And so, we come to John 6:44.
(John 6:44) “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Now, Jesus doesn’t suddenly change the subject from Exodus and his role as the bread of life to Calvinism. The verse may well speak to Calvinism, but if it does, it speaks from First Century Palestine in a discussion built on the original Exodus and how God is bringing a new Exodus for his people.
The “last day” is a reference to the resurrection, of course, but also a comparison of the Promised Land of the Exodus to the new heavens and new earth promised to the faithful in the Prophets.
The verb “draw,” which is helkuo in the Greek, introduces a new concept. It’s used only eight times in the New Testament, five of those being in John. The obvious parallel is —
(John 12:32) “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
The typical non-Calvinistic response is to point out that Jesus promises to draw “all men,” contradicting the doctrine of unconditional election. But he wasn’t addressing Calvinism. And he certainly wasn’t teaching universalism — although this is also a favorite universalist proof text, too, and at first blush fits that theory even better than Arminianism.
So before we start swapping proof texts, we need to also consider 6:44 a bit more carefully. These are the other occurences of helkuo in John —
(John 18:10) Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
(John 21:6) He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
(John 21:11) Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Obviously, the power of drawing comes from someone other than the person drawn. And it’s a much more potent verb than “influence” or “persuade.” But I wouldn’t concede that Jesus uses it to mean “irresistibly draw.” You see, the same word is found in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament predating Jesus and often quoted from in the New Testament) in several passages, most having nothing to do with the Exodus, but this one fits the context very well —
(Jer 31:3) The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
(Compare Hos 11:4). Jeremiah is referring to the Exodus, because God repeatedly assured Israel of his love in Deuteronomy: Deu 7:9; 10:15, etc. It seems likely that Jesus is alluding to this passage, where God draws his elect to him in loving-kindness — such as he would later do through Jesus.
In the Exodus, God miraculously destroyed the power of the Egyptians and asked the Israelites to go into the desert. He spared their firstborn, and they followed because of his loving-kindness. Jeremiah is referring most likely to the Song of Moses in Ex 15 —
(Exo 15:13) “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”
(Recall that the Song of Moses will be sung in heaven. Rev. 15:3.)
Now, in Jer 31, the prophet promises a new Exodus with a new covenant. He describes this new covenant this way —
(Jer 31:31-34) “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
This chapter refers back to Deuteronomy’s prophecies of a time when God himself will circumcise the hearts of his people (Deu 30:6) and looks forward to the new covenant inaugurated through the cross. Indeed, the passage I just quoted is the backbone of Heb 8 – 10. You see, it all fits together. We have Jesus alluding to Jer 31 which refers back to the Exodus — not the book, but the events of Exodus through Deuteronomy.
Is this what Jesus had in mind? Well, the verse following John 6:44 is —
(John 6:45) It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.
The drawing is unquestionably by the word of God, in fulfillment of —
(Isa 54:13) All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.
(Isa 2:3-4) Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Jesus’ words speak of the kingdom that was to shortly come and also of the new heavens and new earth. But the point the prophets and Jesus make is that, unlike in the Mosaic covenant, in the new covenant God himself will teach the people.
Now, under Moses God had written the Ten Commandments with his own finger. The Law of Moses came straight from God. And in Jesus’ day, the people were devoted to God’s word — routinely memorizing huge portions of it. This is why Jesus’ listeners likely understood his allusions to the Old Testament and today we completely miss them. They were more devoted students of the text than we are.
The difference, therefore, isn’t that Christians will be more devoted students than the First Century Jews. We aren’t. The difference is that God will do more than write the laws for his people to read and study. He’ll “put [his] law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Plainly, he is speaking of the work of the Spirit inaugurated through Jesus.
The rest of John 6
In the next several verses, Jesus speaks of the necessity of faith in him and speaks of the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It’s his flesh and blood that will sustain us in the desert as we journey to the Promised Land. Jesus himself is our manna and the rock from which God gives water to the thirsty. And it’s not that Jesus gives manna — he is manna. He is the food that sustains us.
We covered these verses recently, so I’ll not cover them in depth. But I need to add an important point. Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is a metaphor for having faith in Jesus. I think he makes that plain. But it’s more. You see, it’s not our faith that sustains us. It’s Jesus.
The Modernist approach to faith is to find power in faith. There is no power in faith — there is power in whom we believe. Jesus feeds us, not our faith. We are saved through faith, only because our faith puts us in the relationship with God and Jesus that allows Jesus to sustain us.
We all have a tendency to focus on what we do, and we like to imagine that our job is to believe, but that’s not what feeds us. We don’t believe ourselves into heaven. Rather, Jesus saves us and redeems us and carries us through to the end of time. Jesus resurrects us. It’s “through” faith, not by the power of faith.