One of the Scriptures concerning the ultimate reconciliation of all men that seems to fly under the radar is one that Christ Himself uttered and is recorded in the book of John. It specifically concerns His death and the results (or fruit) of it. It is found in John chapter 12. The Scriptures leading up to this statement involve the resurrection of Lazarus and the subsequent decision by the pharisaical authorities to put Jesus to death b/c “the whole world is going after Him.” (vs. 19). The timing of this statement occurs in the week leading up to His death. Each of the Gospels make a distinction at this point in Jesus’ life; the week leading up to Christ’s death begins the climax of each of the Gospels. Chapter 12 of John is where this begins; all the Jews are travelling to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover and Jesus begins to change the focus of His teaching to that of His upcoming suffering on the Cross.
Within this context and immediately before the passage in question, Jesus stated that,
“unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.” (vs. 24)
He is revealing here how His death will bring about “much fruit,” that is, A LOT of fruit. He then follows this with a confession that His upcoming death is distressing to be sure, but He wont let that deter Him b/c it was for this very purpose that He was sent and His death will both glorify the Father’s name and glorify the Son (vs. 23,27,28). The question to ask here is how will Christ’s death bring glory to both the Father and the Son? I believe the answer lies in the “much fruit” that His death will bring forth.
It is in this context that Jesus makes the peculiar statement I want to focus on. He said,
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” (John 12:32,33)
It is plainly stated here that His being “lifted up from the earth” is a reference to His being lifted up to die by hanging on a cross. His previous picture of being a seed that must fall to the earth and die is very much connected to this. Seeds hang on trees (and/or plants) and when they are ripe they fall to the earth and are buried whereby they begin to grow and bear fruit. Scripture says of Jesus that He was “hung on a tree” (Acts 5:30 and Galatians 3:3) and when He died He was buried in the earth in a tomb (like a seed being planted). Therefore according to His mini parable He will rise up out of the earth (as a seed does) and begin to bear much fruit.
The “much fruit” that His death will bring is here defined as the “all men” that He will draw to Himself! This is part of why I believe this passage speaks of Universal Reconciliation. He will draw all men to Himself as a result of His death on the cross. “All Men” is the “Much Fruit.”
To me it is very simple to connect this statement in John with Isaiah’s and Paul’s declaration (which we looked at in a previous blog) describing His death and the subsequent fruit of it, as well as the glory that it will bring. Notice also the subtle picture of Christ becoming like a seed and falling to the earth to die.
“Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)
These two sections of Scripture complement each other. They both speak of Christ emptying Himself of His power and coming down to earth in the tiny and weak form of a man to die, the result of which highly exalts Him and brings about “much fruit” to the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul even refers to our bodies as a seed that is to be planted
“But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)
Thus Christ humbled Himself and became a seed and then fell to the earth and sowed His body in death even as a tree empties itself of its grandness and strength in order to become a seed that falls to the earth to die in order to grow up into magnificence again and bear much fruit. That “much fruit” will be the “all men” that will confess Jesus Christ as Lord thus bringing glory to the Father and the Son.
A Conditional Prediction
If you haven’t already noticed there is a further element to Christ’s statement; it was conditional. Therefore, if Christ made a conditional prediction like that, then surely if the condition was met He will make good on His promise and it will come to pass. We have already seen how God cannot fail to keep His promises, or else it would become sin in Him (see my blog here). So if Christ was crucified, which He was, then we can have full confidence that He will keep His promise and draw all men unto Himself!
Dragging All Men Unto Himself
The last thing we need to notice about this statement is the word “draw.” In our English language it could imply that Christ will only try to attract our attention, but it will be up to the individual to respond. I have no problem with this; unfortunately that is not what the Greek says. The Greek word “draw” used here does not mean ‘to attract.’ In fact, the word draw literally means “to drag” (helko – Gr. 1670). The Louw and Nida Greek Lexicon defines it this way, “to drag or pull by physical force, often implying resistance.”
If Christ was lifted up, then He WILL drag all men to Himself, even if He has to use force! And in all probability He will use force to do this b/c there is a lot of resistance within us. It is even found within those of us who truly and sincerely try to follow Christ with all our hearts. I am certain that we all can prove this by our own experience.
This promise of Christ was made irrespective of our desire to draw near to Him, He is going to take matters into His own hands and drag us to Himself! Why? B/c He knows what is best for us, and He ultimately refuses to allow even a single sheep to be lost. When sheep are disobedient and wander off the Shepherd has no choice but to break its legs and carry it Himself. It might violate the sheep’s will, but the Shepherd knows what is best. And the Good Shepherd knows that in many cases He will need to drag people against their will in order to bring them to Himself.
This becomes even clearer when we take a look at how this word is used elsewhere in the New Testament. The apostle James uses it to describe a situation where one person exerts his will upon another,
“Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag (helko) you into court?” (James 2:6)
When you are being sued, or summoned to court, you have no choice in the matter. You can run, but you will be caught and when you are caught you will be dragged into court to face your judgment. This is what was happening in James’ time, the rich with all their influence were dragging poor people into court b/c they had the power and influence to do so.
Luke also uses this word several times in the book of Acts to describe a similar situation,
“They seized Paul and Silas and dragged (helko) them into the market place before the authorities…” (Acts 16:19)
“Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged (helko) him out of the temple…” (Acts 21:30; see also 17:6, 14:19)
I’m pretty sure that Paul was not a willing partner in the matter of his being “dragged.” It’s quite a unique word study and the fact that Christ would employ this adverb, over and against other choices He might have had, is quite telling.
Finally, to drive this point home, in John 21 there is a scene where the Disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus shows up, unbeknownst to them and yells across the lake for them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, the Disciples do so and immediately catch an unbelievable amount of fish. Peter then realizes that it is Jesus, so they all return to shore where,
“Simon Peter went up and dragged (helko) the net to land, full of large fish…”
The fish had no choice in the matter, they were caught and “dragged” to shore whether they wanted it or not. The only choice that mattered was the choice of the fisherman. The fish in this scene are a type and shadow of people. Jesus had given parables previously in His earthly ministry about the Kingdom of Heaven being likened unto a net that catches good and bad fish (Matthew 13:47-50). The fish were symbols of people. And Christ promised Peter that He would make him a fisher of men (Matthew 4:9; Mark 1:17). In fact in Luke chapter 5 there is a scene very similar to this one here, where Christ uses the situation as a lesson to teach Peter that from now on he would be catching men rather than fish.
This is part of the reason why the Church has universally used the sign of the fish as a symbol for Christians. The “type and shadow” of this scene symbolizes people who will be caught in that dragnet of the Gospel (Matthew 13:47); and although the fish may think they have a choice in the matter, they are actually being hauled in according to another’s will – the Fisherman’s.
This is what Christ was signifying when He declared that He would drag all men unto Himself. It appears that ALL the fish in the “sea of humanity” are eventually going to get caught in the net and dragged ashore!
And its all founded upon Christ’s suffering on the cross. It appears that His work on the cross was universal in scope and universal in application. And since the condition of His promise has been met, His only course is to keep His word!
Furthermore, we have a perfect example of someone being “dragged” to Christ (against his will!). The Apostle Paul! And coincidentally…Paul says his conversion is a pattern for those who will follow afterwards!
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as a pattern for those who will hereafter (Gr. – in the future, end) believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
Lets stop and look at that for a moment.
First – Paul is the pattern for those who will believe in the future.
Second – He is the foremost sinner (!!!), which is a bold statement! It’s bold b/c some of us have to accept this statement as true! Well, at least those of us who believe that Scripture is inerrant (which this writer does); and those of us who truly believe that every single word was inspired (breathed) by God (which this writer does). If we didn’t believe that then we could easily contest the veracity of such a statement. We could point to Hitler, or Stalin, or Caesars, past Popes, barbarians or any number of others like these as being far worse examples of sinners.
Nevertheless God decided that Paul was the chief of sinners, the worst, the epitome of rebellion against God; and b/c of this reason God chose to make him an example of how much He loves even the vilest of sinners and that He has no problem overriding even the most rebellious and stubborn will. Paul was “a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (vs. 13)
Third – it is for this reason that he received mercy! B/c Paul was the foremost sinner he received mercy! And this is why he is a PATTERN for those who will believe later! For if he was given mercy BECAUSE he was the foremost, how much more will everyone else be given mercy?!!!
God in His sovereignty decided to save Paul despite the fact that Paul was against that very thing happening. Paul had obviously encountered and heard the gospel through Stephen’s famous sermon in Acts chapter 7, when the Jewish Council of high priests decided to stone Stephen to death for his preaching of the gospel. (Not to mention many times previous when he encountered Jesus and other Apostles). Paul was not merely a passerby on the sidelines; he was the one who was in charge of the stoning (Acts 7:58-8:1). Paul had heard the gospel, but he had rejected it. Yet God decided to save him anyways, even as God will do so with all the rest of humanity.
That is why Paul declares in Romans 11:32 that,
“God has shut up ALL in disobedience (sin) so that He may show mercy to ALL!”
The words “show mercy” used right there are actually the same Greek word (eleeo) that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:16 above, “yet for this reason I found mercy (eleeo)…”
There isn’t a worse sinner than Paul and he was given mercy as evidence (a sign) that God will save even the worst of the worst. It didn’t matter how much Paul resisted and rebelled against God and against the Gospel message – God’s plan was to drag Paul to Himself. And God used Paul as an example, a pattern, for everyone else who resists Him. God will give us all the chance to choose, but in the end, He is going to drag us all to Himself and save us anyways!
Christ promised that if died on a cross, as a seed falls to the earth and dies, that He would drag all men to Himself, as a seed bears much fruit. And we know that His dragging is not dependent upon our will, but upon God’s choice and mercy as Paul exemplifies for us.
In the next blog we will look at Paul’s statement that all things that were created in the heavens and in the earth will be reconciled to God through Christ.