by John F. Walvoord
– The Gospel of John is singular in many ways. One of its characteristics is that about half of the entire content is devoted to the last few days of Jesus on earth. In this portion of Scripture we have a revelation of the parting message of the Christ to His disciples which transcends the other accounts. It is to be expected that in these last important words Christ should not only sum up His previous teaching to them, and endeavor to impart to them what they needed for the coming trying days, but also that new revelation should be given for which their years together had been the preparation. In this revelation, Christ looks forward beyond His death and resurrection to this age. It is not surprising, then, that we should find in such a place the key to availing prayer.
The disciples had gathered for the last supper and had finished their celebration of the passover feast. Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet. Judas Iscariot had left the company of the disciples. Jesus begins His parting address to His disciples. It was the intimate fellowship around the table, with the background of their years together. Christ proclaimed the new commandment, that they should love one another; He had told them that He was to go to prepare a place for them; He had shown Himself to be the revelation of God the Father. He had given them a vision of their coming task: the greater works that they should accomplish. Then, as if coming to the heart of His message, as indicative of how these greater works should be accomplished, he solemnly speaks these words, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13, 14). We learn from John 16:14, that the disciples had asked nothing in the name of Jesus up to this time. It was a new command; a new challenge; a new revelation. The statement was clear. There was only one condition: “in my name.” There is no greater revelation concerning prayer, nor a greater challenge to enter into and claim God’s promise than in this verse. Here, then, is the key to availing prayer. But what did Christ mean by asking “in my name”?
A. The Meaning of the “Name.”
The name by which the disciples knew their Lord was Jesus. This was the name which had been given Him by the angel at the time of the annunciation. ”Jesus” represents for us the work of Christ as Savior, meaning in itself “Savior.” As ”Christ” emphasizes His kingly and messianic character, and as ”Lord” points to His deity and eternity, so ”Jesus” points to His work as Savior. It is this name Jesus which exalts Christ. We read in Philippians 2:9, 10, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth.” It would not be so unexpected that all peoples should bow to Christ as King, or Christ as Lord, but the use of the name “Jesus” here stands out in emphasis. It will further be noted that the disciples did their miracles in the name of Jesus. Sometimes the name “Jesus” is used with “Lord” and sometimes with “Christ,” but “Jesus” is used in every case but one. By the use of the word “name” then, the idea centered in the name of “Jesus.” It is significant that the emphasis is on this title of Christ. It was nothing new to do things in the name of the “Lord.” Christ himself is said to come in the name of the “Lord.” “Lord” simply meant God, the God of the Jews. Only once, as far as I know, is the phrase “in the name of the Lord” used referring specifically to the second person of the trinity. This is in James 5:14, where the elders are told to anoint the sick with oil “in the name of the Lord.” In verse 10 of this chapter the phrase “in the name of the Lord” is used clearly referring to God without reference to person. It is not at all clear that verse 14 refers specifically to Christ, but it could be easily understood when taking into consideration the Jewish atmosphere of this book, that the Old Testament usage should creep in. In any event, the reference to the name “Jesus” in the phrase “in my name” is well marked, whether or not this positively excludes other titles. “In the name of Christ” is no where found. This can be explained by the fact that the manifestation of Jesus as the Christ, the King, is still future, and related to the millennial rule. Without dogmatic assumption, then, we can take the phrase “in my name” to refer to Christ largely as the Savior, Jesus. Prayer in the name of Jesus is, then, based first on His office as Savior.
The general significance of “in my name” can be comprehended partially from common usage. When an individual does something in the name of another, it indicates union which may be of different kinds. Andrew Murray has pointed out that this union may take three different lines: legal, life, or love. Legal union is a part of our everyday life. Men in partnership in business are joined so that what one does is done in the name of the other and vice versa. The employee who runs a business for his employer constantly acts in the name of his employer. He may have extended to him all the privileges going with the power of his name insofar as the business is concerned. He can buy or sell with the power given him through his use of his employer’s name. This is a common example of legal union. Another type of union is that of father and son. The son bears the father’s name and because he has that name there fall to him certain privileges. The union is one of life: there is blood relationship. Then there is union in love. The bride takes the name of the bridegroom. She then has certain rights and privileges in virtue of the fact that she has taken a new name. These modern analogies come far from representing what Christ meant by “in my name.” He meant legal union, life union, love union, and yet more than all of this. The central fact lies in the power of the “name.”
B. Significance of Prayer in His Name.
The basis of our prayer life, it is evident, is our union with Christ. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray. This first of all has its relation to our position before God. We are joined in “legal union” with Jesus. We are His partners, His servants. We are working in His name. This is our position in virtue of our redemption and new birth. We are carrying out His task in His name. We are joined in “Life union” just as the father is with the son. Our position is not that of one outside the family of God, but one of God’s kin; we are sons of God. We are joined vitally to God through the new birth. Then, there is the “love union.” We are the bride of Christ. In one sense we have taken His name. We are betrothed. We are joined to Christ as the object of His love in this age as well as in the future consummation. This all can be said to be part of our position in Christ. It does not depend on our spirituality or the quality of our life. It is grounded only on our salvation and our new birth. It is certain that this aspect was included when Christ told His disciples to ask “in my name.”
While it is certain that these positional aspects form a part of this truth, it is also evident that this supreme condition in prayer dealt with more than our position before God. In the discourse recorded in John 14, in the 15th verse, immediately after the reference to asking in His name, Christ continues, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The condition of the believer is evidently vital in availing prayer. Obedience is a part of asking “in His name.” But it is not simply a battle to do the Lord’s will that wins answer in prayer. It is not a barter of our good works for what we want in prayer. It is infinitely higher than this. From the teachings in the parting counsels of Christ, we learn that the key to the condition of the believer which corresponds to being “in my name” is found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit and in our abiding in Christ. It is evident that these two features are bound intimately together.
After exhortation to obedience which followed the revelation of the supreme condition in availing prayer, Christ immediately proceeds to the revelation of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was to be the key to all their work for Him, their obedience, and their prayer. While it is not possible here to treat the subject of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we can take without discussion the conclusion that the essential ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers which concerns us here is the “filling” of the Holy Spirit. The disciples in Acts are constantly being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is clear that this has a vital relation to the condition of our spiritual lives. While each Christian possesses the Holy Spirit and has all the ministries which are accomplished incident to his new birth, all Christians do not continually experience the filling of the Holy Spirit. It is not that the Holy Spirit leaves the Christian and comes back again, but the Scriptures teach that the Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit when he is in the complete charge of the Holy Spirit: when the Holy Spirit has all of him, filling his life, governing his activity. It is evident that this has a vital relation to availing prayer. Praying in the name of Jesus is only possible in the condition of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit we are praying in the name of Jesus. As we examine the Scripture revelation concerning the part the Holy Spirit has in the prayer of the believer, we easily establish this idea. Romans 8:14 tells us that the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. The Spirit leads us in prayer, guiding our requests that they may conform to God’s will. We learn, too, that the Spirit makes intercession for us in Romans 8:26. While the Spirit makes intercession for every Christian, it is only possible for the Spirit to lead those who are yielded to His leading. To those who are grieving the Holy Spirit, it is necessary for the Spirit to leave His work of ministering to take up the work of reproving. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer is, therefore, a most vital part of praying in His name. In all true prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit is inherent. When Jesus told His disciples to pray in His name, He was most certainly contemplating this ministry of the Spirit. It was the Spirit who was to inspire them, guide them, fit them, for praying in His name. It was only as their mortality was lifted into the realm of immortality that they would be able to pray in His name. This ministry of the Spirit depended on their yielding to the Spirit in all things. As such it forms a great conditional element which not only determines the spirituality of a Christian, but also the effectiveness of his prayer.
Companion to this essential feature of praying in the name of Jesus, is the exhortation of Christ that His disciples abide in Him. In the 15th chapter of John we have an analogy teaching the intimate relation between Christ and His disciples. In the opening verse, Jesus speaks of Himself as “the true vine.” In contrast to Israel, the fruitless vine, Jesus was the true vine. In the fifth verse of this same chapter, repeating the fact that He is the vine, He adds, “Ye are the branches.” It was an analogy which should have been clear to each one of the disciples. They were the branches of the vine. They had been cut off the fruitless vine, Israel, and had become joined to the true vine, Jesus. It was a forerunner to the revelation of the church as the body of Christ, joined in organic union with the head. In the fourth verse in this chapter, Jesus bids His disciples to “abide in me.” “As a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” The logic was inexorable. If the disciples were to bear fruit, they could do so only in virtue of their union with Christ. It was necessary for them to draw their strength from Christ just as the branches drew their strength from the vine.
It is evident from the very command of Christ, “Abide in me,” that this is a conditional feature and not a part of the Christian’s position in grace. Yet it is an interesting question whether it is possible for a Christian to do anything else than “abide” in Christ. It is clear that every Christian is a living part of the vine. Why then did Christ bid His disciples to “abide in me” if it is impossible for a Christian to do anything else? This argument has been advanced by those who believe a Christian can be saved and then lost. The source of the trouble lies in a too literal interpretation of this figure which Christ is using. The obvious purpose of the figure of the vine is to make clear the secret of fruitfulness. The subject of salvation is not being dealt with at all. Christ is talking to Christians. Judas Iscariot was not in the company when these words were spoken. Christ was clearly speaking of a conditional element in the lives of Christians. “Abiding” is not the condition of being a branch, but the condition of a branch. According as the branch abides in the vine, it brings forth fruit. Rev David Brown comments on this verse, “As in a fruit tree, some branches may be fruitful, others quite barren, according as there is a vital connection between the branch and the stock, or no vital connection; so the disciples of Christ may be spiritually fruitful or the reverse according as they are vitally and spiritually connected with Christ, or but externally and mechanically attached to Him.” It is obvious, then, that “abiding” in Christ is an essential condition of fruit bearing, and also has a vital relation to effectual prayer.
In the seventh verse of this same 15th chapter of John, we have a definite link with our problem of praying in the name of Jesus. It is another great prayer promise with a condition clearly parallel to the condition of praying in His name. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” The condition here is twofold in character. First, it involves abiding in Christ. This connotes our drawing our strength and nourishment from Him, living in organic union with Him, and bringing forth fruit accordingly. The second condition in this prayer promise is if “my words abide in you.” It should be noted that there is a change here from the previous statement in verse four, “Abide in me, and I in you.” The fact that Christ is in us can hardly be said to be conditional. The change from the indwelling of Christ in the believer to having His words abiding in the believer was a preparation for the promise of answered prayer. It is necessary not only that we draw our strength and nourishment from Christ, but also that His words purge the vine and cleanse it (verses two and three). It is only as Christ’s words and the words of the Scripture abide in us that we are able to pray according to the purpose of God, and according to our purpose, if we are Spirit-filled. The promise that “if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” clearly is parallel to asking “in my name.” Each interprets the other. To pray in the name of Jesus involves as an essential characteristic, then, not only the filling of the Spirit, but what that filling involves: our abiding in the vine of Christ Jesus, and His word abiding in us.
C. Conclusion: Praying in His Name in Relation to God’s Program.
It is the clear testimony of the Scriptures that God is carrying out an eternally planned and decreed program. Every element is foreordained and foreknown. The salvation of every Christian is predestinated and a part of God’s plan from the beginning. How then can prayer be said to really change things? What is the solution of the problem of the relation of effectual prayer and God’s eternal decree which cannot be changed? The solution lies simply and clearly in “praying in His name.” It is difficult at best to correlate man’s will and God’s eternal purpose. It is difficult to comprehend that God’s plan is unchangeable and yet that man is a free agent. It is not so much that it is contrary to reason as that it is above reason. It is in a realm for which man has little capacity. It is outside our realm. But, clearly, praying in His name solves the problem, insofar as we can solve it. Just how is the problem solved?
It is evident from previous material that praying in the name of Jesus involves first of all the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as He fills the Christian not only teaches and guides, but prays through the believer what has been in the eternal counsels of God from the beginning. In this condition of being filled with the Spirit, in which all the fullness of abiding is realized, the Christian literally prays just as Christ would pray. Insofar as this end is realized the Christian prays in the name of Jesus. He stands not only in his position as a child of God, but he stands in a condition where he is a free channel for the Holy Spirit to speak through him the prayer which God wants him to pray. This praying is a marvelous reality. The free agency of man is in no wise taken away, but the will is definitely given over to the will of God. It is an entering into not only the position of partnership, but the condition of partnership. We become literally, fully, God’s partners in His work on earth. This, then, is what Christ meant when he spoke of praying “in my name.” The wonder of this privilege of praying in the name of Jesus is something beyond human expression. It speaks eloquently of God’s love, of His provision for our Christian lives, of the opportunity in prayer which we all have. It brings us face to face with the unrealized possibilities in praying in the name of Jesus. There is no privilege which is more blessed or speaks more of the grace of God. The secret of an abundant, fruitful life lies in prayer; the secret of prayer lies in praying in the name of Jesus. Enough could never be written on this theme, nor could it be adequately treated. Praying in the Name of Jesus is infinite in its possibilities, infinite in its privileges; it is at the center of God’s gracious provision for our lives on earth.
Prayer, then, can be said to be a pivotal theme of the Scriptures. God has a definite plan for prayer as revealed in the Scriptures. Prayer is an essential part of God’s program. Prayer rests both on a Christian’s position, and his condition. As to his position, God has wrought completely for every Christian all that enters into his position, and thus opens to every Christian equal opportunity in prayer. As to his condition, the Christian is hindered in prayer by his inherited sin, by his acts of sin, and by the person and work of Satan. Restoration into fellowship with God lost through sin is complete for the Christian by simple confession of sin. Prayer in the name of Jesus is the key to overcoming the hindrances to prayer. This is found first in the character of the “name,” in that it rests on the work of Christ as Savior. This involves all that Christ did and is doing. Prayer in the name of Jesus is characterized and conditioned by our abiding in Him and our being filled with the Holy Spirit. In relation to God’s eternal decree, predestination, and all that enters into the immutability of God, prayer in the name of Jesus solves the whole problem in that such prayer is just as Jesus would have prayed it. Prayer in the name of Jesus is therefore the means for accomplishing on the part of the Christian and on the part of God what would not otherwise have been accomplished. It is the highest work of every Christian; it enters into the loftiest privilege; it is the key to every spiritual treasure.