The book of John records Jesus speaking of "drawing" people on two occasions. Interpretations of these two
passages have been a long source of debate and controversy. What did Jesus mean?
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws (helkō) him; and I
will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (helkō) all men to Myself.
The Greek verb "helkō" is translated literally in English as "to draw" or "to drag." In addition to the above
two passages, "helkō" is used in seven other instances in the New Testament. In these seven instances, the literal
meaning of "helkō" can be easily seen:
The "drawing" of a sword (John 18:10).
The "drawing" of fishing nets
(John 21:6, 11).
The "dragging" in the sense of "seizing" of people to some form of imprisonment
In the two passages where Jesus speaks of "drawing" people to Himself
(John 6:44 and
there is considerable debate, because it is less clear whether "helkō" should be understood in the literal sense.
Since the apostle John reports "no one has seen God at any time"
(John 1:18) and "indicated the kind of death by which Jesus was
to die" (John 12:33), John may have intended "helkō" to be
understood in the figurative sense (John 6:44 and
12:32); however, the New Testament does not have any other
examples of the figurative use of "helkō" to compare with.
In the study of the Old Testament, the equivalent Hebrew term to the Greek verb "helkō" is "mashak." Like "helkō,"
the Hebrew verb "mashak" literally means "to draw, drag or seize"; however, its figurative meaning is "to attract."
This figurative meaning is also carried over into its Greek translation and attested in contemporaneous secular Greek
and the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as seen in this example:
The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn (Hebrew: mashak / Greek: helkō) you with lovingkindness."
Through Jeremiah, God indicates that He is drawing the nation of Israel with "lovingkindness," which means "loyal
love" or "covenant loyalty." It is a statement of God's faithfulness underpinned by the unilateral and unconditional
covenant made with Abraham; it is a love that is not compulsory. Jeremiah is exhorting the nation of Israel to restore
their covenantal relationship (Mosaic Covenant) and live a holy life.
In this context, Jeremiah uses "helkō" in the figurative sense as "to attract a person in the direction of values
for inner life."
A similar idea is repeated in Hosea 11:4. Where the Hebrew
verb "mashak" was used, Greek translators of the Septuagint used the verb "ekteinō" which means "to stretch forth
or towards" to translate the figurative meaning.
I led (Hebrew: mashak / Greek: ekteinō) them with cords of a man, with bonds of
And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws;
And I bent down and fed them.
Through Hosea, God recalls the past history of the nation of Israel, and the reference "as one who lifts the yoke
from their jaws" is a figurative reference to the liberation from Egypt and vivid display of His love and compassion
for His people. God's very words to Moses are illuminating:
"You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles'
wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be
My own possession among all the peoples for all the earth is Mine."
The historical and monumental events of the Exodus was intended to demonstrate a tangible God who was faithful
to His covenant of love and desirous for the nation of Israel to be His people.
But the Jews of Hosea's time "refused to return" and "were bent on turning from God"; the Jews
refused to repent and restore their covenant relationship with God
(Hosea 11:5, 7).
In this context, Hosea's figurative use of "mashak" can be understood in Paul's words to the Roman Jews, "Or do
you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads
you to repentance?" (Rom 2:4) Paul points out to judgmental Jews
their failure of recognizing God's lovingkindness that attempts to draw them to a life of
It would seem that in the Old Testament, human beings drawn to God the Father are attracted to His love which is
historically actualized in the Exodus and faithfulness to His covenants; they believe in God the Father, have a faith
relationship with Him and are obedient to Him. While the faith of Abraham believed in God without concrete evidence,
the Exodus confirmed the historical reality of the Abrahamic Covenant
(Ex 32:11-13; 33:1;
Deut 31:9, 24-26).
With this understanding of "drawing", the meaning of John 6:44
When Jesus spoke to the people (John 6:26-40),
He draws a parallel to manna and introduces Himself as the "bread of life." Despite seeing the miracle of the feeding
of five thousand, they did not see Jesus as the Messiah; instead they wanted to place their faith in Him as a human
prophet like Moses (John 6:14, 30) or their own abilities
Just as the nation of Israel sought miracles to validate Moses
(Ex 4:3-9, 29-31), the people of Capernaum sought a miracle to
validate Jesus as being sent by God (John 6:30;
But Jesus recognized that they placed their faith on the wrong object; Jesus was not sent to
provide free food or to be a political leader (John 6:26;
Luke 24:15-21). And because their faith was misplaced
(John 6:36), they could not understand His words:
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will
certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent
Me" (John 6:37-38).
"For this is the will of My father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in
Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day
Specifically addressing the Jews, He explains, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent
Me draws him; and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF
GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes
has eternal life (John 6:45-47).
No one could come to Jesus, unless they had a faith relationship with ("heard and learned from")
God the Father (Matt 16:13-20;
John 1:33, 41, 45, 49;
14:7). Those drawn to God the Father would recognize that Jesus
was the Messiah, and for their faith, Jesus would save them; without knowing God the Father, no one would know the
Son of God.
It seems that a genuine faith in God the Father enables one to come to Jesus and have an intimate relationship
with Him (John 6:65;
these genuine believing Jews are in possession of God the Father as His own people
(Deut 7:6) which He gives to His Son
(Gal 3:29; 5:24;
1 Cor 3:23).
In contrast, the Pharisees exemplified a people who did not have a genuine faith in God the Father and could not
recognize that Jesus was the Promised One (John 8:19, 42-44).
Before anyone knew of His coming crucifixion and atonement for the sins of mankind, Jesus spoke plainly of the
work of God the Father, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent"
(John 6:29). This context and understanding the figurative meaning
of "drawing" provides the basis of understanding Jesus' words in
John 12:32. Here, instead of God the Father drawing men, Jesus says
that He will!
Jesus' conditional statement, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself"
indicates that Jesus' ability to draw men won't occur until His death on the cross
With the completion of atonement and Jesus' Ascension, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit who
empowers them to be great witnesses (John 15:26-27;
Acts 1:8) and sets the stage for the explosive growth of Christianity
that commences thereafter (John 17:21).
Throughout Jesus' time on earth, the disciples thought Jesus' ministry was for the Jews only
(Matt 10:5-7); however, the disciples learned that the gospel was
for all (Acts 10:28-48). In the context of
John 12:32, Greeks ask to meet Jesus, and Jesus intended the
figurative meaning of "draw all men to Myself" as a reference to "attract a person in the direction of values for inner
life" regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
Just as God the Father seeks to draw the nation of Israel with His loyal love (covenant loyalty) through world events
like the Exodus, He seeks to draw the world through the provision of His Son for the sin offering of the world
(John 3:16; Gen 12:3;
1. Brown F, Robinson E, Driver SR, Briggs C, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English
Lexicon, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, (1985).
2. Brown C, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, (1979).
3. Morris L., The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
4. Wescott BF, The Gospel According to St. John, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
5. Kittel G, ed., Bromiley GW, trans., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1964).
6. Bauer W, Danker FW, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature, 3rd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2001).