When Jesus went to the cross he went to hang in the place ofand instead ofelect sinners. He did not die for the human race-in-general. He had definitemen and women, and boys and girls he was substituting himselffor. When Jesus went to the cross he died for those he had been praying for in his “High Priestly” prayer (John 17).
John 17 contains the wonderful prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ in which he bears his soul to the Father shortly before his death on the cross for elect sinners-soon-to-be-saints. In this prayer Jesus is asking that his manifest glory, which he had from before the world was created, would be his again. He desires to transition from an estate of humiliation to one of exaltation. He is not there yet. He has yet to experience the excruciating death of the cross-what has come to be called the atonement. He has yet to experience his resurrection and his ascension. The work of redemption is not quite finished.
In the shadow of the cross he prays not only for himself, he prays for his disciples and for all those who come to faith in him through their word. That would include present day believers like you and me. In that incredible prayerful conversation between the Father and the Son, Jesus utters these memorable words:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. 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 (John 17:6-10 ESV).
Note well the italicized words. Jesus makes a clear distinction between those who belong to the world and those who belong to the Father which the Father has in turn given to his Son. Of course these words apply to the disciples who will soon become apostles. It would apply to those who come to the faith through their teaching. It applies to us who believe at this day.
Jesus says to the Father that he is not praying for the world. Jesus ought not to be understood to be saying something that undermines worldwide evangelism and discipleship. Not at all. After all, Jesus will send his apostles out at the end of Matthew 28 and he does so again in the beginning of Acts.
What we have here is Jesus’ awareness that the Father has given him his disciples and those who would come to faith in Christ after them. Jesus had something similar back in John 10 when he called himself the “Good Shepherd.”