“Jesus prays in anticipation of the cross and his return to the Father. The Son’s mission of salvation is governed by the Father’s prior election of people. Although the Father has ‘granted’ the Son ‘authority over all people,’ the Son only gives ‘eternal life to all those’ the Father has ‘given him’ (Jn. 17:2). The Son is thus sovereign over all people but only grants the gift of eternal life to the elect. Furthermore, Jesus explains his mission, ‘I have revealed you to those you gave me out of the world’ (Jn. 17:6). As a result, they accept the divine message and believe in the Son (Jn. 17:7-8).
Jesus’ prayers likewise reflect a PRIOR DIVINE DISCRIMINATION. ‘I pray for them. I AM NOT PRAYING FOR THE WORLD, but for those you have given me, for they are yours’ (Jn. 17:9). Jesus uses the word ‘world’ to refer to those not given to him by the Father…in this famous passage, John portrays election as the Father’s having given people to the Son. They first belonged to the Father, and he gave them to Jesus” (Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams, “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” page 51).
As I’ve stated through the series on John, I do believe in a group called “the elect.” However, when Jesus talks about “thise you gave me out of the world” (Jn. 17:6), the Lord is here talking about the eleven disciples (minus Judas, of course!). When He talks about “those you have given me,” here the Lord is referring to the eleven disciples. Notice too, that the Lord prays this to the Father:
“I ask on THEIR behalf…of those whom You have given Me…” (John 17:9, NASB)
The Lord Jesus talks about the “men whom You gave me,” of verse 6; these men are the eleven disciples.
But in verse 20, the Lord prays for His future followers:
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but FOR THOSE ALSO WHO BELIEVE IN ME THROUGH THEIR WORD;” (John 17:20, NASB)
So now, we discover that Jesus also includes those who would believe in Him in the future. But, verse 20 indicates something different than the earlier verses of John 17: whereas the earlier verses talk about the disciples being chosen “out of the world,” verse 20 indicates that, in the future, those who would become disciples would BELIEVE in Christ. There is an elect group, but that group is elect IN CHRIST. There is not some arbitrary group that Christ has determined to believe in Him. Yes, the Father has given Him the inheritance of believers: but the inheritance of believers, His possession, are those who come to Him by faith.
Last but not least, in verse 21, the Lord prays that even the world would believe that the Father sent Christ. So even though the Lord prays that only the disciples in Him would be protected, He does pray for the salvation of the world (that the world would BELIEVE).
John chapter 17 goes back to John 3, where Jesus is talking to Nicodemus:
“For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to JUDGE THE WORLD, but that THE WORLD MIGHT BE SAVED THROUGH HIM” (John 3:16-17, NASB).
So the Father gave His Son, Jesus, on behalf of the ENTIRE WORLD! Look in verse 17. Notice that the Son was not sent to CONDEMN or JUDGE the world, but for the purpose of SAVING THE WORLD. It was the Father’s desire that the world come to faith in His Son, not condemnation.
Well, what do we do with John 17? I believe that this has something to do with what we label this chapter: “The High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus is here acting as High Priest for all those who are in Him. Sounds like Hebrews to me:
“Therefore HOLY BRETHREN, PARTAKERS OF A HEAVENLY CALLING, consider Jesus, THE APOSTLE AND HIGH PRIEST OF OUR CONFESSION;” (Hebrews 3:1, NASB)
In Hebrews 3 the writer is talking to those who are children of God. And the Lord Jesus is labeled “The high priest OF OUR CONFESSION,” meaning that the audience is made up of those who have already CONFESSED the Lord Jesus and believed on His name (Romans 10:9). Therefore, if Jesus is in John 17 preceding for those the Father gave Him out of the world, to protect them, to unite them, and to keep them safe, then those Jesus is praying for are those who had made a confession and believed in Him.
Even though the world has not believed on Him in John 17, Christ still prays for the world to come to faith in Him. This is why He sends His apostles out into the world, to bring others to faith.
So John 17 is not about God foreordaining that some will come to faith while others will be condemned; it is about praying that more people will believe on His name. Remember, this is the same Lord who told Nicodemus (when discussing salvation) that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). And this is the same God that “desires that none should perish, but that ALL SHOULD COME TO REPENTANCE” (2 Pet. 3:9). It is this optimism for the world that God the Father had in mind when He sent His Son Jesus to die for the sins of mankind. If the Father’s wish was to save some, then the Lord does come to condemn the world—which is in DIRECT VIOLATION of what Jesus Himself says in John 3:17.