In John 17:9 Jesus makes the rather startling statement, “I pray not for the world.” It seems to fly in the face of John 3:16, that “God so loved the world,” and verse 17, that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Why, then, would Jesus not pray for the world he was sent to save?
Because – as Jesus himself explains in verse 19 – “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.” Why bother praying for people who love being evil, have no interest in being saved from evil, don’t want anything to do with Jesus, whose minds are tightly shut against any glimmer of light entering in case their “evil deeds are exposed,” verse 20? It’s like talking to, or praying for, a brick wall.
But – as Jesus also explains in John 17:6 – in amongst all those brick walls the Father had selected a few people “out of the world” and “you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” It was in the Father’s plan to have some people recognize “that everything you (Father) have given me comes from you,” so that when Jesus gave them the words the Father had given him they would accept them, verse 8, and know “with certainty that I came from you,” and “that you sent me.” And these are the people Jesus was praying for in verse 9: “I pray for them, I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”
This is where Jesus’ attention was concentrated; it was totally on revealing his Father and his Father’s words to those whom his Father had chosen. Jesus acknowledged that it was just to these select few that the Father had granted him the authority to “give eternal life to” (verse 2), and just in the minds of these few that the brick wall of rejecting him had been broken down, and just these few that the Father had sent him to teach. And this alone was “the work” the Father had given him to do (verse 4), to teach and pray for those the Father had given him at that time.
Jesus also acknowledged in verse 20 that his work of teaching and praying for those his Father selected would continue through the centuries, because this was the way the whole world would come to “believe that you have sent me” – not by Jesus praying for the world, but by praying for his disciples.
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This begs the question: what happens to the rest of mankind? I believe that there is an order to everything that God does. First the “Firstfruit,” then the “firstfruits of the Firstfruit,” and then everyone else—each in his own order.
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the FIRSTFRUITS of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ ALL shall be made alive. But EACH ONE IN HIS OWN ORDER: Christ the FIRSTFRUITS, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to ALL rule and ALL authority and power. For He must reign till He has put ALL enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put ALL THINGS [Greek: panta – meaning “everything,” including “everyone”—the whole of all the parts] under His feet.” But when He says “ALL THINGS are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put ALL THINGS under Him is excepted [except for God himself]. Now when ALL THINGS are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put ALL THINGS under Him, that God may be ALL IN ALL [Greek: panta en pasin – meaning “everything” to “everyone and everything”].” (1 Cor 15:20-28)
So there is hope for ALL mankind. It’s just that the “unsaved” don’t know it yet. It’s not that they won’t be judged. Everyone is under judgement at one time or another. Judgement means CORRECTION, not annihilation. The “unsaved” will in their own time—in the ages to come—receive a huge dose of “tough love” and it won’t be pleasant. Eventually they will come around, because God WILL NOT fail. God loves ALL mankind, and “Love NEVER fails” (1 Cor 13:8).
This “age” is a testing ground for the election. Those that “overcome” will be made “kings” and “priests” to reign on earth, under Christ, in the “ages” to follow (Rev 1:6; 3:21; 5:10). Isn’t that wonderful!!!