The night before Jesus Christ was brutally beaten and crucified, He delivered His crucifixion prayer. It is recorded in John 17.
Most professing Christians do not understand this prayer. But it is something we deeply need to understand. It reveals a great deal about God the Father and Christ His Son.
The Apostle John was the only Gospel writer to record Christ’s crucifixion prayer. There is a reason Matthew, Mark and Luke didn’t write about it. When Jesus Christ was on Earth, He was educating John to do a work beyond what the other apostles could do because John ended up being the only apostle who was not martyred. John did not write his Gospel until decades after the events he recounts. This gave him time to meditate on what they all meant.
This prayer of Christ is phenomenal when you understand what was about to happen to Him within mere hours. John had time to see how profound this prayer was. Through God’s inspiration, he understood why it needed to be included in the Bible.
There is some background to this prayer that makes it more meaningful. Many prophecies in the Old Testament give the brutal details of what Christ was about to experience. Christ was well aware of those prophecies. Understanding them will make you appreciate Christ’s prayer in a way you never have before.
‘Smitten by God’
The Prophet Isaiah recorded one of these prophecies. “He was despised and rejectedby men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3; English Standard Version). Christ was a man of sorrows—for you and for me—all His life. These verses are phenomenal when you understand what they are saying!
Threats to Jesus’s life started when He was just a baby. His parents had to smuggle Him out of Bethlehem to Egypt because King Herod had ordered the death of all children 2 years old and under. Inspired by the devil, Herod wanted to be certain he killed the baby who was prophesied to be King—Jesus the Christ.
At the time of that decree, Jesus was not threatening Herod’s kingship. But He will soon replace the rule of all this world’s kings, presidents, prime ministers and other rulers. I believe, in less than a decade, this world will witness the return of Christ! You will see Jesus Christ in all His power coming to this Earth as King of kings! (Revelation 19:16).
The prophecy of Isaiah 53 continues in verse 4: “Surely he has borne our griefsand carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (ESV). Notice that: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Christ went through that suffering in order to give meaning to our lives. Without understanding why Christ came to Earth and the role He plays as our Advocate today, we have no purpose in our life.
Before He was crucified, Christ was beaten terribly (John 19:1). Isaiah prophesied about this as well: “As many were astonished at him—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14; Revised Standard Version). Christ was beaten, bloodied and marred to the point that He didn’t even look like a man!
Do you know why He endured such brutal treatment? It wasn’t to pay the penalty for our spiritual sins—His death did that (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:3). The beating wasn’t necessary for that. He was beaten because “with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). Christ was whipped with pieces of glass and iron—chunks were ripped from His body—for you. Because of that beating, God will heal us of our diseases and bodily afflictions. He promises to do that if we trust Him and put our lives into His hands in faith. (You can read all about this inspiring truth in Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet The Plain Truth About Healing; we will send you a free copy upon your request.)
And why was Christ crucified? The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But Christ was perfect. He didn’t need to die to pay for His own sins as He was without sin. He did it for you and me. He did it so our sins could be wiped away. He did it so we could have an opportunity to be born into His Family as sons and daughters.
Do we see what a blessing this crucifixion was for us? Without it, we could not have our transgressions forgiven. Christ paid the price for all our sins (Isaiah 53:6), if we repent.
Declare His Generation
Verse 8 of Isaiah’s prophecy asks one of the most outstanding questions in the Bible: “[W]ho shall declare his generation?” How grateful are we for the suffering and affliction that Christ went through? We show our gratitude by doing God’s Work today—by declaring what Jesus Christ and God the Father did for mankind!
That sacrifice was the ultimate expression of love toward mankind by God the Father and Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God wanted so deeply to open salvation to all of mankind that He risked losing His companion forever! That demonstrates the fathomless love of God toward His creation. What an indescribable blessing!
Jesus Christ never committed a sin. He didn’t lie. He was never violent (Isaiah 53:9). Yet He was stricken by God the Father Himself because He took on all the sins of mankind (verse 8).
Isaiah writes that “it pleased the Lord [God the Father] to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (verse 10). Why would God the Father, who is love, be pleased to see Jesus Christ experience the worst suffering imaginable? Because Christ’s sacrifice made it possible for mankind to prosper. God the Father and Jesus Christ didn’t go through that for themselves. They did it so all of mankind can prosper and have the most glorious future imaginable! That is a message we should want to declare!
Christ’s Greatest Trial
King David was a prophet. The Apostle Peter referred to how David’s psalms prophesied of Christ, including details of His life and death (Acts 2:29-35). Matthew wrote, “And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (Matthew 27:35). That is an explicit reference to David’s Psalm 22 as a prophecy of the crucifixion.
Psalm 22 gives us profound insight into Christ’s thinking during that ghastly ordeal.
Just before dying, Christ said: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). Christ’s constitution was shaken. He knew that He was having to pay for the sins of mankind, suffering the greatest physical trial a man could ever suffer. Yet remarkably, that was not the greatest trial for Christ. His greatest trial was when He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21)—and was momentarilycut off from God! In all His eternal life, He had never experienced even a moment of separation from the Most High God! He had been at one with His Father for all eternity. Now, suddenly, He was cut off from God—which was horrendous in His mind! Yet He did that for you and me.
We need to deeply ponder these words of Christ just before He died. Clearly see the price that had to be paid for your sins! A God had to die! He is our Creator. He is worth more than all of His creation. Yet He was willing to die experiencing His greatest trial—so we can prosper and partake of salvation.
He was beaten for our healing. He was crucified so our spiritual sins against God can be forgiven. God wants us to know that our sins cost the life of our Savior. The great apostles took this seriously. Can we do the same? We must not take sin lightly! It isn’t something we can overlook. The sins we have committed should bring us to our knees with tears flowing down our cheeks!
Christ continues: “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:2-3). Christ was roaring because of the punishment, crying out from the pain. Yet even amid this fiery trial, Christ proclaimed God’s holiness. He praised His greatness!
In verse 6, Christ said, “But I am a worm, and no man.” What a powerful perspective! That is what we all are, physically speaking. If we are cut off from God, then we are no different. We lack spiritual understanding and vision, and we have no future.
Yet even while experiencing that greatest trial of His life, Christ “trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him” (verse 8). The margin shows that “trusted” literally means that Christ “rolled Himself on the Lord.” Barnes’ Notes explains, “The margin expresses the true sense of the Hebrew word. The idea is that of being under the pressure of a heavy burden, and of rolling it off, or casting it on another. Hence, the word is often used in the sense of committing to another; entrusting anything to another; confiding in another.” Christ had total trust in God! He trusted His Father’s every single word! He was absolutely confident that God knows what He is doing, and put His case completely in the Father’s hands. In the face of crushing adversity, He never lost faith. He knew this was the only way that salvation could be opened to billions of people!
God is love, and He wants a Family. That is why Jesus Christ was brought to the “dust of death” (verse 15). That is why He was marred to the point that He could count the bones protruding from His beaten body (verse 17).
Study the rest of Psalm 22, and you receive an inspiring picture of how selfless, how worshipful, how faith-filled, how perfect Christ’s attitude remained throughout that shocking, satanic ordeal. He kept His mind focused on the spectacular good news of what that sacrifice would lead to: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee” (verse 27).
That sacrifice opened up salvation to “all the kindreds of the nations”—all humanity! And the whole world is going to come to understand this truth shortly. What a wonderful blessing that will be!
With this background, let’s look in greater detail at Christ’s crucifixion prayer.
A Perfectly Selfless Prayer
When praying to His Father, just prior to His arrest and crucifixion, Christ knew these prophecies about what He was to experience in a few short hours. What knowledge He had in His mind as He prayed that night. Yet you almost wouldn’t know it by what He said. It is the most amazing and moving prayer you will read in the Bible.
“I have glorified thee on the earth,” Christ told His Father, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). He was a faithful and obedient Son who finished His Father’s Work!
“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word” (verse 6). Notice: Only God the Father can call us and beget us. Christ cannot. He is the Husband of the Bride. The Father chooses who He will call, and then gives them to Christ to protect and care for—a job Christ fulfills with utmost diligence. He is thrilled that more sons are coming into the God Family, qualifying to rule on His throne!
In order to receive that unfathomably magnificent reward, we must keep God’s Word, come out of the world, and “declare His generation.” We will be sitting on that throne for eternity if we proclaim this message today!
“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (verse 11). Does this sound like the prayer of a man who knew He was about to be brutally beaten? He is praying for His disciples! The night before His beating and crucifixion, He is focused on the people God gave Him to train and teach—the people who will sit with Him on the throne of David forever—those who declare His generation today.
“For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me” (verse 8). Christ continued to pray for His disciples—not only those in that age but also those in every age from then on! (verse 20).
Consider what would occur in a few hours, and ponder what was on Christ’s mind as He entered into His greatest trial. Christ perspired blood in His earnestness to remain close to His Father to receive the strength He needed (Luke 22:44). But what we see in His prayer in John 17 is His fathomless love! His selflessness. His commitment to His Father and the God Family. And we see His profound faith.
That is the very faith that God will give to us if we will follow Christ’s example (Galatians 2:20).
Christ continued, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:12-13). Christ’s joy is given to us today. But that joy will be filled to the full once all this is over! Once His chosen people become spirit beings, the very sons and daughters of God, we will have unending, everlasting, eternal joy!
“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one]” (verses 14-15). This “evil one” is Satan the devil. Satan is doing everything he can to destroy God’s people. But God says that if we are to sit on that throne with Jesus Christ, we must overcome Satan as He did (Revelation 3:21).
God wants to create His character in us. He wants His own mind to be in us. And He uses trial—at times, exceedingly intense trial, as Christ’s example demonstrates—to build that character in us.
People want the full joy that Christ offers. But very few want to give themselves wholly to God as Christ did in order to receive it!
God says we must choose life, not death (e.g. Deuteronomy 30:19). The world has chosen death. For making that choice, it is going to have the same fate as a worm. Without God, we have no future.
Ponder the majestic example Christ set in these final moments of His perfect life. In this crucifixion prayer, you don’t even see Him praying for Himself! He just extolled His Father, praised His disciples, and prayed for their protection and spiritual enlightenment. And His Father loved that prayer! He helped His Son powerfully through that trial. Thankfully, Jesus Christ overcame Satan—even amid the worst suffering ever inflicted on a human being!
This prayer demonstrates the love of God. And it shows God’s vigorous determination to expand His eternal Family—and to bring you into it! He wants you and me to be just as unified with Him as Christ is with the Father: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us …. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one …. [T]hat the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:21-23, 26).
What a prayer! What a luminous vision Christ had as He faced His final hours. And what a glorious Family of love God is!
Soon all of God’s saints will be perfectly one with God, like the Father and Son were one for all eternity. And we will then help Him build that Family even more, and bring as many as are willing throughout this whole world into that same unified family fellowship forever!