“But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” ” –John 6:61-63
Jesus, seeing that His so-called “disciples” are displeased with His sayings and in disbelief of His claims, asks them a rhetorical question along the lines of, “If you think that my statements and the claims about myself are amazing and unbelievable, what will you think if I ascend back into Heaven!?! What do you think about THAT claim!?!”
Next, He does, in fact, correct their misapprehension of what He said. The Spirit is the One that imparts eternal life and only a spiritual act, not a physical one of the flesh, can bring about salvation. The words that Jesus speaks are of the Spirit of God and truthful. If anyone heeds them, they shall be quickened by the Spirit unto eternal life.
“ ‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father. As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.’ ” -John 6:64-66
Jesus re-states His purpose at the beginning of the dialogue (v.36), an explanation of their unbelief. Since Christ knows the motives, desires, and all the innermost things of all men (John 2:24-25), He also knew who was unregenerate and who was of the Spirit of God (John 8:47). He then summarizes what He said in vv.37-40 and 44-45 in a very succinct manner, and if you read only Jesus’ words without John’s commentary in the middle, it becomes very clear:
“But there are some of you who do not believe…For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (v.64 and 65)
For what reason did He say this? Answer: for the reason of unbelief. What was His explanation for their unbelief? Answer: no one can come to Christ unless it is granted by the Father! The implications here are obvious:
The so-called “disciples” could not believe in Christ because it was not granted to them to believe by the Father!!!
There is no way around this. The stated reason given by Jesus for their disbelief had nothing to do with their rational, free, decision-making faculties. Rather, the ability to come to Christ has its monergistic (i.e. sole origin) in the Father’s choosing.
Does that mean that the Father prevented them from having saving faith? May it never be!!! For that would contradict a great many Scriptures (Matthew 11:28-30, John 3:16, Acts 17:30). Rather, men are naturally enslaved to sin (John 8:34, 2 Corinthians 4:4, etc.), and as a result, they cannot choose God (nor would they want to; John 8:43-47, 10:25-26, 12:37-40, Romans 8:7-8, etc.) apart from God’s monergistic grace (Matthew 11:25-27, John 6:37-40, 44-45, 64-65, 10:27-29, Acts 13:48, 16:14, Philippians 1:29, 2 Peter 1:1, etc.).
A Greater Argument from a Theme of the Gospel of John
One aspect that is missing from any discussion of this passage in John 6 is a theme of the entire book of John. What was John’s purpose for writing his Gospel? Was it solely to show the Deity of Christ more fully and refute Gnosticism? While just about every passage in this Gospel has something that relates to Christ’s union in substance with the Father, some of those passages do not have that theme or the anti-Gnostic theme as their *main* focus. For the theme of this Gospel, we should inquire from John’s prologue, and in that prologue, we find these verses:
“There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” –John 1:9-13 (emphasis mine)
In other words, one of the themes of the Gospel of John is to answer the question, “If Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, why did the Jews not believe in Him?”
Throughout John, there can be found Jesus’ words or John’s comments explaining why the Jews rejected Christ (John 3:18-21, 5:37-47, 6:36-40, 44-45, 64-65, 7:7, 8:19, 37-47, 9:39-41, 10:1-5, 25-29, 12:37-40, 13:18, 14:17, 15:19, 16:3, 17:1-6, 9, 12, 14, and 18:37).
The argument presented by both Jesus and John throughout the latter’s Gospel was that the Jews rejected Christ, not for any rational decision made from some near-neutral willpower, but for a determinative, non-rational decision made from an evil nature that can choose anything except trusting faith in God.
Indeed, any interpretation of the Johannine text must wrestle with this. Any interpretation that gives libertarian free-will to the unbelieving Jews will undermine Jesus’ and the John’s argument and result in an exegetical error!!!
I have shown that the most obvious and necessary interpretation of John 6:26-66 yields the Calvinistic doctrines of Total Depravity (without prevenient grace), Unconditional Election, Particular Redemption, Irresistible Grace, and The Perseverance of the Saints. The full TULIP is there.
Furthermore, I have answered the standard Arminian/non-Calvinist re-interpretations/counter-arguments of the passage. If there are any that I have left out, please leave a comment.
Lastly, I have answered the Eucharistic Interpretation of verses 50-58 put forward by many Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran apologists and shown their arguments and interpretation to be eisegetical.
Again, if there is anything that I have missed, please leave a comment. “Nastygrams” will be deleted.
–Saint and Sinner