Is John 17:9 exclusive? – “I’m praying for them, not for the world.”


In John chapter 17:9, in his prayer to the Father, Jesus says, “I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine…”
It’s hard not to interpret this verse as “some are in, some are out.” I know I’m cherry-picking here, but this verse has been a giant pothole in the road every time I read John 17, to the point where I find myself dismissing it altogether. Would you be willing to shed some light on correctly interpreting this?


I’ve asked both Paul Young and Baxter Kruger to help me respond. My first thought is that Jesus doesn’t see a contradiction between seeing both his disciples as “in” and everyone as “in” too. But sometimes he’s praying specifically for them as to what they’ll be facing.

Baxter agrees: “As with the election of Abraham, the election of the apostles was ‘for the world.’ The whole prayer moves from prayer for the disciples so that the world that ‘God so loves’ will know.”

Paul Young replies with some helpful detail: “The beauty of this verse is that Jesus is not praying for cosmic generalities but for specific individuals that he knew and loved. This is an intimate conversation about intimate relationships. This is his same humanity who prays “is there another way?”

This is not a stroke to make a theological point to please our theologies, but to allow us to see into the Holy of Holies and the inherent relational heart within. Personally, I love this verse. I don’t feel left out. I know that the love which Jesus felt for specific people in his life is now also the love that the resurrected Jesus has for me within by the Holy Spirit.

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Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More