The Meaning of “Draw” in John 12:32-33
Today, we return to Haden Clark’s article entitled, “Everyone whom the Father gives” John 6:37 (Read Here). We are going to briefly look at John 12:32-33 and John 17:1-5. In my previous post (Read Here)we saw how the verb helkuo (draw) is used in the Bible in the sense of being “pulled,” “dragged,” or “hauled.” It is an act of force placed upon an object or a person.
In John’s gospel he used it to describe the action of Peter drawing a sword (John 18.10), or the disciples hauling a net teaming with fish into the boat, or onto the shore (John 20.6; 20.11). Outside of the gospel narrative we see it used in the book of Acts to describe the treatment Paul and Silas received as they were being dragged before the governing authorities in Philippi (Acts 16.19). This sense of being dragged occurred again to Paul when the Jews wanted to kill him (Acts 21.30). And we find James using the term to denote what the rich were doing to the poor, dragging them into court (James 2.6).
Each time the word is used it does not denote being “granted permission” as Clark has claimed (line 34), but as a force applied to an object or person. “Yes,” you say, “but what of John 12:32?”
- “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12.32; NET).
Clark states the following:
“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…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)” (lines 31, 32-33).
First, I would like to point out that Clark denies that this “drawing” of the Father to the Son could possibly be effectual at the outset. That is to say his conclusion is assumed from the beginning. Witnessed by his accusation of Reformed Christians having “ripped [Jesus’ words] out of context…[giving] a Calvinistic interpretation” (line 3), placing undue emphasis on the word “draw” in John 6:44 because he wants to “ignore the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology” (line 7).
Second, he too believes that you must be drawn by the Father in order to believe in Jesus or why else would he make the following statement: “God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world…” (line 35). The distinction is found in how he believes the Father’s “drawing” is accomplished. He believes it is universally going out to everyone.
Third, he is reading into the statement recorded in John 12:32, his theological understanding of the matter. By making “draw” in this text mean what he thinks it ought to mean, and this in turn a struggle with the word “all.” That is to say, believing in an atonement that is “unlimited,” along with the freewill ability of fallen mankind, Clark assumes that John 12:32 means God intends to save all people and so “draws” (i.e., grants permission) to all people to come to Him, placing their faith in Him.[i]
Fourth, this is an example of the “either/or” fallacy. Clark claims that either you take ‘draw’ in the sense of effectual calling to Christ—i.e., universalism. Or, you understand it to mean that God draws “all,” but “all” have the first right of refusal (stemming from #3 above). However, there is a third option: “Draw” does mean effectual calling in John 6:44, but “all people” is not speaking about every person on the planet—i.e., universalism—in John 12:32, but “draw[ing]…all people” from every tribe, tongue and nation.
John 12 in Context
In order to understand Jesus’ statement here you are required to follow the flow of the text, just like we had to with John 6. When did this event occur? Why is Jesus saying what He is? What sparked it? What type of people were there?
John in his gospel does a wonderful job of presenting two types of people. There are those who worship God, and this is evidenced by belief in the Son whom He sent. And there are those who are antagonist to God, and this evidenced by disbelief in the Son; displayed in their inability to see, hear or comprehend the truth presented to them. John first presents this reality to his readers in the opening chapter of the book:
- “The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but this own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire [i.e., will] or a husband’s decision, but by God”” (John 1.9-13)
In John 12 we see the same two categories put on display. In the previous chapter Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but seeing the evidence did not sway hardened hearts. Keep that in mind.
John 12 opens up with an announcement of the Passover in six days (v. 1). Jesus is dining with those close to Him in Bethany (v. 2). The focus of the whole chapter is on Jesus, this is the passion week where He is about to lay His life down for the sheep (John 10.11; cf. 1.29, 36). During the dinner “expensive aromatic oil from pure nard” is used by Mary to anoint Jesus’ feet (John 12.3). Judas Iscariot complains about such an extravagant and wasteful display (vv. 4-6). Jesus rebukes him (vv. 7-8).
At this point the author tells the reader about “a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12.9). Which made the religious leaders all the more eager to not only kill Jesus, but Lazarus to (vv.10-11).
A large crowd, who in attendance for the week’s festivities, greets Jesus as he enters the city of Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey by laying down palm branches (vv. 12-13a, 14-15), accompanied with shouts of: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12.13b)
As the crowd continued to testify, including those who were “with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb” (John 12.17), more and more people came to see Him (v. 18). In frustration “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!” (John 12.19).
In all of this commotion. With people pressing in to see Jesus, and to hear Him speak. We are told about something else of particular importance: “Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’ Philp went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus” (John 12.20-22).
This is a key section in John 12, because it identifies a shift from the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10.6; 15.24) to those that Jesus promised He would gather from another fold, and join them into one (John 10.14-16). Bear in mind that this passage parallels the Synoptic Gospel’s Olivet Discourse where Jesus promises judgment on unrepentant Israel, but promised redemption for those who believe His witnesses.
The desire of the Greeks (Hellenists), which represented the nations outside of Israel, to come to Jesus points to the promised blessing of Christ as the “seed of Abraham” (cf. Rom 4.7-18; Gen 15.4-6; 22.14-18).
The Life Promised, Offered Up…
Here lies the discussion of Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice. Here Jesus declares “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12.23). And so, the Lord enters into a brief discussion of why He must lay down His life. Comparing His life to “a kernel of wheat” that must die and be buried in order to “[produce] much grain” (John 12.24), he instructs what is necessary in order to produce (receive) “eternal life” (John 12.25). In other words, Jesus came to give life, to offer atonement for sin, and this was accomplished by being obedient to the Father’s will unto death. He had to die, in order to deliver and protect those that were His given from the Father.
Therefore, he explains to the crowd before Him: “The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life” (John 12.25). Jesus is the chief example of one who hates his life in this world—meaning He loves His Father in Heaven more than the cares of this world. The Holiness and righteousness of God is what our Lord sought more than anything else. Love for God drove Him to the cross.
What is true of the Christ, is likewise true of those who would have eternal life: “If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too” (John 12.26a). Which means what exactly? Christ laid down His life in obedience to honor the Father, and this is also required of His servants: “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12.26b). Why? Because they have demonstrated loyalty to the Son through obedience. The first step being belief (John 6.29).
Then Jesus confesses, “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12.27-28a). This prayerful testimony was then immediately answered by the One whom Jesus repeatedly told the people had sent Him. The very one who He said He reflected in this life (ff. John 12.49-50; see also: 5.19, 30; 8.28, 42). “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’” (John 12.28b).
Two different Responses and the Pivot…
What you will see, if you haven’t noticed it already, is that there are ultimately two responses given in regards to Jesus’ testimony and works. Belief or unbelief. And the key to remember at this point is that Jesus has already taught the difference between the two—only those whom the Father draws, believes (John 6.44). This is evidenced through those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
When the gathered crowd heard the voice of the Father some thought they heard “thunder” and “others…that an angel had spoken to him” (John 12.29). Jesus told them it was for their benefit (John 12.30), because the “judgment of this world” has come, and the “ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12.31). When? When will this be? Who will be cast out?
The answer is given in verse 32-33: “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)”
Notice that the reason Jesus said what He did in verse 32 is given in verse 33. He was telling the people in the clearest way possible that He was about to be crucified. This was nothing new, He’d said similar statements about His sacrificial death to His disciples and the crowds gathered about Him (e.g. John 3.14; 10.11-18; Luke 18.31-34). But the people failed to understand it.
Not unusual since, one cannot receive anything unless it is granted from above (John 3.27). Earlier in John’s gospel we see, though, that failing to understand is not necessarily God’s judgment against a person, but a temporary withholding of divine truth (comp. John 3.4, 9 with 19.39; also see: 11.21-27; 16.18-31). Therefore, Jesus gives them an answer.
- “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light” (John 12.35-36a).
After this Jesus left them. And then John (the Beloved) makes the following observation:
- “Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, so that the word of the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled. [Isaiah] said, ‘Lord who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him” (John 12.37-41; italics mine; cf. Isa 6).
The Holy Spirit’s indictment via John is pretty clear. Despite what people saw and heard from Jesus, many did not believe. He ties their unbelief to the testimony of Isaiah 6. God sent Isaiah to stiff-necked, hard-hearted sinners as well. And the point was not salvation, but judgment. God judicially blinded the eyes and stuffed up the ears of those who He deemed worthy of punishment. It should be noted that John does point out there were some amongst the crowd, even among the leadership that believed (John 6.42), but whether or not this was genuine faith or a temporary faith only God can say.
Why this is Important…
John 12:32 is often “ripped out of its context,” to use the words of Clark, but in a manner opposite than he intended. The text says,
- “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
We know from John 12 that being “lifted up from the earth” is Jesus identifying with His soon to be had crucifixion (cf. John 12.33). And we know from John 6 that Jesus says the Father will give to the Son a people as a gift by drawing them to our Lord. We also know that Jesus has said it is impossible for anyone to come to Him apart from this drawing of the Father (John 6.44). In other words, the divine act is necessary to come to Christ in belief.
We also know from other contexts that the word “draw” (helkuo) means to drag, pull, or haul. Like it or not that is how the verb is used in Scripture, but Clark denies its application for John 12:32 and then reads his own presuppositions into John 6.44. This is because Clark assumes that God offered the Son for all people without distinction (i.e., atonement). And so, from his vantage point this is a natural (and necessary) way to read John 12:32.
The text of John 12, as with other portions of the Bible, indicates that the Father was not drawing all people to the Son. In fact, John 12 is an instance of God refusing to allow certain people to know the truth, and turn (i.e., come) Christ. Clark has written that this is because of a “temporary” condition that God eliminated once Jesus was crucified. Now God is “drawing all people to [Jesus]” just as John 12:32 says.
Question: Does “all” in this context mean “everyone, or every single person” on the planet in John 12?
Answer: It does not appear to be so. For the “all” could just as well mean those outside of Israel, which means salvation is not just for the Jew, but the whole world. Of which these “Greeks” (John 12.20), or Hellenists seemingly represent. As well as some of the common people (vv. 1-3, 11) and the religious leaders (v. 42), in comparison with those who do not.
Question: When Christ Jesus was crucified, did He at that moment “draw all people to [Himself]?”
Nope. “But that’s what the text says He’ll do ?!?” To say that was Christ’s intention shows that you truly misunderstood Him. For it is to rip His words out of context, and to make Him a liar. The truth is that there have been many, many people who have not known the gospel of Christ throughout the centuries after His crucifixion and ascension. (Not to mention that His manner of death is called a stumbling block and foolishness to the world; Cf. 1Cor 1.23).
What of the natives of what we call the United States? Unless you are Mormon, the gospel did not reach these shores until pilgrims brought it from European continent. What of the deep parts of Africa, or Asia? We have instances where God prohibited for a time at least the spreading of the gospel during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16.6-7). Even if you argue that this was just a temporary withholding of the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it still proves the point that “all” does not mean every single person.
No doubt there were those who died before they ever “had a chance” to hear the gospel. Not to mention that we have historical record that proves God chooses some and passes over others (e.g. Israel vs. the nations). The fact is God has not drawn “all” people to the Son, unless of course you mean all kinds of people: rich and poor, wise and dumb, strong and weak, Jew and Gentile, master and slaves, Kings and peasants, male and female, old and young.
If you struggle with that, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But we are called to derive our knowledge and wisdom from God’s Word not our personal desires. I don’t know why God calls some, and doesn’t call others? But neither does anyone else. I realize that “mystery” is seen as a negative solution, but tell me:
“Are you in a position to demand proofs from God, why He does what He does, similar to an atheist?”
What about John 17:1-5[ii]
I’ve saved this for last, as it will not require much background information. Here is the text in question:
“I included…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” (line 17).
I can understand the appeal of using John 17 to offer some interpretative aid to John 6. However, you need to understand John 6 before you appeal to texts outside of it. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture is a wonderful tool, but one that should be utilized after careful exegesis of the text in question has been completed.
Clark quotes the first five verses, but then focuses on v. 2. So, I’m not going to quote the entire section. I would recommend you read the entire chapter to get the whole of it though.
John 17:1-2 reads,
- “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.’”
“…let the text interpret the text” (line 19)
I agree with the sentiment to interpret the text accurately, which I am assuming what Clark means with the phrase “let the text interpret the text.” Again, this is something the reader must do, not the text itself.
“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 [his])” (line 20).
I agree also that John 17:2 is a claim by Jesus that the Father has “given him authority over all flesh.” But that does not necessitate a giving in terms of salvation to all flesh. Jesus is not speaking about the atonement being applied or even offered to all people, but the authority He has from the Father, which He mentions in other places (e.g. John 5:21-29; Matt 28.18-20). The authority over “all flesh” here is in terms of judgment (cf. John 5.27). Either leading to life or death.
“How is that?” you might ask. The Greek conjunctive “hina” (in order that) demonstrates purpose, between the two clauses in v. 2. But to state that the purpose is to save all flesh is not consistent with the rest of what Jesus says in His prayer in John 17.
Notice that Jesus identifies those he will give “eternal life to” (John 17.2). In other words, He tells us who the “them” are. They are “everyone whom you have given him” (John 17.3), which is denoting a special relationship. This is clearly seen if you follow the Lord’s own words.
Clark claims that
“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” (line 21; italics mine).
But that smacks in the face of what Jesus actually says in John 17. For, the Lord identifies (or defines) what eternal life is— “that they know, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17.3). Eternal life is the gift one receives having been given to the Son, and this is evidenced by belief (faith); which “all flesh” has not been given (cf. John 3.3-8).
“God has given everyone, all flesh, to Jesus…He is eternal life, the bread of life, and he has given himself to the world, all flesh” (line 21).
Well, who are “they?” that Jesus refers to? Does He speak of them in a universal sense in John 17? Or is that merely being presupposed? Jesus says, “they” are the ones “I have revealed your name to…;” which hints at the possibility of others that He has not “revealed the Father’s name to.” Though they are two different authors writing two different gospels, Luke quotes Jesus saying something nearly identical with what is recorded here in John 17:
- “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him” (Luke 10.22).
Again, Jesus tell us they are “…the men[iii] whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17.6; italics added). This is not a reference to “all flesh” in the sense of every person, but “them” that the Father has given to the Son (cf. John 6.37-38). That they are the ones that are “drawn by the Father” (John 6.44) is evidenced by their belief (i.e., faith) in “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Furthermore, Jesus provides further proof of their distinction from the rest of mankind in that they are those who “hear and are taught by the Father” (John 6.45; paraphrased for clarity) in John 17:7-8. Then he specifically identifies them as objects of his love and concern by saying the following:
- “I am asking on behalf of them. I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you have given me, because they are yours, and all my things are yours, and your things are mine, and I have been glorified in them” (John 17.9-10; emphasis added).
And if this were not enough proof that Jesus has specific people in mind, He then seeks the Father’s preserving, protective sanctifying power on them:
- “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given to me, so that they may be one, just as we are. When I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given to me, and guarded them, and none of them has perished except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture would be fulfilled…I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one…And I do not ask on behalf of these only, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word…Father, those whom you have given to me—I want that those also may be with me where I am, in order that they may see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world ” (John 17.11b-15; emphasis added)
Though Clark’s desire to teach a truth from Scripture was probably well motivated. His antagonism to Reformed theology has caused him to blindly stumble over important parts of the biblical narrative. Being an expositor of God’s Word is not an easy task. Lord knows I need all the help I can get. And I thank Him for putting such people in my path.
The fact of the matter is that John 17 is speaking about a specific people given to the Son by the Father. They are identified as being separated from the world, in unity with Christ and the Father who sent Him. This is who the Lord is praying for “…not the world, but those whom the Father has given Him” (John 17.9; paraphrased).
This teaching falls in line with what came before in John 6. It is true that Jesus is the bread of life, but only those who are drawn by the Father will partake of His life-giving sustenance. This makes sense if the nature of man is truly as corrupted as Scripture claims.
The drawing of all people in John 12 is not limited by factors pertaining to mankind, but the elective love of God put on display by calling sinners from the pit of hell—“vessels of mercy…[made] for honorable use” (Rom 9.23, 21 respectively). In contrast with “vessels… [made] for dishonorable use…vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9.21-22). God’s reasons for saving those whom He saves are His alone. As He has declared,
- “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9.15-16; ESV).
I am left in a position (as are you the reader) of deciding whether or not to submit myself to the mercies of God in repentance; beating on our chests like the publican (Luke 18.13).
[i] As evidenced by his comments in a prior post: “While Jesus died for the whole world’s sins, individuals still have to place their faith in Him for salvation.” Haden Clark, If Jesus died for the world’s sins, why do people still go to hell?” Help Me Believe, accessed 10/21/19, https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/94395349/posts/2454365020.
[ii] All Scripture in this section shall be of the Lexham English Bible (LEB) unless otherwise noted in order to keep in line with Haden Clark’s usage.
[iii] The dative plural is used of the Greek word Anthropos here; anthropois. The translation committee (LEB) has decided on the term “men” since that is the plural of man (Anthropos), and they are no doubt assuming that Jesus is speaking primarily about the eleven disciples (not including Judas Iscariot). However, the translation “people” (ESV) would appear to be just as likely since grammatical gender is not a determining factor of whether the referent is male or female (men or women), and so translating it “people” or “persons” is I think a possibility. Since there were disciples of Jesus that the Father gave who were not men, but women.