John 17:9—Did Jesus ever pray for unbelievers?

Problem: Jesus said here, “I pray for them [the disciples]. I do not pray for the world.” But elsewhere Jesus prayed for unbelievers, even those who crucified Him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Solution: In His high priestly prayer, Jesus was focusing on His disciples, not on the world. This does not mean that we should never pray for the world. Indeed, Jesus died for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:1–2; Rom. 5:6–8). He prayed that the Father would forgive those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). He also asked His disciples to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). Jesus’ followers urged “prayers ... for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). And, the Apostle Paul prayed passionately for his unsaved kinsmen (Rom. 10:1).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.