This is part of my Exegetical Compilation series, which I am slllooooowwwwlly posting up, and which can be found here.
John 12:30-50 constitutes most of Christ’s final public ministry before His death and resurrection, and features several details relevant to the discussion of Christian universalism pro or con.
It is certainly true that when the phrase of Christ dragging all toward Himself from John 6:44), in clearly the same context, is repeated by Christ in the report of a later saying at John 12:32, it definitely involves a judgment context of the world from verse 31. But verse 33 (unless the Evangelist has misunderstood) indicates the “lifting up” to be Jesus raised on the cross (indicating the death He would die), which does not lend itself well to interpretations of hopeless ruling judgment against enemies.
It is also true that Jesus goes on to say in this later scene (probably meant to be the afternoon of the Lord’s Supper and Gethsemene to come, as John reports Jesus overcoming a brief pre-Gethsemene inclination to be saved from the torment to come) that the people in the crowd should come to and walk by the light (meaning Himself) while the light is still among them because once the light is gone they’ll be walking in darkness not knowing where they go. But that can hardly be taken to mean salvation is hopeless thereby, or no one could ever be saved after the death and resurrection of Jesus!
Again, John reports that the lack of belief (though many of the synagogue chiefs did in fact secretly believe) fulfilled prophecies from Isaiah, including one Jesus Himself connected to His complaint about the stubbornness of His religious opponents: that they refuse to hear and see and soften their hearts so that they will be saved. (Note that John says when Isaiah heard this from YHWH Most High, he was perceiving the glory of Jesus! – one of the more subtle trinitarian scriptural evidences.) In the Synoptics Jesus’ complaint is directed at their choice to do so; here, John says God Himself was Who blinded them so that they would not be saved.
(The original verses at Isaiah 6:9-13 seem to mix the ideas: Isaiah is told to go tell the people, by context apparently the rebel religious leaders, to keep on seeing and hearing but not understanding and for the religious leaders to render the hearts and ears and eyes of the people dull and fat and heavy lest the people see and be saved. It’s a statement of critical sarcasm in other words; the religious leaders are already doing it, and God tells them to keep on doing what He criticizes them for doing.)
Calvinists naturally point at this as evidence God has no intention of ever saving some people; but aside from the prior contexts in John strongly indicating otherwise (as Arminians are aware), if scripture indicates that God heals such people later (and some do as noted elsewhere in this compilation) then the testimony here cannot be accounted an absolute intention of God. Rather He confirms various choices at the time (the choices being what God complains about) in order to get other things accomplished first (Christ’s death here, the destruction of Israel by foreign armies in Isaiah’s original prophecy), then will go back later and heal the hearts and eyes of the people so that they may be saved.
The conclusion of Jesus’ final public evangelism before His death, at verses 47-50, provide one of the great interpretative mysteries (also alluded to earlier in GosJohn when Jesus contested with the Pharisees, and returned to again soon in the Final Discourse): the Son is not sent by the Father to judge the world (down to the one) who doesn’t maintain His declarations but to save the world (v.47). What does judge the one who is repudiating Christ and not receiving His declaration, is the word spoken by Christ, which also shall be judging such a one on the last day. The targets apparently in view (especially from immediately preceding context) are those who worship the Father but reject the Son sent by the Father. The precept given to the Son by the Father to be saying and speaking, the word which shall be judging those who reject the Son on the final day, is itself eonian life. But Jesus has also just said that He doesn’t give this judgment to be judging the world but rather to save the world!
In other words, the judgment of the last day will itself be the gift of eonian life by the Son, and not with the intention of hopelessly judging the world but to save the world.
So God does intend to save those who reject Him by rejecting the Son, and the scope of salvation of sinners (as Arminians know) is the whole world (for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, thus all of us reject the Son whenever we sin); and this precept of God, which shall certainly be accomplished (as Calvinists know), is eonian life, which is also what shall be judging those who do not accept the Son – but not hopelessly judging them. The ones being judged may still continue rejecting eonian life for a while, but they were already rejecting eonian life and God was insisting on giving it to them, so it is not a case of God ‘respecting’ their choice to be finally unrighteous (as though He Who Is Essential Righteousness could ever be feasibly said to respect any choice of unrighteousness per se!) or He wouldn’t be acting to save any sinner at all! Remember, back at the beginning of this portion of scripture, the Son is dragging all toward Himself by being raised out from the earth. That isn’t a passive offer which someone might refuse without God’s active pursuit, and the scope of the action is all not only some.
This means, not incidentally, that annihilation is also thus refuted by the contexts of this scriptural set: the judgment itself is eonian life, which God is pressing those who don’t have it to accept, and whom God is dragging to accept. Their refusal to accept it doesn’t obviate God goading them to accept it until He gets it done. How hard it may be for them to kick against the goads, as Saul of Tarsus once did! – but God accomplished His goading of Saint Paul, and God means to accomplish this goading, too.
Jesus’ prior application of this image (dragging all to Himself by means of the cross and by being raised up from the earth in various other ways) makes the total scope and total victorious persistence even more clear, so these verses should be interpreted in light of those at 6:44 (and surrounding contexts): see exegetical commentary there.
GosJohn 5:19-30 relevantly reports the purpose of the Son’s just judgment at the resurrection – to bring all to positively honor and value the Father through the Son. See commentary there.
Members may discuss these verses pro and con below, and are invited and encouraged to post links to other discussions of these verses, whether at the forum or off-site.
If you find my compilations helpful, feel free to tip me $5 here at Amazon, near or at the top of the list. You can tip me for multiple articles of course. (I get $2.50 of each single $5 tip.)