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That they may all be óne…

25-11-2019 - Posted by Andre Piet

When church communities merge and synods deal with complex issues, the above words often come up. Jesus’ prayer for unity is then seen as an assignment for churches to join forces and merge institutions. In this blog I want to explain briefly why this application is completely out of place.

John 17

The words “that they may all be one” form a quotation from the famous ‘high priestly prayer’ in John 17. Jesus is about to leave the city to go to Gethsemane (18: 1). Along the way he prays this prayer in which he dedicates his disciples, whom he will soon send out, to his heavenly Father. From verse 20 he does not only pray for them, but also for all who would become believers by their word …

That they may all be one, according as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, that the world should be believing that Thou dost commission Me.

In verse 23 we see more or less a repetition of these words:

…that they may be perfected in one, and that the world may know that Thou dost commission Me…

Sent to Israel

In the first place, it is important to understand that Jesus is talking about those to whom the twelve apostles were sent. That is, to Israel. Just as Jesus was sent only to the house of Israel (Mat.15: 24), so he sends the twelve (17:18). Certainly it would be the turn of the other nations too, but first the whole house of Israel had to hear. That was the mission of “the twelve” (Acts 2: 36; 3: 19-21; 10:42; etc.). And if Israel accepted the Gospel of the Messiah, then the dynasty of David in Jerusalem would be restored and the Kingdom then extended to all nations (Acts 1: 6; 3: 19-21; 15: 16-18). That was the perspective in which “the twelve” operated. Entirely based on the words of the prophets.

Óne flock

The unity of a believing people for which Jesus prays refers to Israel’s unification. One of the central themes in Biblical prophecy. But the gathering of Israel is in a much wider perspective. Israel’s recovery will be the prelude to the breakthrough of GOD Kingdom worldwide! Ezekiel 36: 23.24:

…Then the nations will know, that I am YAHWEH averring is my Lord YAHWEH, when I am hallowed among you before their eyes. Then I will take you from the nations and gather you together from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own ground…

Israel’s gathering together to their own country will be such an unmistakable miracle of God that the nations will know who YAHWEH is and also who his Messiah is. It is these foretold events on which Jesus’ prayer is based.

…That they may all be one… that the world may know that Thou dost commission Me…

not about the church and also no assignment

These words are not about the church. The “one body” that Paul would later speak of as the thirteenth apostle is not the topic here. And certainly not ecclesiastical institutions, because the Scriptures don’t know those.

Moreover, Jesus’ words are not an assignment that must be fulfilled by people. Luckily not! Jesus’ words refer to great promises that GOD himself guarantees to fulfill!

Then the nations which remain around you will know that I YAHWEH have rebuilt what was demolished; I have replanted what was desolate; I, YAHWEH have spoken and I will do it.
– Ezekiel 36:36 –