I love passages of Scripture that interpret themselves. Sometimes we will read something “difficult,” or hard to understand, but the Bible itself will provide us with the correct interpretation.
Perhaps, you have heard people say, “Let the Bible interpret the Bible.” The Bible Geek in me comes out when we find passages like this.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard John 6:37 ripped out of context and given a Calvinistic interpretation, while completely ignoring the fact that Jesus himself interprets this verse just a few verses later.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus’ word for it. Let me show you what I mean.
“Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me.”John 6:37-38 | Lexham English Bible
No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.John 6:44 | Lexham English Bible
These verses are often interpreted to mean that God infallibly calls some people, as opposed to others, to come to Jesus, and they will be saved. In other words, it is impossible to come to Jesus, that is believe in Jesus (John 6:35), unless you are first infallibly called by God.
Usually, there is a strong emphasis on the word “draws” which can be interpreted as “drags”. Nobody comes willingly, they must be dragged, effectually called; in other words, caused.
Let’s ignore the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology. The text is king. Whatever God’s word says, we shall stick with, even if we don’t like it.
There is one major problem with this interpretation: it completely ignores Jesus’ interpretation.
Jesus’ interpretation? Yes, Jesus himself explains what he meant by these words. We don’t need anyone to tell us, we can just read Jesus’ words.
One, two, skip a few, look down at verse 65.
And he said, “Because of this I said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by the Father.”John 6:65 | Lexham English Bible
Jesus gives the reasoning himself. He says, “Because of this.” Because of what? The “this” is in reference to what he had just previously said. What did he just say?
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)John 6:64 | Lexham English Bible
The important thing to notice here is that when Jesus says he knows that some of “you” do not believe, he is referring to his disciples. Jesus made the original statement in verse 37 in front of a larger crowd, however, he only gave the explanation to his disciples. This is something Jesus commonly does in John’s Gospel. He shares explicit information with his disciples only, often leaving the larger crowds “in the dark.”
So, although some of Jesus’ disciples were following him (redundant, I know), they did not actually believe. For this reason, Jesus said “No one can come to the Father unless it has been granted to him by the Father.”
Question: Why would God not grant some disciples, specifically Judas since he was the one “who would betray him,” to not come to, or believe in Jesus?
Repeatedly throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of how his “hour had not yet come” (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20).
What hour was he referring to? Again, the text tells us itself.
And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man will be glorified.John 12:23 | Lexham English Bible
Now before the feast of Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, and having loved his own in the world, loved them to the end.John 13:1 | Lexham English Bible
Jesus said these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven he said, “Father, the hour has come! Glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them—everyone whom you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you have given me to do. And now, Father, you glorify me at your side with the glory that I had at your side before the world existed.John 17:1-5 | Lexham English Bible
I included much more of John 17 because I find it especially helpful for interpreting John 6. John 17 brings together the theme of “Jesus’ hour” and “God’s giving of people to Jesus.”
Again, some read the verses in John 17 and say, “See, the text says “in order that he would give eternal life to them–everyone whom [God has] given him. God chooses who will have eternal life.”
Again, let the text interpret the text.
Who has God given to Jesus? The text literally says “just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them.” (emphasis mine)
God has given everyone, all flesh, to Jesus. This is not a reference to the elect. It is a reference to “all flesh”. And Jesus has given eternal life to “all flesh.” Whether they accept it in faith, or not, is a different story, but it has been given. He is eternal life, the bread of life, and he has given himself to the world, all flesh.
Now, back to my original point with respect to John 6.
Why would God not allow some to come to Jesus, especially Judas? The hour of his death had not come.
Earlier in John 6 we read this:
Then Jesus, because he knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king, withdrew again up the mountain by himself alone.John 6:15 | Lexham English Bible
Obviously, many people were misunderstanding what Jesus’ purpose was. If they had been allowed to come to Jesus, they would have attempted to make him king, which was not why he came. He came for “his hour.” He came for a cross, not a crown.
They had to be prevented.
Likewise, considering Jesus’ purpose in coming (the Cross), someone had to betray him and turn him over to be crucified. This was Judas, and it was done in accordance with the Scriptures (John 17:12).
For a temporary period of time, people were prevented from “coming to Jesus” so as to fulfill the purpose of Jesus coming into the world: Jesus getting to the cross and dying for the world’s sins.
In John 6, Jesus is specifically speaking to his disciples. When he says that not all of them have believed, and that is why he pointed out that God must grant them to come to him, we are told that Judas, or the one who would betray him, is specifically in mind.
There is no indication from the text that Jesus is teaching unconditional election, or effectual calling.
To further bolster this point, it should be pointed out that the word “draw” in John 6:44 is also used in John 12:32.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Now he said this to indicate by what sort of death he was going to die.)John 12:32-33
So, if you think John 6:44 teaches that you must be “drawn” by God in order to believe in Jesus, and that this “drawing” is infallible, then in order to be consistent you must affirm that all people (John 12:32) have been drawn by God and since this drawing is infallible, everyone is saved (universalism).
However, there is a better option. One that is derived from the text itself and not a predetermined soteriological system.
In John 6, people were being prevented from coming to Jesus, so that God’s plan for him to get to the cross and die for the world’s sins would be fulfilled. However, after he accomplished this will, everyone would be “drawn,” or granted permission, to come to him.
This is good news for Christians. God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world. He desires all to be saved, and we can take the Gospel around the world, to every individual, knowing that every individual is being drawn to the Son.