How Jesus Addressed a Free Will Crowd

From John 6:35-71 (

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus was speaking to a crowd, among whom were those who professed themselves to be His disciples (v60). Others in the crowd considered their heritage to be sufficient evidence of following God (v31). Jesus was inviting them both to taste the Bread of Life (v27,33,35).

Jesus told the people (v35-36): 1) whoever comes to Me shall not hunger; 2) whoever believes in Me shall never thirst; and, 3) you have seen Me, yet you do not believe. After this, did He plead? did He beg the people to pull off their blinders and receive the truth? No. He explained to them all whom the Father has given Him will come to Him (v37). Even though man is admonished to come, the decision is not left to free will; it is left to the Father’s choosing – “All the Father gives me will come.” [v37].

“Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.” [v37] This phrase is thrown around like a promise while evangelists plead with the people to come forward to receive Jesus Christ. However, this is not even close to the meaning Jesus intended. This promise applies to those God has given Him as expressed in the first part of this verse. So, this coming is not self-motivated. Neither is every soul the evangelist can convince to come forward in a meeting given by God. Coming to the Son is more than mere willingness and God does more than stimulate a man’s emotion – He motivates the entire will of the one who is chosen. In essence, Christ told the people, “You don’t believe but I am here for those whom the Father has given Me. They will believe and I will turn none of them away.”

When it comes to evangelizing, we should use Jesus’ example: In verse thirty-six and seven He told the crowd they had seen Him but still did not believe – just like He told them it would happen – because they were not chosen. Christ did not beg people to come to Him. He declared the truth and let the Father bring them.

So too, we should declare the truth knowing God will draw those who are His. We don’t need to beg or plead and we need not worry that our witness is ineffective if no one appears to listen. God told the prophets Isaiah (Isa 6:9) and Jeremiah (Jer 7:27) to preach even though the people would not listen. God calls us to stand and He will determine the harvest.

Jesus intended to make His point stick.

In verse 36 and 37, He told the crowd they did not believe but He had come for those whom the Father had given. In the next three verses, He doubled down: He explained He did not come to win their favor: 1)He was not there for His own will or glory but 2) He came to do the will of the Father.

The will of the Father was that He should lose none of those the Father had given Him (see also 17:2). And, how was He going to accomplish this? “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” [v51]. He came to die to assure salvation for those who were chosen – those God had given Him.

He told the people He will raise the believers up on the last day. This was a warning – a warning of the judgment to come. If He will raise up the elect to life in the end, what will become of those who do not believe? He affirmed, once again, almost as if to offer them the opportunity to repent, that everyone who looks to Him will have eternal life and will escape the judgment on the last day.

The people did not flinch.

This is a good opportunity to discuss what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter nine. Many Christians and even prominent theologians think this chapter to be an anomaly and they try to explain it away. Let’s look at Romans 9:6-24.

Speaking of the promise to Abraham and the rejection of the Messiah by his offspring, Paul wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…” He explained why this promise of the Messiah extends to those chosen by God and not to Abraham’s physical line: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

By this, he explained in Isaac were two flesh, Jacob and Esau, and to demonstrate salvation is to the elect and not of the physical lineage, God chose only one of these two to continue the promise. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Then he doubled down and said God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and for God’s glory he was destined for destruction.

Many Christians have a difficult time with this. I have listened to many try to explain this away, saying God did not harden his heart but Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God used that or other such arguments. Here are some problems with this reasoning:
1) read the Scriptures. God told Moses beforehand He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3). That some passages refer to Pharaoh hardening his heart (about equally split between Pharaoh and God) can only be explained as the result of what God determined and directed would happen.
2) Do you think God left the exodus of Israel from Egypt to chance and that He was waiting for the right moment when there should be a defiant Pharaoh? Is God subject to mans’ free will and must He work around mans’ choices to accomplish His will? Or does He bring about history according to His predetermined plan (read Ephesians chapter 1).
3) The Apostle Paul refutes these attempts of man to water down the Scriptures by stating, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'” Some are chosen and some are not. Period. God said it.

To make this point stick, the Apostle Paul tells us plainly we cannot be saved via free will. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” And He tells us plainly some people were created for destruction – their destiny is death. God has a right to do this and it is for His glory.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? [Rom 9:19-24].

To modify a quote from Charles Spurgeon: a man’s will is either led captive by sin or is held in the blessed bonds of grace. Does man have free will? Yes. Can he be saved by it or use it to come to salvation? No.

So, what the Apostle Paul has said in Romans chapter nine is not an anomaly because it is the same thing Jesus said, when He said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. . . Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” [v44-45]. If only those whom the Father draws can be saved, then it stands to reason those who are not drawn are destined for destruction. This is why Christ told this crowd, they think they are following Him and/or they think they know Him but they cannot be saved (v36).

A quick outline of what is to come:
1) The Jews grumbled about Christ. He told them to quit grumbling because they are not going to believe unless the Father draws them. Then He continued to explain to them He is the bread of life.
2) The Jews argued angrily because Jesus said, “This bread is My flesh.” Jesus doubled down again, claiming He gave them His flesh to eat and blood to drink and without it they cannot have eternal life.
3) Now many of His disciples began grumbling and turning away. So, Christ confronted the professing believers and told them there are some who do not believe.
4) Many of His disciples turned back and would follow Him no more. Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to leave with the rest of the disciples. When the twelve responded that He had the words of eternal life, He assured them He had chosen them and, even then, one among them would betray Him.

It is interesting, in the following section where the people have clearly refused to believe (v41-71), Jesus did not pass up the opportunity to address what appears to be their exercise of free will. He began His admonishment to the crowd by clarifying they cannot come to Him unless the Father draw them (v44) and He ended His comments assuring those who remained with Him, they had been chosen by Him (v70).

After Jesus claimed to be the Bread that came down from heaven and that He had come to do the will of the Father and the will of the Father was that He should lose no one who had been given to Him but would raise them up to eternal life on that last day, the Jews grumbled. Christ’s response to the grumbling was to tell them to stop grumbling because they cannot believe unless the Father draws them. In other words, He told them it was pointless to complain against His claim to be the Son of God because they were not chosen and they will not be a part of those who are raised up to eternal life on the last day.

This audience was composed largely of people who were following Him and many in the crowd were professing believers; some claimed to be disciples – not to be confused with the twelve. There are a lot of professing Christians today who are not chosen (1Jo 2:19). It would be well for us to remember Christ’s warning not everyone who claims His name will be saved (Mat 7:21-23). We should take seriously the Apostle Paul’s warning to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2Co 13:5). There is more to believing than the mere profession that one believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Just because we think we believe, doesn’t mean our free will has chosen Him.

In the outline above, notice the progression: 1) the Jews grumbled… 2) the Jews argued… 3) many of His disciples began grumbling… 4) many disciples turn back and follow Him no more… Do you see this happening around you? Do you find yourself weakening in your resolve to stand for the truth because the world is wearing you down? The crowd following Jesus was almost certain He was the Prophet or Messiah that was to come but as the cynics began to complain, those who believed – but were not chosen – were swept along with the complaints. If you find yourself swept along by the logic, reason or complaints of the world and if you find yourself explaining away the word of God to satisfy the cynics, examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.

Jesus explained the verse: “And they will all be taught by God.” [Isa 54:13, see also Jer 31:33]. First, He explained those who are chosen – those who come to Christ – are instructed by God – God draws them (v45). They don’t see God; only the Son has seen God (v46) but the Father draws them, the Son receives them and they have eternal life (v47).

Once again, what is believing (v47-51)? Jesus said He is the Bread of Life and He explained to the crowd their forefathers ate manna – a physical bread – but they died. Then He explained the bread that came down from heaven, which is He, came “so that one may eat of it and not die.” [v50]. And, just so the people understood the importance of this statement, in the next verse, He repeated His claim to be the Bread of Life, come down from heaven and that if anyone eats this bread he will live forever. The physical bread does not give life but everlasting life is found in the spiritual bread, which is Christ. Or, as He said in Mathew 4:4, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In this context, believing is looking beyond the physical needs of today and how to satisfy them; clinging to the words of God that give eternal life.

“And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” [v51]. During the Last Supper, Jesus broke bread and said, “This is My body which is given for you…” [Luk 22:19]. The bread is symbolic of His flesh which He gave, of His own accord, to die for sinful man.

In Matthew chapter thirteen and Mark chapter four, Jesus explained the purpose of parables was so that the people might see and hear but not understand – lest they should turn and be saved. Clearly, the masses were not chosen to be saved.

Here we see another example of clearly, maybe purposefully, misunderstanding the words of Christ: For when Christ said the bread He gave for the life of the world was His flesh (v51), the Jews twisted this to say Christ’s words were promoting cannibalism (v52).

What was Christ’s reaction to this misunderstanding? Did He say, “Wait, wait, you don’t understand.”? Or did He rephrase what He said so that it would be more palatable to the people? No, He did not. Instead, He doubled down on His claim and reaffirmed, with double emphasis, if they did not eat His flesh and drink His blood, they had no life but those who do will be raised up for eternal life on the day when all the rest are judged (v53-54).

Those who are not chosen are unable to understand the truth. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” [1Co 2:14].

Those who try to conform Scripture to be palatable to the hearer err on three accounts:
1) they fail to follow the example of Christ. When confronted by grumblers, He did not change His message – in fact, He emphasized those parts which were the stumbling stone to the people;
2) they err in doctrine because they change the message in order to attract those who are not chosen to understand or, in themselves, they build God into their own image; and
3) they compete with God because they think they can draw man to Christ, when Christ, himself, said no one comes to Him unless the Father draws him (v44).

But Christ did not limit His address to the naysayers, He gave hope and instruction to the few who are chosen and listen. He said His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink (v55) and all who eat of Him are those who abide in Him (v56) and as He has life through the Father, so those who abide in Him will have life in Him (v57). While rebuking the cynics, He called the elect.

The bread that came down from heaven is not like the manna in the wilderness or physical bread – the people ate it, yet they died. Whoever eats of the bread from heaven will live forever (v58). We know from Scripture what it is to eat this bread from heaven; it is to believe in the One who was sent by the Father (v29). We know this believing is more than a head knowledge – it is, as we talked about above, clinging to the words of God or abiding in Christ (v56).

Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life. . . abides in Me and I in him.” [v54,56]. If this is true, what is the condition of those who received Jesus Christ to add to their life or complete themselves? Who is the man who has eternal life?

Jesus confronted the grumblers by telling them He would ascend to heaven – where He came from (v62) but this would not help them as they relied upon the flesh – their own wisdom. There are multitudes of people who rely on their own wisdom for their hope of eternal life. They think they can do good to earn their way to God; or God grades on a curve and as long as they are not as bad as the worst, they will still win their way to heaven. But most to be pitied are those who think faith in Christ is a mere confession that He is the Son of God or those who think God accepts man as he is and requires nothing of him. Jesus said, “If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” [Mat 6:23]. The flesh is no help at all (v63).

The Spirit gives life. The Book of John is the story of light overcoming darkness and life overcoming death, beginning with the first chapter. If we rely upon God – the Spirit – we have life. If we rely upon our own wisdom, we have death (v63). Christ’s words are spirit, that is they are from God, and they are life (v64). If we desire everlasting life, we should cling to Christ’s words, which are spirit and life.

Christ knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray. When was this “beginning”? We know it was at least prior to the time He called His disciples because this text says He knew from the beginning the one who would betray Him. But from Scripture, this beginning points to a time before creation, as the Apostle Paul wrote God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4). Christ knew before He came to the world to die for mans’ sins, who were the chosen and who would not believe. And we know from this text this knowing is not passive, as in merely foreknowing; it is active, as in predestined, as in God drawing those He has given the Son.

Once again, Christ did not plead with the unbelievers. He identified them as a group and, this time, instead of saying they cannot come unless the Father draws them, He said they cannot come unless it was granted them – or allowed – by the Father (v65). Here, there is a willing audience – many in the crowd are followers or disciples of Christ. They are willing but they are not allowed because they have not been chosen by the Father. Free will cannot get us to God.

The disciples of free will are about to turn away. Voddie Baucham has been known to say something along the line of “if man could lose his salvation, he would.” Free will brought these people to Christ but it could not keep them. When Christ doubled down on what they refused to believe, they left. After this, many turned back and followed Him no more (v66).

Christ was at the height of His popularity at the feeding of the five thousand but He lost it all by standing for the truth. In one chapter of the Book of John we see His rise and His fall. Thankfully, He did not come to win a popularity contest. This is what He meant when He said He did not come to glorify Himself (v38).

Why did these disciples turn back?
1) Christ claimed to come from God and be equal with God;
2) Christ claimed to be the bread from heaven and must be eaten to have eternal life;
3) Christ will lose none the Father has given and all who come to Him, come not by choice or free will, but are drawn by the Father and those who are not chosen are not allowed. That is, the ones not chosen by God cannot choose God.

In other words, Christ is the Messiah from God; we must rely upon Him and not upon our own wisdom or choices; the Father will determine who will come to Him and He will lose none of them. We cannot determine our salvation – not by free will nor heritage. God is sovereign: He has chosen all the players and assigned to each a role and He will complete His plan to the end. The potter has every right to determine the use for each vessel (Rom 9:19-21). We are saved by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9) – God’s choosing and there is nothing we can do.

Herein is the battle: we all want eternal life but mans’ sinful nature wants control or, at least, wants to claim this control. Lest we exalt ourselves, we must heed the Apostle Paul’s warning: test yourself to see if you are in the faith (2Co 13:5). Do we trust everything to the sovereignty and choosing of God or is our faith based upon what we have done and the choices we make? In other words, do we trust God’s will or do we rely upon our own free will?

As the free will believers were leaving, Christ sealed their doom by saying, ““This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [v65]. If the Father does not draw you, you cannot come to Christ. This, too, is a call to repentance for the elect. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Heb 3:7].

After the multitude of disciples abandoned Him, Christ turned to the twelve and asked them if they are going to leave Him as well. Peter spoke for the group and said they could not leave because only Christ has the words of life and they have come to know He is the One sent from God (v68-69). Christ did not respond by thanking them for choosing Him. He declared they were there of His choosing (v70).

When He warned the twelve disciples one of them would betray Him, He was saying twelve were chosen to be His disciples but only eleven were chosen for eternal life.

Spurgeon’s claim that a man’s will is either led captive by sin or is held in the blessed bonds of grace, affirms the Scriptures. The Psalmist David and the Apostle Paul wrote there is no one who seeks after God (Psa 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Rom 3:10-12). The Prophet Isaiah wrote we have gone astray, like sheep – everyone has turned to his own way (Isa 53:6). The Apostle Peter affirmed what the prophet wrote, saying we, who are chosen, were strayed like sheep but have returned (1Pe 2:25). Free will cannot not bring us to Christ.

In every Biblical example of straying sheep, there is never a mention of them returning of their own choosing. Just like in the example of the lost sheep (Luk 15:1-7), they are sought after by the shepherd; he collects them and returns them to the flock. Without a shepherd, they are lost. Both Isaiah and Peter wrote in the text, “by His wounds we are healed.” My friend, if you are following Christ today, do not give glory to yourself or your free will. Give glory to God and thank Him for choosing you and drawing you to His Son.

Here is the Bread of Life. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever (v51). Is the invitation given to all? Jesus said, “whoever believes…” [v47]. Who are these if not this crowd or if not the people going to church every week who, like this crowd, believe Jesus is the Christ but have a hard time believing everything written in the Word? Some of these people might even appear to be saved. But Jesus said, these cannot come because they have not been drawn by the Father (v65). He said this even though He made the offer to come in their presence.

He appears to invite all but tells them they cannot come. Wait. What? Did Christ just contradict the Scripture that says “God is not willing any should perish”? [2Pe 3:9].

This is a great verse and a comfort to the elect. But it gives no assurance of salvation to those who refuse Christ nor to those who profess faith in Christ but do not follow Him.

One of the most basic rules for interpreting Scripture is to look at the verse within the context of the passage around it. When looking at the context of this clause we see Peter is talking to the elect – make your calling and election sure (2Pe 1:10). In the first verse of chapter three, Peter references his first epistle to these same people and in that epistle he addresses them as the elect at the very start. Then we look at Chapter two, which lists people who, throughout all time, God is not willing to save and has destined to destruction. Then, in chapter three, Peter says the ungodly will be damned (2Pe 3:7). So, at this point we know there are exceptions to “God is not willing any should perish.”

Then, in the ninth verse, where Peter says “God is not willing any should perish,” he prefaces it with, “He is longsuffering toward us” – the elect – then he continues, “not willing that any should perish.” So, if we take this verse in context, Peter is talking to and about the elect when he says “God is not willing any should perish.” He is not talking about those in rebellion to Him.

After we have examined a verse within the context of the passage, we should compare it according to what the rest of Scripture has to say about the subject matter. If you think God is not willing any person should perish, understand this is the same God who rejected an entire generation of Israelites, leaving them to die in the desert. This is the same God who told Jeremiah on four different occasions not to pray for his generation of Israelites. Furthermore, in Matthew chapter thirteen, Jesus explained he spoke in parables lest the people hearing understand and believe.

In John 2:23-25, many claimed to believe but Christ had no confidence in them because He knows the heart of man. In other words, they claimed to believe but they were not saved. We see examples of this throughout the Book of John. So, unlike modern easy-believism which boils salvation down to a recitation of the sinner’s prayer, Jesus tells us the truth is hidden from those not chosen. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” [1Co 2:14].

So, we see from Scripture God qualifies those He is not willing should perish and it is limited to the elect. The battle of free will is settled. Cling to it if you must but we can only come to true faith in Christ if the Father draws us.

About the author: cominus

Cominus is the pen-name for Dean Isaacson. He was chairman of the Snohomish County Republican Central Committee (Washington) 1990 to 1992. He conducted legal research for the late Supreme Court Justice William C. Goodloe for several years and led Judicial Forum for many years. Now, he is a crazy kinda guy who spends most his time doing cold calls. He plays his harmonica in the truck because people don't want to listen to him practice - but his dog, Miles (black dachshund), loves to sing along. He is passionate about being passionate because everyone is really into passionate these days but tires easily and hides behind emails. His core belief is you will choose to serve God or you will serve the state - tyrants, as William Penn called it.

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