But there’s more to it. You see, Jesus wasn’t trying to prove or disprove Calvin. He was speaking about something else entirely. To see it, we next return to —
(John 12:32) “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
— the drawing is for all men.
This sounds like a universalist passage to many — and indeed, read literally, if “draw” means save — it sure sounds universal. But, again, Jesus wasn’t speaking to Reformation topics. He was addressing God’s redemptive mission. The point is that God will no longer only draw Israel, as in the Exodus, but he will draw all nations, in fulfillment of his covenant with Abraham.
Read 12:32 in context —
(John 12:31-32) “Now is the time for judgment on this world (=kosmos); now the prince of this world (=kosmos) will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth (=ge), will draw all men to myself.”
The topic is “the world” or kosmos, in the Greek. In v. 32, the Greek is “will draw all to myself.” There’s no “men.” It’s added by the translators, as is made clear in the KJV with italics.
Normally, in Greek when a word is missing, the reader is fill in the blank from the context. Think of the blank as like a pronoun. What is the antecedent for the blank?
If you fill in the missing noun from the context, you insert “world.” God will draw the entire world to himself — there will be judgment, the devil will be driven out, and the world will be drawn to Jesus. (The NKJV agrees, replacing the NIV’s “men” with “peoples.”)
You see, it’s no more true that the entire world will be condemned in v. 31 than that the entire world will be saved in v. 32. Rather, Jesus’ point is that God’s judgment and salvation are being announced — by his death and resurrection — to the entire world. This will show the loving-kindness of God to the world, and draw the world — but not all the world will come.
When he says all it must be referring to the children of God, who are of His flock. Yet I agree with Chrysostom, who says that Christ used the universal word because the Church was to be gathered from Gentiles and Jews alike.
And so Calvin agrees with my interpretation, except he believes only the elect will be drawn. The point of “all men” is to emphasize the transition to a covenant for the entire world.
Jesus shortly explains,
(John 12:46-48) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”
Jesus came to save “the world,” but some will reject him. The salvation of the entire world is his desire (as in 3:16), but he knows that most will reject him.
This is a theme that runs throughout John’s Gospel —
(John 1:29) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
(John 3:16-17) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
There are many more such verses. Jesus came to the world, drew the world to him through his crucifixion, took away the sins of the world, but was not recognized by most within the world — and so most will not be saved and will instead face judgment.
In the Exodus, God came to his elect, the children of Israel, and brought them out by the power of his love shown through his miracles and his protection. They followed him into the desert and received God’s law on Mt. Sinai — and most rebelled and never reached the Promised Land.
Jeremiah promises that God will do it again, but he will make a new covenant in which God himself will teach his laws to his people by writing them on their hearts and in their minds.
Jesus announces that he has come to bring a new Exodus — an Exodus where people are drawn by God’s loving-kindness through the power of the cross — the ultimate act of love, indeed, the ultimate Passover. He came to the very world he made to bring light and yet many preferred the darkness. God loved the world so much that he lifted him up as a sacrifice to draw all the world, but most rejected him.
But for those who accept him, God’s Spirit begins a work of repairing their brokeness and restoring them to God’s image. God writes his laws on our hearts and in our minds by his Spirit.
And Jesus himself will sustain us until we attain the resurrection at the end of time. We reach his sustenance by our faith, but Jesus is our sustenance. We feed on Jesus and he keeps us alive as we travel through the desert toward the Promised Land, where we’ll sing the Song of Moses with the rest of the redeemed.
Back to Calvinism
So, what does John 6:44 mean? Here’s what I think —
1. It’s always dangerous to read any verse in a book composed by John out of context. John writes using simple words in simple sentences, and then he circles back around and explains it or limits it or even re-defines it later. John writes expecting to be read in his entirety.
2. But if we study the flow of John’s thought and don’t try to impose 16th Century Reformation categories on him, he is plenty clear enough. If we’re worried about transubstantiation or TULIP too much, we’ll miss the point he’s making, and will likely misread him entirely.
3. This is especially true if we’ll think in terms of the back story. Jesus did not speak against a blank slate. He spoke to an audience steeped in the scriptures — the Old Testament — and he expected them to catch his references. He certainly expected John 6 to be read in light of the Exodus.
4. Is the drawing of the lost to Jesus irresistible? Well, it wasn’t in the first Exodus — and that was an everlasting, irrevocable promise. But it was irrevocably given to the nation of Israel, not to each Israelite. Nearly all of them died in the desert, but God preserved a remnant ready to fight the battles necessary to take the Promised Lan.
5. Of course, the new covenant is different, but we have to give the allusions to Israel and God’s first covenant their due weight.
6. Is the “drawing” irresistible? It seems unlikely, in that Jesus borrowed his terms from a passage (Jer 31:3) describing a very resistible drawing — a drawing by loving-kindness.
7. Is it by power of the Spirit? Well, the loving-kindness of God to Israel was accomplished by miraculous means. And Jesus certainly refers to the law being written on our hearts by God — through the Spirit.
So I’m not uncomfortable with the interpretation of Jacob Arminius — that God enables by the Spirit but the individual can reject by free will. On the other hand, in nearly every passage in both testaments where “draw” is used, it’s an irresistible force — or, more precisely, an effective force. I don’t “draw” a bow to shoot an arrow unless the string is actually pulled and the bow is actually bent.
And so, call it a draw.