Praying for unbelievers

John 17:9 “I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine”

This line is in the prayer that Jesus prayed just before he was arrested and crucified. The statement "I am not praying for the world" is somewhat startling. Why did Jesus emphatically (that is the nature of the phrase) NOT pray for the world?

On the eve of his death it is not surprising that he would be concerned for those who had been closest to him, those who had heard his words and accepted them, those who had followed him, those who had come from the confusion, the darkness, from “the world”. He described them as people God had given him.

Jesus prayed for them because they were special to him.

There were others who had not accepted his message, who had not been given to him. He is praying at this time, in the very moment, right now - the tense is in the strict present. In the time remaining to him the situation would not change so he did not pray for those who did not believe him.

It’s not that he did not care for them.

In John 17:21 he prays that his followers would not only have unity between themselves but also have unity with God the Father and Jesus the Son and that this unity alone would lead other people, the “world”, to believe also that God had sent Jesus.

The Samaritans came to recognise that Jesus had come as the saviour not only of the Jews but for them also. They recognised him as the Saviour of the world (John 4:42)

John 3:16-17 tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

This teaching is repeated in John 12:47 “If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

While Jesus came to offer salvation to anyone who accepts it neither he nor his followers pass judgement on anyone.  There is no need to do so. People’s response to the sayings of Jesus determines how they are judged. "he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

It was God’s plan to give his only Son and so opening the way for anyone who believes in him to have eternal life, to be saved, to avoid judgement. But there were, will be and are people who do not believe in him. They will not have eternal life, will not be saved and place themselves under judgement by their disbelief.

Hebrews 9:27-28 tells us “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

In the meantime 2 Peter 3:9 tells of the patience and graciousness of God. “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Those of us living still have a chance to repent and believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

On the eve of Jesus arrest and crucifixion there was no point in his praying for unbelievers.  His priority was to pray for those who had believed in him.

But we can pray for unbelievers! God has granted them more time to repent.  It’s not too late for them or for us, knowing that it is not God’s wish that they should perish but that they would hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

1651 Modified: 16-05-2024
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