John 17:9-11 – “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me…”
In the midst of His longest prayer in John 17, Jesus makes this curious statement, “I do not pray for the world”.
This statement is understandably confusing to many. This is because the word “world” is used in at least seven senses throughout the New Testament. Sometimes it means the entire creation, sometimes the inhabited world, sometimes people, sometimes the fallen system of attitudes and values that run counter to God’s design and sometimes various shades of each of those things. Context is always key.
What these particular words do not mean is that Jesus does not love everyone. When he says he is not praying for the world, it does not mean he discriminates against certain types of humanity. Jesus loves people of all races and cultures, and the great eternal worship song in Revelation 5:9 tells us that Jesus’ blood purchases men “from every tribe and language and people and nation”.
Here, “not praying for the world” means that Jesus is referring to the system of thinking, speaking, and acting that is in rebellion to God, in allegiance to Satan, and at war against the kingdom of God. This is the “world” the Apostle Paul most often warns against in his letters. In specifically exempting the world from his intercession, Jesus is implicitly praying that such sin and rebellion will be cursed and crushed, damned and destroyed, because it is utterly dark and demonic. In addition, to pray for the community of his followers, as in this instance, means praying against the forces of darkness as Paul later expounds in this way:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand . . . And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:12-13, 18)
The world is like gravity that pulls us toward sin, folly, rebellion, perversion, pride, selfishness, and death. By not praying for the world, Jesus is praying against the “powers of this dark world” and for “all the saints”, echoing even his earlier instructions in the Lord’s Prayer by doing spiritual battle so that his followers will be “led not into temptation.”
What sinful gravity in the world are you battling against right now?