(This post is part of a series on John chapter 6. To read the first post in the series click here.)
John 6:37, 44 and 65
All that the Father gives me will come to me…
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
How Did God Give People to Christ?
We have discussed the context of Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish authorities and the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in the Gospel of John. Now all that is left is to finish un-wrapping the other two so-called “Calvinist verses” in John chapter 6.
We have seen that the Father was placing his faithful followers under the Lordship of Messiah. And since they are obedient to the Father, Christ is able to confidently say, “They will come to me.” When we consult the context of John 6:37 we discover that there is not the slightest hint of Calvinism found in it. Reformed theology has read its doctrines into the verse and then tried to validate its error by appealing to it.
Now we need to turn our attention to John 6:44 and 65. We started off by asking who God gave to Christ, now we must ask how he gave them. These two verses are closely related to John 6:37. John 6:37 tells us that the Father is giving his followers to the Son. John 6:44 tells us how he gives them, namely by “drawing” them to Jesus. And John 6:65 reiterates John 6:44 using different words.
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
John the Baptist had been sent by God to prepare Israel for the coming of Christ. Since he was a representative for God, those that were willing to receive God’s word came flocking to him. God validated John’s ministry by confirming in people’s hearts the words that he was speaking. It was not just a natural effort by a great speaker that brought the crowds to be baptized in the Jordan River; instead it was accomplished by divine influence. God drew people to John. The religious leaders who weren’t listening to God had to ask John, “Who are you?” But the multitudes didn’t need to ask, they knew he was a messenger from God.
In John 3:22-36 we read that after Christ came on the scene many began to leave John and follow him. This made John’s disciples nervous and they asked John why this was happening. John responded by saying that he was just sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. He wasn’t nervous as if his ministry was somehow failing. He understood that God had “given” him influence for a season, but was now “giving” that influence to Christ (John 3:27). In fact, John was part of the reason people were following Christ. He testified along with God that this was the Son of God.
It is here that we come to understand in what sense the Father was “giving” people to Christ. God had influence over the hearts of those people who were loyal to him, those who belonged to him. During Jesus’ earthly ministry God used his influence over their hearts to lead people to Christ. Jesus was testifying about things he had learned from his Father, and the people that accepted his testimony were acknowledging that “God is true” (John 3:33). They received God’s Spirit-inspired words spoken through Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:34, 14:10).
If we read John 6:44 and are uncertain about what “draws” refers to, we need only to keep reading.
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…
Jesus says that God was teaching people to come to the Son. How did he teach them? He did it in various ways. Firstly by sending John the Baptist to testify to Israel that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:29-34). Jesus also declared that the Scriptures themselves bore witness that he was indeed the One Israel had been waiting for (John 5:37-47). The miracles of Jesus were another way God testified to the identity of Jesus (John 5:36, 6:26, and 14:11). And Jesus’ words themselves, spoken by the Spirit of God, were evidence that Jesus was the Christ (John 6:63, 7:16-17, 10:3 and 14:10). It was as if God put an arrow in the sky that pointed to Jesus wherever he went. All those that were paying attention to God, those who were listening with willing and obedient hearts, would follow God’s leading to Christ.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
The drawing and teaching of John 6:44-45 is spiritual revelation, not natural understanding. In John 6 we read that multitudes “came” to Jesus. But they came for carnal reasons, not as a result of following the spiritual testimony of the Father. They were not listening to the Father, but were following their appetite for free food and a king that could provide for their physical needs. Jesus told them that they should follow him because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through him. This was the “seal” of the Father. They go on to ask for a sign from God so they could believe in him. This was proof that they were not followers of the Father. If they were following God they would have recognized there was ample evidence to believe in Jesus. But as children of the devil like the Pharisees, they were focused on their own desires (John 8:43-44). They couldn’t understand the spiritual meaning of Christ’s words because they were focused on worldly things instead of pleasing the Father in heaven.
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 14-15
And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God…. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself judged by no one.
Peter didn’t come to Jesus because of a desire for food or any other worldly motivation. He was a man who had repented before the God of Israel. He was in tune with God because he desired to do what God wanted. He belonged to the Father. Whether this happened many years before Christ appeared in Israel or during the ministry of John the Baptist, either way, he was faithful Israelite submitted to God. This made him sensitive to the influence of God the Father.
The testimony of the Father through the Holy Spirit was like a wind blowing through Israel. That testimony could be heard in the voice of John the Baptist, through the miracles of Jesus and by reading the Holy Scriptures. Wherever one looked in Israel God the Father was testifying that Jesus was the Messiah. Those who were right with the Father could hear the message loud and clear. Those that were not in tune with the Father were bewildered by Jesus’ growing influence. They could see the affect of the wind of God’s spiritual revelation, but they could not understand how to account for it. It made no sense to them why so many were proclaiming Jesus the King of Israel (John 7:49). Their carnal desires for power and prestige led them to resent Jesus; this sinful state of mind made them deaf to the Spirit’s testimony. Those who came to faith in Christ by the testimony of the Holy Spirit were as mysterious as the movements of the wind to those who did not know God.
The false Israelites, the rebellious children of the devil, could not understand Jesus words (John 8:43-44). To them, the words of Jesus were just natural, worldly and fleshly. But Jesus told them that his words were spirit and life. They could hear his words, and understand their basic meaning, but they could not hear the Spirit behind them or humbly receive the revelation they imparted. They could understand that Jesus was making himself equal with God by saying, “I AM,” but they could not possibly accept his lordship over their lives (John 10:30-33). That is, they could understand his words, but they could not understand his words. This was not because God did not help them to accept the spiritual significance of his words, but because they were not open to the influence of the Father. Until they repented of their rebellion, they would be blind and unable to find the truth (John 9:39-41). Those who were following the Father could acccept the spiritual truths Jesus was teaching, those who had yet to repent were offended by the truths he proclaimed.
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.
Natural or carnal people are those who “set their minds on the flesh” (Rom. 8:6-7). The goal of their life is to satisfy their selfish worldly desires. Spiritual and natural people don’t have different natures as the ancient Gnostic heresy taught that they did. The difference between these two types of people is not found in their human nature but in their personal character. As Jesus taught those who have chosen to pursue the things of the devil are children of the devil. Those who humble themselves and accept God’s testimony by believing in Christ are given the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13).
Who are those who are spiritual? Those that are submitted to God are spiritual. They are not seeking the things of this world, but like Peter they are seeking truth from the Father. When God’s endorsement of the Son through the Scriptures, John the Baptist, the Spirit’s miraculous power and testimony is given to people who desire to do God’s will, you can be certain that these people will come to the Son (John 6:37). And when you pair up God’s testimony about Jesus with people who are focused on fulfilling carnal desires in their lives, what you end up with is certainty that they will not come. Only those who are willing to obey God’s command to repent will be able to follow the Spirit of God to faith in Christ.
We must keep in mind that at the time of Jesus’ ministry in Israel there were three kinds of people. The first group was made up of people who were already walking in covenant faithfulness with God the Father. These people were already prepared to follow God’s testimony and be led to his Son. The second group are those who were walking in rebellion to God but were willing to obey the command to repent that was first given through John the Baptist and then through Jesus himself. This repentance “prepared the way for the Lord.” After turning from their sinful rebellion they were then able to follow the Spirit into the kingdom of God’s Son. The third group consisted of people who were in rebellion to God, living for their own carnal desires just like the second group of people. But unlike those in the second category these people were unwilling to repent. In this third group were men like the Pharisees, including Saul of Tarsus. Their stubborn refusal to obey the Father’s call to repentance caused them to become open enemies of Christ and his followers. Until they were willing to turn away from the desires of their father the devil, they could never be led to saving faith in Christ Jesus.
“No one can come to me unless they are drawn by my Father,” said Jesus. How could anyone listen to and be drawn by the Father while they were in total rebellion to him?! Those that had no desire to do God’s will in their lives could not possibly submit to his teaching in the Scriptures and his testimony through the Spirit. Until they obeyed the command to repent, they could not be led to faith in Christ. John had prepared the way for Israel to come to faith in Christ by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (Acts 13:24). It is significant that Jesus came preaching, “Repent and believe,” instead of “Believe and repent.” And Paul’s message to both Jews and Gentiles was “repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Receiving truth is not primarily a matter of intellect, but of moral integrity. This is why repentance is needed before someone can come to saving faith in Christ. Through repentance we “purify our hearts” (James 4:8). A rebel can hear and intellectually understand spiritual concepts, but revelation from God calls for more than understanding, it calls for action. The revelation that Jesus is Lord comes with the obvious call to submit our lives to him. Understanding that Jesus is the Savior of the world is not enough to save us, we must entrust our lives to him. Many rebels become intellectually convinced that Jesus is who he claims to be, but they quickly belittle or reject that truth with their improper response. It is not because revelation is lacking, but because their heart does not desire to submit to the truth. Instead they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). The unrepentant heart can see the light and with it the path that he is expected to walk. But since he doesn’t desire to walk that path, he shuts his eyes again in order to block out the light. But those who have repented, who have decided to submit to God’s will, gladly receive the light and follow where it leads (John 3:21, 7:21). Repentance prepares the heart for a proper response to revelation. Sinful rebellion chokes out divine revelation and makes it unfruitful (John 8:43-44, Hebrews 3:12-13). As James warns, we must first “put away” wickedness, and then we “receive with meekness” the word of God that will can save our souls.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 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.
Now we can understand what Jesus was saying. He was telling those false disciples who were grumbling about the difficulty of accepting his teaching that they couldn’t come to him without the help of the Father (John 6:43). He said, “No one can come to me in a saving sense unless they are taught by and learn from the Father.”
This is what he was saying, but in order to really understand his point we must understand what he was implying by it. It wasn’t a doctrinal statement given so some guy 2,000 years later could write a series of blog posts about it. It was a rebuke to sinners who imagined that they were true children of Israel. He was saying, “Those who are not listening to God cannot possibly come to faith in me. One can only get to me by following the leading of my Father, and those who are living in rebellion to God don’t listen to him. That is why you can’t believe what I am teaching you, because you don’t know the God of Israel. You are not a follower of God, so you can’t come to faith in me. Unless you repent before God you can never come to me and receive life.”
Jesus wasn’t telling them, “You are spiritually dead and there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for faith in me. And since you were not chosen by God he is not willing to enable you to believe in me, too bad for you!” That interpretation has nothing at all to do with the historical and Scriptural context; it is an abuse of the text. Instead he was saying, “You can’t accept my words because you are living in rebellion to the Father. You don’t truly believe in me because you refuse to submit to the Father and follow his teaching. Until you repent and follow the Father, you can never receive the life that is in me!”
John 6:60-61, 64-66
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?” … “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
From this passage we learn that people could follow Christ for reasons other than the drawing of the Father. In John 6:26-27 Jesus warned them not to follow him because he could provide them with food, but because the Father had “set his seal” on him through the miracles he was performing in the Father’s name. Such followers would not last long because they hadn’t come to Jesus out of their devotion to his Father. They would only stay with him as long as he gave them things that were in line with their own carnal desires. As soon as following him required unconditional trust and self denial they would go their own way. They could only walk with Christ as long as he met their needs, and not a minute longer. They were willing to receive his word to some degree, but they weren’t willing to pluck up the weeds and thorns that would eventually choke out that word.
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
This verse is a reference back to John 6:37 and 44. But instead of using the word “give” or “draw,” here the ESV Bible translation uses the word “granted.” This gives the impression that God merely “allows” certain people to come. It seems as though Jesus here is saying that God is passive in people coming to faith in Christ as though people are lining up to believe in Jesus and he is letting some through the door and others he is refusing access. But 6:44 uses the word “draw” which clearly implies that God is the one who initiates people coming to faith in Christ. And in John 6:37 the ESV uses “gives.” It is important to note that the word translated as “give” in John 6:37 and “granted” in John 6:65 are one and the same in the Greek.
For this reason the King James Version which reads, “Except it is given unto him of my Father” is a better translation. Jesus clearly shows in John 6:65 that he is not saying something new, but is referring back to his previous statements with the phrase, “This is why I told you.” This KJV makes the connection with John 6:37 and 44 much clearer. From this we understand that the Father is not just “allowing” people to come to faith in Jesus, but is actually giving them the ability to trust in him. He is actively influencing them. And of course only those that are open to the influence of the Father can be influenced by him (John 6:45). So their coming to faith, though it is done willingly on their part, is a result the Father’s activity. Jesus made it clear in John 6:65 that those in Israel who were coming to faith in him as the Messiah were doing so because of the leading of the Father. Without the active assistance of the Father, people could not come to saving faith in Christ. Those who seemed to come to Christ, but were not doing so because of the revelation of the Father, were false converts without saving faith. They had not truly “come” to the Son. This is the proper interpretation of this verse.
The Father leads those who are already submitted to him into a relationship with his Son. They don’t make the introduction themselves; the Father makes the connection between his faithful people and his Son. These covenant faithful individuals might have been walking with him for many years, or since being baptized by John, or possibly since they obeyed the command to repent from the lips of Jesus himself. In all these scenarios the important thing to note is that until they submitted themselves to the Father they could not be led by him to trust that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:15-17). No one can come to the Son unless “the Father provides the way” (John 6:65 – GWT).
To Be Continued…