On the night of His betrayal, the Lord observed the Passover with His twelve apostles. Each of the four gospels refers to the events of that evening, but John gives us the most complete account of what transpired between the Lord and these chosen men. No other gospel account contains this information. In John 13-16 we have a detailed record of the Lord washing the apostles’ feet, dismissing Judas to complete his treachery, and His final instructions and exhortations to the eleven remaining men. Then, in chapter 17 John recorded the words of the Lord’s prayer which concluded their time together in the upper room.
Near the end of this prayer the Lord said, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21). This plea for the unity of all believers has long been a rallying point in churches that identify with the Christian faith. However, like so many things the Lord said, this plea has been used in ways the Lord never intended.
For example, many who call for the unity of all believers, do so based on emphasizing the areas of agreement among the various churches, while de-emphasizing areas of disagreement. The net effect is that areas of disagreement are rendered unimportant. In this way churches with differing doctrinal beliefs can still claim unity with their religious neighbors. From a human perspective this seems to make perfect sense. Unfortunately, it entirely misses the point of what the Lord said.
In the context of Jn. 17 the Lord’s plea for unity was based upon the unity that exists between Himself and His Father in heaven. His plea was that His disciples would be one with Himself and the Father, just as He and the Father are with each other. This is a particular kind of unity that is far different from what many call unity today. While we may not be able to fully comprehend the unity of the Father and the Son, we can be certain of what it is not. It is not based upon them emphasizing their areas of agreement, while de-emphasizing their areas of disagreement. This is because there are no areas of disagreement between the Father and the Son.
In Jn. 12:48 the Lord said that His word will judge at the last day. However, He went on to say, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn. 12:49-50). This means that everything the Lord spoke is exactly what the Father told Him to speak. They are one, because they both speak the same thing.
This fact cannot be overemphasized. The unity of the Father and the Son is based upon compliance with the Father’s will. Even as a full-fledged member of the godhead, Jesus did not go His own way. He bowed to the Father’s wises in everything He did. If we today wish to experience this unity, we also must comply with the Father’s will. In Eph. 4:3 Paul exhorted the Christians in Ephesus “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. The unity of which he spoke is the unity that comes to us when we obey the gospel and the Father adds us to His kingdom. We preserve this unity by being of the same mind and judgment on matters of faith, as Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:10. We can only be of the same mind and judgment, however, if we bow to the Father’s will in everything we do. If we humbly submit to the Father’s will, then we will all be one, just as the Lord prayed.