Jesus: Sovereign or Failure?
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32 KJV)
Countless modern churchmen and theologians easily declare that Jesus failed in his mission because, they say, He did not do everything he set out to do. From the failed God of Sun Myung Moon to the dumbed down God of the Open Theists, many seem to be attempting to avoid dealing with a God who says what He will do and does what He says. To make matters even worse, church members have listened to an easy to believe, convenient, watered down gospel for so long that most are not now willing to hear the truth of what the Bible says about our Sovereign God.
When Jesus declared, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me," He was stating a wonderful truth but he was not stating the obvious as far as the English translation of scripture is concerned.
What you believe this verse means will reveal to a great extent what you think of Jesus. There are a number of decisions that one must make when interpreting this passage that, when understood, will determine the depth of your appreciation for our Lord. It is not enough to take the easy and sentimental approach to exegeting this passage because your conclusions will reveal the kind of God you serve.
What are the questions we must raise in considering this verse?
1. What does "draw" mean? Most people seem to have a rather romantic notion about the meaning of this word. They want to use it as we use the term to say that two were "drawn" to each other, i.e., that there is a sort of magnetism there which attracts people to Him but the Bible knows nothing of that. To the contrary it teaches that the world hates and despises Him - holds him in low esteem. There is no beauty about him that we should behold Him. He is rejected of men (Isa. 53:2-4) . Many think of the term as if the Lord is wooing people to Himself as a suitor woos his intended. But that cannot be the way Jesus intended for this word to be interpreted. Did you ever go to a well and attempt to woo a bucket of water from the well? That would keep a person thirsty for a long time. The root of the word translated "draw," both here and in John 6:44 is a word that means, "to drag." The same word is used in John 21:6 where "he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes."
Dragging a bucket of water from a well makes sense to me, but I don't think I could woo one up. It is certain that no one is ever drawn to the Lord "kicking and screaming", but most assuredly meant here that those he draws will come. Not some of them, not most of them but all of them.
2. What did Jesus mean by the term "all men"? It should at first be noted that the word men is not in the manuscripts from which the scripture was interpreted but was supplied by the KJV translators as it was in several other English versions of the New Testament. Others translated it all things. At least one translation has it all my friends. The meaning of the term "all men is unclear if you consider only the words presented in the texts.
One would think that the term "all men" should mean that Jesus meant to draw one hundred percent of all people to Himself. Now one who has faith in the One who healed the sick, raised the dead, and resurrected Himself from the grave should be able to say without reservation that Jesus did not mean in any literal sense that He intended to bring one hundred percent of all people to himself. The simple fact is that had Jesus meant to bring one hundred percent of all people to Himself, He would certainly have done it. Isa 59:1
There are some conclusions that must be drawn from this discourse. When the Lord determines to draw us to Himself, He is not trying in some romantic sort of way to gain our permission to become part of our lives. The relationship between God and the Elect is not one of courtship. He is neither trying to win us over nor to wear us down in order to accomplish His purpose in our lives. God does not influence our lives after the manner of men. He does not need to do so. He is God. When God decides to draw a person to Himself, that person will come. Not kicking and screaming as I stated previously but he will come with a heart full of gratitude for the revelation of God Himself. The song of one so drawn shall ever be, "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see."
The second conclusion is this. If you believe that Jesus meant that after His crucifixion that He would draw one hundred percent of all men to Himself you have to accept one of two positions. You must either accept the position of the Universalist, that is, you believe that all people everywhere are or will be saved or else you have to say that Jesus has failed because He clearly had not done what He said He would do. All people have not come to Him and it is clear that all men will not come to Him. There is no middle ground. The instant you accept as fact the idea that Jesus meant that one hundred percent of all men would come to Him, you box yourself into the corner of having to accept one of these two positions.
There is another choice. To be realistic and consistent with the scripture we must either limit the quality of what Jesus has done or we must limit the scope of what Jesus meant. I, for one, will hold to God's promise of Isa. 55:11. "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." What God says He will do, He will do. Since His word will accomplish that which He pleases, we must believe that He intended something other than one hundred percent of all men when He said, "I will draw all men." The context is always a great aid in understanding the meaning of a passage. In John 12:20-21 we read "And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus." Considering this as the context then, we might well say that the "all" which Jesus would draw unto Himself would be "all people" or "all nations." In that context no one would dare call Jesus a failure. But Jesus may be thinking in even a broader context here. Seven times in John 17, He speaks of "those whom thou hast given me." These certainly will all come to Christ. There can be no doubt. He will draw them and they will come. Those of us who are numbered in that number should always rejoice that He chose us for salvation and we should always work toward getting all that the Lord will call into the Kingdom. To God be the glory forever. Amen.
Larry W. Brown is Pastor of New Liberty Baptist Church