Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
The Lord’s prayer of John 17:20-23 anticipated the inauguration of the new dispensation and the beginning of the church by the preaching of the apostles on Pentecost:
Neither pray I for these (apostles) alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me…that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
It is plain that the prayer of the Lord for unity had reference first to the oneness of the apostles in the unity of their apostolic teaching; and second, to the unity of all who believed the word preached by them. This prayer anticipated the establishment of the church by the preaching of the apostles, and it was answered when the believers were made one in the church (verse 20)—through their word.
The usual prayer that is heard today calls upon God to answer the prayer of His Son for the unity of all believers—as though God had ignored this prayer from then until now. The prayer of Jesus for the unity of the believers through the word of the apostles was answered when the church was established.