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Question and Answer

Meaning of John 6:39

Question:

I was reading your message on Calvinism, and think you have misused John 6:39, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” Jesus himself told us what this meant, and John also confirmed what Jesus said he meant: that this was a reference to the Apostles (John 17:12, John 18:8–9). So if Jesus and John say this is what that means and it has been fulfilled, why do you say it means something else?

Answer:

Greetings in our risen Lord. In response to your query, the context of John 6 is the call of Christ to believe in him whom God has sent (v. 29). Some (in fact, many) in the crowd in Capernaum did not believe, and the leaders likewise resisted his Word. Yet this unbelief does not frustrate his mission: “but I said to you that you have seen me and do not believe” (v. 36). Jesus knows that it is the Father who gives faith by the Spirit (cf. John 3:8), and he makes the definitive statement that “all that the Father gives to me will come to me” (v. 37). 

Now it is certainly the case that the original circle of the Twelve were the first fruits of disciples, and a proleptic ingathering of the future harvest. What is true with respect to them applies to future followers as well: they too must be called by the Father through the Son in order to come to faith and repentance. For example, Christ teaches in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also”—namely, the Gentiles. The Apostle John will underscore that those who believe become part of the circle of original disciples: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). 

All this is to say that the principle that holds for the original apostles—that Christ must first choose them before they choose him (“you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you,” John 15:16)—is true for all believers who would be built as “living stones” on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20). The Apostle Paul states clearly, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself” (Eph. 1:4–5).  

In his commentary on the gospel of John, G. M. Burge states it well: “God’s sovereignty is a major theme in John’s gospel and is treated extensively in 12:37–43. But it occurs regularly in incidental places such as 10:29 (“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”) and Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 (vv. 2, 4, 6, 9, etc.). John affirms with ease both God’s sovereign control and the responsibility of individuals. Note the balance found in v. 40: The Father’s will is that everyone will look upon the Son, believe, and have life eternal. But the stress here is that God’s will cannot be frustrated. The darkness of the world cannot defeat him (1:5).” For further reading, please see Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and the forthcoming volume by Cornelis Venema, Chosen in Christ: Revisiting the Contours of Predestination.


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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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