In John 6:44 is recorded an amazing statement made by the Lord Jesus Christ that radically shapes my understanding of salvation. Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (ESV). Let’s unfold the meaning of this text by asking two questions.
First, what does Jesus mean by “come to Me?” The answer is not hard to find. The Greek verb is erchomai and it means to come from one place to another and can be used to speak of both arriving and returning. Erchomai is used eleven times in John chapter six. The first six uses of the term include references to: a multitude of people coming to find Jesus (v. 5); Jesus being called the prophet who should come into the world (v. 14); people coming to take Jesus by force in order to make him king (v. 15); Jesus and the disciples being in a ship which went across the sea (v. 17a); Jesus not coming to the people (v. 17b), and boats coming from Tiberias to the place where the people ate bread (v. 23).
The other five uses of erchomai refer to people coming to Jesus Christ and have obvious salvific implications. They are: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (v. 35); “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37); “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 44); “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— “(v. 45); “And he [Jesus] said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’” (v. 65). A careful study of these verses makes it unmistakably clear that Jesus is using the physical act of coming as a metaphor for the spiritual act of believing. Verse 35 is the first hint of this as Jesus parallels coming to Him with believing on Him – the former satisfying our hunger, the latter satisfying our thirst.
Verse 37 categorically asserts the certainty that all who are given to the Son by the Father will come to the Son. The following verses indicate that this coming is equivalent to believing. Verses 38-40 read: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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. 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.”
Notice how verses 39 and 40 both describe those who will be raised up at the last day. Verse 39 says that they are those given to the Son by the Father. Verse 40 says that they are those who see and believe on the Son. Those two verses perfectly accord with verse 37: “All that the Father gives me (parallels v. 39) will come (parallels v. 40) to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. “ Rather, He will raise them up in the last day. Again, Jesus clearly equates coming with believing.
But verses 64 and 65 really nail it down. In verse 64, Jesus tells those who reject Him: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Then verse 65 connects their not believing with their not coming: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus explains the unbelief of some by reminding them that they cannot come unless it is given to them by the Father, a clear allusion to verse 44. Therefore, we can say without doubt that the phrase “come to Me” is a metaphorical way of describing believing on (or trusting in) Jesus Christ.
Second question: what does “draw” mean? Some would say that “draw” means nothing more than “woo.” They would interpret this verse to mean that no person can come to Christ until the Father first woos him. And they would then assert that the Father does this wooing for all men without exception. This is the Arminian or Wesleyan interpretation, commonly known as “prevenient grace.” Wesleyans believe that John 6:44 teaches that God “draws” all men to himself, thus giving them the opportunity to choose salvation.
This view is linguistically impossible and contextually unthinkable. The verb “draw” (Gk. helkuo) is used only eight times in the New Testament. It always carries the idea of compulsive drawing or dragging, such as dragging a net (Jn. 21:6, 11), drawing a sword (Jn. 18:10), forcibly dragging Paul and Silas into the marketplace (Acts 16:17), dragging Paul out of the temple (Acts 21:30), and dragging someone into court (Jas. 2:6). The other two uses (Jn. 6:44; 12:32) are used respectively to describe the Father and Son’s drawing of sinners to the Son for salvation.
In his excellent book Chosen by God, R. C. Sproul gives a humorous anecdote which enforces this understanding of the word draw. He says: “I once was asked to debate the doctrine of predestination in a public forum at an Arminian seminary. My opponent was the head of the New Testament department of the seminary. At a crucial point in the debate we fixed our attention on the passage about the Father’s drawing people. My opponent was the one who brought up the passage as a proof text to support his claim that God never forces or compels them to come to Christ. He insisted that the divine influence on fallen man was restricted to drawing, which he interpreted to mean wooing. At that point in the debate I quickly referred him to . . . the other passages in the New Testament that translate the word drag. I was sure I had him. I was sure that he had walked into an insoluble difficulty for his own position. But he surprised me. He caught me completely off guard. I will never forget that agonizing moment when he sighted a reference from an obscure Greek poet in which the same Greek word was used to describe the action of drawing water from a well. He looked at me and said, “Well, Professor Sproul, does one drag water from a well?” Instantly the audience burst into laughter at this startling revelation of the alternate meaning of the Greek word. I stood there looking rather silly. When the laughter died down I replied, “No sir. I have to admit that we do not drag water from a well. But, how do we get water from a well? Do we woo it? Do we stand at the top of the well and cry, ‘Here, water, water, water’?” It is as necessary for God to come into our hearts to turn us to Christ as it is to put the bucket in the water and pull it out if we want anything to drink. The water simply will not come on its own, responding to a mere external invitation.”
Not only does the verb helkuo demand that this “drawing” be effectual, but so does the context of John 6. The rest of verse 44 says, “I will raise him up in the last day.” Who is raised up by Christ in the last day? Those who come or those who are drawn? The answer is yes! This demands that this drawing be an efficacious work, because all (not some) who are drawn will come and be raised up on the last day (Jn. 6:44c).
Verse 45 concurs. Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah 54:13, saying “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— ” Notice that all (the children, see Isa. 54:13) are taught of God and that everyone who has heard and learned of the Father comes to Christ. The teaching, hearing, and learning in verse 45 give Jesus’ own definition to the drawing in verse 44, and the effectual nature of this drawing is underlined by the words “all” and “every.”
In conclusion, what does John 6:44 teach in light of the meaning of the words “come” and “draw”? The answer is simple. Consider the following three lessons. 1. We learn from this verse that no one can possibly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation unless they are first drawn to the Son by the effectual and irresistible work of the Father. 2. We learn that every single person who is thus drawn to the Son by the Father will necessarily believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. 3. We learn that every person who thus believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will also be preserved so as to be resurrected in glory on the last day.
It is amazing to me how much truth can be packed into one short verse of only twenty-three words! Meditate on these words and the truths which they uncover and glorify the God who saves (and does not just try to save) sinners!