Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17).
The seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel is a unique and lofty locus of Holy Scripture. It is often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. In this powerful prayer the Savior petitions the Father both as His eternal Son and as the great high priest interceding between God and man. He uniquely prays about sanctification. To be sanctified is to be set apart to do holy work. Who then is sanctified? In summary, Jesus is sanctified; the Apostles are sanctified; and those believing through the Apostles are sanctified.
First, Jesus is sanctified. When the Father sent His Son into the world He was sanctifying—setting apart—His Son to perform the holiest of works. As Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, this third person of the Holy Trinity sanctified—set apart—this miracle baby to be the ultimate prophet, priest, king and sacrifice. Now, as recorded in His High Priestly Prayer, the Son of God sanctifies—sets apart—Himself: And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth (V 19, NKJ).
“Glorification” often describes how God’s greatness and power is made visible. Glorification also summarizes what the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit sanctified—set apart—Jesus to do. Of this glorification John 12:23 records Jesus predicting, The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. He then explains this glorification by describing how a grain of wheat must “die” and after it is buried the glorified seed rises to produce much fruit. Appropriately Jesus begins His High Priestly Prayer—offered up the evening before His death—by speaking of this sublime glorification: Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You… Strange to the ears of the world, this glorification of God’s Son happens in His crucifixion and is verified in His resurrection. At the cross God’s glory—the greatness and the power of God—is made visible such as it had not been since the foundation of the world! Christ is thus sanctified to be seen as mankind’s great and powerful Savior.
Christ prays that the Father would sanctify the Apostles through the Word. Jesus not only speaks the Word to the Apostles but as the incarnate Word He shouts volumes by every action He performs. His primary word is His death for man’s salvation. The crucified Savior is the heart of this word of truth, and Jesus petitions the Father to sanctify the Apostles through this Word: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (V 17). The Apostles of Jesus would thus be sanctified—set apart—to be foundational to Christ’s Church. Much of the New Testament points to this foundational nature of the Apostolic proclamation. For example Paul wrote to the Ephesians: [The Church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (2:20). From the sanctified Apostles Jesus foresees members of His Church being sanctified by faith in their word: I do not ask for these [Apostles] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (V 20).
Upon hearing the Word of the Apostles, believers in Jesus are sanctified—set apart—as God’s forgiven children. Established in their baptism as saints, such holy people are empowered to do holy works. These sanctified people—the Apostles and those who believe through their word—are given by Jesus to do works of glory: The glory that you have given me I have given to them (V 22). What is this glory? Once again glory identifies with a cross. God’s people are sanctified by Christ’s glorious cross to be cross-bearers as they fulfill their God-ordained vocations. Will it be easy to be a godly church member, godly citizen, godly worker, godly family member? By no means! Those set apart to do the holy work of father, mother, child, carpenter, lawyer, factory worker, Apostle, pastor—and every other godly calling—will be given glory, that is they will be called to bear their cross and follow Jesus, and people will then see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven. For this we have been sanctified.