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
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.