"That they may all be one" John 17:21
Jesus walked on the earth in perfect unity with his Father's will. He did whatever he saw the Father doing and he destroyed the works of the enemy everywhere he ministered. He was God made flesh. Can it get any better than that? Yet, Jesus prayed a prayer at the end of his earthly life that has yet to be answered.
At his last supper with his disciples he prayed a prayer for all who would believe in him: "that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me." (John 17:21)
It would seem that in the very beginning of the church there was that unity Jesus prayed for. As they waited for the Holy Spirit to fall on Pentecost, Acts 1:14 tells us: "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer." However, before the rest of the New Testament books were written, we hear of lots of factions and divisions and doctrinal arguments. Letters to the different churches were often written to address conflicts.
Christians at Odds
And in the centuries after that? How many ways have Christians sub-divided themselves? How many denominations and splits do we have? How many doctrinal positions abound on basics such as communion and baptism and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
So what's up? Did Jesus miss it somehow in his prayer? Should we slip this one under the rug and forget he ever uttered it? NO WAY. Jesus' prayer for unity is truly one of the great prayers of the Bible. It holds a particularly honored spot because it was himself, the great I AM who spoke it. And make no mistake - this prayer will be answered.
At least twice in his prayer Jesus repeated himself by emphasizing WHY unity is important. In Verse 23 he pressed again what he said only a few sentences before: "that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me."
Unity - Tool for Evangelizing
In truth, unity is a tool for evangelizing. Unity promotes the gospel more than we can understand. That's probably one of the big reasons the early Christians were said to be turning the whole world upside down. (See Acts 17:6) But here is another thing about unity: unity is hard!
The very root of our fallen rebellious and selfish nature discards unity. To top things off, there is one who is in perfect agreement with our disagreements. Satan fans any flames of disunity that he can find. He has also read the scripture and he knows the prayer. He knows that when unity occurs, his kingdom suffers. His strategy is to bring disharmony, suspicion and bickering.
Jesus never uttered a prayer that will not ultimately be answered. The answer is on the way and since it has taken so long so far, we can surmise it will be an answer beyond what we can think or imagine. It's a GREAT PRAYER and it will have a GREAT ANSWER.
First of all, there is a visible church and an invisible church. True disciples of Jesus Christ reside within all the different denominations and traditions and cultural distinctions present in Christianity. Beyond doctrinal distinctions there is a deeper conviction which resounds in believers everywhere: "This I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:17) Every time love triumphs, unity trumps disunity.
Incredibly, for over two thousand years there has continually been a stream (even if sometimes a small one) of the great unity Jesus prayed for. It is present during great revivals when believers band together to present the gospel. It is present when people pray together even if they are from different churches. It is present when Christians decide on joint missionary endeavors and give to mission projects other than their own.
We do not yet see the visible and the invisible church of Jesus Christ becoming one. But the time must be close because the Second Coming of the Lord is fast approaching. The final great outpouring of the Holy Spirit is imminent. What will make the world turn in unprecedented numbers to call on the name of the Lord?
According to the prayer of Jesus, unity is a key. It is what will make the world realize who he is and why he came. It will testify about him and cause people to accept his love. Many feel we are in the generation where "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come." (Matthew 24:14)
If you desire to be on planet earth when Jesus' prayer is finally answered in full, could there be a greater cause to unite around?
Read next about Zacharias & Elizabeth's great prayer.