Realizing that He would soon go to His Father and that God’s purpose on earth would be left in the hands of His disciples, He prayed urgently for the foremost concern in his mind and heart. There in the upper room, with His little flock gathered around, He lifted His eyes to heaven and poured out the burden of His soul: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”1
He prayed earnestly for their preservation because His disciples were about to begin an awesome undertaking: to be the light of the world just as He had been during His ministry on earth. “As you sent me into the world,” He told His heavenly Father, “I have sent them into the world.”2 Repeatedly he begged His Father to protect them from the evil one and to guard their unity, for much depended on their oneness:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Obviously He considered this complete and perfect unity to be essential. Even as He prepared to face death on the cross, it filled His thoughts. What a great evil it would be for that unity to be destroyed, for how then would the world know of God’s great love for them in sending His Son? It was the very evidence that would bring conviction and hope to the world.
The Bible records such unity among his followers in the beginning. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”3 Their oneness had such a profound effect on the society around them that, just as the Master had prayed, people became convinced of God’s love for them in sending His Son to die for them. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”4
These new disciples were so impressed with God’s love for them that they, too, devoted their entire existence to Him, resulting in the same kind of love and unity that had caused them to believe: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”5
This self-perpetuating unity would have continued unbroken until the Master’s return, if all the converts had been true disciples, but as Jude wrote,
Certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you ... But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude 1:4,17-19)
Such men, devoid of the Spirit and devoid of faith, gradually took over the church, until the unity that our Master prayed for became a mere historical fact, something to be puzzled and even argued over by succeeding generations. The chief argument today is that perfect unity is impossible in this age and that the oneness of the first disciples was temporary — merely the result of circumstances — a sort of impromptu Christian retreat. What would Jude have thought of those who hold such views?
In James 5:16 it says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” If the word of God is true, and if the Son of God is righteous, then His fervent prayer will bring about perfect unity among His disciples once again in this age, so that the world might believe the gospel message. Any so-called believers who maintain that such unity cannot be accomplished in this age might as well be saying that the Jesus they believe in is not righteous enough to get His prayer answered. If such is the case, then He is not righteous enough to pay for their sins either.
This issue will continue to merely be debated wherever men devoid of the Spirit dominate. But if the Master can once again have true disciples they will prove by the godly character of love and unity in their lives that His prayer has been heard in heaven and answered on earth. We write this because, just like the early disciples, we have become convinced of God’s love for us in sending His Son. We invite you to do the same.