My sweet Grandpa Camp, who lived to his mid-nineties, never knew his family of origin, and it amazed me that it never seemed to bother him. But as I’ve been pondering Jesus’ prayer in John 17, it strikes me that Grandpa must have been content in knowing that he belonged to the Camp family. Adopted. Loved. And given their name.
Unlike my grandpa, I always knew my birth family. Always had their name. Always knew I belonged. But when Larry gave me his name, I felt as if we were stepping into our future together, united. For me, having the same name became a symbol of our belongingness, in a most shared way.
I do realize not everyone’s stories end with a loving adoption or marriage, but the idea here transcends preferences and experiences. There’s something in a name (looking at you, Shakespeare). There really is.
What’s In a Name?
Names can indicate family. I think before there were billions of people on our planet, life was simpler and people identified by patriarch — take my last name as an example, Johnson. In some remote village one day long ago, a boy was known as Fred, John’s son. Even in the Bible we have Saul, son of Kish, or James and John, sons of Zebedee.
Names can imply a person’s nature or character, such as Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name meant “supplanter” or “deceiver,” which was appropo since he had been known for taking things that weren’t his, like his brother’s birthright. But when he wrestled with God while on his journey home, Jacob changed. He transformed inwardly, spiritually. As a symbol of that change, God gave Jacob a new name — Israel. Often defined as “fighter of God,” Israel can actually be better understood as “he retains God” (see this site). The name change indicated the transformation within Jacob, as well as his relationship with God.
Names can hold power. A century or so ago, an American with the name Vanderbilt or Rockefeller would’ve been a person of wealth and esteem. Doors would have opened just because of the name. But, as we’ll see, it’s God’s name that holds all the power.
Jesus Our Intercessor
As we read today’s portion of John 17, we’ll notice the given and belonging language carries over, but we’ll also see the power of a name.
9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.John 17:9-12, NLT
I’ve used the NLT translation because I love the belonging language, but it turns out that in the Greek, the belonging part is only implied. Read verses 9 and 10 again in the NRSV to hear a truer rendering of the Greek:
9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.John 17:9-10, NRSV
They are yours.
All mine are yours.
And yours are mine.
Do you hear the implied belonging? It never gets old. 🙂 It also never gets old that Jesus intercedes on their behalf — and ours. Always and forever. Maybe you’re like me and are leveled at the idea of Jesus standing before God on His throne, in all His glory, speaking up for me, “Shelley really needs…”
My heart is also tender as I reread how Jesus’ request in this particular prayer is not for everyone in the world but only for those who are His. Believers are special to Jesus because we’ve been given to Him. We’ve chosen to follow Him. We belong to Him. Yes, Jesus loves the whole world, but He gives extra care to those who are His.
It’s in verses 11 and 12 that name enters this holy outpouring. Jesus sets the stage — He’s departing soon, returning to His Father, which means He’ll be leaving His little flock unattended. Jesus embodies this beautiful picture of a shepherd who has guided and protected those He’s been given with great devotion and strength.
But, with His leaving, He calls on His Father for divine defense for His flock:
Protect them by the power of your name.
Protected by God’s name. Not an army of angels. Not some supernatural shield. But God’s name.
I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.
Then we come to understand that for the length of His time on earth, Jesus had great power of protection, and the source had always been God’s name.
The Greek word used for “name,” onomati, means exactly what we’d assume — a proper name. Like, God. Aka: Elohim, El Elyon, El Shaddai, El Roi. But onomati comes with a lot of connotations, a weightiness of meaning that our simple word, name, fails to capture:
“the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.”gospel-john.com
For everything which the name covers. For God’s name that would encompass everything — all His goodness, all His love, all His holiness, all His glory, all His might, and all His power. One website I read put it this way — the idea of God’s name transcends anything our human minds can comprehend (chabad.org). We might have a slight grasp on how a name can carry power, but with God’s name, there’s no true understanding. However, we can take away that there is A LOT of power in that one holy name.
And we are covered by it. Protected with it. We can trust this as truth because Jesus prayed it.
If that isn’t enough, Jesus slips in this little nugget — so that they will be united just as we are. The literal “so they may be one” translation evokes within me, once again, the idea of marriage (see Genesis 2:24). This knitting together elicits beauty and wholeness. Just as Jesus is given God’s name and they are one, we have been given God’s name, so we are one. There’s no fancy definition for the Greek word, hen, meaning one. It’s simply one.
Being given God’s name makes us one with Him and comes with great power. I’ll ask you to soak in that for a while because this whole “being made one” idea comes up again later in this prayer.
In the meantime, have you wondered what believers need to be guarded from? Perhaps the answer lies in the phrase, the world. When we live in the world, we become prey to the one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy us (John 10:10). Jesus made sure Peter was aware of this truth when He shared this shocker:
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”Luke 22:31-32, NLT
Peter, like so many of us, thought he got it. He believed he understood why Jesus was here. He certainly grasped that Jesus was Messiah. We could say he walked with Jesus feeling pretty bulletproof — he had been given power to cast out demons and heal, after all.
But, really, Peter only kinda got it — as demonstrated by his response to the above revelation, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” Of course, he wasn’t. That very night he denied knowing Jesus three times.
Friends, we are not bulletproof in this world. We are flesh and blood — we get sick, we fail, we die. But we do have what Peter had — God’s name. We are His daughters. We are His family and because of that, He guards us.
I envision God speaking loudly from heaven, “She is mine! She has MY NAME!” And all the earth hears. Satan and his henchmen recoil because just in the hearing of God’s name, they know they are toast. They can’t win. They can’t have us.
So, here’s a heavy question: What if we lived as if that were true?
What if we lived fully into the power that comes from living in the covering of God’s holy name? I think if I actually lived in the power of God’s name, I’d worry less. Instead, I would trust that God has it all in hand. In His holy hands.
Peter learned to live like that. Once Jesus walked the earth in His resurrected body with Peter a few times, forgiving and commissioning him, Peter finally got it. He lived in humble confidence of Jesus, to whom he belonged, for the rest of his days. He lived a life of abandoned faith, surrendered to the call Jesus gave him — no matter the cost. And we’re here today because of Peter and so many others like him who have gone before us and lived into the power that comes from the name of Jesus.
You belong to Jesus in the most loving, holy way. You were given to Him by the God who created you. You’ve even been given His name, a name that holds unfathomable power and unites you to your Father. So, God’s Daughter, how will you let this truth change you?
- Take some significant this week to simmer in these questions, then Journal your responses:
- How would you live differently if you truly lived in the power of God’s name?
- How does it change the way you think and feel and act knowing that you’ve been given God’s name?
- “I belong to Jesus.” Keep saying it. Make it a breath prayer — breathe in, “I belong.” Breath out, “to Jesus.”
- Soak in the songs on our Belonging playlist. It’s just another way to get it into our heads and hearts that we are true daughters of the Lord Most High. And that we can live like in that power!