In Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, He closed His prayer with a request for protection for them. John 17:14-19 records this third part of His prayer: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
Some scholars believe that Jesus’ prayer was not so much for the benefit of His requests, but for the benefit of His listeners, the twelve disciples. His words were spoken to Jesus’ Father, but they also spoke to the hearts of the men who would be left behind after Jesus’ resurrection. They were sensing the heaviness of the suffering to come. Soon Jesus was going to be arrested, tortured, and crucified. They certainly had every reason to be frightened for their own safety and uncertain of their future. But surely Jesus’ prayer helped put their minds at ease.
Yet the request for protection was not so much for physical safety as it was for spiritual preservation. This preservation was going to come solely by the Word of God, which is living and powerful. It offers comfort in times of distress. It provides guidance in times of confusion. It brings healing to the broken, and freedom to the oppressed. There is no better spiritual protection than what is provided through the Word. Jesus knew and understood this. For this reason, He daily spoke God’s words to His disciples, infusing them with a powerful weapon against the lies and destruction of the enemy, Satan. Jesus also knew that because these twelve men had the words of God within them, they were going to be hated by the world. The disciples refused to participate in the ways of the godless, even speaking out against their wicked thoughts and actions. For this reason, the disciples needed protection from the attacks of those who opposed God and His Word.
Although Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end and He would be leaving earth to return to His Father in heaven, the disciples were going to be left in the world. Just as Christians today are left in the world to spread the message of the gospel, the twelve disciples had a mission to fulfill during their lie on earth. It was not realistic for Jesus to ask God to remove the disciples from the world just so that they could be protected from evil, just as it is not realistic for believers today to ask to be taken home just to escape the hardships of life here on earth. Without God’s chosen people bringing the lost to Christ, many nonbelievers could not find their way.