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John 6:37-40 Biblical Commentary:
JOHN 6. THE CONTEXT
Jesus has just fed five thousand people (vv. 1-15), but most of the crowd failed to see the significance of the miracle and responded only to the free lunch. Jesus counsels, “Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him” (vv. 26-27). Jesus offers to meet their deepest needs, but they cannot see beyond their bellies.
The crowd asks, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answers, “This is the work (singular) of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (vv. 28-29). The crowd is asking how to fulfill the requirements of the law, but Jesus responds with the simple requirement that they believe in him.
The crowd, sensing the radical nature of Jesus’ answer, asks Jesus to validate his claims. “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat'” (vv. 30-31). They make no mention of the fact that Jesus has just fed five thousand people.
Jesus corrects them. It was not Moses, but God, who gave the Israelites bread from heaven, “but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven” (v. 32). Unlike the manna that sustained physical life only—for the Israelites only—and for a short time only—the bread of God “gives life to the world” (v. 33). The people respond, “Lord, always give us this bread” (v. 34). Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (v. 35).
JOHN 6:37-40. THE WILL OF THE ONE WHO SENT ME
37 “All those whom the Father gives me will come to me. He who comes to me I will in no way throw out.38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day. 40 This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
“All those whom the Father gives me will come to me” (v. 37a). While the role of God the Son will be central to the salvation of humankind, we must not forget the role of God the Father. It is God the Father who gives the Son those who will be the Son’s disciples.
Jesus anticipates that the Father will not give the gift in vain. All those whom the Father gives to the Son will, indeed, come to the Son. None will be lost in the process.
“He who comes to me I will in no way throw out” (Greek: ekballo) (v. 37b). Jesus assures us that he will throw out (ekballo) no one who comes to him.
The word ekballo comes from two Greek words, ek (out) and ballo (cast or throw). It suggests a decisive act—force. The person who throws something out is getting rid of it on purpose—is glad to be rid of it. Jesus assures us that we need not fear being cast out—expelled.
We have, of course, given Jesus plenty of cause to cast us out. We have sinned against God and neighbor. We have failed to live up to the promise with which God created us. We have done what we knew to be wrong, and failed to do what we knew to be right. But casting us out would not be in keeping with Jesus’ mission, which is the salvation of those whom the Father has given him. Nor would it be in keeping with Jesus’ character, which is steeped in love.
But we should not mistake Jesus’ promise for universalism—the belief that all will be saved. It isn’t all people that Jesus will not throw out, but “all those whom the Father gives me.” It is the gift from the Father that Jesus will treasure and treat with great regard.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (v. 38). At the core of God’s will is “that whoever believes in (the Son of Man) should not perish, but have eternal life…. That the world should be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
We will see Jesus’ submission of his personal will to the Father’s will when, at the Mount of Olives, he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). He will pray, “Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this time?’ But for this cause I came to this time” (John 12:27).
Jesus was in agony as he contemplated the cross (Luke 22:44). His agony was more than anticipation of physical suffering. He was also agonizing over the spiritual struggle to remain faithful to his calling, when it would be so easy to run and hide. No doubt the tempter was present at the Mount of Olives, even as he was present earlier in the wilderness.
But Jesus can be trusted to remain faithful, because he has “come down from heaven, not to do (his) own will, but the will of (the Father) who sent (him).”
“This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose (Greek: apoleso) nothing” (v. 39a). The word apoleso can have a softer tone than ekballo (cast out, v. 37b). Jesus uses it to speak of a lost sheep and a lost coin—both of which are precious—both of which warrant a careful search until the lost sheep or coin is found (Luke 15:3-10). Even as a shepherd will rejoice over a lost sheep that has been found or a woman will rejoice over a lost coin that has been found, so also “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting” (Luke 15:10).
So Jesus cannot take lightly the responsibility that the Father has given him. He holds human lives in his hands—lives that are precious to the Father.
When the soldiers and priests come to arrest Jesus, he will say, “I told you that I am he. If therefore you seek me, let these go their way,” that the word might be fulfilled which he spoke, “Of those whom you have given me, I have lost none” (John 18:8-9).
“but should raise him up at the last day” (v. 39b; see also vv. 40, 44, 54). The last day brings to mind “the day of the Lord”—a day when God would save the faithful and judge the wicked. In the New Testament, “the day of the Lord” came to mean the day when God would bring an end to the current age and institute the age to come (Ladd, 138-139).
At the last day, “all that are in the tombs will hear (Jesus’) voice, and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous; because I don’t seek my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me” (John 5:28-30).
“This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes (Greek: pisteuo) in him, should have eternal life” (v. 40a). This verse invokes God’s will once again, but this time with added specificity. Those who can expect to receive eternal life are those who see the Son and believe in him.
Jesus doesn’t specify what they are to believe, except that they are to believe in him. Not everyone who sees him believes. To those who came requesting a sign, Jesus said, “You have seen me, and yet you don’t believe” (6:36).
What is it that they are to believe? It must involve belief in Jesus as the Messiah—the one sent by God to redeem the world. At this early point in Jesus’ ministry, truly deep belief must be limited to Jesus’ closest disciples, although “many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman, who testified, ‘He told me everything that I did'” (4:39).
“and I will raise him up at the last day” (v. 40b). “I” in this verse is emphatic. It is none other than Jesus who will raise up the faithful at the last day.
Jesus promises, “In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also” (14:2-3).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, “The Gospel of John,” Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1955)
Borchert, Gerald L., New American Commentary: John 1-11, Vol. 25A (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1996)
Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983).
Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991).
Gossip, Arthur John and Howard, Wilbert F., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)
Howard-Brook, Wes, Becoming the Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (New York: Maryknoll, 1994)
Kostenberger, Andreas J., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John (GrandRapids: Baker Academic, 2004)
Ladd, George Eldon, “Eschatology,” in Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Two: E-J – Revised [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982]
Lincoln, Andrew T., Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint John (London: Continuum, 2005)
Michaels, J. Ramsey, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010)
Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995).
O’Day, Gail R., The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Sloyan, Gerald, “John,” Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)
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