In John 6:35-40 and 44-45 we find an explanation for why so many Jews in Christ’s day did not believe in him despite having witnessed so much of what he said and did during his earthly ministry. Here is how these verses read in the Concordant Literal New Testament:
I am the Bread of life. He who is coming to Me should under no circumstances be hungering, and he who is believing in Me will under no circumstances ever be thirsting. But I said to you that you have also seen Me and you are not believing Me. All that which the Father is giving to Me shall be arriving to Me, and he who is coming to Me I should under no circumstances be casting out, for I have descended from heaven, not that I should be doing My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me. Now this is the will of Him Who sends Me, that all which He has given to Me, of it I should be losing nothing, but I shall be raising it in the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who is beholding the Son and believing in Him may have life eonian, and I shall be raising him in the last day.
When reading the above passage it becomes clear that the expressions “believing in me,” “believing me,” “coming to me” and “arriving to me” were used interchangeably by Christ, and are essentially equivalent in meaning. It’s further evident from what Christ declared that believing in him was the inevitable result of having been given to him by the Father. Since those to whom Christ was speaking didn’t believe in him, we can therefore conclude that they hadn’t been given to him by the Father.
The limited scope of those whom the Father was giving to Christ is confirmed by the fact that the same individuals whom the Father was giving to Christ will have life eonian and (therefore) be raised by Christ in the last day (as is evident from the words, ”…that all which He has given to Me, of it I should be losing nothing, but I shall be raising it in the last day”). That is, there will not be anyone who was given to Christ by the Father who won’t have life eonian and be raised by Christ in the last day.
Moreover, just as verses 37-39 indicate that all who were being given to Christ by the Father inevitably believed in him, so verses 44-45 make it clear that no one was able to believe in Christ during his earthly ministry except those whom the Father was “drawing.” In these verses we read the following:
“No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him. And I shall be raising him in the last day. It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone, then, who hears from the Father and is learning the truth, is coming to Me.”
In light of what Christ had declared previously, being “drawn” by the Father should be understood as the means through which the Father was giving certain people to Christ. And since everyone whom the Father was giving to Christ ended up believing in him, it follows that God was not drawing all (or even most) people. This is further confirmed by Christ’s explanation in v. 45 of what it meant to be “drawn” by the Father. According to Christ, to be “drawn” by the Father was to be “taught” of him. That is, being drawn by the Father involved hearing from the Father and learning the truth. And since everyone who was taught of God ended up believing in Christ, it follows that the drawing of which Christ spoke was an effectual act of God that resulted in those drawn inevitably believing in Christ.
The limited number of those who comprised the Father’s gift to his Son (and the limited scope of those who were being drawn by the Father) is further confirmed by what Christ went on to declare in John 6:64-65. In these verses we read the following:
“There are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
The words of Christ in v. 65 (”…no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”) echo Christ’s earlier words in v. 44 (”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”). As in the earlier verses, we find in these verses the explanation for why those to whom Christ was referring did not believe in him. And that explanation is this: It had not been granted them by the Father to believe in him. According to Christ, then, all who were believing in him during his earthly ministry were doing so because it had been granted them by the Father to do so. It was these – and these alone – who were being “drawn” by the Father.
The clear implication of everything said by Christ in these passages is that it was not possible for anyone to believe in him unless it had been granted them by the Father to believe. However, everyone to whom the Father did grant the ability to believe in Christ was consequently drawn by the Father and given to Christ (and thus believed in Christ).
Greg Boyd on John 6:44
Christ’s explanation for why so many Jews did not believe in him during his earthly ministry is difficult for many Christians to accept. For according to what most Christians believe, God does not determine who will (and who won’t) believe in Christ in this lifetime. It is instead believed that, although God wants everyone to believe in Christ before they die (and is “doing his best” to bring this about), he has given his human creatures the self-determining freedom (or “free will”) to decide their own destiny. According to this view, the one who determines whether or not any particular individual will be among those who receive the salvation that’s promised to believers is, ultimately, the individual himself (and not God).
Among those who hold to this view is Christian theologian, pastor and author, Greg Boyd (who, as a proponent of the philosophical position known as “open theism,” holds to what I would consider to be the most logically-consistent version of the view that humans determine their own destiny). In an attempt to explain how Christ’s words in John 6:44 are consistent with his position that God does not determine who, exactly, will (and who won’t) believe in Christ, Boyd has provided the following remarks on his ministry website:
Calvinists sometimes argue that this passage teaches that the Father chooses and then “draws” certain people to Christ. Those who are “drawn” certainly come to Christ (John 6:37) while all who are not drawn remain in their sin. In short, this passage is interpreted to teach “particular election” (that is, God chooses to save some and not to save others).
It is true that the “drawing” Jesus speaks of is not universal, as some Arminians suggest, since Jesus is here contrasting those who are “drawn” with those who are not. But neither this or any other passage requires us to believe that the Father simply decides who will and will not be drawn. The Father “draws” people (or not) in response to their hearts.
God wants all to be saved and is working in every human heart to get each person to accept the Gospel. But people can and do resist God’s influence and thwart his will for their lives (see e.g. Lk 7:30). When a heart has been successfully opened, however, God goes further and “draws” that person to Jesus Christ.
The only verse referenced by Boyd in support of his view that ”people can and do resist God’s influence and thwart his will for their lives” is Luke 7:30. Here is how this verse reads in the CLNT:
“Yet the Pharisees and those learned in the law repudiate the counsel of God for themselves, not being baptized by him.”
The word translated “counsel” in this verse (boulēn) means “mutual consultation or advice.” It does not mean “influence,” and is a different word than that which means “will” in Scripture (which is the word “theléma”). In the immediate context, the “counsel of God” of which Christ spoke refers to the admonition by John to be baptized (which was in accord with John’s God-given commission and prophetic ministry). Thus, when we’re told that certain Jews “repudiated the counsel of God,” it doesn’t mean that they thwarted God’s purpose or intention regarding their life and eonian destiny. Rather, it simply means that they repudiated John’s admonition to be baptized. However, as we’ll see, their repudiation of “the counsel of God” was in accord with (and an expression of) God’s intention and purpose.
Now, according to Boyd’s view, God’s choice to draw some Jews but not others was based on (and in response to) their own openness to being “drawn” by God. In this way, Boyd is able to affirm that the “drawing” of which Christ spoke in John 6:44 was “not universal” (which is true) while also affirming the commonly-held Christian view that it was God’s plan that all Israelites believe in Christ. What Boyd’s more “nuanced” view implies is that God would’ve drawn all Israelites to himself if only they had yielded to “God’s influence” and allowed him to “open their hearts” so that they could be taught by him. But because the majority of Jews resisted God’s influence, God was prevented from drawing them. Thus, God’s intention to draw all Israelites during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry was thwarted.
The problem with this understanding of why God was only drawing relatively few Jews during Christ’s earthly ministry (as well as afterwards) is that it’s not consistent with the actual explanation with which we’re provided in Scripture. In John 12:37-40 the reader is provided with additional insight as to why the majority of Israelites in Christ’s day didn’t believe in him:
Yet, after His having done so many signs in front of them, they believed not in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet, which he said, may be being fulfilled, “Lord, who believes our tidings? And the arm of the Lord, to whom was it revealed?” Therefore they could not believe, seeing that Isaiah said again that He has blinded their eyes and callouses their heart, lest they may be perceiving with their eyes, and should be apprehending with their heart, and may be turning about, and I shall be healing them.
According to what we read in the above passage, it wasn’t just the case that the majority of Israelites didn’t believe in Christ; rather, it was that they “could not believe” (cf. John 8:43). We can, therefore, conclude that every Israelite in Christ’s day belonged to one of two groups:
1. Those whom the Father was drawing and giving to Christ (and who, as a result of being drawn by the Father and given to Christ, ended up believing in Christ)
2. Those whose eyes had been “blinded” and whose hearts had been “calloused” (and who, consequently, “could not believe”)
We can further conclude from the above passage that the unbelief of those Israelites who didn’t believe in Christ was in accord with God’s purpose concerning them. This is evident from the use of the following expressions:
1. “…that the word of Isaiah…may be being fulfilled…”
2. “Therefore they could not believe, seeing that Isaiah said again…”
3. “…lest they may be perceiving with their eyes…”
The very fact that the unbelief of most Israelites in Christ’s day fulfilled prophecy proves that their unbelief was something that was planned by God (and that it was, therefore, necessary). We can thus conclude that it was not God’s will that all (or even most) Israelites in Christ’s day believe in Christ.
In Romans 9-11 we find further confirmation of the fact that the “calloused” or “hardened” state of the unbelieving Israelites who were not being drawn by God was in accord with God’s plan. For example, in 11:11-15 we read the following:
What then? What Israel is seeking for, this she did not encounter, yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest were calloused, even as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.
And David is saying, “Let their table become a trap and a mesh, And a snare and a repayment to them: Darkened be their eyes, not to be observing, And their backs bow together continually.”
From the immediate and larger context it’s evident that the calloused condition of the majority of Israelites in Paul’s day was one in which they had been made insensitive and unreceptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity (which, it should be noted, constituted the evangel or “gospel” through which a member of God’s covenant people could be saved). But notice that it is God who made Israel “calloused.” He is the one who gave the majority of Israelites “a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.” This means that the calloused state of the majority of Israelites is in accord with God’s plan. But why would God do this? One reason is provided in Romans 11:11-15. In these verses we read the following:
I am saying, then, Do they not trip that they should be falling? May it not be coming to that! But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.
Now if their offense is the world’s riches and their discomfiture the nations’ riches, how much rather that which fills them! Now to you am I saying, to the nations, in as much as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations, I am glorifying my dispensation, if somehow I should be provoking those of my flesh to jealousy and should be saving some of them. For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead?
When Paul wrote of “their offence” and “their casting away” he had in view the majority of Israelites that constituted the nation of Israel in his day. Thus, by the time Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, the majority of Israelites had been “cast away” by God. And we know from verses 7-9 that the “casting away” of Israel is equivalent to God’s bringing “callousness, in part” on the nation – i.e., God’s giving Israel a “spirit of stupor” so that they could not (and still cannot) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. God “cast away” the nation of Israel when he gave the majority of Israelites a “spirit of stupor” and made them insensitive and unreceptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity. It was this operation of God that made it possible for salvation to go to the nations (i.e., through the heralding of Paul’s evangel among the nations), and which resulted in the state of affairs that Paul referred to as “the conciliation of the world.”
Moreover – and as I’ve written about in greater depth elsewhere (see my study on Paul’s Olive Tree Parable) – the coinciding states of affairs that Paul referred to in the above passage as the “casting away” of Israel and “the conciliation of the world” are not permanent. Both are going to come to an end at some future time (and this time may be much nearer than many people realize). In Rom. 11:25-32 we read the following:
For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written,
Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them Whenever I should be eliminating their sins.
As to the evangel, indeed, they are enemies because of you, yet, as to choice, they are beloved because of the fathers.
For unregretted are the graces and the calling of God. For even as you once were stubborn toward God, yet now were shown mercy at their stubbornness, thus these also are now stubborn to this mercy of yours, that now they also may be shown mercy. For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all.
Although Paul referred to the majority of Israelites in his day as “enemies because of you” (for their calloused condition is what has made it possible for divine mercy to be shown to the nations), they are nevertheless said to be, “as to choice…beloved because of the fathers.” Thus, the unbelief and “stubbornness” of Israel as a nation is only temporary. After the entering in of “the complement of the nations,” God will “take back” his chosen people (i.e., by removing the “callousness” and “spirit of stupor” that is presently on the nation so that Israel becomes more sensitive and receptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity). When this takes place, Israel will ultimately become a nation comprised of believing Israelites, and will be saved from their sins at Christ’s return.
We can thus conclude that it was God’s plan all along that the majority of Israelites in Christ’s day remain in unbelief with regard to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity. And not only this, but this state of affairs involving Israel is to continue until the future time referred to by Paul in Romans 11:15 and 25-27 (i.e., when the “taking back” of Israel occurs, and God removes the “callousness” that is currently on the nation). Until this future time comes, only a chosen remnant within Israel is being saved (Rom. 11:1-8). Thus, contrary to Boyd’s assertion, it is simply not true that God has been ”working in every human heart” to get as many people (including Israelites) as possible to believe the truth about Jesus or to ”accept the Gospel.”
The fact that it’s not God’s purpose that all (or even most) people believe the truth through which believers are saved does not, however, mean that God doesn’t want everyone to be saved. It simply means that God doesn’t want everyone to be saved at the same time, and in the same way. That God does will the salvation of all mankind is clear from what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:4. There, we read that God “wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”
The Greek verb translated “wills” in this verse is theló, and – in contrast with the word boulēn in Luke 7:30 – means to decide, intend or purpose something. In Romans 9:16 (cf. v. 22), the word was used by Paul to refer to man’s volitional activity:
“Consequently, then, it is not of him who is willing, nor of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful.”
In verse 18, however, it refers to the volitional activity of God:
“Consequently, then, to whom He will, He is merciful, yet whom He will, He is hardening.”
Notice that, when God’s will is in view, Paul used the word to refer to something that will necessarily occur. In fact, every other time that Paul used this word in his letters to refer to God’s volitional activity, he had in mind something that, by virtue of being willed by God, would certainly take place, or had already taken place (1 Cor. 4:19; 12:18; 15:38; Col. 1:25-26). In no instance did Paul ever use this word to refer to something that God would like to occur (or that God “wishes” would occur), but which will not ultimately take place. The will of the Creator will ultimately prevail over the will of the creature; whatever God intends to happen will happen. As Paul’s imaginary objector correctly affirms in Rom. 9:19, no one can successfully resist God when it’s his intention that something occur.
God’s ability to save anyone whom he wills to save is completely unlimited. In accord with this fact, God is just as capable of saving people in the future as he is capable of saving people in the present. And since, according to what we read in 1 Timothy 2:4, God wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth, we can conclude that all mankind shall be saved and come into a realization of the truth.
 See also part two of my study on the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th “week” prophesied in Daniel 9 (The Timing of the Snatching Away in Relation to the 70th Week).