The final night of Jesus' life before his crucifixion was an evening filled not only with the penultimate expression of his love but also the deepest instruction of our Lord's ministry. I have often marveled, as it was once pointed out to me, that as the lives of the disciples were about to be turned upside down, Jesus gives us some of the most significant teaching on the interrelationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is often regarded as one of the most perplexing in all of Christian theology, but Jesus knew it's what the disciples needed for their sorrow to become joy.
Intimate as his expressed love and teaching were to those disciples, it's an intimacy that is nearly eclipsed by what followed their interactions – Jesus own prayer to his Father for himself, the disciples, and for all who would come to believe in him through their witness. The unchanging heart of Jesus for his church is unfolded in the petitions he offered to heaven for our strengthening in this present world. George Newton wrote: “[It is the] Lord's prayer, which he made for us. Not that which he propounded to us, as our pattern; but that which he presented for us, as our privilege.”
Of all the appeals contained in that prayer none seem to comfort in the saddest affliction of life – which is death – as what Jesus asked in John 17:24: “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.” Jesus' singular will and desire in that petition is that his own would be with him. No, not that he would be where they are, but that they would be where he is. In fact, this is one of the reasons for his departure. He left this world so that he could enter heaven and prepare a place for us.
In one sense that's easy enough to understand. But we need to realize what this means. If this prayer is to be answered it means that we too must depart from this world to be where he is. We cannot be with Jesus – in immediate communion with his glory – while we cling to the dust of this present and passing world. The answer to Jesus' prayer ordinarily requires that we die. Death is the means by which this petition comes to fruition: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
There's a force in that. If I'm allowed to paraphrase, it's as if Jesus is asking his Father: “Through the door of death bring them to me.” And it's a prayer the Father has delighted in answering. Even as Christ hung on Calvary's hill the Father grants his request as Jesus assures the dying thief: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Beaten, tortured, and bloodied the cruel death of that thief's crucifixion answered the desire of our Lord. Through the invincible power of the Father death, which is the last great enemy of sinners, becomes the means of giving to Jesus what he wants. Death itself yields to the will of Jesus and is subservient to his petition.
And so it has always been in the death of those whom the Father has given to the Son. Jesus' prayer has been answered a thousand different ways – expectedly and unexpectedly, natural and unnatural, peacefully and tragically, among the young and the old. But the result has always been the same. Those for whom Jesus prays, come in the moment of their death to be in his presence and behold his glory. It's why the Psalmist sings: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). It's because every death of Jesus' own is one more answer to his prayer. And faith must learn to say: “Let your will be done.”
"Ten thousand times ten thousand
In sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints
Throng up the steeps of light:
'Tis finished, all is finished,
Their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates
And let the victors in."