In the book of John there are two passages where Jesus speaks of God drawing people to himself.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jesus in John 6:37;44)
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Jesus in John 12:32)
This combination of passages has been used for many purposes including the atheist trying to show a contradiction, the Calvinist trying to show God draws his people, the Arminian/Open theist trying to show God draws everyone, and the universalist saying Jesus will save everyone. At first glance the passages do seem to conflict. The first seems to imply none can come unless drawn, and all who are drawn will come and will be raised up. The language and logic strongly shows the direct correlation to being drawn and being raised again on the last day. The second passage avoids the conclusions of salvation but still uses the language of “drawing” people to God. Is it a contradiction? Are there two separate things going on here? I believe so. I believe the context provides an adequate answer to this issue.
The first passage is worded differently towards Jews who thought they could control salvation through legalism. The second speaks about the Gentle/Jew-barrier-breaking death Jesus would die, in response to a group of Greeks that wanted to speak to Him.
TWO DIFFERENT CONTEXTS
1. TEACHING SALVATION TO THE PHARISEES (John 6:44)
The context of the first passage shows Jesus telling Pharisees two things, that He is God and that God is in charge of who gets saved. After feeding five thousand and walking on water, Christ teaches the Jews that salvation does not come from their laws, but from Himself. He says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” and: “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me. ”By using God and “me” interchangeable Jesus is clearly stating He is One with God, and He determines salvation, not the legalistic rules of the Pharisees. They respond, to show they reject Jesus, by saying things like “is this not Josephs son?” The response is an attempt to ridicule Jesus in order to present him as a regular human, not God.
Jesus says again, even clearer, that only those who are drawn to Him can know him AND they will be saved on the last day. Again, He shows that He is one with God and salvation comes at his discretion. But even more than that, His response to their grumbling is “Stop grumbling – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:43-44). This implies that the reason the Pharisees are rejecting him is because they are blind like in Mat 13:10-13, and not being drawn. Numerous commentators have noted this (source). Finally, Jesus articulates that God’s salvation works differently than the idea of the Pharisees. By multiple repetition Jesus has increased the clarity and definite meaning of this whole conversation. He elucidates that God is the one who gives over people to Jesus for salvation. God insists they are eternally secure. No one can come outside of this process AND everyone who comes as part of this, are actually saved.
I conclude that this is what “drawing” means in this passage, in context. The idea of “drawing” in this conversation is specifically explained and comes with a definite promise that Jesus “will raise him [the one who is drawn] up on the last day.” The other passage deals with a very different context.
2. TEACHING RACIAL INCLUSIVITY TO THE GENTILES (John 12:32)
In the second passage we see the background stage as the arrival of the Greeks (John 12:20-22), with whom Jesus refuses to have an audience at the moment. It appears that at this moment in time Jesus did not yet open his ministry to the gentiles, but spoke as one who was uniquely for the Jews. After ignoring the Greeks, He then teaches about the climactic event of his death/exaltation, saying that he will at that point “draw all men to himself.” What does it mean? Is every single person going to be saved (universalism)? A little later in the speech (John 12:35-41) Jesus makes it clear this is not the case. I belive in this context of the division between Greeks and Jews, Jesus is saying that he will cease a mission only to the Jews. Let’s explore this a bit more in depth.
The first passage (John 6:44) specifically says that those whom are drawn by the Father to Christ will undoubtedly be saved and have eternal life. Jesus Himself explains what the “Father drawing” specifically accomplishes. In chapter 12, there is no such explanation as to what “drawing” means or accomplishes. First off, we can rule out universalism, for there is no such explanation that “Christ drawing” means all will be saved. In light of the context (Greeks want to see Jesus who refuses them but states that in His death He ‘will’ draw all) this drawing must refers to an end to Hebrew exclusivity to salvation.. The two possible options are as follows.
A. UNIVERSAL CALL FOR ALL PEOPLE
Jesus draws all individual/specific men to Himself in a different sense than John 6:44, and His death becomes a universal call to come to Him. It is not the efficacious ‘drawing’ by the Father that without fail accomplished salvation, but a universal call that does not actively accomplish salvation, but only calls to salvation. This is, in my opinion, the more likely option, as Jesus does not define what “His drawing” will accomplish in John 12, only that He will do it. While the “Fathers drawing” in John 6 is clearly defined as salvific.
B. EFFICACIOUS WORK FOR ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE
This second option is that “all” is hyperbole used to refer to all kinds of people from all nations, mainly to show the Greeks too could come into the Kingdom of God. The “all” is limited to all kinds and “draw” means “will effectively save.” Scripture does use the word “all” as a hyperbole for “untold numbers” or “very very many” (I didn’t pull that out of my hat. For example “all the world” was to come for the Census according to Luke 2:1 ESV/KJV/etc. Yet the Chinese and Native Americans did not come. Clearly this is situational hyperbole that doesn’t literally mean “all of the globe” but all the people in context of the Roman empire.) I think this is a less likely option due to the amount of hermeneutical gymnastics required.
If we are careful to pay attention to the context and the type of conversations going on, we can see that that both cases of being drawn are uniquely different. The first deals with salvation and the Scripture actually defines that everyone who is drawn will not be lost and will have eternal life. The second is a reply to ethnocentrism, with no specific definition in the text, and as such strongly implies that the kingdom of God is open to all people, not merely the Jews. In the first case, Jesus says all who are drawn are undeniably saved, in the second this is not the case. Perhaps it is in the tension between these two different situations and different ideas represented by the word “draw” that we can also see the idea of God sounding a universal call for everyone (which they reject), and also a second, efficacious and irresistible, call to his bride that causes her to be regenerated and gives her a new heart to love Jesus. I would argue that both passages are true, and both should not be eclipsed to cover the others. There is always a dualistic many vs few or all vs not all nature in Christs theology, as the Master once said “Many are called, few are chosen” (Mat 22:14).