Jesus Explains Why “Seekers” Reject Him: Exegesis of John 6:1-71 (Part 2)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

Why does this crowd “see” Jesus but yet they don’t believe in him? It is because all that the Father gives the Son will come to, or believe in, the Son. Notice the order of the events in this first part of the verse. Notice that the “giving” of the Father precedes the “coming” to the Son. If someone comes to the Son (which means believe in) it is because the Father has given them. Conversely, if someone is not coming to or believing in the Son, it is because they are not being given to the Son by the Father. This is Jesus’ point about the crowd. He is explaining to them that the reason they have seen all of his miracles and yet still do not possess true faith is because they have not been given to him by the Father. If the Father gave them to the Son, then they would, by consequence of that giving, have true faith. Many Christians in our day would reverse the order of this. They would tend to say, “If you come to the Son in faith, then the Father will give you to the Son”. But this is to reverse the order of the plain words of Jesus as he says the giving of the Father precedes the coming to the Son. As Jesus develops this point, it will become clear that this divine action called the “giving” of the Father is what enables a person to come to the Son in true faith.

The second half of this verse also teaches a powerful truth. It teaches that once a person comes to the Son, they will never be cast out by the Son. Jesus will never cast out the person who comes to him in true faith, because those who come to him in true faith have been given to him by the Father. Notice the certainty of Jesus’ words here. They will never be cast out. In the Greek language it is a double negative, and it literally reads, “I will not not cast them out”. In the Greek this double negative makes the certainty of this never happening even stronger. How do people who teach a true believer can fully and finally lose their salvation deal with a verse like this which appears to teach the certainty that a true believer will never be an outcast? They usually use an argument from silence, and say, “Well is doesn’t say you can’t cast yourself out. It just says the Son will never cast you out”. But this type of argument is in error. An argument from silence can be used to infer any meaning behind the plain meaning of any text. We are not interested in the what the text doesn’t say, we are interested in what the text does say. (2) Jesus continues to explain why he can speak with such certainty.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:38-39)

Here Jesus gives further explanation why it is that those who come to Him will never be cast out. Jesus has come down from heaven to do the Father’s will. He has descended from His glory in heaven as the second person of the glorious Trinity, and become incarnate of the virgin Mary in order to accomplish the will of the Father. Don’t miss this point! Jesus did not come down from heaven merely to make salvation a possibility. He did not come down from heaven to give every person an equal chance to come to Him in true faith, but left the salvation of each person uncertain. Jesus is clear that he has come down from heaven in order to “do” the will of the Father. Can Christ perfectly accomplish the Father’s will or not? If someone claims that the Father can desire the salvation of a sinner but the Son is unable to accomplish it, then this verse makes no sense. Christ will accomplish the Father’s will!

What is this will of the Father that the Son has been sent to accomplish? It is clear that this will is that of all the Father has given to him, he will lose none of it but raise it up. Jesus is referring here to a distinct group which he calls “all that He has given me”. The Father sends the Son in order to give to Him a group of people that will be raised to eternal life on the last day. Once again, is the Son given the task of making the resurrection of this group possible or potential, or was he sent to actually accomplish this work? Does Jesus express uncertainty in the accomplishment of this goal that those being given to him by the Father will be raised on the last day? No. There are so many who teach that Jesus came to merely make salvation possible for all, but he didn’t come to actually accomplish and secure the salvation of anyone in particular. For them, the accomplishment of Salvation itself is ultimately attained by each individual cooperating with the grace of God through their free-will choice to accept Jesus. But how does this view can take into account this strong language of John chapter 6 where Jesus expresses his absolute certainty of their salvation? The point is that it can’t.

Once again, the reason that Jesus can speak with such certainty about this group is because they are given to Him by the Father. He has come down from heaven to accomplish the Sovereign will of God the Father in the Salvation of a particular people. Can the stubborn and blind hearts of this crowd stop God from accomplishing His will? No! “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Jesus is walking with this confidence, that despite the fact that this crowd of people are not coming to him in true faith, all the Father gives him will come to him and they will certainly come because the Father is Sovereign and His will is going to be accomplished. And once they come in true faith they will also certainly be raised at the last day.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

He continues to explain what the will of the Father is by explaining the salvation process from the standpoint of what the individual must do to have eternal life. The individual must look on the Son and believe in him. Faith in Jesus Christ is required for one to be saved. Many non-reformed folks claim that reformed theology denies the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. They will say, “Those Calvinists teach that you don’t have to do anything to be saved. They teach that you don’t even have to believe. God does it all, and you don’t have to do anything”. This is a misrepresentation of what reformed theology teaches. We agree with the words of Jesus Christ in this verse that one must look to the Son and believe in him. However, we are trying to take the whole context into account. Jesus has been clear that this crowd has “seen” many signs that he has done and yet they don’t believe in him. He has further explained that only those who are given to the Son by the Father are the ones who believe in the Son. The point is that many people will pluck this verse out of the context of John 6 and say, “See, you have to believe in Jesus to have eternal life”!

While this is a true statement, it does not capture the issue being presented in John 6; there is a huge crowd who is not believing in Him, and Jesus is explaining why they are not. Usually the one who makes this statement is really saying, “See, every person has the ability to believe in the Son of God if they choose to. Jesus is saying that anyone can believe in him”. But this is to miss the point of this entire section of John 6, which is teaching why it is that “Jesus seekers” are not believing in Him. Let’s look at the response of the crowd to the words of Jesus.

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42)

Just as the people of Israel grumbled in the wilderness to Moses, so also this crowd grumbles at the teachings of Christ. The specific issue they choose to grumble about is that Jesus claimed to come down from heaven. They reason that this cannot be true because they know his physical father and mother. How can someone claim to come down directly from heaven who was born in the natural way? They seem to be assuming that for someone to come down from heaven, they would have to descend as an angel from the sky as a fully grown adult. But instead they have this man who they knew grew up in Nazareth in an ordinary way. There is nothing spectacular about his coming into this world (as far as they can tell). They are stumbling at the doctrine of the virgin birth, and the Incarnation of Christ, like so many still do today. The people of Israel were not very impressed by the sight and taste of the Manna in the wilderness, and they complained and grumbled about it. In the same way, this crowd doesn’t seem to be overly impressed by Jesus Christ. They do not have eyes that see his glory, ears that delight in his teaching, or an appetite that delights in His work of salvation. Instead, even after they have seen the miracle of the healing of the paralytic, the feeding of 5000 and that Jesus somehow went across the sea without a boat, they still grumble and complain against His teachings.

Remember, the question this text answers is the question of why this crowd continues to grumble, complain and eventually walks away from Jesus. Is it because God has given them all the ability to believe in Jesus, but they are refusing to make use of this free choice they have to believe in Jesus? Does this text really teach that God is deeply desiring the Salvation of this entire crowd, but he cannot accomplish their salvation because he must cooperate with their libertarian free-will? Is this text teaching that the Father has given this entire crowd to the Son, but the Son is unable to accomplish His Father’s will because of the stubborn grumbling of the crowd? Does this text teach that God has given every individual in this crowd enough grace to exercise faith if they desire to, but they simply refuse to do so? Let’s see what Jesus’ response is to their grumbling.

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:43-44)

Jesus tells the people to stop grumbling. Why should the people not grumble and complain about His words? Because no one can believe in Him unless they are drawn by the Father. In other words he is saying, “Don’t be surprised if what I say sounds like nonsense to you. My words will continue to make no sense to you unless the Father draws you to me by his power”. Jesus repeats the phrase of verses 38-39 “who sent me” to connect us back to those verses. How does the Father accomplish the work of giving a particular people to the Son? He does this by drawing them to the Son. The Father has a group of people whom He has sent the Son from heaven to save. And the Father accomplishes the salvation of this group by drawing them to the Son by a supernatural work of grace. The hidden person in all of this is the Holy Spirit, who we will learn later in the Gospel of John is the one opening the hearts and drawing those given by the Father to the Son.

Before we dive into some significant issues surrounding this verse, let’s not forget the overall context of John 6, especially the miracle that Jesus performed at the beginning of this chapter. Jesus drew the crowd to himself because of the signs that he performed on the sick (v. 2). The crowd became hungry and Jesus provided enough bread to feed all of them. Don’t forget the comment made about the crowd eating where it said they ate “as much as they wanted”(vs. 11). The crowd had a physical craving and desire for the bread and fish, so they ate until they were full. But now, Jesus is talking about a spiritual eating of the bread from heaven, and the people do not have a hunger for this bread. Instead they grumble about Jesus’ words and do not desire Him. This would be the same as if when Jesus offered them the physical bread on the other side of the sea, they grumbled against the bread and refused to eat it because they did not have an appetite for it. They have no appetite for Jesus Christ because they have not been given this desire by the Father. Jesus Himself in the bread of Life and whoever believes in him, or feeds upon the bread, will have eternal life. But as with any eating, physical or spiritual, one must have a hunger and desire for the food that it provided, which this crowd clearly does not have for Jesus.

Many reformed apologists make the point that the Greek word translated “draw” can mean “drag” in certain contexts, therefore we need to recognize the powerful and effective nature of this drawing to the Son that Jesus speaks about in this verse. It is certainly true that in the Gospel of John, the same Greek word used here (eλκω-helko) is used elsewhere in John and the New Testament to clearly refer to something being dragged. For example, “So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.” (John 21:11) In this verse, the word translated “hauled” is the same Greek word translated “draw” in John 6:44. Clearly Peter is doing more than just gently coercing the net to come ashore. He is dragging the net onto the shore because it is so full of fish. See also Acts 16:19, 21:30 and James 2:6 for three other examples of this Greek word having the clear sense of the idea of dragging something by force. (3)

I agree with the overall case that can be made that this word “draw” in 6:44 should be seen in the light of the clear usage of this word elsewhere in the New Testament, and should be seen as more than a mere wooing or gentle persuasion. However, I think we open up the possibility of non-reformed Christians misunderstanding us if all we say is “This word means ‘drag’ in other contexts, therefore the Father drags to the Son those whom he gives to Him”. This is where some non-reformed like George Bryson and Dave Hunt will call the Reformed God a “divine rapist”, because he forces himself on people against their will. Now maybe you have heard some overzealous young reformer (I used to say it) say that God drags people to Christ against their will based on this verse and their understanding of the word “draw”. We should continue make clear that this supernatural, powerful and effective drawing will certainly accomplish the purpose of the Father to give those He desires to the Son. But look at how John Calvin himself explains the “drawing” of John 6:44: “Indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.” (4) Calvin is careful to make the point that this drawing is not violent or some external compulsion, but it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Note the word translated here “can”, which is the Greek word δύναται-dunatai, which means to have the ability to do something. This should connect us back to John 3:1-21 where this word is used six times, and Jesus teaches that we do not have the ability to “see” or “enter” the kingdom of God unless we are born again. Here Jesus teaches the same truth, that no one has the ability to believe in Jesus Christ unless they are first drawn by the Father. Why is the crowd grumbling against the words of Jesus and not accepting them, just like Nicodemus in John 3 was baffled by Jesus teaching about the new birth? Because they are not being drawn by the Father to the Son, and therefore do not have the ability to come to the Son in true faith.

At this point, the non-reformed person will make this objection, “According to John 12:32, Jesus says he will draw all people to himself. Therefore we can’t limit this drawing in 6:44 to only a certain group of people, but it applies to all people without exception”. The non-reformed have a real problem with the idea that the Father would only draw a certain group of people to the Son and not draw others. They view this idea as making God somehow unfair, unjust, and arbitrary. “How can God only draw some people?” They will ask in shock and amazement. They seem to have the idea that just as in the United States of America we have “equal opportunity employers”, God has to be an “equal opportunity draw-er and savior”.

The first and most basic response to this objection is to note that jumping six chapters ahead, plucking out a verse, and then reading it back into the context of John 6:44 is poor exegetical method. We should fully deal with John 6:44 in its own context and on its own terms before we bring in other texts from other contexts to help us interpret it. John 12:32 has its own specific context and situation that brings about the statement Jesus makes about drawing all men to himself. However, the term draw in 12:32 ends up having the same meaning as here in John 6:44, but it is the term “all men” that needs to be carefully considered.

For sake of argument, let us agree with the non-reformed objector who would claim that the Father draws all people without exception to the Son, and not a definite group. Okay. But what about the second half of verse 44? It says, “And I will raise him up on the last day”. Who is the “him” referred to in this text? It is the same “him” referred to in the first half of verse 44: the one who is “drawn”. The full verse reads, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Do you see that connection? This is one sentence in the Greek, and it is clear that the “him” who is drawn by the Father to the Son is the same “him” who is raised up on the last day by the Son. Do you see the problem then that arises for the non-reformed who insists that the Father draws all without exception to the Son? The problem is that if they are consistent, by asserting that all without exception are drawn, they would also have to assert that all without exception are raised up on the last day. In other words, if the Father is drawing everyone, then he must also raise everyone. I have never heard a non-reformed proponent respond to this point in a convincing way. There is no reason at all to make a distinction between the one who is drawn and the one who is raised. Both occurrences of the word “him” are in the singular and they both refer to the same individual. The person who is drawn by the Father, is the same person who is also going to be raised by the Son.

This is one of the most powerful verses and one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible where Jesus teaches the truth that only those who the Father “gives” to the Son will be saved. This is why this chapter is either misinterpreted or ignored by those who deny that God has a chosen a particular people whom he will certainly and without fail bring to salvation. When you begin to look further into this issue and the interpretation of John chapter 6, notice that it is usually the non-reformed position that will be unable to walk verse by verse through this chapter without appealing to other verses outside of the context and will have to chop the chapter up into bits in order to deal with it. It is only those in the reformed camp that will be able to walk through this text verse by verse and show how it is consistent with itself.

So where were we in our exegesis of this chapter? In verses 36-40, Jesus had just told the crowd that they had seen his miracles but still do not have faith because only those who are given to the Son by the Father will have faith. Those who believe in Jesus will never hunger or thirst, and Jesus promised that those who believe in the Son will have eternal life. He is the bread which has come down from heaven and if anyone will eat of that bread they will have eternal life. The crowd grumbles because Jesus says he has come down from heaven and Jesus responds by asserting that only those who are drawn by the Father will be able to have true faith in Jesus Christ and be raised by the Son on the last day. Now Jesus continues his teaching.

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me– (John 6:45)

Jesus further explains what he means when he says that only those who are drawn by the Father have the ability to come to him. He quotes from Isaiah 54:13 where the ESV says, “All your children shall be taught by the LORD”. Notice that the term “all” has a limitation placed upon it. It is not all without exception who will be taught by the LORD, but it is all of the children. In this same way it is not all without exception who will be drawn by the Father, but all who are given to the Son. There is also an amazing connection between the context of this quotation from Isaiah and the full teaching of Jesus in John 6. The larger context of this quotation from Isaiah is the great chapter 55, which reads,

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:1-11)

Obviously space prevents us from walking verse by verse through this magnificent text from the prophet Isaiah. However, I would like to point out some striking connections between this text and our text from John chapter 6. I think that Jesus himself is inviting us to find these connections by quoting from this Isaiah text in his teaching here.

First, notice that the text starts by inviting the thirsty and hungry to “come” to the waters to quench their thirst and “come” to eat food to satisfy their hunger. This is what Jesus said in 6:35 when he said if one “comes” to him they will never “hunger” and if one believes in him they will never “thirst”. Notice also the idea of “buying” wine, milk and food without price. Do you remember what Jesus said to Phillip all the way back in verse 5? He asked him, “where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Notice also where the Isaiah text speaks of “laboring for that which does not satisfy”. This is similar to Jesus’ statement in 6:27 where Jesus tells the crowd to not “labor for the food that perishes”. The reference to the steadfast love for David is reference to the Messiah, because it says that He will make David a witness, leader and commander of the peoples. This may link into what Jesus says in verse 27 when he says God the Father has “set his seal” upon him.

Verse 5 in this Isaiah text may even point to John 12:32 and shed some light on it. It says that when the nation of Israel is glorified by the Lord, this will result in nations being called and running to them. Jesus takes upon himself this task and when he is lifted up or glorified on the cross, the Gentile nations come into covenant. The command to seek and call upon the Lord, forsake evil, and return to the Lord is similar to Jesus’ command to come to him and feed upon the bread of life. Jesus is telling the people to come to Him and if they feed on him their souls will live. And in the Isaiah text, the reason we are given that we should come is that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our way or thoughts. This could be a connection between the crowd in John 6 as they are not understanding the words of Jesus because they are not connecting with their normal way of thinking, especially when Jesus says that he has “come down from heaven”.

Finally, and most importantly, the statement that rain and snow “come down from heaven” and provide water to the earth, may link us to Jesus’ statement that he came down from heaven to accomplish the Father’s will. In the Isaiah text, there is an absolute certainty expressed that God’s word will certainly accomplish purpose for which he sent it. Just as the rain he sends provides bread for the eater and seed for the sower, so also God’s word will accomplish the purpose he sent it for. In the same way, Jesus expressed absolute certainty that he will accomplish the will of the Father by raising up on the last day those who are given and drawn to him by the Father. This connection with Isaiah is admittedly speculative, but I thought it was worth pointing out briefly

Stay Tuned for Part 3

End Notes:

2 They use this same type of argument for John 10:28-29 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” They will say, “It doesn’t say that you can’t jump out of the Father and Son’s hands, only that you can’t be snatched out”. Once again, what does the text actually say? That removal from the Father’s hand is impossible, no matter if you get snatched out, jump out, fall out, or roll out!

3 This Greek word occurs a grand total of 8 times in the entire New Testament. In six of the occurrences, John 18:10, 21:6, 21:11, Acts 16:19, 21:30 and James 2:6, it is clear that the idea of dragging is in view. The two debated verses as to what the precise meaning of the word “draw” are John 6:44 and 12:32.

4 Calvin, John. Commentary on The Gospel of John. Baker, 2003. p. 25

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