While I was on vacation over New Year’s I had the privilege to lead a Bible study on John 17. What follows is a summary of what was taught and discussed.
Essentially Jesus’ prayer for us can be summed up in the concept of abiding in him and in the image of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches (John 15.1-17). Abiding in Christ means following his commands (1 John 2.5-6; 3.4-10), which flows out of love for God (John 14.15, 21, 23; 15.10, 14; 1 John 5.2-3), which begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ (promised in Genesis 3.15) who has restored access to the Father (1 John 1.5; 2.24) and receiving the Holy Spirit who enables us to keep God’s commands.
So then, Jesus’ prayer for us is this: that we would recognize that we are separated from the Father and can only have access to him through Jesus. Once this is truly believed one will then love God and obey His commands, through the help of the Holy Spirit, thus abiding in Him.
This abiding achieves the unity amongst believers (vv. 11, 21), protection from the evil one (v. 15), and the sanctification that Jesus prayed for (v. 17). The unity because all believers are united to the Father through Jesus who is the only way to the Father (John 14.6; Remember also the vine imagery). The protection because all believers will be in the hands of the Father and none can snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10.29). The sanctification because all believers obedience to God’s commands results in the purifying of their souls (1 Peter 1.22-23).
We can see the results of our submission to this abiding process in Jesus’ prayer for himself in vv. 1-5, which was for God to be glorified despite knowing that it would entail his own death (see Matthew 16.21, 17.23, 20.19; Luke 9.22, 18.33; Mark 8.31, 9.31, 10.32-34; John 2.19-21; 12.24). The laying down of our own lives for our friends is the greatest expression of love (John 15.13) and evidences that the love with which the Father loves Jesus is in us (v. 26).
I think it is important to realize that ultimately Jesus prayed for us to abide in him. This is a simple yet hard thing to do, but it is all he wants us to do. He wants us to follow him and trust his leading. He is the good shepherd and we are his sheep (10.7-17). He will take care of us and wants us to trust him to do it (Matthew 6.25-34).
For more on this concept read and study 1 John.