John 17:12-19

Protection in the World

12 While I was with them,
I kept in your name those that you gave to me.
I have guarded them;

Conscious of his own deeply intimate unity with the Father, Jesus had lovingly kept the disciples united in love for each other. He had guarded them from the negative influences of the world, which might otherwise have driven them apart.

… and none of them has been lost,
except the son of ruin [so Scripture might be fulfilled].

The one of them…the son of ruin was, probably, Judas (though some commentators read the comment as referring to Satan). The Discourse doubled back to the way it had begun, with Judas’s departure, under the influence of Satan [13:27], and his betrayal of Jesus.

The Gospel gave no indication of the scriptural passage to which it referred. It was, probably, the passage already quoted at the beginning of the Discourse [13:18]:

The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me [Psalm 41:9].

Judas and Destiny

All the close male disciples (with the exception of the Beloved Disciple) abandoned Jesus. Peter denied all knowledge of him. Judas betrayed him. However, Judas’ action seemed to have arisen from rejection of Jesus as the revelation of the Father. He did not believe. His failure was theological, as well as moral.

Judas’s Death. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the other disciples regrouped, repented and reaffirmed their faith and personal commitment to Jesus. Judas did not rejoin the group; he had “gone out” into “the night” [13:30]. This Gospel would say no more of him, though other Scriptures give conflicting accounts of his death. (Matthew’s Gospel had recounted: “Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” [Matthew 27:5]. Luke’s Acts of Apostles reflected a somewhat different tradition: “Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” [Acts 1:18].

Author’s Purpose. The author wished to reconcile his conviction that Jesus “... right from the beginning ... knew there were some who would not trust his, and who would betray him” [6:64] with the uncomfortable fact that he had, nevertheless, deliberately chosen Judas as a disciple. The author’s solution was to claim that Jesus knew of Judas’ future treachery, yet chose him “so scripture might be fulfilled” . 

Scriptural Record. The earlier section of the narrative that followed Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life had clearly stated: “Jesus knew from the start who were the ones that did not believe and who was the one that would betray him” [6:64]; and had then inserted Jesus’ observation: “Did I myself not choose you twelve? and one of you is a devil.”  He meant Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  He was the one who would betray him, one from among the twelve. [6:70-71]. Later in the narrative, after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said: “'And you are clean, though not all of you'.  He knew who was going to betray him” [13:11]; and added Jesus’ further clarification: “I am not speaking about all of you. I know the ones whom I have chosen. But so that the Scripture text might be fulfilled, 'The one who eats my piece of bread has raised his heel against me'” [13:18]. In the same Last Supper Discourse, the author wrote of Judas: “After he had eaten the piece of food, Satan entered into him” [13:27].

Interpretation. To what extent was Judas “the son of ruin [so Scripture might be fulfilled]" [verse 12]?  Judas’s behaviour was certainly destructive. That he was the one destined for eternal destruction was not so clear. 

The author was writing in hindsight, and in the light of his experience of the risen Jesus. His experience coloured his interpretation. He judged Judas to be under the power of “Satan”, and, to that extent, acting as a “devil”. Though he had no evidence of repentance on Judas’s part, it was impossible for him to know Judas’s final destiny. That was known to God alone.

The Good Shepherd continued his prayer for the disciples. The message was relevant not only to Jesus’ actual disciples, but particularly to the members of the Beloved Disciple’s community, as well as to readers across the centuries. Jesus’ care would be constant and personal:

13 Now I am coming to you,
and I say these things while in the world
so that they might have my joy completed in them.

Jesus identified his personal experience as that of joy. He wanted his disciples to know that same joy [15:11; 16:24]. Jesus wanted them to be convinced of his continuing care, whether in the midst of persecutions, or in the on-going struggle to live untouched by the negative influences abroad in the world. Disciples would source their joy, not from the things that would happen to them from day to day, but from the inner certainty of his loving protection.

14 I have given your word to them;

Jesus had revealed to them the face of God, by the medium of who he was and of the message he had shared with them. He had made known to them everything that he had heard from his Father [15:15].

… and the world hated them
because they are not from this world
just as I am not from this world.
15 I am not asking you to take them from this world
but to protect them from the evil one. 
16 They are no more from this world than I am from this world.

Once more, the Beloved Disciple revealed his on-going bewilderment that so many people would not open to the person of Jesus. They had rejected the revelation of God’s love made flesh in Jesus; they continued to reject God’s love, which the little community of faithful disciples continued to make visible by their mutual love.

Jesus wanted the disciples to stay in contact with the world. Indeed, they would be those through whose constant witness of love the world would be invited to conversion. But Christian life would always be counter-cultural to some extent. Disciples had a deeper vision of life – its purpose, its dignity and its goal. Their vision was not constrained within the limits of the obvious. Jesus prayed that the Father would protect them, keeping them firm in their convictions.

But the negative influences within the world were strong, and disciples could grow tired. Judas had fallen under the influence of the evil one [13:2]. They would all be equally susceptible; they would continually need reassurance. 

Jesus’ prayer articulated the Beloved Disciple’s own longings. He had no doubt about the Father’s care, just as he had no doubt about Jesus’ concern: nor will anyone snatch them from my hand.  What the Father has given me is greater than all else.  And no one can snatch anything from my Father's hand. [10:28-29]. His reason for composing the prayer, and putting it on the lips of Jesus in the way that he did, was to reaffirm and to refocus the disciples’ confidence in the midst of misunderstanding and opposition, as well as their own lethargy.

17 Sanctify them in the truth. [Your word is truth.]
18 Just as you sent me into the world, I sent them into the world.

God loved the world. Jesus loved those who, from the world, responded to him in love and became disciples. Yet, his love stretched beyond them. Jesus loved the world. His concentration on forming those disciples was not just for their own sakes. He plan was to entrust to them the mission to the world that his Father had entrusted to him [20:21-23]. Discipleship is also for mission. The disciples were never to become an enclave closed in on themselves and their community concerns.

The World

The Gospel’s use of the word “world” is ambivalent, and its meaning is best discerned from its context. This Gospel must always be read reflectively. The language seems black and white, but the meanings are more nuanced.

God loved the “world” of people, even the people who rejected his Son. Jesus was sent precisely to save this world of people, even at the price of their killing him. Jesus sent his disciples into the same world in the hope that they might persuade people to choose the way of life, of peace and of joy. Yet, at times, the Gospel used the word “world” to refer purely to the negativity embedded in individuals and in societies. It is this world that “hated” Jesus and still “hates” disciples. The temptation for disciples is to counter the hatred of the world with a similar hatred. To respond in such a way would be to be drawn into the world’s own negativity.

Complexity. The reality is that there are both positive and negative attitudes abroad in the world. The world was made through the action of the Word, and reflects much of the truth and beauty of God. Yet many of “his own” in the world rejected the Word made flesh in Jesus. They did not want to see in him the face of God.

It is not only the world at large that is ambivalent. So, too, is every individual. Everyone is a mixture of good and bad. Disciples are in a constant process of conversion.

19 I sanctify myself for their sake,
so that they might be sanctified in truth.

By his death for the sake of love, Jesus would reveal the supreme truth of God as the God who loves. Like the God who is love, he would be love. He would be like God; he would sanctify himself. The thrust of his act of love was that the disciples, too, would be empowered to love; and, thereby, to embody the truth of God, and be, likewise, sanctified.

Already the Gospel had clearly stated that God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  [3:16]. Jesus had a profound sense of his mission to the world that, despite its corruption, his Father loved. As he faced into his death, he relied on his disciples to continue his mission. Their mission was to lead people to believe in him – to trust him, to trust that he was the revelation of God. He yearned that people know that God was like him – a God who loved, who was interested, not in death, but in life, eternal life. He wanted people to trust that God wished to save them from the banality, the violence, denial and illusion which spoiled the world, and which led, not to joy, but to unhappiness and death. Witness to such a holy God required holy witnesses.


God was holy [verse 9]. To the Jewish mind, to be holy (sanctified) was to be distinct, unique and separate. Holiness carried the emotional aura of the sacred.

Unlike the nations that surrounded them, Jews believed in one God, the Creator of all. As the Chosen People of God, Jews saw themselves as holy. As a nation, they were distinct, unique and separate. They chose to express and to emphasise their separateness by a series of attitudes and actions that clearly distinguished them from others. They developed a distinctive set of ritual practices that determined what was holy and “clean”, and how “uncleanness” was to be removed by sacrifice. In the Diaspora, they insisted on observing the Sabbath when no one else did. They refused to eat certain foods. They circumcised their male children.

Across the centuries, a variety of prophets had continually challenged the nation to see that God’s holiness was to be honoured by the morality of their lives and by justice, without which sacrifices were useless.

Jesus saw God as holy. He saw God also as the God of loving mercy and steadfast faithfulness. Like many of the prophets before him, he saw God’s holiness proclaimed by lives of integrity and respect for truth. Jesus had proclaimed the holiness of God by his own life of integrity, love and mercy. In his mind, his coming death would serve to reveal the depth of his own total commitment to truth and integrity and his love for the world and for God. He longed that his disciples would learn to live authentically, as he had done, united in genuine love for each other, and prizing their intimacy with God, their Father. In this sense, and in this sense only, they would be distinct, unique and separate.

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