What follows is a verse-by-verse exegesis of John 6:26-66. The reason for writing this is to answer non-Calvinistic interpretations of the passage which seek to neutralize the force of the passage as an argument for Calvinism. As will be shown, most of these non-Calvinistic interpretations involve a most basic exegetical error, namely dividing up the passage and interpreting each individual verse by itself without reference to each other and even the book of John as a whole. This is a common tactic utilized by non-Calvinists and can be seen in their attempted exegesis of Romans 9, Genesis 50, and their use of 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4. Lastly, this exegesis covers and responds to the Eucharistic interpretation of John 6:50-58 put forth by Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans. So, on to the passage…
John 6 begins with the feeding of the five thousand (vv.1-13), an amazing event in which five thousand men (not to mention the women and children) could not deny was anything but a miracle. Now, the majority view of Jewish Messianism at this time looked for a conquering king to be the Messiah, one who would throw off the yoke of Rome and all the oppressors of the Jewish people. A man who could create an endless supply of instant nourishment could feed an army of infinite size, withstand Roman sieges forever, feed the Jewish people without them having to break their backs at work, etc.
As a result of their thinking, the crowd tries to make Jesus the King of Israel (v.14). Because the purpose of His first advent was to render Himself, the Servant spoken of in Isaiah 42, 49, and 53, as a “guilt offering” (Isaiah 53:10), Jesus hid Himself from them (v.15). The disciples, being alone, set out to sea (vv. 16-17). In the middle of the night, Jesus appears to them walking on water (v.19-20), and after He climbs in, the boat is immediately at the shore of Capernaum (v.21). The next day, the crowd that tried to make Him king is baffled that there is one boat that left without Jesus, and yet, Jesus is no where to be found (v.22). So, they climb into small boats and set out for the other side of the Sea of Galilee in order to seek out Christ (v.24). When they see Him in the synagogue (from v.59), they ask when (and how) He got to Capernaum (v.25). It is here that Jesus starts his dialogue with these so-called “followers”. All Scripture quotes are taken from the NASB.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” -John 6:26-27
Jesus completely ignores their question and cuts right to the chase. These “followers” are seeking Him for impure, worldly motives. Simply put, they wanted food without having to work for it, not because they sought to be sanctified by His teaching. He tells them not to seek earthly food but to seek food which grants eternal life, the spiritual nourishment of eternal redemption, which only the Messiah, the Anointed of God, can give. The crowd immediately wants to know what they must do in order to gain this food (v.28). Jesus answers them quite simply:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” -John 6:29
Similar statements are made concerning God’s servants. For instance, 2 Chronicles 20:20 states that the people of Israel were to believe in God and His prophets. Indeed, this was the chief tenant of Rabbinic Judaism (despite what anti-missionaries say), to believe and await YHWH’s Messiah. Jesus is stating that all one has to do to receive the covenant blessings of His kingdom is to believe in Him, God’s Anointed One. As with all the Old Testament prophets and their prophecies, this belief was not simply an assent to truth (i.e. assensus). It involved a resulting obedience as well (i.e. fiducia).
They then demand a sign from Him similar to Moses’ manna so that they might believe in Him (vv.30-31). Of course, this is absolutely absurd since He just fed 5,000 people using a five loaves of bread and two fish the previous day!!! This is very similar to how the Pharisees demanded from Him a sign from heaven just after the feeding of the five-thousand (Matthew 15:32-16:4)! Christ is about to expose their unbelief for what it truly is.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” -John 6:32-33
Chist exhorts them not to desire earthly things which pass away, but rather, they should seek God and obey His law in order to gain an eternal reward (cf. Matthew 6:19-20). Still thinking that Jesus is speaking of *literal* bread, his “followers” ask Him for this bread (v.34).
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” -John 6:35
Jesus is this “bread”. To come to Him will satisfy their spiritual hunger, and to believe in Him will satisfy their spiritual thirst. This is the equivalent of the “repent and believe” formula found throughout the Gospels and Acts (Matthew 1:15, Acts 2:38, 3:19, etc.). We should also note the parallels with the other passage in John where Jesus dialogues with the woman at the well in Samaria (4:7-30, esp. 13-15). This verse is also one of the several parallel verses within John 6, and so, we will come back to this later on.
“But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe” -John 6:36
He has explained to them that He is the “Bread of Life” that must be “partaken of” in order to receive eternal life. He has performed plenty of miracles to prove this (by fulfilling the Scriptures; see John 5:39), and yet, the Jews do not believe. What follows is key since it is the explanation of WHY THEY DON’T BELIEVE. In fact, it would seem like Jesus is randomly changing the subject in the next few verses *unless* He is going to explain to them *why they don’t believe*. To interpret the following verses without reference to this fact is to commit the exegetical fallacy that I noted at the beginning. Again, TO TRY TO EXPLAIN THE FOLLOWING VERSES IN SUCH A WAY AS TO UNDERMINE JESUS’ EXPLANATION IS AN EXEGETICAL ERROR!!!
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 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. 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.” -John 6:37-40
Jesus states that all of a certain group which the Father will give to Him will end up coming to Him (recall v.35 where coming is the equivalent to repenting and believing), and those who come to Him will never be cast away from Him. Expanding on this thought (and paralleling it), Jesus explains what the will of the Father who sent Him is (v.38). Look at verses 37, 39, and 40 side by side:
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (v.37)
“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.” (v. 39)
“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.” (v.40)
*These are parallel statements* explaining that the will of the Father is to give a group to the Son which will not be lost but raised up on the last day. Since they are parallel and build on top of each other, IT WOULD BE AN EXEGETICAL ERROR TO INTERPRET THEM SEPERATELY.
Since they are parallel, here are their equivalent parts:
“All that the Father gives Me…” (v. 37) = “all that He has given Me…” (v. 39)
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (v.37) = “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (v.40)
“the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (v. 37) = “all that He has given Me I lose nothing” (v.39)
“I…raise it up on the last day” (v.39) = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (v.40)
(The following is key:)
Inferred from all these equivalent statements is the following: a.) ALL of a certain group was given by the Father to the Son (vv.37 and 39), b.) ALL of this group will come to/behold the Son and believe in Him (vv.37 and 40), c.) ALL of this group will have eternal life as a result of coming to/believing in the Son (v.40), d.) NONE of this group shall be cast out OR LOST (v.37 and 39), and e.) ALL of this group shall be raised up on the last day (v. 39 and 40).
Here, in the clearest of terms, is unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the preservation of the saints. [Before you start yelling the typical counter-arguments at the screen, leave a reply, and close out this window, see the “Exegetical Errors” just below this. This section will cover the objections to vv.36-40.]
1st Exegetical Error
A certain non-Calvinist counter-argument is to argue that people won’t be cast out, but they can “jump out” utilizing their libertarian free-will. Other than the fact that such a theology destroys the purpose and nature of the New Covenant as spoken of in Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27, the problem with this interpretation is that the parallelism between vv. 37 and 40 eliminates such a thought since Christ will *lose* none. To “jump out” of Christ’s hold and end up going to hell *would* be for Christ to *lose* some! Also, ALL of this particular group are those that come to Christ, and ALL of this group will be *raised unto eternal life*. [See the next error below.] Everyone who believes in Christ (noticia, assensus, AND fiducia since it includes repentance: v.35) will be saved. [Also, see the “common exegetical error” section below.]
2nd Exegetical Error
A second, less common exegetical error would be to argue that “raise it up on the last day” only refers to the general resurrection of the dead in which everyone is raised up on the last day, and thus, verses 39 and 40 would not indicate the eternal state of those who come to Christ. The problem with this argument is that v.40 states that it is those WHO BELIEVE and have ETERNAL LIFE that will receive this form of resurrection, and thus, this raising up is given as an INCENTIVE (for lack of a better word) for beholding the son and believing in Him. It is obvious, then, that this is the resurrection unto everlasting life (Daniel 12:2), not the general resurrection.
3rd Exegetical Error
A third error would be to argue that while it is the will of the Father that this happen, the Father’s will is not always obeyed. [This, of course, assumes two Arminian/non-Calvinist presuppositions: a.) that God’s *decree* can be frustrated and b.) that there is no distinction between God’s prescriptive, law-giving will and His providential will in which He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Since all the non-Calvinist has to do is to neutralize this passage as a Calvinist proof-text, however, the Calvinist bears the burden of proof.] The problem with this argument is the fact that since all three verses (vv.37, 39, and 40) are linked, we may safely say that ALL of this particular group “WILL” come to Christ (a predictive certainty, not just God’s prescriptive will; v.37), and ALL of the *same group* will be “raised…up” unto everlasting life on the last day (v.40). [Also, see the “common exegetical error” section below.]
4th Exegetical Error
Another error would be to argue that verses 37 and 39 which speak of the giving by the Father to the Son do not speak of irresistible grace, but instead, these verses speak of the Father giving this group because of their foreseen faith and coming to Christ out of their (autonomous) libertarian free-will. The problem with this is explained below in the “Common Exegetical Error” section just below and will be expanded upon in the discussion of verses 44 and 45.
The Common Exegetical Error to All Non-Calvinist Objections
The greatest exegetical error that runs through all of these objections is the fact that it fails to take into account that verses 37-40 are an explanation of *why the “followers” don’t believe*! By not taking this into account, the above objections (and any not mentioned here) reveal their COMPLETE EXEGETICAL FAILURE.
If men could “jump out” of Christ’s grasp due to their unbelief by exercising their libertarian free-will; if God’s salvific will could be frustrated by men utilizing their libertarian free-will; if the “giving” by the Father to the Son of the “All” was simply due to their forseen faith on the basis of their libertarian free-will, then how could Christ explain the unbelief of those in the synagogue in Capernaum? If they had libertarian free-will, then it follows that they were simply utilizing their neutral, unbiased intellect and making a rational choice that Jesus was not the Christ. However, because vv.37-40 is an explanation of v.36, namely an explanation of the “followers” unbelief, it follows that the “all” being given by the Father to the Son, their subsequent believing in the Son, and their eschatological rising to eternal life is presented as the answer to the “followers’” unbelief. The “followers’” unbelief was due to a factor not related to their free and rational choice-making.
The reason that the “followers” did not believe in Christ was BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT GIVEN BY THE FATHER TO THE SON!!! They had no power to come outside of the Father’s enablement. Their free-will was capable of choosing any action other than saving faith in Christ.