“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will 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 have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
(John 17:20-26 ESV)
Here, as Jesus intercedes in prayer on behalf of his disciples, all who will believe (or ever believed), and the world, Jesus prays specifically in a way and with a boldness that would make modern believers cringe because he’s being terribly direct. What this passage tells us is that there is a Limited Application of salvation in Christ, an Unlimited Appreciation of fellowship with Christ, and a Limitless Apprehension of the role of Christ.
Limited Application. Jesus is baldly praying for “those who will believe in me.” That is, there is a specific number who will ever place their faith in Christ, and receive the gift of his glory. “The glory you have given me I have given them.” This is not available to all who hear the name of Christ, but only to those who believe through the word that has been passed on. The distinction is not one of membership in a club, but rather is one of relationship. Jesus says, “I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name.” What Jesus principally gives to those who believe is a change of name. They are transferred from begin “in Adam” (…for as in Adam all die…) to being “in Christ” (…even so, in Christ shall all be made alive…). They now own his name, just as he owned it from his Father.
Unlimited Appreciation. Most Christians who believe in a Limited Atonement, the theological idea that Jesus died for “the Elect,” and not for “all,” are implying that Jesus’ saving blood was already applied to this particular number and the mechanics of history and of Jesus’ suffering and death were all that was needed to make real what was already destined to happen anyway. But Jesus makes clear here that part of his purpose was “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The problem for those who stand on the other side, in favor of an Universal Atonement – or perhaps a universal salvation – is that Jesus has made it clear here he isn’t praying for all to believe in a way that brings about heart-change. But the grace of God does enlighten the whole world in this, “that they may believe that you have sent me.” Even religions that do not accept Jesus as Savior mostly acknowledge that he was a prophet sent by God. So, whatever else you may believe, know that it is Jesus’ intention that all beings appreciate that the Father sent Jesus into the world. As Paul says, “every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2) Even demons believe on that level, and tremble.
Among those who are “in Christ” there is also an Unlimited Appreciation on a much deeper level. Jesus prays that we may be “one” in the same way Deuteronomy 6 proclaims, “The Lord our god, the Lord is One.” There is unity in God, a unity that only a Triune god can know. There are three persons expressing themselves in perfect harmony. They are ONE God. And Jesus prays that all who believe him will be ONE, not just one church or one organizationally, but one IN God. That’s why he says over and over that he wants us to be “even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.” Jesus isn’t inviting us simply to unity among ourselves. He is inviting us to share in the unity of Godhead. That is why no organizational church (ie: the church in a location) can ever express this fully. We are not a club you join, we are of an organism, a living being. Notice I didn’t say we are PART of an organism. You can always separate out a definable part of something. We are OF an organism, and cannot be separated from one another without the whole organism being diminished.
Finally, there is a Limitless Apprehension of the role of Christ. “That the world may believe…” “That the world may know…” “You loved me before the foundation of the world.” The love God has for Christ can be “clearly seen in the things that have been created.” (Romans 1) “The Heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19). All can appreciate the love between Christ and his Father even if all will never choose to participate in that love. And since even the stars seem to have been arranged in such a way that they proclaim the love between Christ and his Father, there is no limit – even to the end of the Universe – as to who may apprehend that love and ultimately apply it. All are free to apprehend what only some will appreciate and what only a few will ever apply: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”