now says, are all to be joined together, that all of them may be one. In other words, the unity of the church is a unity with the apostles. And since the primary task of the apostles was to give us the truth about Jesus, this unity is that of shared truth–one faith delivered unto the saints, one set of beliefs about Jesus given by the apostles. Thus, the basis of unity in the body of Christ is the unity of shared truth.
Another aspect of unity is found in the words, I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity. That is the glory of a shared life. Jesus in us, the Father in Him, and thus, in the remarkable words of Peter, we may participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Do you ever think of yourself as linked with the life of God–so much so that you cannot be known or understood apart from that life? The understanding of that is what produces unity among believers. Here is what Jesus is praying–that we may understand the sharing of truth, the sharing of power, and the sharing of life, and that we may be one.
What is the purpose of this unity? Twice our Lord tells us–once in verse 21: so that the world may believe that you have sent me, and again in verse 23: to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. When the church begins to demonstrate the unity of faith, the unity of shared truth, shared power, and shared life, the world is hit by an inescapable impression that Jesus is Lord, that He indeed holds the key to history and to reality, that He is indeed the revelation of the invisible God.
Lord, You have made me one with believers in all places in all times. May that unity be reflected in all that I do.
What unity do we demonstrate so the world can see how Jesus holds the key to reality and is indeed the revelation of the invisible God?