“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:44; NASB]
This single verse is found in the episode of Christ speaking to a large group of eager disciples in the synagogues of Capernaum. Have just fed five thousand with bread and fish (v. 1-14) and then walked on water in the sight of His twelve closest disciples (v. 15-21), this seems to be the high-water mark of Christ’s earthly ministry. Those who had witnessed the miracle of the fishes and loaves head out in boats to find Him and, doing so, seek to have Christ perform another great sign and wonder (v. 22-25). However, this chapter will end with all but the twelve deserting Christ because of the hard teachings He gives them…one of which is seen above, in verse 44.
Let’s now analyze this verse bit by bit:
No one can come to Me…
The state of a person pre-belief: no one is able to come to Christ. “No one can come,” also translated as “No one is able to come.” The root Greek word used for “able” (δύναμαι) means to have power, so that the phrase literally translates as, “No one has the power to come to Me.”
…unless the Father who sent Me draws him…
The Greek for this section reads:
…ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτὸν…
The Greek word ἐὰν is mostly used to introduce a condition or desired result, whereas μὴ is often used to offer a negation, hence the translation of “unless” (a literal translation would be “if not”). In other words, there is an extension of the condition (no man can come to Christ), which is the conditional solution: unless the Father who sent Christ draws him. If a person is not drawn by the Father, then they will not come to Christ; if a person is drawn by the Father, they will come to Christ. Fine scriptural evidence for both total inability and irresistible grace.
…and I will raise him up on the last day.
The finale of the verse. The person who has been drawn now has a promise: “I will raise him up on the last day.” Note that the “him” whom the Father draws is the same “him” that is raised up on the last day. This entire verse, in fact, is a reiteration of what Christ had said in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Christ likewise said in John 6:39: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last.” All given by the Father to Christ will come to Him, and none will be cast out for any reason; likewise, the will of God is that all given to Christ will not be lost, but be raised up. When the Father gives the Son a person, that individual is guaranteed to be raised up on the last day. Thus it does not rely on he who wills or he who runs, but on God’s sovereign grace upon the individual. We can see now why such sayings were so hard for the failing disciples in Capernaum.
Despite the clarity of this verse and its teachings, there are many who do not want to come to the conclusion that we just have. As such, there are a few ways people attempt to get around this. Let’s analyze these attempts one at a time:
The Argumentation: Many, when trying to respond to John 6:44, immediately jump to John 12:32, which reads:
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
The conclusion, therefore, is that God draws literally all men to Christ. Some even point out that in the original Greek, the word “men” or (as it is sometimes translated) “people,” is not present, but it simply reads “I will draw all to Myself.” Some have even argued that, because of this, Reformed theology teaches universalism, since it claims that all men drawn will come to Christ (John 6:44) and yet Christ says all men will be drawn (John 12:32).
The Dilemma: There are three parts to this dilemma:
1) In jumping from John 6:44 to John 12:32, we commit the error of immediately jumping from the context of what the passage we’re dealing with is saying and finding another passage. Many justify this by arguing that the Bible must be taken in its entirety, and while this is true it is best to be used when dealing with broader subjects. To simply jump from passage to passage turns exegesis into proof-texting. Please note that I am not saying that it is wrong to verify scripture with scripture, or to look for a truth within all of scripture; only that jumping from one verse to another must be done with discernment.
Such scriptural acrobatics likewise presents a way of thinking that does not correlate with how we follow a train of thought. If Person A talks to Person B, Person B is only capable of knowing what Person A is saying within that frame of time. Person B has no way of knowing what Person A is going to say months down the road. Those listening to Christ in the synagogues of Capernaum were listening to a single train of thought, not listening to Him say John 6:44 and then suddenly knowing what He’d say in John 12:32. Such a situation is something I call a “grammatical Slaughterhouse Five.” For those who don’t know, Slaughterhouse Five was a book by Kurt Vonnegut where the main character could, at will, travel between events in his life, so that the narrative goes from his time in World War II to his death to his marriage and so on. Many reading scripture treat the train of thought in a similar fashion, so that we go from Jesus lecturing failing disciples in Capernaum to Jesus in Jerusalem responding to Greek requests.
2) To say that Christ means He will literally draw all men (that is, every single individual) to Himself is illogical, and for an obvious reason: not all men have been drawn. Some atheists, misinterpreting this passage, have tried to claim this as a contradiction in scripture, since it is clear that after Christ was raised not every person was drawn to Him, and indeed some have died never hearing of the gospel. If Christ truly meant that He would draw literally all men, then He is either a liar or a failed Savior, for He has not accomplished that goal.
3) To say that Christ is saying literally all men will be drawn to Him is to ignore the context of this passage in John’s gospel. At the beginning of this section, some Greeks had come and said they desired to see Jesus (John 12:20-21). The disciples go and tell Jesus (John 12:22), from which Christ goes into a lengthy speech regarding His upcoming crucifixion. At the end of the speech, Christ departs…and never sees the Greeks (John 12:36). Why was this? This was because His time with the Gentiles had not yet come, but after the crucifixion many men – Gentiles included – would be drawn to Christ. The reason this verse is often translated as “all men” or “all people” is to clarify that this is what Christ means: all kinds of people. Even synergistic theologians (Adam Clarke, John Wesley) and Eastern Fathers (John Chrysostom, Theophylact) recognize that, when Christ says “all” in John 12:32, He simply means both Jews and Gentiles, mostly likely because they also recognized both the context discussed here and the dilemma discussed in the previous section.
The Argumentation: The person reads the first half of the verse, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” From here they conclude, “Ah, on this we agree – no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them. However, after that it is still possible to reject Christ.” John Wesley, in his commentary for John 6:44, writes:
No man can believe in Christ, unless God give him power: he draws us first, by good desires. Not by compulsion, not by laying the will under any necessity; but by the strong and sweet, yet still resistible, motions of his heavenly grace.
Wesley, like so many who read this verse, argues that God does indeed draw a man, and agrees that a man cannot come to Christ unless the Father draws Him…but maintains that a person can still, after being drawn, reject Christ. Many likewise argue that the “coming” initiated by the Father is merely the enablement, but after that the person must still decide to believe in Christ.
The Dilemma: Every person who argues this way commits the same fallacy: they ignore half the verse. You see, this is not how the verse ends. Christ follows up this statement with: “…and I will raise him up on the last day.” Something happens to the person who is drawn to Christ by the Father: that person will be raised up by Christ on the last day. An unbeliever is not raised up on the last day (at least not in the context in which Christ is speaking), therefore this cannot be a person who has rejected Christ.
Those attempting to say that a person drawn must still believe and therefore still has the ability to reject Christ are essentially adding conditions which Christ Himself never puts there. Some might argue that we have to believe in Christ, and while that is true, that is no doubt part of the Father’s drawing: those drawn will believe in Christ. However, there is no possibility that those drawn by the Father will reject Christ for two simple reasons: 1) that possibility is not said in the text, and is therefore simple eisegesis; 2) Christ has already established that of all those given to Him by the Father, He will lose nothing (v. 39).
The Argumentation: Many people, recognizing that there are two uses of “him” in the passage, will argue that the “him” that is drawn by the Father is different than the “him” that Christ raises up on the last day. The first “him” is a person whom the Father draws, but after that can still resist. The second “him” is merely the person who accepts God and therefore will be raised up.
The Dilemma: Let me present a little parable: suppose a man is angry with another man, and makes the statement, “I’m gonna find him and kill him!” He goes out and does it. Now imagine if the police, hearing that the man had threatened to kill the murder victim, arrest him. Under interrogation, the man replies, “Oh, no! I was misunderstood! The ‘him’ I wanted to find and the ‘him’ I intended to kill were two different people! The ‘him’ I found was the murder victim, but the ‘him’ I wanted to kill wasn’t!” Of course, this wouldn’t fly at all. That excuse would be laughed at in a court case, let alone a police interrogation. No human being thinks or speaks with this train of thought unless they’re mentally incapable. Nonetheless, this is exactly how many people argue from this passage. There is nothing in the text to suggest the two uses of “him” indicate separate persons, and to suggest they are is to run away from dealing with that fact.