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How Does Jesus’s Intercessory Prayer Point Us to the Temple?

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Post contributed by Scripture Central
June 6, 2023
KnoWhy #674
On the left, Jesus offers his intercessory prayer for his disciples, on the right, a formerly crippled man healed by Peter enters the temple for the first time. Images courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the left, Jesus offers his intercessory prayer for his disciples, on the right, a formerly crippled man healed by Peter enters the temple for the first time. Images courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.”

John 17:1

The Know

The Gospel of John contains the longest account of the final, intimate moments Jesus shared with His Apostles immediately before His atoning sacrifice, death, and Resurrection. After delivering a final discourse in the upper room and on the way to Gethsemane, Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven” and offered a great intercessory prayer for His disciples (John 17:1).

Many have noted that this prayer is rightly known as Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer, as it immediately preceded His atoning sacrifice. William J. Hamblin has also observed that this prayer “should be contextualized within the larger Passover narrative of the last days of the life of Jesus.” Especially given the nature of Jesus’s last discourse, this prayer “serves as a symbolic temple for the Gospel of John—it is the meeting place of heaven and earth, where man encounters God.”1

Many aspects of Jesus’s prayer thus reflect the ancient temple and its related symbols, ultimately with the hope that Christ’s followers can return to God’s presence and become like Him. Specifically, Hamblin cites six of these features in the prayer.

The Father’s House

First, Jesus’s prayer can be best understood within the context that Jesus Himself offered at the beginning of His final sermon to the Apostles. Jesus told them, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2; emphasis added). Notably, the phrase “my Father’s house” only appears one other time in John’s Gospel—namely, when Jesus is cleansing the temple (see John 2:16).2

However, it is clear that in John 14:2 Jesus was referring not to the earthly temple in Jerusalem but rather to the heavenly temple where God dwells. This can be discerned in Jesus’s following statement: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3; emphasis added). In the Intercessory Prayer itself, this idea is repeated with slight variation: “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory” (John 17:24). Thus, Jesus makes it clear that he wants His disciples to enter into “the presence of the Father in heaven,” which is in His heavenly temple.3

The Revelation of the Father’s Name

Second, Jesus states twice in His prayer that He has manifested or declared the name of the Father to the disciples and will declare it again (see John 17:6, 26). By the time of Jesus, restrictions had been set in place regarding “the ritual writing and pronunciation of the name [Jehovah]” that had been revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 3:15). These restrictions only permitted priests in the temple to utter the name under two very specific circumstances: once a year “by the High Priest in the temple on the Day of Atonement” or “during the daily recitation of the priestly benediction described in Numbers 6:22–27.”4

Hamblin thus observes that when Jesus declares the name of the Father, He “is acting within the framework of two important biblical traditions.” First, Jesus is establishing Himself as “the ‘prophet like unto Moses,’ to whom God revealed his name,” and second, “the claim that Jesus revealed the name of the Father to his disciples would also imply that Jesus claimed the authority of the High Priest to reveal the Name” and offer an atonement for the children of Israel.5

Christ Is the Manifestation of God’s Glory

Third, throughout His prayer Jesus refers to the glory of God.6 In the Old Testament, “the Glory of [Jehovah] is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in the Temple or Tabernacle.”7 Although often described as a pillar of fire and smoke, the glory of the Lord is said in Ezekiel 1:28 to be in the form of a man. Accordingly, Jesus’s glory-related statements “would have evoked ideas of God’s glorious theophanies in the temple, and Christ’s postmortal glorification by the Father would imply a glory-theophany in the Celestial Temple.”8

Expulsion of the Evil One

Fourth, Jesus appears to ritually cast Satan out of the midst of the disciples during His prayer when He requests the Father “keep them from the evil” (John 17:15; emphasis added). Although not readily apparent in the King James Version, the phrase translated as “the evil” was widely understood by early Christians to refer to “the Evil One, that is Satan.” As such, Jesus’s prayer reflects the practice during the Day of Atonement of casting the scapegoat into the wilderness. This was a symbolic “prerequisite for the purification of Israel in preparation for the visitation of [Jehovah] with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle or temple.”9

Sanctification of Christ and His Disciples

Fifth, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify His disciples: “Sanctify them through thy truth. … And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:17, 19). As Hamblin has noted, “language of holiness, sanctity, and consecration is the language of the temple.”10

Just as the priests of the temple underwent a ritual purification and sanctification so they might be able to serve, Christ sanctifies His disciples so that He might send them into the world to teach His gospel (John 17:18). Moreover, the high priest on the Day of Atonement would similarly sanctify himself so that “in his sanctified state, he can officiate in the temple to sanctify the community of Israel through the other Day of Atonement rituals.”11 Christ therefore identifies Himself as the Great High Priest as He prepares Himself to perform the Atonement. He also prepares His Apostles to spread the blessings of His Atonement to the world through their preaching.

Celestial Ascent and Becoming Like God

Finally, Jesus prays that His disciples may become like Him and His Father. Not only will His disciples be allowed to see the glory of God but they also are given that glory: “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22).

As Hamblin has observed, numerous early Christian and Jewish texts culminate with the disciples’ ascent to the heavenly temple, where they are enthroned with God.12 The apostles Peter, John, and Paul likewise refer to the doctrine of becoming like God at various points in their writings.13 Early Christians viewed this doctrine as the ultimate fate of the righteous Saints.14

Other Early Christian Traditions Associated with Jesus’s Intercessory Prayer

Significantly, other early Christian traditions link the prayer Jesus offered in Gethsemane with rites of the temple. In one text called the Acts of John, it is reported that Jesus first “told us to form a circle, holding one another’s hands, and himself stood in the middle” as He offered this prayer shortly before His arrest.15

Other early Christians likewise followed this form of prayer in their worship. Hugh Nibley has identified multiple texts that prominently portray an early Christian prayer circle. Much like with the Intercessory Prayer, Nibley observes that “the purpose of the prayer circle was to achieve total unity of minds and hearts” and ultimately to prepare those involved and those prayed for to enter the presence of the Lord in the heavenly temple.16

The Why

Jesus’s great Intercessory Prayer must have been a profound experience for His close circle of disciples who personally heard Him pray on their behalf. Yet His words are truly for all of His followers in all ages, including our own. Jesus Himself clarified, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20–21).

We can be unified with God as we make and keep covenants. Both at baptism and in the temple, modern Saints take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, are cleansed from sin as we are washed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, receive power to overcome the Evil One, and ultimately learn all that we must do to enter the kingdom of heaven. As we continually follow Jesus’s example, we will enter into a sacred spiritual unity shared between the Father, the Son, and all the holy Saints from all dispensations.

Further Reading

William J. Hamblin, “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 1 (2012): 61–89.

Hugh Nibley, “The Early Christian Prayer Circle,” in Mormonism and Early Christianity (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS]; Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 45–99.

Erik Odin Yingling, “Worship and Ritual Practices in the New Testament,” in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament, ed. Lincoln H. Blumell (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2019), 586–602.


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KnoWhy Citation

Book of Mormon Central, “How Does Jesus’s Intercessory Prayer Point Us to the Temple? (John 17:1),” KnoWhy 674 (June 6, 2023).