“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17.11)
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12, ESV)
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15, ESV)
Jesus uses the verb “to keep” over and over again in his prayer for the disciples. Even I—former Marine and intellectually challenged—recognize that there must be some importance to this notion of “keeping.” Jesus says he himself has “kept them [the disciples] in your name.” He then proceeds to pray that, now that his homecoming is imminent that God the Father would “keep them in your name” and “keep them from the evil one.”
The verb “to keep” as used here means: “to cause a state to continue.” When Jesus was with his disciples he [with one noted exception: Judas Iscariot] caused them to continue in God’s name. Now that Jesus is leaving he prays that God would cause them to continue in his name and that he would keep them away from the clutches of the evil one.
Some things to notice:
1. We need to be kept. Jesus doesn’t ask God to give us the power to keep ourselves in God’s name or to keep ourselves away from the evil one, he asks that God the Father do it. This is God’s responsibility, not ours. We are too helpless and pathetic for that. Humbling, but there it is nevertheless.
2. Being kept in God’s name is equivalent to being kept from the evil one. Jesus asks both that we be kept in something [“your name”] and the we be kept from something [“the evil one”]. By keeping us in his name, God also keeps us from the evil one. The two are polar opposites and mutually exclusive.
3. The pastoral care and concern of God the Son. Jesus, literally hours away from dying on the cross for our sins, is demonstrating pastoral concern for his followers. He is passing on to God the Father, the care of those whom God had given to him. His immediate work on earth is done, now the work gets passed on to eleven all to human and frail men who will pass it on to other human, frail, and fallible men. And here is the thing: the work will thrive! Jesus gives us a living demonstration of what it means to be “the good shepherd” here.