John’s Gospel: 6:36-40 (“All that the Father gives me.”)

(John 6:36-37 ESV)  36 “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Despite the miracles and Jesus’ teaching, the crowd refuses to believe. In contrast to their uncertain, vacillating attitudes, Jesus says that God’s promises are firm.

This passage is often cited as part of the endless debates over once saved, always saved or Perseverance of the Saints. Is Jesus saying that those who come to faith will never fall away?

There are two thoughts here. First, Jesus says he will not “cast out” those given to him by the Father. “Cast out” is a common verb in the Septuagint, and is usually used of driving the pagan nations out of Palestine. It speaks of forcing someone to leave against his will.

However, there is nothing here that promises no consequences for rebellion against God. If we choose to leave God’s salvation, it’ll be our doing, not God’s and not anyone else’s.

But there’s also this idea of those whom God “gives” to Jesus. Is this the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election?

(John 6:38-39 ESV)  38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  39 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.

It’s God’s will that everyone given to Jesus should not perish. The thought is much the same as —

(John 3:16 ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

God’s goal is that all who come to faith make it to the end. Perseverance is clearly God’s intention and desire. But does that mean all who believe will necessarily make it?

Well, just a few verses before, this same crowd had proclaimed Jesus to be the Prophet — meaning the Messiah. That’s faith. But the next morning, they demanded a sign. Their faith was too weak to matter. Indeed, Jesus seems to say that these followers had not yet been given to him by God.

We need to remember the historical context here. Jesus had been sent by God to their own people, the Jews. We now see that despite powerful miracles — comparable to the manna given by God at the Exodus — the crowds refused to believe. They just wanted the free food.

Jesus speaks of those people whom God will give him. He is alluding to the same series of prophecies that Paul references in Rom 9 – 11, the Election series from several months ago. We want to think in terms of Reformation-era debates, but Jesus (and Paul) speak in terms of the Old Testament.

Recall such passages as Rom 9:27-28, quoting Isa 10:22 —

(Rom 9:27-28 ESV)  27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,  28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”

Not all Jews will believe and so not all Jews will be given by God to Jesus, but a remnant — a minority — will believe and so God will honor his covenant through this remnant.

God promised Abraham to create a great nation through him and to save them by faith. The covenant is forever, and God will never break it. However, there were many times when only a small number — a remnant — remained true to the covenant.

The Exodus began with the entire nation of Israel crossing the Red Sea. Only two — Joshua and Caleb — made it to the Promised Land. A remnant.

When Elijah battled Jezebel and the prophets of Baal, only 7,000 Jews remained loyal to God, despite the incredibly powerful miracles performed by Elijah.

(Rom 11:2-5 ESV) 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”  4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

When God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Jerusalem, many Jews lost their Judaism, and only a handful returned to Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah.

Paul and Jesus credit God with honoring his promises by making certain that a remnant survives. Their point isn’t that God elected most to damnation and elected but a few to salvation. Rather, their point is that, despite the prevalent faithlessness of his people, God did not dishonor his covenant and, by grace, he acted so that at least a remnant would remain saved.

Did he do this by taking away free will? Or by sending Jesus? Did he force the outcome despite the desires of the remnant? Or did he move in history to make certain the gospel was taught in a way that at least a remnant would believe?

It’s simply not necessary that we invite Calvin to the conversation to understand what’s going on. Rather, by knowing the Prophets and Paul, we can see Jesus speaking very much as we’d expect the Son of God to speak at a time when most of his people were rejecting him despite his repetition of the miracle of manna from heaven.

He knows most of the Jews will be a stubborn people, unwilling to come to faith because they prefer a different kind of Messiah — one who provides breakfast as well as supper, all the while killing Romans with a glance. They don’t understand God and so don’t understand Jesus.

But Jesus is confident that God will give him believers so that God’s plan of redemption will indeed become a reality. He will preserve a remnant — a remnant that will be saved by faith.

(John 6:38-39 ESV) 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  39 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.

“I have come down from heaven” is a plain claim to be part of the Godhead. Jesus is explicit that he came from the very presence of God.

Jesus says that he came for a purpose — not to give free food — but to resurrect those whom God gives him, that is, to give eternal life to those who believe.

Even though thousands upon thousands of Jews (the “chosen”; the “elect”) are rejecting Jesus and so sealing their damnation, God’s will is to bring resurrection. Things look awfully gloomy, but God is going to make it right.

(John 6:40 ESV) 40 “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.”

“Looks on” is a bit unexpected. Maybe it’s the same thought as —

(John 12:45 ESV) 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

To see Jesus with faith is to see God.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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