Jesus is here focusing on his own disciples – apart from Judas. He is commissioning the apostles who will be the light of the world. God loves his saints particularly of course, and he loves all who call on his name. Let’s check the context. Eternal life will be given to as many as has been given to Jesus, and who might those be? The eleven disciples evidently passed the conditions. We know from Hebr. 5:9 who those are who will get eternal life:
Hebr. 5:9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that OBEY HIM
Loving and obeying Jesus are thus the key issues for getting eternal salvation. By reading the rest of the chapter in John 17 we can see the same conditions:
- We must KNOW the only true God
- We must KEEP THE WORD
- We must RECEIVE the word
- We must BELIEVE that the Father has sent the son to the world
2As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.3And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.—6I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and THEY HAVE KEPT THY WORD.—8For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and THEY HAVE RECEIVED THEM, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and THEY HAVE BELIEVED that thou didst send me.
The rest of the chapter shows quite clearly that Jesus is mainly talking about his disciples, and he devoted some time to pray about them to give them strength:
11And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. —15I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
That Jesus prayed also for the strength of others is also quite clear from the Bible. Jesus also prayed for those which shall believe on him through their (the disciples) word. Jesus has prayed also for strangers and unbelievers (like when he prayed for those who had crucified him) but John 17:9 concerns Jesus focus on his disciples and their task to spread the good news to the world. Those who will be getting eternal life are those who choose to believe and keep his word.
20NEITHER PRAY I FOR THESE ALONE, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21That 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.
One of many prophesies in the OT about Jesus is that the Messiah would be praying (make intercession) for his transgressors:
Jesaja 53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Luke 23:33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
If we are to believe that Jesus never prayed for anyone else than a certain lucky crowd (the elect) should we take his example and act in the same manner towards others? If someone openly rejects God and lives in sin then he could hardly be an elect, so does this mean we should not pray for him?