Any study of how Jesus taught the disciples to pray, is by extension a lesson for all believers on how to pray. There are many examples of Jesus in prayer recorded in scripture. Although the Gospels do not provide a detailed biography of Christ in prayer, they do offer captivating glimpses into His prayer life. “This model prayer is unequalled in any book or prayers. It is unequalled in beauty and in its comprehensiveness. It was given not to be repeated verbatim, but to use as a model. Its design expresses the manner in which one should pray, not a prayer specifically to be use over and over again as the prayer itself” (Green, 1972. 244).
First it will be helpful to answer the question, “Why did Jesus pray?” This is sometimes puzzling for Christians. After all, if Jesus is God, why did Christ need to pray? Theologically speaking, there are at least three reasons that Jesus prayed. First, Jesus prayed as an example to his followers, and this is an example believers continue to learn from even today. Second, Christ’s nature was both divine and human. From His human nature, it was perfectly natural for a Jewish believer such as Christ to pray. Third, the nature of the Trinity allows for communication between its members. As God the Son, Jesus could pray to God the Father. Expanding on the first theologically doctrinal reason, how did Jesus teach his followers to pray? When asked by those around him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them a model prayer, known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Later as his ministry was about to come to its climatic ending, the disciples saw him engaged in the third theologically doctrinal reason for prayer “The High Priestly Prayer.” But, when Jesus was in communion with the Father just before his capture in the garden, did Jesus follow the example He gave the followers in “The Lord’s Prayer”, or did He give disciples another example?
A Study of “The Lord’s Prayer”
This instruction on how to pray from Jesus, comes as part of a much larger teaching. The Lord’s Prayer, as it is referred to today, came as a portion of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus had just taught that He had come to fulfill the law. He went on to teach about the evils of anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and to teach that all who were listening were supposed to love their enemies and to pray for them. He continues by telling them that, when they pray, they are not to pray as hypocrites.
Jesus must have given this lesson more than once, because in Luke’s account, Jesus repeats his instruction on how to pray. “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. and lead us not into temptation’” (Luke 11:1–4). Jesus follows this abbreviated teaching on how to pray with a story, as He was often known to do, illustrating what He had just taught.
Jesus gave a simple six-step pattern to follow, known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus didn’t intend for the disciples to simply pray the same words he spoke in Matthew 6:9; He intended it to be an outline for prayer. The example was to be a guideline to help keep their prayer-time on track. “Pray, then, in this way”.
Our Father Who Art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name
This is the call to praise and worship. Much as King David lifted his eyes to the Lord in prayer (Psalms 123:1), a lifting of eyes, thoughts, soul, and all of believer’s heart toward God should be their position as they come before God. Most people believe God dwells only in the heavens, but Jesus taught that God is ever present and seeks them to worship him, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23). Looking back to promises given in the Old Testament God even then expressed his love for all believers, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16). What a beautiful description and expression of the personal love God has for all believers. Jesus was telling those who were listening to His sermon, to take time to honor the Lord and consider His greatness. Time to remember His faithfulness and be encouraged by His promises.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,
On Earth as It Is in Heaven
No King is a King without a kingdom to rule. Christ is telling all those listening to align themselves with God’s will; to have their hearts in a position to say, “You, Oh God, our Father, are ruler of heaven and earth, and sovereign over all the universe. Come establish Your sovereignty in my heart and the hearts of all men, even on the earth itself.” (MaClaren 1877, 96) As believers pray this, they are proclaiming a desire for God’s will over their life, family, church, the lost, etc. they are to do so, while waiting and allowing the Lord to share His heart and will with them. The biggest difference between a defeated, dismal, lukewarm Christian and a victorious, vibrant one, is in whether or not God, the Holy Spirit, has control of their life. Has He taken sovereignty as well as residence in the soul, establishing within them His Kingdom?
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
In a transition, Jesus switches from the majestic will of God to the subject as earthly as bread. This shows that believers are to pray for daily needs – food, shelter, finances, relationships, etc. Nothing is too small for them to bring before the Father. God wants believers to be in complete, daily dependence on him; He will satisfy their needs. God’s will is that believers walk in His daily provision of health, wisdom, and joy. Jesus is telling the disciples, and all who hear, that it is not selfish to pray for these things. Mark expands on the principle by telling believers, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Christians are to ask God for their needs and the needs of others. Believers should be specific, and ask in faith for anything they know the Lord wants to give them.
And Forgive Us Our Debts,
as We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors
A Christian should ask God for forgiveness in any areas of known sin, and speak out of forgiveness toward anyone believer has not forgiven. The problem comes for most Christians with the words in this prayer, ‘as we.’ Christians understand that God wants to forgive them of their sins; He showed that by sending His Son to die for them. They can accept the idea that they are supposed to forgive others, as hard as that may be. Things get serious when they put in the words ‘as we.’ They are asking, in prayer, for God to forgive them in exactly the same way as they forgive those who wrong them. “It is impossible to lift our enemies up in the presence of God and at the same time continue to hate them” (Farley, 2007, 135). Jesus was not setting up a merit system; there is no way a believer’s forgiveness of others could ever earn the forgiveness of God for their sins. It is only by the grace of God that anyone can ever be forgiven. What Jesus was doing, was setting up a culture of forgiveness. His followers are to forgive others because it is the righteous thing to do, and because they had seen this modeled by God himself.
And Do Not Lead Us into Temptation,
But Deliver Us from Evil
Was Jesus saying believers need to ask God not to tempt them? No, God does not tempt man to sin. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God tempts no man” (James 1:13). God does permit sin, but does not promote it. God would not tempt man to sin, He cannot allow sin in his presence. What King would tempt his subjects to break laws that he himself established? So why, if believers are trying to imitate Jesus, are they taught to pray “lead us not into temptation, (in a different translation, ‘lead us not into the time of trial’) but deliver us from evil”? When Jesus prayed this prayer in the garden, the Father refused his request. Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one. However, that is precisely why believers can pray this prayer with confidence; Jesus defeated evil on the cross, so that all believers can be delivered. Christians should ask God for the grace to stand firm in the face of temptation, and resist the schemes of the enemy, remembering to look to Jesus for the way of escape.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power,
and the Glory, Forever. Amen
Some would argue that it is church tradition that added this doxology to the Lord’s Prayer. After all, Luke did not have the doxology in his version of the prayer. This issue can easily be explained. In Luke’s version, Jesus was in prayer, and as he ended the disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. In Matthew’s version, Jesus was in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching that the kingdom of heaven belongs to God, the folly of self-glorification; and the laying up of treasures in heaven. It was only natural that He would end the model prayer focused again on the Kingdom of God.
“Thine is the Kingdom”, All earthly things, the whole fate of man is ruled by him. At the beginning of the prayer, the coming kingdom is being asked for. Here Jesus teaches the disciples to declare it is already here. “Thine is the Power” This is a simple truth, deep but clear, that all power comes from God, “Thine is the Glory” God’s glory is the praise that comes from the completion of His perfect will. The purpose of all creation is to glorify God. Though initially separated from God by sin; through His sanctification, believers receive salvation as a result of the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They are once again with God on the correct side of the gulf between God and sin.
More important than simply being a benediction, this part of the prayer is a powerful expression of praise to the Father in heaven. Just as the prayer opened in an attitude of reverence and honor, with the statement “Hallowed be Thy Name” here it closes with a reaffirmation to the greatness of God.
A Study of “The High Priestly Prayer”
John does not use the term “High Priest” to describe Jesus. However, in context, Jesus had promised another Advocate; this title of the prayer may have come because of Jesus’ interceding for his disciples and those to come, as Advocate. “In the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ which He taught His followers to pray, He did not pray himself, for He did not need to pray for the forgiveness of sin. This one was properly and peculiarly His, and suited Him only as a Mediator, and is a sample of His intercession, and yet is of use to believers both for instruction and encouragement in prayer” (Henry, 2016). “Up to this time Christ as the One in the bosom of the Father was occupied with declaring God to men; now He turns to God for men” (Feinberg 1939). “This prayer was intercessory, this was personal, the prelude to Calvary” (Sanders 1971. 200). Everyone that reads can see that Jesus, after both giving praise and asking for praise, spends the remainder of the prayer in an intercessory communion with the Father. This prayer is the special prayer of the Lord and is the example furnished by John of our Lord’s method of prayer. The only other place where John gives believers a view of Jesus praying is a lifting of His eye to the Father when He called Lazarus come forth. The fact that this prayer, while a personal communion, was also done with an audience it also telling.
It was Jesus’ practice to pray often, but scripture records that He would remove himself from others to pray. He would rise early to commune with the Father, finding time to talk to the Father one on one. This time He allowed the disciples to be present to hear this very personal prayer. Jesus wanted the disciples to know they were in God the Father’s hands. Even when separated from Him, they would still be part of Him. They were going to suffer persecution because they would proclaim the truth of Christ, and even in that persecution, they were in God’s hands.
John, as he recorded this prayer, shows believers just how personal indeed the union was between Jesus and the Father. Jesus uses the word “pater,” “Father” to address God. He began His prayer with the simple address “Father.” Believers have become used to this as a normal Christian way of beginning a prayer, but it was not usual in that day. The address that was used was one used by a little child in speaking to his parent. Never would God have been referred to this informally; in fact, when God was addressed, it was usual to add some qualifier. For example, a praying person might say, “Our Father in heaven.” God was so great and so high that He must not be addressed in the language appropriate for familiar use within the family. But Jesus constantly used this way of speaking to His Heavenly Father. As believers study this prayer, it would serve them to think of the heart needs of the disciples at the time and, how Jesus was feeling knowing the trying experiences that were awaiting Him in the next few hours. And yet, His focus was still on glorifying the Father, and interceding for the disciples.
Jesus Prays: Father Glorify Thy Son
Any study of the first section of this prayer must first look at how John begins. “When Jesus had spoken these words,” John is referring back to the previous chapter and the instruction Jesus had been giving in the upper room. Where Jesus had been teaching the disciples about, the work of the Holy Spirit, telling the disciples that their sorrow will turn into joy and that He had overcome the world. Then John points out the position of Jesus: “He lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said,” John was an eye witness to the prayer; if John felt it important enough to list here, it might well be something Christians need to heed.
Jesus knows the hour has come that He is to complete His ministry on the earth and to accomplish the mission for which He came. From the first moment Jesus entered His ministry until He said “it is Finished,” His one desire was to glorify the Father and finish the work the Father had given Him to do. Jesus, knowing pain and agony coming in the hours that lay ahead of Him, was asking the Father to support him on Calvary as this portion of His work was completed. Jesus continues by acknowledging the power the Father has given him over all creation, this includes the Church. Jesus had a ministry given to Him by the father at the beginning of time, to carry out the work of redemption and, through His finished work, redeem all the Father had given Him to make up the body of the New Testament Church. Jesus was the “Lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19–20).
Jesus Prays for the Disciples
the Father has Given Him
After glorifying God, Jesus now turns His prayer to intercession for the disciples. Just like in the first portion of the prayer, Jesus brings the communion with the Father to a focus on the finished work. Jesus has revealed the Father’s name to those the Father gave Him out of this world. As a result of this revealing work, the disciples received the Father’s word and know Jesus’ identity as the sent Son, the one who received all things from His Father. Jesus confirms that the disciples have kept His word and they have come to know all that He has is from the Father. They have come to understand–not yet fully, but to some extent–His incarnation and mission. Jesus makes it plain that He is praying for those who have heard and believed, not for the world at this point in the prayer. “I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you” (John 17:9). These are the ones that have heard and, upon completion of His work on earth, will have eternal life.
Jesus prays for the disciples to be kept in a way that is true to the attributes of the Father as revealed in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus did not pray for the Father to take them out of the world, but that the Father would keep them from the evil, because they are no longer of this world, just as Jesus was not of this world. “They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:16). Jesus continues His intercession by asking the Father to sanctify them through His truth. Asking the Father to keep them sanctified because they are being sent into the world, much as the Father sent Jesus, Jesus now sends the disciples into the world. Jesus has spent three years teaching and training the disciples. He now asks the father to cover them with His power, as they are to be his messengers to the world. The disciples as representative of Jesus Christ, are to minister His and the Father’s truth in the world. They are a separated body, in the sense that their lives and missions are not earthly, but heavenly; but their separation is not isolation from the world.
Jesus Prays for Those Who Believe
through the Disciples’ Word
Having prayed for the disciples, Jesus now prays for the entire Church, for all born again believers. His prayer is for those who will believe on Him through the preaching of the Word, for all–even for the Church and believer in the 21st century Church. Much as the disciples gave the message of grace and met the enemy head on, believers ever since then have needed the same sanctifying power and protections Jesus had prayed for the disciples to have. His prayer, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” (John 17:20), is a prayer every believer can claim as a direct connection to Jesus.
In His intercession, Jesus prayed very specifically for preservation (v11), joy (v13), protection (v15), sanctification (v17), unification (v21), believers might be with Him in glory (v24), and that believers might behold His glory (v24). Jesus made these petitions on behalf of believers because all believers are His Church, a gift from the Father. Throughout His intercession, Jesus consistently emphasizes the relationship between Himself and the Father, as well as His relationship between Himself and the disciples and the believers that would follow.
Jesus prayed this prayer in the looming darkness of Calvary. He looked forward to that hour, not for the darkness it would bring as He accepted the sin of man, but for the glory He saw on the other side. He was already looking forward to His reign on earth with the knowledge of the fact that sin was already defeated.
Comparing the Two Prayers
The Lord’s Prayer includes adoration; supplication for the Kingdom, for personal needs, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from temptation; and the ascription of glory. It is both a prayer for individuals to use as a model and a universal model for the Church. It sets the recognition of divine things first and clearly asserts sin nature and the need for forgiveness in relations of life. As Jesus addressed the need to pray in the sermon on the mount, at this time it was not only the disciples that were present; Jesus was addressing all who would hear. Much as Jesus had always done, Jesus gave a model of how prayer was to be. However, this model was not a blueprint. He intended those that heard Him to find a place in their relationship with the Father allowing them to come to the Father with adoration, intercession, and longing for the Father’s glory.
The High Priestly Prayer begins with expression of profound communion between the Son and the Father, followed by Jesus praying for His disciples, to whom He has revealed Himself and His relation to God. Jesus continues His prayer–showing His relationship ultimately to the Church. He seeks unity with the Church; not an external unity, but the deep, spiritual unity found by the indwelling of Christ in them and God in Christ. This prayer is unique among the prayers of Jesus. While it is distinctly a petition, it is at the same time a communion. Jesus had to this point been directed towards His disciples on the earth, now He lifts His eyes to heaven as He addresses His Father. The hour was come to glorify the Son, in order that from that glory He might glorify the Father.
Most believers know what it is to hear a true man or woman of God deep in prayer; there is something holy and awesome about it. Far beyond all that, was the prayer Jesus prayed unto God, His Father (John 17). This is the only long, continuous prayer of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. Jim Cecy quoting Melanchthon said, “The sentences are simple, but the ideas are deep, moving, and meaningful. There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or in earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than the prayer offered up by the Son to God Himself.” (Cecy, 2016)
Genuine prayer often reveals a person’s innermost being. John 17 is a unique opportunity to see the nature and heart of Jesus. In this prayer, Jesus touches on many of these themes of His teachings recorded by John throughout his Gospel. The glory of God and the glory of Jesus. Jesus having been sent by the Father on a mission given to Him at the beginning of time. The sanctification of the disciples as His messengers to the world’s believers. The love and unification of those that would believe because of the message the disciples would spread throughout the world.
Many of the same theological themes in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) are in the High Priestly Prayer. They may be in a different order but the concerns are present. There are other examples of when Jesus taught those around him how to pray. These are just two of the more well-known prayers.
Jesus after his resurrection continued to make known the name of God during the forty days He remained on the earth before His ascension, after He ascended He continued to make known the name of God through the Holy Spirit as the apostles preached the word. His will making the known His name today by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God by men called and anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach the truth, and this will continue until Jesus returned to receive His own. (Green, 1967, 196)
Christians often ask the question, did Jesus follow the example (model) He gave in the Lord’s Prayer” in the “High Priestly Prayer given in John 17? The answer would have to be yes, but, that answer is qualified by saying, though the components of the “Lord’s Prayer” are in the “High Priestly Prayer”: the “High Priestly Prayer” is an extremely personal prayer. Jesus allows the disciples (all believers) to hear not the teachings of Christ with man, but to hear the desires of His heart when He pours it out to His Father for the blessing of those that are His own.
Cecy, Jim. Dr. 2016. When God Prays: We Listen, Campus Bible Church, Accessed Oct 17, 2016. http://campusbiblechurch.com/sermonnotes/071606.
Evans, Craig. 2003. The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew ~ Luke. Colorado Springs. Cook Communications
Farley, Julie. 2007. 30 Minutes Changed Forever. Northville, MI. Nelson Publishing
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Bible Commentary. Accessed Oct 20, 2016 http://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.
Feinberg, Charles. 1939. Prayer in Its Relation to the Three Persons of the Godhead. Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra. BSAC 096:383. Accessed Apr 6, 2017. Theological Journals by Galaxie Software
Green, Oliver. 1967. The Gospel According to John Vol. 3, Greenville, The Gospel Hour Inc.
Green, Oliver. 1972. The Gospel According to Matthew Vol. 2, Greenville, The Gospel Hour Inc.
Longman, Tremper and Garland, David. eds.2007. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke ~ Acts. Grand Rapids. Zondervans.
Longman, Tremper and Garland, David. eds. 2010. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew & Mark. Grand Rapids. Zondervans.
MaClaren, Alexander. 1877. Week-day evening address. London. MacMillan & Co.
Nolland, John. 2005. The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans Publishing
Sanders, J Oswald. 1971. The Incomparable Christ. Chicago. Moody Publishings