Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples included a petition for his Father to keep them intimately connected to each other. He said, “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, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus’ spiritual connection with his Father while he was on Earth made it possible for them to operate as if they were a single person. There was essentially no differentiation between the thoughts of the Father and the thoughts of the Son. Jesus’ request that his followers be one just as he and his Father were one meant that the totality of Christian believers would be acting as if they were a single entity, what is sometimes referred to today as the “body of Christ” or “the church.”
The primary reason Jesus wanted his disciples to experience the same kind of unity he had with his Father may have been so that they would work together to build God’s kingdom rather than through individual efforts. In order to understand the oneness that Jesus was praying for his disciples to receive, you would have to look at the result of the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost. It says in Acts 2:1-8:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord and in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
The supernatural filling of the Holy Spirit resulted in a type of communication that was much more effective than what is possible today through language translation. In essence, what was happening was that the words were being spoken and heard without any translation being necessary. The meaning was understood perfectly as if there was no language barrier, even though the people came from different countries and spoke different languages.
Jesus explained that the reason he was asking his Father for the unification of all believers was so that they would be a testimony to everyone that he had indeed been sent by God to save the world (John 17:21). Jesus went on to say that unity would lead to the completion of his ministry and be a sign of God’s love for all who have accepted him as their savior (John 17:23). Jesus concluded his prayer with a petition for his disciples to be with him in heaven. He said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This particular request was probably motivated by Jesus’ close connection with his apostles. Rather than making them wait until he returned to Earth, Jesus wanted his disciples to be reunited with him as soon as they were deceased. The apostle Paul suggested this would be the case when he said, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).