Archive for October, 2017

15
Oct
17

I Will Draw All To Me–John 12:32

 

 

It seems that anytime a person begins to expound John 6:36-45, those who believe the sinner’s free will is the final arbiter in determining who will be the recipients of salvation attempt to blunt the force of that passage by citing John 12:32.  In that verse, Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.” Their purpose in citing this verse is to show that everyone is “drawn”, but not in such a way that anyone is effectively united to Christ by the “drawing.” For them, this drawing is no more than a gentle persuasion that enables sinners to make a “free will” decision.

 

Usually, one is left to wonder what those who propound this view mean by “free will” since they are seldom willing or able to define the term. If by the term “free will” they mean that sinners have the ability to choose whatever they desire most at any given time, we would agree that sinners have free will, but that would raise another question.  Do not sinners have that ability apart from anything Jesus accomplished on the cross?

When Monergists deny that sinners have free will, what we are denying is that the will is self-governing and unaffected by the sinner’s nature. Our contention is that a person cannot choose that for which he has no desire and to which his entire being is totally averse.  Could he choose what he does not want if he wanted it? Of course he could, but his will cannot decide what his desires are going to be. It is the function of the will to choose what is most desired, not to determine what is most desired.

 

For me, their understanding of this verse would raise the following questions to which they seem to be unwilling or unable to provide satisfactory answers. I would ask you to consider these questions as we attempt to understand what Jesus was saying:

 

  1. What means does Jesus use to draw sinners to himself or does he draw sinners apart from any means whatsoever? Will Jesus draw any apart from exposure to the gospel in some form?
  2. If sinners cannot call on the Lord’s name without hearing “a word of Christ” (the gospel), would it not stand to reason that they cannot be drawn without “a word of Christ?”
  3. Are you willing to posit that every person without exception since the day of Jesus’ crucifixion will at some time in his or her life have been exposed to the gospel? Has there ever been any person in some remote tribe or nation who has died without hearing Jesus’ name even once?
  4. If sinners are drawn to Jesus only through the preaching of the gospel, and all without exception have not heard the gospel, how is it possible that Jesus has “drawn” all without exception to himself?
  5. Why would Jesus have used the word “draw,” a word that is used consistently in the Scriptures to describe an effectual action, (E,g., drawing a sword from its scabbard, drawing water from a well, dragging a net full of fish to the shore) to describe a sincere, gentle, but ineffectual action? Could he not have used another word that would have expressed that concept if that had been what he intended?
  6. How can a person who has never heard of Jesus and feels no inclination whatsoever to come to him in repentance and faith be considered “drawn” to him?
  7. Why did John introduce the account of “certain Greeks” who desired an audience with Jesus in this context and then never mention them again? What, if anything, does their request have to do with Jesus’ discourse that followed?
  8. Was it Jesus’ intention to “draw” to himself those Jews on whom he was about to pronounce final judgment by walking away and hiding himself (see vv. 36-40)?

 

The Context

 

There are several issues I would like you to consider regarding the context of the verse we are considering. First, I would like you to consider at what point in Jesus ministry he spoke these words. Second, I would like you to consider John’s account of the Greeks who were seeking an audience with Jesus and why he introduced that account here. Third, I would like you to consider Jesus’ discourse triggered by this request. All these factors are very important in gaining a proper understanding of John 12:32.

 

The Timing of This Statement

 

It is always important that we remember that John and the other evangelists were not merely historians reciting the facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They were reciting those facts in such a way as to make a theological point. Early on in his Gospel he wrote, “He came to his own creation and his own people did not receive him” (1:11). To this point John has been showing how Jesus had revealed himself to ever-widening circles of his own people who by and large had rejected him. He had spoken to them these condemning words in chapter six, verse thirty-six, “. . .you have seen me and still do not believe.” It is not as if they had not seen and known the truth, but that having known the truth, the light, they continued to prefer the darkness.

 

We find similar statements throughout the fourth Gospel.  The Jews had surrounded him in the temple complex at the Feast of the Dedication and said to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” He replied, “I told you and you didn’t believe me. The works I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me, but you do not believe because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you” (10:25-26). It seems the more light they received, the more recalcitrant they became in their rejection of this one who had given more than abundant evidence that he was the promised Anointed One.

 

His act of raising Lazarus from the dead had brought the issue to a fevered pitch. The principal concern of the Jewish leadership was not their need to repent in light of the clear evidence Jesus had given but their political situation. John wrote,

 

Then the chief priests and Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him [Incidentally, does anyone really believe they expected that even they would believe in him? Yet, the text says “everyone will believe.”], and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish?’ (John 11:47-50).

 

John’s editorial comment in verses 51-52 is a clear pointer to Jesus’ teaching in the passage we are considering. In that comment, he has provided for his readers perhaps the best definition of what he has intended by his use of the word “world” that we have anywhere in the Scriptures. Suggesting that Caiaphas has spoken better than he knew, he wrote, “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that he would gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.”

 

It seems John is playing out those words that he wrote in his prologue to this Gospel, “. . .His own people did not receive him, but to as many as received him. . .” (1:11-12). He introduces this narrative at a crucial point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus is about to pronounce judgement on the nation of Israel as a whole and illustrate that judgment by walking away and hiding himself from them (see 12:36). In many ways, what was occurring in this passage reflects what we read in Romans nine through eleven regarding the breaking off of the natural branches of the good olive tree and grafting Gentile believers into the tree contrary to nature.

 

Additionally, since John makes reference to Isaiah’s prophesy concerning that act of judgment (cf. John 12:37-40, Isaiah 53:1), we should focus on that entire context not only in regard to the elect remnant of Israel that is in view in chapter fifty-three, but also in regard to the expansion of God’s kingdom to the Gentile nations that is prophesied in chapter fifty-four. In many ways, Jesus’ words in this passage are parallel to what John has recorded in chapter six of his Gospel regarding God’s purpose for kingdom expansion prophesied in Isaiah 54.

 

Finally, it should not escape our notice that immediately prior to introducing the account of those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, John has given us another pointer. In fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy [9:9], Jesus had presented himself as Israel’s King, lowly and riding on a donkey, and the common people hailed his coming. Immediately following that prophesy, the prophet had written, “He shall speak peace to the nations, His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10). Can it be merely coincidental that John has recorded the response of the Pharisees? This is what they said, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19).  [Again, one wonders if anyone truly believes the Pharisees thought they had gone after him as well. Would that not have to be the case if κόσμος  [world] means every person on the planet without exception?]. In the very next line, John wrote, “Now there were certain Greeks. . .saying sir, we wish to see Jesus” (vv. 20-21).

 

The Account of Greeks Seeking Jesus

 

Would not this narrative about Greeks seeking Jesus seem a bit abrupt if John has introduced it seemingly without reason and without resolution? If Jesus’ response in verses twenty-three through thirty-two, was not in response to that request, then that is clearly the case. Verses twenty through twenty-two would be nothing but filler that has no purpose at all. Jesus did not even appear to answer their request directly if there is no relationship between their request and his discourse that followed that request.

 

In reality, it would be impossible to understand the discourse that followed (vv 23ff) apart from the introduction of this account. Any understanding of John 12:32 that fails to take the introduction of this narrative into account must necessarily be flawed

 

It was the coincidence of the Jews’ rejection of the clear evidence and their consequent impending judgment and the Greeks’ desire to have an audience with Jesus that prompted his words in the passage we are considering.

 

Concerning this incident, D. A. Carson has written,

 

Whether or not their request was granted is not recorded. . .because even if they met with Jesus at this point, there is a sense in which they could not yet ‘see’ him, they could not yet belong to him, until the ‘hour’ is over and Jesus has been ‘lifted up from the earth’ (v. 32). That is what is necessary for the gospel to be fully operative, the gospel that encompasses Jew and Gentile alike and draws together a new covenant community whose locus is no longer constrained by the parameters of Sinai (Carson, 1991,438).

 

 

The Preceding Discourse

 

John 12:32 is not a stand-alone verse that can be understood apart from its context. It forms a part of a larger discourse in which Jesus is explaining certain redemptive accomplishments that must be realized before the request of these Greeks can be granted in the fullest sense of the word. The establishment of an assembly of redeemed sinners from every nation is not an afterthought; it is not God’s “plan B.” One almost shudders at the suggestion. But, God’s predestined and prophesied purpose to extend his saving activity to the Gentiles will not and cannot be realized apart from four conditions that must be fulfilled. It is these conditions about which Jesus speaks in this discourse. They are as follows:

 

  1. Jesus must die as the sacrifice for his people, and by means of the cross be enthroned [“lifted up”] in glory (vv. 24, 32).
  2. The Father must be glorified (v. 28)
  3. This world must be judged (v. 31).
  4. Satan, the prince of this world, must be cast out (v. 31).

 

Jesus must be lifted up

 

The request of these Greeks who desired an audience with Jesus had triggered in his mind the fact that his hour had now come, and had provoked in him a profound emotional response. He said, “Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (v. 27). Given his true humanity, his natural and normal response was to recoil from the pain, suffering and shame that his impending crucifixion would bring and this understanding provoked within him a deep conflict, a conflict that would only be resolved by his overwhelming desire to fulfill his mission by glorifying his Father [“Father, glorify your name” (verse 28)].

 

Jesus [or John depending on who the speaker was in John 3:14] has already stated the absolute necessity of his death by crucifixion, “Even so, must the Son of Man be lifted up.” We must not overlook the connection between this verse and verse sixteen. If one understands the proper usage of the word “world” in John’s gospel, i.e., sinners from every nation, it will be easy for him to see the connection between this passage and the John twelve narrative. Jesus cannot and will not draw the world, apart from being “lifted up.” This is why he answers the request these Greeks had made by saying, “. . .unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain” (v. 24).

 

Additionally, we must not ignore John’s use of deliberate ambiguity throughout his Gospel. For him, the term “lifted up” not only refers to the manner in which Jesus would die but also to the result of his being lifted on the cross, i.e, his exaltation [being lifted up] to the throne. Once we understand this, it becomes clear that Jesus’ words in verse thirty-two began to be fulfilled at the first feast of Pentecost following his resurrection and ascension. Peter’s overall argument in his Pentecost proclamation was that since the Spirit has been given, Jesus must have been glorified, and one of the prophesied results of his exaltation was the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh (see Acts 2:17 cf. 39). It should be clear to any thoughtful reader that “all flesh” does not refer to every human being without exception. Instead, it refers to people from every nation, to all who are far off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call. Having been lifted up, Jesus now draws all peoples to himself.

 

Lest anyone imagine that my interpretation of this passage has resulted from some unwarranted Calvinistic theological bias, please consider the following comment from the Arminian, Adam Clarke, on this verse. He wrote,

Verse 32. “I-will draw all men unto me.” – After I shall have died and risen again, by the preaching of my word and the influence of my Spirit, I shall attract and illuminate both Jews and Gentiles. It was one of the peculiar characteristics of the Messiah, that unto him should the gathering of the people be, Genesis xlix. 10. And probably our Lord refers to the prophesy, Isaiah xi. 10, which peculiarly belonged to the Gentiles: “There shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ENSIGN of the people, to it shall the GENTILES  seek, and his rest shall be glorious.”

The Father Must Be Glorified

This and the other conditions that needed to be met before the Gentiles could be included in the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes, is subsumed under the first head. In being “lifted up” Jesus glorified the Father in the most resplendent manner possible. In the cross, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10). We must never forget that not only was Jesus’ redemptive work a glorious manifestation of redemptive love, mercy and grace but it was also an unrivaled manifestation of his holiness and righteousness.

We must not forget that Jesus’ primary mission was not to bring about the happiness of his elect people or even to procure our eternal salvation; his primary mission was to glorify his Father on the earth (see John 17:1-5). Apart from the completion of this mission, there could never have been an inclusion of Gentile believers in the gospel kingdom. Jesus’ glorification is clearly linked to his refusal to seek his own glory. Instead, he, as the spiritual seed of his people, was willing to “fall into the ground and die” so that he might produce an abundant spiritual harvest. Isaiah prophesied, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5).

This World Must Be Judged

It is true that final judgment is reserved for the end of the age, but there is a sense in which “the world” sealed its doom in rejecting and crucifying the Lord’s Anointed One.  John had written, “this is the condemnation (κρίσις) that light has come into the world but men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The proud “world,” sinful society in insurrection against its Creator, imagined that it was passing judgment on Jesus, but in reality, in crucifying him, it was condemning itself.

There could be no greater or clearer display of the world’s antipathy toward God than the expression of its hostility toward his appointed agent. Their actions demonstrated that had they been able, they would have dragged God from his throne and trampled him under foot.

We see that judgment displayed against the unbelieving Jews in this very chapter. Jesus is about to shut the door and leave them outside forever. Having spoken to them about their responsibility to react properly to the light, “he departed and was hidden from them (v. 36). In what appears to have been an acted parable, Jesus passed judgment on them for their persistent unbelief.

There seems to be a clear sense in which Israel and its reaction to God’s self-revelation stood as a representative sample of the entire race.  In The Fullness of Time: A biblical-theological study of Galatians, I wrote,

 

It is obvious that Israel enjoyed privileges that the nations of the world knew nothing about. But, along with these privileges came great responsibility. Israel as the servant of Jehovah had as her task to reflect the light and glory of the Lord to the pagan nations around them. One of the ways in which Israel was to function in this witness bearing capacity was to be dealt with by God as a representative sample, a sort of microcosm, of the entire race. Thus, Israel’s failure under the covenant of Sinai mirrors the failure of all. Because of this failure, every mouth is stopped and all the world becomes guilty before God.

Douglas Moo seems to be sounding the same note when he writes, “Perhaps it is best to view Israel’s experience with the law as paradigmatic of all nations (Moo, 213, 1988).

 

Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Whenever we find the phrase translated “under the law” in the New Testament Scriptures, it always refers to Israel’s covenant relationship to God. The Gentiles nations were never “under the law” in that sense. For that reason, we should understand him to mean that their rebellious reaction to the law is a reflection of what our reaction would have been had we been under the same law. Thus, in judging and condemning Israel for their unbelief, Jesus was truly condemning the world as a whole

 

Satan, the Prince of This World Must Be Cast Out

 

During the entire Old Testament period, the nations of the world had been under the domination and deception of the wicked one. The prophet described them as “the people who walked in darkness . . . and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death” (Isa. 9:2). They had deliberately yielded to his power and deception and acknowledged him as their ruler.

 

Though Jesus’ crucifixion might have seemed like a triumph for Satan, in reality it demolished his kingdom. When Jesus was exalted to the throne by means of the cross, Satan was decisively dethroned. As a result, Jesus now freely draws his people from among all nations. He has visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name (see Acts 15:14).

 

Conclusion

 

Given the fact that the drawing Jesus was talking about does not occur apart from the proclamation of the gospel, unless it can be demonstrated that every individual who has ever lived has heard the gospel message, it is impossible that he could have been referring to drawing every person without exception.

 

Additionally, “drawing” is an effectual act that accomplishes its purpose. Does it not seem strange that if everyone is “drawn,” many feel absolutely no inclination to come to Jesus at all?

 

Immediately before the verse in question, Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment [condemnation] of this world.”  Are we to believe he intended to draw to himself those on whom he was about to pronounce a condemning sentence?

 

In light of the context in which John 12:32 occurs, it seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus intended his hearers to understand that once he had fulfilled certain necessary conditions, he would effectually draw sinners from every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation to himself through the preaching of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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