Study Notes 7-14-13: Judgment is Inaugurated

Here are the study notes for John 12:31-26

12:31-33 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

God rest ye merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,

To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy!

An Answer to the Greeks?

Verse 31 is a crucial verse for understanding Christ’s mission here on earth. His whole flow of thought here is really interesting. He sees the Jews hailing Him, but for the wrong reasons, then the Greeks come to seek Him and this sets off a red flag in His mind, so He tells those around Him that His time has come to be glorified, to be die so that many will live (the seed image), and to be lifted up and glorified on the cross, and that He will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So while He doesn’t seem to answer Andrew and Philip who have come to Him with this report of the Greeks seeking Him, in a way He does. Their message kicks off a series of theological points here in these verses that all have to do with the salvation of humanity – note that He wraps up by saying that He “will draw all people to myself.” Not just Jews, but “all people” from every tribe tongue and nation!

The Judgment of this World

The first thing Jesus says in verse 31 would be odd if we hadn’t already looked at this in chapter three a little bit. He says that “Now is the judgment of this world.”  Well what does He mean by “judgment” is “now”?  As Ryle points out, this in undoubtedly a difficult saying, and I think there is perhaps some nuance to it that can easily be missed.  But in order to understand it we must understand the context.  If we don’t see that Christ is talking about several things during this short discourse, including the salvation of men from outside of the Jewish race, the triumph and shame of the cross, the difficulty of the task of the cross and the anguish of Christ’s soul, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His desire for the glory of God.

Because of this context and the fact that the discourse has been set off originally by some gentiles wishing to Jesus, it is thought by some that “judgment” refers to the fact that Christ has judged the Jews and found them unfaithful and is therefore offering salvation to “all men.”  But this also misses a larger plot line, and the close tie to Christ’s declaration of coming victory of Satan and his power over all mankind (we will see how this relates to the larger redemptive plotline in a moment).  And so because of the fact that he is talking about a much larger plotline here, referring to Satan, to “all men”, and because the conversation could be seen as His reaction to the Gentiles seeking to talk with Him in the first place, I think it is reasonable to say that He is here referring to all men/mankind and their enslavement to sin.  It is worth looking at Carson’s comments on how this is so:

Judgment is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion. As the light of the world, Jesus forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance, and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light in order to testify that what they have done ‘has been done through God’ (3:19-21).

Perhaps the greatest example of an earlier text in which the metaphor of the light and darkness is given is indeed that passage Carson cites from chapter three:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)

This is a passage that I’ve referred back to probably more often than any other passage we’ve studied thus far in this gospel. I think the reason for this is that it explains so much of who we are, and who He is in contrast. We are creatures who love the darkness, and when the light shines into the world, we scurry away like cockroaches.  We not only hate the light, we love the darkness. We love our sin. But there is more to the analogy than simply who we are. There is also who He is. He is the light. And the light has immediate and unavoidable consequences when it enters a place of darkness. Separation occurs immediately, and that is the judgment. It is apparent and obvious and unavoidable. It simply occurs because of His presence on this earth: His light separates the good from the evil, but on the final day of judgment it will be God’s voice booming from the throne and His holy angels who will conduct that final separation between the “sheep and the goats.”

Crushing the Head of the Serpent

Now we need to continue on and examine the second part of verse 31 that states that the “ruler of this world” and his defeat.  Ryle says that, “there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the ‘prince of this world.’”

First we assume by this comment that, at least in a certain sense, Satan’s work had been largely unhindered. He had been roaming freely on the world and deceiving the nations as he pleased. When Christ came is signaled the beginning of the end of his kingdom. In a recent book by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson the noted theologians say that one of the manifestations of the plotline of history thickening and Satan getting ready for a final fight was the presence of so many demons on earth tormenting people (which we read about in the gospels).  Whether or not this is so, it is evident that Scripture tells us that when Christ came and died He won a significant victory – a victory that had been anticipated for thousands of years.

We see the first proclamation of this victory in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel. 

These words were spoken to Satan. The prediction here is that one day in the future the seed of Eve will land a death blow to Satan.  That day that God foretold and Moses recorded is the same day Christ here has His eyes fixed upon. Jesus knew that He would be the seed of Eve that dies in order to bear much fruit and in order to bruise the head of the Serpent.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24)

In so doing, Christ is gaining the victory. Paul explains further in Colossians, as does the author of Hebrews:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

And…

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)

When Christ died on the cross He did so in order that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” This devil has been “cast out” and has been “disarmed” and “put to open shame.”

The irony of it all must not have been too enjoyable for Satan. Carson’s comments are insightful:

Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat. In one sense Satan was defeated by the outbreaking power of the kingdom of God even within the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18). But the fundamental smashing of his reign of tyranny takes place in the death/exaltation of Jesus.

But What Does this Mean For Us Today?

Well what does this all mean in light of the fact that we still battle the Evil One, and that we still live in a fallen world?

It means that when Christ died and rose again He began the death sentence on Satan. The same way in which God told Adam that the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Did Adam die on that day? No he didn’t die directly, but it he was as good as dead on that day because from that day onward his doom was sealed. He would no longer live out his days in peace with God, he would no longer walk in the cool of the garden, and he would one day see the deterioration of his physical body. In this same way, Satan’s doom was sealed the day Christ rose from the grave.

As D.A. Carson remarks, “When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.”

We live in times where Satan’s death and final destruction have been assured. While he is still a great danger to us, he is also a man marked for death. His time is waning.

All People

In the latter part of verse 32 Christ tells us that He will draw “all people” to Himself if He is lifted up. And so here again we have that mysterious word “all.” We must look at the context once again to understand what Christ is saying, and to look at all of Scripture’s teaching on salvation.

If we believe that “all” mean includes every man anywhere for all time, then we are Universalists and not gospel believing Christians. Nor is this “drawing” here of an ineffective kind, as some would say – those who might use the word “woo” for the behavior of Christ toward His elect. Does Christ “woo” all people to Himself?  Well obviously no.  There are many men and women who have not heard the gospel and are not drawn to Christ, and many others who hear and reject the gospel. And therefore Christ’s words “draw” and “all people” are not compatible with the Armenian viewpoint of “wooing.”

But if we understand the word “all people” in the context of Christ’s response to the gentiles (as well as the Jews who were listening to Him), as well as the larger context of the redemptive metanarrative Jesus has been addressing in His pronouncement of judgment on the world, and on Satan, then we will see that “all people” is meant to be “all people from every tribe tongue and nation” (as in Rev. 7:9).

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a decent idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

Study Notes 7-22-12

6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

  • I think that what we have here is a perfect example of people seeing, hearing, and yet not believing the very words of Christ (the outward presentation of the Gospel message from the Monogenes Himself).  How can this be?  We often ask ourselves the same thing.  How can I present the gospel in any clearer terms?  Why won’t these people respond to this?  The reason is because they are still spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and that your talk is complete foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14).
  • Why could they not believe?  Jesus is about to explain that they don’t believe because they haven’t been called – “draw” is the word He uses here.  They can’t come to Him because “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  So this verse is a setup for what Jesus is about to tell them.
  • The lesson is this: God is completely sovereign over salvation.  When He calls someone with the inward call of the Holy Spirit that is when a man begins to see the light.  Until then, we are preaching foolishness, but it’s a foolishness we will continue to preach because it has the power of life, and God is pleased to use this foolish preaching of ours as the outward call that informs the inward call.

6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

  • What a magnificent statement by our Lord.  He says that even though these people won’t come to him (vs. 36), those who do come He will accept with open arms – “I will never cast out.”  The Savior is saying that for those who believe in Him, He will embrace them as His own.
  • For those who might have grown up in a culture or a church that taught that eternal security is not possible, this verse stands diametrically opposed to that kind of false teaching.  The Roman Catholic Church not only says that (due to mortal sins) salvation can be lost, but that to think of our eternal state as secure is puffed up and arrogant.  However, according to Christ, nothing could be further from the truth.  He will never cast out any who come to Him.
  • John Calvin puts it this way, “In the first place, he says, that all whom the Father giveth him come to him; by which words he means, that faith is not a thing which depends on the will of men, so that this man and that man indiscriminately and at random believe, but that God elects those whom he hands over, as it were, to his Son; for when he says, that whatever is given cometh, we infer from it, that all do not come. Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, ‘Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel.’”
  • Also, the word here “come”, as I detail elsewhere, is equivalent with “believe.”  John MacArthur puts it this way, “To come to Christ is to forsake the old life of sin and rebellion and submit to Him as Lord. Though John does not use the term ‘repentance’ in his gospel, the concept is clearly implied in the idea of coming to Christ.”
  • MacArthur cites a great Spurgeon quote to back up his statement, “You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together.”

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

  • Christ is one with the Father.  His will is one with the Father – we have talked about this before.  And looking ahead to chapter 10, and Christ’s discourse on His role as the Good Shepherd, we see Him saying something similar, but even more explicit:

10:26-30 “…but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.”

  • It’s important to remember that at this saying, the Jews began to pick up stones to kill Jesus.  This was a highly offensive statement.  Now, Christ didn’t get stoned here, for as radical as this statement it, He’s about to rock the minds of these men and women all the more…

6:39-40 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. [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.”

  • Why is it that you will never lose your salvation?  Because Christ will lose nothing! Why is it that Christ will lose nothing?  Because that is the will of the Father.
  • Whether or not you commit a so-called “mortal” sin or not, the Lord Jesus Christ will not allow one person to slip from His hands.  What has been alive by the Holy Spirit cannot be made dead by a human being.  By the power of God the Almighty Creator of the Universe, you will be Christ’s adopted brethren for eternity, not by your will or effort, by the power of God.
  • You see, when God wills something it happens.  All forces of creation, both spiritual and physical, bow to his wishes.  He opens His mouth and the nations tremble.  By His words Satan is thrown down and bound.  By His will you are kept safe.  No one can cross His sovereign will.  What an amazing and comforting thought.
  • This verse also gives us a preview of the resurrection.  Jesus says that not only will He keep you safely in His hands, but that He will raise you up “on the last day.”  On the last day, we will see the final consummation of His power over the grave and of death and will realize the power of the resurrection – this time in our own bodies.  On that day, God will complete the work He has begun, and the saying that what is perishable will be raised imperishable will realize its completion. He will be redeeming more than your souls, friends.  He will be redeeming your bodies.  Paul talks about this at length in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians:

15:20-23 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  

  • Commenting upon Jesus’ power and plan from election to glorification Calvin says this:

Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Romans 8:15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony.

  • Therefore, when Christ says in verse 40 that, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” He is saying that from beginning to end, from predestination, to calling and justification to adoption and resurrection to glorification, He will loose nothing, nor will the “will” of the Father be interrupted by the schemes of the Devil, the world – and/or even our own flesh!

6:41-43 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” [42] They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” [43] Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.

  • These Jews did not like Christ equating Himself with bread from heaven.  Christ was to them a stumbling block.  For they seemed to know from where Jesus came, and who His earthly parents were.  This made it all the more difficult to believe Him when He said that He had “come down from heaven.”
  • The word “grumble” here has definite parallels with the grumbling of the people of Israel in the Old Testament.  They were provided great manna from heaven, yet they still complained.  Here Christ has just explained that He is the bread from heaven that will forever satisfy them.  Like their ancient forefathers, they grumble. The reason was the same: unbelief.  When we don’t believe the words of God we grumble.  Grumbling is the outward fruit of unbelief.
  • That is why we must never grumble, but always set our hope firmly on the work and purposes of God.  This whole passage is about deeper things.  Deep things that we can’t fully understand, and such is our life, we run up against many things we can’t understand.  But let us not grumble in unbelief.  Let us let go of our unbelief and place our full trust upon Him who is able to sustain us until the last day.

6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

  • In verse 37 He had just said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me”, and in verse 36 He had said that, “you have seen me and yet do not believe.” But now He’s saying WHY they won’t believe, and why they won’t come to Him.  They won’t believe because “no one can come to (Him) unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
  • The Father had not drawn these people to Christ, and therefore they were unable to come to Him.  Christ is enumerating an important spiritual principle, not just for these Jews, but for us as well.  For what He is saying here is in the general sense.  His words are “no one” and “all” and so on.  So He’s not limiting His discussion to simply Jews, but is giving a discourse about a universal spiritual principle.
  • To further affirm this, John Piper reminds us that we need to realize the full implications of what Christ is saying here.  He’s about to talk about how – in particular – God draws people to Himself.  But in doing so, Christ it known that He will not be limiting His kingdom to the Jews, or any one group of people.  He is not a “tribal deity” as Piper says.  And to emphasize the point, Piper reminds us that John stresses the wide call of Christ in this Gospel (of John) to all men (John 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 6:37, 6:47, 6:58, 7:38, 12:46, etc.).
  • Here are all the reference and what they look like to show what I mean, and what Piper was getting at:
    • “Whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:15).
    • “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
    • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18).
    • “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
    • “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).
    • “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
    • “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
    • “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
    • “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).
    • “Whoever believes in me, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
    • “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
    • It is obvious that this verse is talking about God’s methodology in calling and saving us for all eternity.  But while we talk about God’s work in the lives of particular men and women – in you and men – we need to remember the role we play in spreading that gospel to all men – not ones we choose, but ones HE chooses. John Piper reminds us of this when he says the following:

It is an awesome thing that we are sent to the whole world with the greatest news in the world—with a free offer for all who believe. And it is an awesome thing that as many as are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48).  It is an awesome thing that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). And it is an awesome thing that God grants repentance to whom he will (2 Timothy 2:25).  It is an awesome thing that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is an awesome thing he acts decisively to draw particular people to the truth (John 6:44).

  • When John says the Father “draws” men, the Greek word he’s using is helkō, which literally means to “drag off.”  This is important because when we hear the word “draw” I think that our minds tend to think of the word differently than that.  We think the natural synonym might be “ compel” or something like that, when the sense of the word is nothing of the sort.  Here John is talking about a powerful “dragging” force.  The Father isn’t just wooing people to come to Christ, He is making sure they come by grabbing a hold of them, and bringing them all the way home.

Irresistible Grace

  • We call this the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.  The idea behind the doctrine is not to teach us that God “drags us” kicking and screaming into heaven, but rather that in His sovereign will, He creates within us a desire that we never had before.  That desire is for Himself.  Once our desires have changed, we begin to see the irresistible nature of His love for us.  Our eyes are opened to the magnificence of His love and plan for us – the fact that He is working on our hearts ought to be enough proof that He loves us, but then He reveals the mysteries of His will in Christ Jesus, and the truth of what Christ has done is so amazing, so profound, so audacious, and so ludicrous, that we can’t help but want to run to the cross and embrace Christ as Lord.  That is what God does by drawing us.
  • The point is that this “drawing” is active and not passive.  John Piper says it’s “decisive” and says, “When you chose Christ—when you awakened spiritually to the compelling truth and worth of Christ—it was because God gave you eyes to see. God awakened you. God gave you eyes to see the irresistible greatness of Jesus.”
  • Calvin puts it magnificently:

Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

  • The first part of the verse says, “can come”, and by this we know that the Apostle is referring to “believing” in Christ.  When we “come” to Christ, we believe in Christ, we are placing our faith and truth in Him for salvation.
  • Calvin explains:

The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.

Sovereign Election

  • The verse also teaches us that God had a sovereign plan – that is the overarching theme, isn’t it?  This is what is known as the doctrine of Election.  That from eternity past, God chose to create a particular people for himself.  I’m not just talking about Israel, but of the true Israel, which is the church, and indeed is Christ Himself.  This verse teaches us is that God’s work of salvation is particular.  That is to say, it is discriminating.
  • To discriminate means to choose some, but not others based on a desire.
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us:

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Radical Corruption

  • By necessity, Jesus is also teaching us the state of mankind.  Specifically, as the ESV Study notes, “No one can come to me means “no one is able to come to me” (Gk. dynamai means “to be able”). This implies that no human being in the world, on his own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws him, that is, gives him the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ.”
  • Sproul puts it this way, “Jesus said that we are so corrupt, that our hearts have been so hardened toward the things of God, that we cannot respond to God and come to Him on our own…If the Father wants us to come to Christ, He must effectually draw us to His beloved Son.”
  • We are so morally and spiritually bankrupt that we can’t come to Christ on our own.  We are dead in our sins.  This is the doctrine known as Total Depravity.  This saying of Jesus is one that men hate to accept, and you might not like hearing it either.
  • You might think that I’m wrong and the Bible is wrong to tear down “human character”, but as C.H. Spurgeon once said, “You cannot slander human nature, it is worse than words can paint it.”
  • John MacArthur points out “the Bible indicates that fallen man is unable, of his own volition, to come to Jesus Christ.”  MacArthur goes on to give a lengthy list of Biblical reasons why this is the case:

Unregenerate people are dead in sin (Eph.2:1; Col. 2:13), slaves to unrighteousness (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 17, 20, John 8:34), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10; 8:7). They are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4), captives (2 Tim 2:26), trapped in Satan’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), powerless to change their sinful natures (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 5:6), unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), incapable of understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14; John 14:17).

Preserving Grace and Assurance of Salvation

  • The beauty of this passage does not lie alone in the call of the Spirit, however, but also in the preserving nature of the work of the Spirit and in the power of Jesus Christ.  Sproul says, “Those who are truly saved will continue in that condition, for Jesus will not let them fall away.”
  • As we get deeper into the book of John, we’ll see other passages that detail the magnificent power of God’s preserving grace.  In John 10:26-30 Jesus is giving a very similar discourse and says that the power He has to keep His children in grace is the same power that God the Father has (because they are “one”) – which His listeners at the time would have understood to be omnipotent.  He says this:

10:26-30 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.

  • Christ mentions this in order to give us assurance. In His compassion He came to give us peace.  He came to give us a peace that the world couldn’t give (John 14:27).
  • If salvation is a monergistic work, and if He is truly sovereign over salvation, then surely there is nothing we can do to lose what we have not earned or worked for.  It is all by His preserving grace that we are kept until the day of Christ’s return!

Why Me?  The Pleasures of God

  • Perhaps the most difficult and unknowable question we come to about the nature of God’s sovereign work in salvation – at least from this particular text – is the why. Specifically, you might be asking “why does He discriminate?” or “why does He choose to ‘draw’ some and not others?”
  • R.C. Sproul even admits that this is the deepest theological question that I can think of, the one for which I have no adequate answer.”  Specifically, Sproul was referring to the question of “why me?”
  • Sproul offers the best explanation I’ve heard for a question that really can’t be answered in specifics (anyone who says they know the answer is lying):

I can’t give a single reason under heaven why God would save me other than, as the prophet Isaiah said, that the Suffering Servant of Israel should see the travail of His soul and be satisfied – that God has determined to honor His Son by giving Him adopted brothers and sisters (Is. 53:11).  In the final analysis, the only reason I am a Christian is that the Father wants to honor the Son.   From all eternity, He determined that the Son’s work would not be in vain and that He would be the firstborn of many brethren.  Therefore, He determined not just to make salvation possible and then step back and cross His fingers, hoping that somebody would take advantage of the ministry of Jesus. No, God the Father, from all eternity, determined to make salvation certain for those whom He had determined to give to His Son.

  • My own explanation would simply lie in the hidden counsel of God, and the manifestation of His discriminating love for us.  Ephesians 2:4-5 says that God loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses.  It says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” 

  • Note the “rich” mercy and the “great” love of God toward us.  These are the things that compelled Him to do what He did from all eternity past.  And because of this love, the Father knew from eternity past that He would have to send His only Son to be a sacrifice for us.  He knew that we would fall – otherwise there would be no reason to elect anyone, for everyone would always have been in perfect harmony with God – and yet He determined by the counsel of His own will to create us in His image, and plan before hand whom to save – a particular people for Himself, as a love gift for His glorious Son, Jesus Christ.

Conflicts and Objections

  • Despite the heavy predestinarian overtones, some would like to strip the verse of its potency, and by doing so, find a way to enter into the salvation process some way in which man’s free will can be justified.  For men, left to their own devices, will always want to preserve the notion of their freedom from God – as some have stated in this Sunday School class before, men (like you and me) like to “maintain the illusion of control” as much as possible.  But they do this because they misunderstand the nature and way in which God works in the hearts of men.
  • The chief verse that men of this stripe use to discredit God’s sovereignty is John 12:32, where the same word for “draw” is used in the Greek, and Jesus says that when He is lifted up (on the cross) that He will “draw all people” to Himself.
  • Carson explains, “The context shows rather clearly, however, that 12:32 refers to ‘all men without distinction’ (i.e. not just Jews) rather than to ‘all men without exception’ (ever single human being on earth).”
  • Looking at this verse in context we see that it is clearly the negative expression of verse 37, which we just read.  Carson explains that “the combination of vs. 37a and vs. 44 prove that this ‘drawing’ activity of the Father cannot be reduced to what theologians sometimes call ‘prevenient grace’ dispensed to ever individual, for this ‘drawing’ is selective, or else the negative note in vs. 44 is meaningless.”

NOTE: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Prevenient Grace as follows, “The grace that ‘comes before’ any human response to God in justification or conversion. In Reformed theology, this grace is seen as irresistible. In Arminianism and Wesleyanism the view is that God’s grace is extended and persons may choose whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ. The human decisions of the faithful are responsive and enabled by God’s grace.”

  • John Piper seems to think that the “all” in John 12:32 is referring to “all the sheep” of Christ – all the elect.  For, as Piper points out, in the Greek, there is actually no word “people” in that verse.  It’s simply “all”, with no reference to “people” whatsoever.  So what he argues we must do is derive the correct meaning of the word “all” from the context of the verse, and he does this by looking at several other similar passages in John’s gospel (namely John 11:50-52 and John 10:15 and 10:27).  He explains:

In other words, running straight through the Gospel of John is the truth that God the Father and God the Son decisively draw people out of darkness into light. And Christ died for this. He was lifted up for this. What John 12:32 adds is that this happens today in history by pointing the whole world to the crucified Christ and preaching the good news that whoever believes on him will be saved. In that preaching of the lifted up Christ, God opens the ears of the deaf. The sheep hear his voice and follow Jesus (John 10:16, 27).

  • Personally I am satisfied with either of these options – both are plausible, both could be correct.  But I think that to say that 12:32 somehow implies that “all” means every single human being would be to affirm universalism which runs counter the teaching we find throughout Scripture that some people die and go to Hell and others die and go to Heaven.