In this passage, Calvinists believe they have support for their doctrine of Irresistable Grace also known as Effectual Calling. Here they think Jesus is teaching that no one can believe in Christ ("come to me") unless the Father first makes that person born again. Since Calvinists think a man is Totally Depraved, they also believe that God must do something to that person in order to cause him to believe the gospel. Therefore, they interpret this passage to mean God causes men to be born again so that they are able to believe and will indeed believe. In this way, they say God "draws" or even "drags" the people he "elected" to Christ. We shall now see they err because they do not appreciate the intimate relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We shall see how and why their interpretation is completely wrong and also demonstrate what Jesus is really saying here. But first, there are a multitude of questions we must ask about this passage. What does Jesus mean by the phrase "come to me?" What does Jesus mean when he says "unless the Father draws him?" Why can't anyone come to him unless the Father draws him? Why does Jesus immediately qualify this statement with the following one and what point is he trying to get across to us?"It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. " (John 6:45).What does Jesus mean by "taught by God?" How is one taught by God? And how does anyone hear and learn from the Father? These are all important questions which cannot be ignored if we are to understand this passage. Now we shall see that the passage is very easy to understand if we read it with the overall context of the gospel of John in mind.
Let's first understand the word "draw." This is a translation of the Greek word helkuo which means "to pull" or "to draw." Here are some uses of the verb "to draw" (helkuo) from the Bible.The Greek word helkuo means to pull, draw, lead along. In the LXX it often translates the Hebrew word mashak (see Hosea 11:4). The Greek word helkuo is also used in the LXX at Ecclesiastes 2:3.
- "Over many years you did draw them, and did warn them by your Spirit through your prophets; yet they would not give ear. Therefore you did give them into the hand of the peoples of the lands." (Nehemiah 9:30 LXX).
- "O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you" (Song of Solomon LXX).
- "From long ago, the Lord appeared to me, "I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you" (Jeremiah 31:3 LXX).
- "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself" (John 12:32).
- "Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear" (John 18:10).
- "He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast it, and now they were not able to draw it in, for the quantity of fish....So Simon Peter went aboard and drewhauled the net ashore" (John 21:6,11).
- "But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and drew them into the market place before the rulers" (Acts 16:19).
- "Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and drew him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut" (Acts 21:30).
- "But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who draw you into court? (James 2:6).
May Calvinists like to claim helkuo means "to drag." They do this because they envision that Paul was violently "dragged" into the marketplace and "dragged" out of the temple, Peter "dragged" in his nets, and James was discussing being "dragged" into court, and Calvinists like to define the word based on their imagination. However, we can see from the above passages that helkuo does not have the primary meaning "to drag." It means "to pull", "to draw", or "to lead along." When Calvinists define helkuo they are loading the word with a situation in which it was used. Since they envision Paul was forcefully dragged along, therefore helkuo means "dragged." This is word loading which means that one loads up a word with meaning based on the context in which it was used. For example, if I said, "The ball of the earth..." you could load the word "ball" to mean "the earth." However, the word "ball" is not defined as "the earth"; it simply means a spherical object and the earth happens to be a spherical object. The earth is a subset of spherical objects in a category which we define as "a ball." There are many kinds of balls and the earth just happens to be one of them. If indeed Paul was "dragged" (and we cannot be sure he was), this does not mean "helkuo" means "dragged." It simply means "to draw" and "dragging" may indeed be a subset category of different ways of drawing. God did not "drag" Israel with lovingkindness. So here we can see from all our data, helkuo is not defined as "to drag" anymore than "ball" is defined as "the earth." It simply means "to draw."
- "I searched my mind how to [helkuo] my body with wine" (Ecclesiastes 2:3 LXX).
Next, we need to take very careful note of Jesus' following statement because he makes this following statement to qualify what he has just said:"It is written in the prophets, 'They shall all be taught by God.' Everyone, then, that has listened to the Father and and has learned, comes to me" (John 6:45)Here we find Jesus telling us that those who come to him are those who were taught by the Father, have listened to the Father and learned from the Father. The word translated as "learned" is the Greek word manthano which is the word from which the Greek word for "disciple" (mathetes)is derived. So we see that those who are discipled by the Father, those who learn from him, are those who come to Jesus.
Now there is another very, very important thing Jesus teaches us in the gospel of John. Let us review the passages and see if you can see what it is.
- "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19).
- "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (Jn 6:38).
- "My teaching is not mine but him who sent me. If any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" (John 7:16-17).
- "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me" (John 8:28).
- "If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (John 10:37-38).
- "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works" (John 14:10).
- "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (Jn 14:24).
- "I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me" (John 17:8).
Jesus is the Word of God who tabernacled in human flesh (John 1:1,14). Man shall not live on bread alone but upon every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God (Mt 4:4). When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father (15:26) came upon and abided upon him (1:32,34). Jesus said the Father dwelt in him and we know the Father dwelt in Jesus by the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and was in Jesus. In this way, Jesus, hearing the voice of the Father, spoke the words of the Father. The words he spoke were not his own but the word of the Father. He was God's Word to the Jews. They heard from the Father through Jesus (8:42). The Father is declared through Jesus (1:18). He was the Word of God the Father and God the Father spoke to them with his Word, Jesus Christ.
Now Jesus teaches us that no one can come to the him unless that person is drawn by the Father. Notice what John and Jesus say to the Jews throughout John:
Here we find Jesus teaching the unbelieving Jews that they cannot come to where he is going. Thus we can see how no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. But now notice what Jesus says to the believing disciples:
- "He came to his own, and his own did not receive him." (John 1:11).
- "After the two days he departed to Galilee. For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country [Judea]." (John 4:42-43).
- "You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.... I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me" (John 5:38-42).
- "I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe" (John 6:36)
- "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot hear my word" (John 8:42-43).
- "The Pharisees heard the crowd thus muttering about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, "I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me; you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come." The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, "You will seek me and you will not find me,' and, "Where I am you cannot come'?" (John 7:32-36).
- "I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come" (John 8:21).
"Little children, yet a little while I am with you. As I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'You will seek me; where I am going you cannot come.'" (John 13:33).Neither can the disciples come to Jesus because where he is going they cannot come. Notice in our passage where Jesus says "No one can come to me unless the Father draws him, Jesus also says:"But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life" (John 6:61-53).Here is the reason no one could come to Jesus; he was ascending to heaven. John tells us the "Spirit was not yet" because Jesus was not yet glorified (7:39). Jesus taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit would not come to them unless he went away (16:7) and he made repeated promises that the disciples would not be left as orphans but would later send the Holy Spirit to them to teach them and witness to them. Indeed, John tells that the Spirit would later be given to those who were presently believing in Jesus. And Jesus kept his promise. After he rose from the dead, he came to them and said:"Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22).Notice how Jesus breathes the Spirit into the disciples as one would breath out a word. Yet we see that the disciples were believing in Christ long before they received the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said they could not come to him, his message was very similar to his message at John 3:3-7 where he tells us that one cannot see/enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born again. Jesus is now in heaven. We simply cannot come to him because he is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Paul explains to us that when we are born again, we are seated with Christ in heaven:"But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6; cf. Romans 6:3-4).In this way, the Father draws us to Christ. We cannot find ourselves to be seated in the heavens with Christ by our own will. We must believe in God's power to raise us up to heaven and when we believe in the name of Jesus he draws us up to heaven by his might regenerating power where his Son is seated in the heavens. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in heaven and since we are human we cannot come to him on our own accord. We must be born again through faith to be raised up with Christ. When we believe into the name of his Son, God the Father raises us up, draws us, to his Son in heaven by his power and will. However, we see the disciples had come to Jesus before he went away into heaven where they could not come. The question then remains, "How were the disciples drawn by the Father to come to Jesus before he went away to heaven?" The answer to this question is very simple. Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit was now "with" them but would be "in" them (14:16). The Holy Spirit came to be "in" them at John 20:22 after Jesus rose from the dead. So how was the Holy Spirit "with" them. The Spirit was "with" them in the person of Jesus who had the Spirit in him who proceeded from the Father. Because Jesus was in their presence, the Holy Spirit was in their presence. Jesus conveys a similar idea when he says, "an hour is coming and now is." (4:21-24). The hour was here ("now is") in the person of Jesus and was coming for everyone else later. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit was with the disciples in the person of Jesus.
Jesus repeatedly reminds us that the words he teaches were not his own but the Father's. The Father conveyed his words to Jesus through the Holy Spirit which proceeds from him. In this way, the Father was teaching the Jews. The disciples listened and learned from the Father where the Jews did not because their intentions were evil. But Jesus tells us that if anyone desires to know the truth of the matter he can know if his teaching was from himself or from God (7:16-17) and the Jews who rejected him had no excuse.
The Father was teaching the Jews through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us no one can come to him unless the Father who sent him draws that person to him. He also tells us that God will teach those who listen and learn from him. The Father taught through the Holy Spirit in Jesus and those who listened and learned were drawn by the Father to come to Jesus. The disciples listened to the teaching of the Father by listening to the Holy Spirit in Jesus who communicated the teaching of the Father to him and they believed in his Son for eternal life."As he spoke thus, many believed in him. Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
People were drawn to Jesus by the teaching of the Father which came through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. One can only come to Jesus through the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and this is the point we need to understand. We can only come to Jesus when the Father draws us by the Holy Spirit. For the disciples, they were drawn to Jesus who walked with them and had the Spirit in him. For us, Jesus is not present here with us but is seated in heaven and so we are drawn to Jesus when we believe in his name and the Spirit comes into us and we are drawn up by the Father and seated with him in the heavenlies. And in this way, all those who believe the teaching of the Father will come to Jesus.
"Who do you say that I am?" 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." (Matthew 16:16-17).