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Lesson 34: The Certain Success of Jesus’ Mission (John 6:35-40)

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November 10, 2013

Although it sounds heretical to ask, have you ever wondered whether Jesus failed in His mission? His mission was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And yet, Jesus left this planet with only a small band of followers compared to the vast numbers, both in Israel and around the world, who remained lost. After 2,000 years of church history, there are still thousands of people groups that have not heard the gospel, and even among those who have heard, the majority of the world’s population remains unbelieving. So did Jesus fail? Has God’s purpose failed?

I would hesitate to raise the question at all, except that the apostle Paul raised it in Romans 9. In light of the Jews’ widespread rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and Savior, Paul deals with whether God’s promises to Israel have failed. He answers that God’s promises have not failed, because God never determined to save all Israel, but only an elect remnant. Also, the salvation of that chosen group does not depend on the fallen will of man, but on the sovereign working of God. As Paul says (Rom. 9:16), “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” And, God does not have mercy on all (Rom. 9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Paul shows that God’s purpose to glorify Himself by saving His elect and judging the wicked cannot fail.

That is Jesus’ point in our text. These verses occur in the context of those who ate the miraculous meal of the loaves and fish asking Jesus to do a greater sign so that they may believe in Him (6:30). They want Him to go one up on Moses, who gave them the manna (6:31). Jesus corrects their impudent demand by pointing out that it was the Father, not Moses, who gave them the manna. Also, the bread that God is giving now is not just temporary food to satisfy their stomachs, but the true bread out of heaven to satisfy their souls (6:32). And, unlike the manna that God gave Israel in the wilderness to sustain life for a few years, the true bread out of heaven gives eternal life to the whole world (6:33).

But these Jews were still focused on the temporal when they asked Jesus to give them this bread (6:34). They wanted a lifetime supply of food. Jesus replies by offering Himself as the bread of life who satisfies everyone who comes to Him and believes in Him (6:35). But even though they had seen Jesus, they still did not believe in Him (6:36). That’s the context for Jesus’ words in 6:37-40, where He takes comfort in God’s sovereignty over the salvation of sinners (cf. Luke 10:21-22). The point is, those who reject Jesus do not thwart God’s sovereign plan.

Also, note that after Jesus gives this extended discourse on being the bread of life, some who had professed to be His disciples stumble over what He says and stop following Him (6:60, 61, 66). If Jesus had been trying to build a large following, He could have become discouraged over this. But His focus was on the Father’s will and the fact that He had come to do that will (6:38). There is nothing more certain than that God will accomplish His purpose (Isa. 46:10; Job 42:2). That purpose centers on the fact that He has given a large number from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to His Son. Jesus will see the result of the anguish of His soul because He poured out Himself to death and bore the sin of many (Rev. 5:9; Isa. 53:10-12). So when people rejected Jesus, even those who had professed to be His disciples, He rested in God’s sovereign plan for the ages.

As a teacher of God’s Word, I must do the same. I hope not, but it’s possible that some of you will hear this message and say, “I’m out of here!” I’d appreciate it if you’d talk to me about what Scripture teaches on this, but usually people just leave. Many who profess to believe in Christ do not like the biblical truth that God sovereignly chose some, but not all, for salvation. They say, “That’s not fair!” They believe that God wills to save everyone, but people by their free will cast the deciding vote. God’s hands are tied to actually save anyone, because He can’t override man’s free will. So according to them, the success of God’s eternal purpose rides on whether sinners choose to respond to Jesus.

But Jesus soundly refutes that error in our text. God’s sovereign plan to glorify His Son does not rest on the sinful will of man, but on God’s mighty power to save all whom He chooses to save. If sinners have a part in their salvation, then they can share the glory with Christ. But as Paul argues in Ephesians 1:3-12, God chose to save us so that we would be “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). God predestined us “according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (1:11-12). By the way, if God cannot override the fallen human will, you should give up praying for the salvation of the lost. Why pray if God can’t do anything about it?

So while it may be hard to get our finite minds around it, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over our salvation runs through all Scripture, alongside the doctrine of human responsibility. God determined before the foundation of the world to put Christ on the cross, and yet the evil men who did it were responsible for their sin (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). God determined before the foundation of the world to give a chosen bride to His Son, and yet all people are invited and commanded to believe in Jesus. Remember, this doctrine is a part of God’s inspired Word, which is for your spiritual benefit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If you resist it or dodge it or try to explain it away, you’ll be spiritually impaired. Even if you don’t understand it, you need to submit to it (Rom. 9:19-20). While all Scripture is equally inspired by God, our text reports the very words of the Lord Jesus. His point here is:

Jesus’ mission to save and keep all whom the Father has given to Him will certainly succeed.

Christ offers eternal life to all (6:35), but not all believe (6:36). All those whom God has given to Jesus will come to Him (6:37a). He will save them and keep them for all eternity (6:37b-40).

1. Christ offers Himself as the living bread that gives eternal life to all who believe in Him (6:35).

John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” As Leon Morris points out (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 366), Jesus’ words are not an abstract statement, but rather an appeal for people to come to Him and believe in Him. As I mentioned last week, this is an astounding claim that no mere man could make. Jesus says that if we will come to Him and believe in Him, He will eternally satisfy and sustain us spiritually.

It’s important to affirm that the doctrine of election does not in any way restrict offering the gospel freely to all. Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life (John 3:16). The Bible ends with this open invitation (Rev. 22:17), “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” The Bible never says, “If you’re one of the elect, come.” It invites every sinner to come to Jesus just as you are and know that He will welcome you. But …

2. People are so hopelessly lost in sin that they will reject even the best reasons to believe (6:36).

I might add, “Even religious, morally upright people are so hopelessly lost in sin that they will reject even the best reasons to believe.” Jesus was speaking to religious, moral Jews. They were zealous about keeping the Sabbath and the many Jewish rituals. Yet here they’ve seen Jesus miraculously provide bread and fish for a huge multitude and they’ve watched Him heal many of their sick, but Jesus’ tragic assessment is (6:36), “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.”

People do not reject Christ because they lack solid evidence for believing in Him. Sometimes skeptics will say, “Show me a real miracle and I’ll believe.” No, they wouldn’t. People reject Jesus because they love darkness rather than light (3:19-21). People apart from Christ are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). They cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14) because Satan has blinded their eyes (2 Cor. 4:4).

In John 8:43, Jesus asks the unbelieving Jews, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” He answers His own question, “It is because you cannot hear My word.” He did not say “because you will not hear My word,” but “because you cannot hear My word.” That’s why He says (John 6:44), “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (also, 6:65). Because of sin, it’s impossible for anyone to believe in Jesus apart from God’s opening their blind eyes (Rom. 3:10-18). In the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn, before Christ sends His “quickening ray,” we are “fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” Leon Morris writes (ibid., p. 367), “People do not come to Christ because it seems to them a good idea. It never does seem a good idea to natural man. Apart from a divine work in their souls (cf. 16:8) men remain contentedly in their sins.” Yet at the same time, we are responsible for our unbelief. So, then, how can anyone be saved?

3. All whom the Father has given to Jesus will certainly be saved (6:37a).

John 6:37a: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me ….” This refers to the elect, whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world to give to His Son. Jesus refers to those the Father has given Him in 6:39 and in 10:29 (see, 18:9). He repeats it five times in His prayer in John 17:

John 17:2: “… even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.”

John 17:6 [2x]: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”

John 17:9: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours ….” (Note that the Father has not given everyone in the world to Jesus, but only some.)

John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Many argue that the elect, whom the Father gives to the Son, are those whom God foreknew would believe in Christ by their own free will. But as we’ve seen, left to their own fallen will, none would choose to believe in Christ. Furthermore, the foreknowledge ruse robs God of His sovereignty and makes man sovereign. But the Bible is clear that God did not make up His plan for the ages after He saw what sinful people would do!

John Bunyan wrote a wonderful book on John 6:37, “Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ” (in The Works of John Bunyan [Baker], 1:240-299). He makes the point (pp. 256-257) that Jesus’ statement here is unconditional. It will happen without exception because it rests on God’s will, which He is able to accomplish. It’s sometimes called “irresistible grace.” This does not mean that God drags people to Christ kicking and screaming against their will. No one comes to Christ unwillingly. Rather, it means that God makes sinners willing to come to Christ (Ps. 110:3). When Paul preached the gospel to Lydia, we read (Acts 16:14), “And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” If God had not opened her heart, she would not have responded favorably.

If you have believed in Christ, it’s because the Lord opened your heart to believe. You believed because the Holy Spirit imparted new life to you, apart from anything in you. You believed because in His sovereign grace, before the foundation of the world the Father chose you in love to give to His Son. All whom the Father has given to Jesus will certainly be saved. No sinner can thwart God’s mighty will to accomplish His purpose (Ps. 115:3).

4. Salvation is absolutely and finally secure for all whom the Father has given to Jesus (6:37b-40).

These verses are a wonderful foundation for assurance of salvation for all who have come to Jesus and believed in Him. Note four things:

A. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him (6:37b).

John 6:37b: “… and the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out.” That phrase is often understood, even by the greats like John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon (who has at least seven sermons on this verse), to mean that Christ will welcome all who come to Him. That is certainly true, whether it’s the thief on the cross or Paul, the persecutor of the church. But I agree with D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 290) that that is not the meaning of this phrase in its context. Rather, what Jesus is saying is that all that the Father gives to Him (who will surely come to Him) He will certainly keep or preserve unto eternity. In modern terms, He won’t “kick out” any whom the Father has given to Him.

There are two reasons that this is what Jesus means here. First, the Greek verb translated “cast out” in almost all of its parallel occurrences refers to casting out something that is already “in.” For example, John uses it (9:34) to refer to the Pharisees expelling the man born blind from the temple (cf. 3 John 10). Second, the next three verses show that this is Jesus’ meaning. He repeatedly emphasizes that He will eternally keep all whom the Father has given Him.

At Christmas, you may receive a gift that you have absolutely no use for (except for a white elephant gift to unload on some poor victim at next year’s Christmas party). Jesus doesn’t do that with the gifts that the Father gives Him. He uses a strong double negative (in the Greek text) to underscore that He will keep every gift from the Father. If you have believed in Jesus, you’re one of God’s gifts to His Son. (Don’t let that go to your head!) As a member of Christ’s body, He will tenderly nourish and cherish you (Eph. 5:29).

B. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him because He came down from heaven to do the Father’s will (6:38).

John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus bases the success of His mission not on whether or not people respond to Him, but rather on the fact that He came down from heaven (John 6:33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58), where He shared the glory of the Father (17:5), to do the Father’s will, which is absolutely certain. If any whom the Father gave to the Son do not make it to heaven, it would mean either that Jesus was incapable of performing what the Father commanded Him to do or that He was flagrantly disobedient, both of which are unthinkable (Carson, p. 291). But what is the Father’s will?

C. The will of the Father who sent Jesus is that of all that He has given Him, He lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day (6:39).

John 6:39: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” “The last day” is a phrase that occurs only in John (5:28, 29; 11:24; 12:48). It means that Jesus will keep us until we’re in heaven. Morris states (ibid., p. 368), “This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers. Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on His sure grip of them.”

You may wonder, “What about Judas or what about the disciples in John 6:66 who turned away from Jesus?” The answer is, they never truly believed in Jesus. In John 17:12, Jesus prays with reference to the twelve, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” There are many like the seed sown on the stony ground or the thorny ground, who spring up and at first look genuine, but when trials and temptations hit, they wither and die (Matt. 13:20-21). They never truly believed in Christ. But those to whom Jesus gives eternal life will never perish (John 10:28).

D. To sum up, the will of the Father is that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life and Jesus will raise him up on the last day (6:40).

John 6:40 sums up what Jesus has been saying: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Again, this is a staggering claim that Jesus has already made (5:28-29), that He will raise us from the dead on the last day so that we will be with Him forever.

Note that rather than referring to those whom He will raise up as those whom the Father has given to Him, here Jesus goes back to the invitation mode of 6:35. There it was “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” Here, it is “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him.” “To behold” implies knowledge of who Jesus is. You can’t believe in one you know nothing about. John wrote this gospel to show us who Jesus is—the Christ, the Son of God—so that we may believe in His name and have eternal life (20:31). It’s interesting that none other than John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 254) here calls “madmen” those who seek salvation in what he calls “the whirlpool of predestination,” rather than by faith in Christ. He’s saying, to be saved, don’t probe into whether or not you’re one of the elect. Rather, focus on answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” and on the basis of the apostolic witness, put your trust in Him.

Conclusion

Some preachers do not teach on God’s sovereignty over our salvation because they say that it’s too controversial or divisive. Some argue that these doctrines are just theoretical theology that have no relevance for how we live. I’ve heard seminary professors say that you should never talk about the doctrine of election with unbelievers, because it will drive them away from Christ.

Yet here Jesus speaks plainly about election as He confronts these unbelievers (He will do it again in 10:26). The thought that you may not be one of God’s elect should drive you in panic to believe in Jesus! Also, God’s sovereign election is a comforting doctrine for us who truly believe in Jesus because it’s the foundation for our eternal security. Jesus will keep all whom the Father has given Him. His mission will not fail.

God’s sovereign election the only doctrine that produces true humility in us as we give all glory to God, who graciously saves unworthy sinners (1 Cor. 1:18-31). The doctrine of election encourages us to share the gospel even with immoral, idolatrous “Corinthians” (Acts 18:9-10), because God will save all whom He has purposed to save. And, Jesus’ words here give comfort to preachers who preach on God’s sovereignty, only to have people leave the church, which I hope that none of you will do!

Application Questions

  1. Some say that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism and missions. Why is this false? What Scriptures refute it?
  2. Some argue that if sinners can’t believe by their own free will, it is mockery to encourage them to believe. What Scriptures refute this error?
  3. Since some (like Judas or those in John 6:66) seem to be saved for a while and then fall away, how can we know that our faith in Christ is the real thing?
  4. Should we assure a professing Christian who is living in sin that he is eternally secure in Christ? Why/why not? Which Scriptures give guidance on this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Assurance, Character of God, Christology, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life