In John 17:20-23 (NASB)

“I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; just 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. The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and You loved them, just as You loved Me.

What is this unity?


After praying for the purity of his followers, Jesus prayed about this matter of unity – no less than three times (verses 11, 21 & 22). The fact that Jesus’ prayer not only centered on his followers right there and then, but all believers in him who would become followers through the preaching of the word about Jesus, indicates immense scope. This means that Jesus was praying for all Christians, throughout the centuries, to be one. In what sense did Jesus speak of being one? It was not a numeric ‘one’. It was a oneness of unity.

Matthew Henry, in his Commentary, says that three things were intended in this prayer for unity. I simply quote:

“1 That they might all be incorporated in one body: ‘Father, look upon them all as one, and ratify that great charter by which they are embodied as one church. Though they live in distant places, from one end of heaven to the other, and in several ages, from the beginning to the close of time, and so cannot have any personal acquaintance or correspondence with each other, yet let them be united in me their common head.’ As Christ died, so ‘he prayed, to gather them all in one, ch. 11:52; Eph 1:10.

2 That they might all be animated by one Spirit. …Union with the Father and Son is obtained and kept up only by the Holy Ghost. He that is joined to the Lord in one spirit 1 Cor. 6:17. Let them all be stamped with the same image and superscription, and influenced by the same power.

3 That they might all be knit together in the bond of love and charity, all of one heart. That they all may be one (a) in judgment and sentiment, not in every little thing; (b) in disposition and inclination… they have all a new heart, and it is one heart; (c) they are all one in their designs and aims. Every true Christian, as far as he is so, eyes the glory of God as his highest end, and the glory of heaven as his chief good; (d) they are all one in their desires and prayers… having received the same spirit of adoption, and observing the same rule, they pray for the same things in effect; (e) all one in love and affection. Every true Christian has that in him which inclines him to love all true Christians as such.

That which Christ here prays for is the communion of saints which we profess to believe; the fellowship which all believers have with God, and their intimate union with all the saints in heaven and earth, 1 Jn. 1:3. But this prayer of Christ will not have its complete answer till all the saints come to heaven, for then, and not till then, they shall be perfect in one. v. 23; Eph. 4:13” (p 1624, 1st column)

Jesus was not praying for all believers to become one amorphous blob – one ‘thing’. There are myriad ways in which disparate peoples can be bound together in one bond of unity when they are all adopted by one Spirit into the heavenly family of God (Romans 8:9-39). Such is this divine unity which Jesus prayed for.


ἵνα πάντες ἓν ὦσιν, καθὼς σύ (v21) is essentially the same as ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς (v11)

This is essentially the same answer as here. What does "we are one" mean in John 17:11?


"that they may be perfected in unity"

This is the same unity that Jesus was able to realise by the end of his fleshly life when he had learned obedience through suffering - his unity with the Father was perfected - made complete.

... to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Heb 2:10

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Heb 5:8

We cannot think he was perfect already - to become the Lamb he needed to learn some things. Just as we do, we must also submit our will to God and we too will be perfected over time.

Unity is just an expression for being 'ONE' - exactly what he keeps talking about. That we would have what he now has with the Father.

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