This article first appeared in the May 1, 1986 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written by Rev. Robert C. Harbach, then an emeritus minister in the PRCA.
Jesus Lifted Up
In John 12:32 we read the prophetic words of our Lord, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." The immediate context, verse 20, shows that through two of His disciples, Jesus was approached by certain Greeks. This filled Him with joy, for it was, already, a fulfillment of the earlier prophecy, chapter 11, verses 51 and 52, "that Jesus should die . . . not only for that nation (of the Jews) only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (among the Gentiles). Thus our Lord's response to this contact with these Greeks was that He must die, also for them, and that His death would bring forth the "much fruit" of verse 24, and the conversion of His servants, verse 20, whether Jew or Gentile. So the above theme; which we see as (1) Stated in Certainty, and (2) Viewed as Accomplished.
When Jesus said, "if I be lifted up," He was not toying with a mere theory or hypothesis which must yet be proved out to a certainty. Nor is this an "if" of unbelief: "if He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:42). Also banished from the picture is the "if" of doubt: "if Thou canst do any thing . . . help us" (Mark 9:22, 24). There is an "if" (not here) which points toman's (not God's) inability: "if THOU wilt, THOU canst make me clean" (Mark 1:40). But here, Jesus is using the "if" of actual fact, as in, "If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come unto you" (Matt. 12:28). This is the "if" of certainty, in the sense ofsince: "since I cast out demons," since I be (will be) lifted up! Compare the same "if" of certainty in John 14:3.
The emphatic "I, if I be lifted up" places Him antithetically to "this world," and to "the prince (ruler) of this world," verse 31. The wicked world system, in opposition to God, is judged, condemned, and sentenced to final destruction by the death of the Cross. Here on earth are two opposing companies, the world and the church. Unbelievers belong to the former company, as Jesus had told them: "Ye are of this world; I am not of this world." So that, if you are not of the true church, you belong to the world judged and condemned by the death of Christ. "If you are not a Christian, you are a member of that great corporation called the world" (Spurgeon). Also by the Cross shall the prince of this world be thrown out of it. A defeated enemy and usurper of a blasted kingdom, his predestined end is the Lake of Fire.
It is plain that Jesus is talking about His being lifted up in death on the cross, as He once before had prophesied: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14). A little while later, when the Pharisees had charged, "Thy record is not true" (John 8:13), He answered (John 8:28), "when ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then ye shall know that I am" (what I say). The Lord all through His earthly ministry was always looking forward to the time of His crucifixion and death. But He looked through all His humiliation to His exaltation, for He said He would be lifted up from the earth, i.e., out of the earth, implying not only the hanging on the cross between earth and heaven, forsaken of both, but also that He would be taken out of the earth into heaven, as per verse 23, "the hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified," glorified not only in the saving death of the cross, but also in being exalted out of earth into heaven to be seated at God's right hand.
Beware of those speaking of lifting up Christ in Christian experience when they then parade their dreams, visions, voices, healings, miracles, tongues-speaking, baptism of the Spirit, and all kinds of new revelations from God added to and placed above or on a level with Holy Scripture. Beware of over emphasis on the Spirit, at the expense of exalting Christ. For true Christian experience says, I am weak, but He is almighty; I sink into depressing gloom; but He is Light; I am ignorant, but He is omniscient. I am earthly; He is heavenly. I often stray from Him, but He is the Shepherd Who always returns me to the right way.
Beware, too, of that exalting of Christ which is really exaltation of "Free Will." Exalt "Free Will" and man is exalted: an idol is made of man. So when faith is exalted. They say that all men by nature have faith, are born with it, and need only to put it in the right object, in spite of the fact that Scripture insists, "All men have not faith" (II Thes. 3:2). They hold that God has voted for you, the devil against you, and now you must cast the deciding vote or veto. But the natural man, spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, must be made alive, made a new creature in Christ, and be endowed with the gift of faith. Then, as Thomas, he will not exalt the experience of sight and touch, but with one arm will embrace Jesus as Lord, and with the other as God!
"And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto Me." Free-willers emphasize that "all men" in support of their "general atonement" and "universal redemption" theories. Christ is drawing all men, only, some of them will not have it so. They will not come to Him. Why not? If He is drawing every child of Adam to Himself, why do so many draw iniquity and wickedness along "as with a cart rope" (Is. 5:18) and fall away into hell? Why does a large majority of humanity find itself "drawn away of their own lusts and enticed"? Why are so many drawn off by an opposing power, "led captive by the devil at his will"? The detestable inference is that Jesus is a weak Jesus, Who, although He wants to draw all men, and labors to do so, is not able. Such humanistic thinking is, to the enlightened believer, intolerable!
The italicized men in the text shows that it is not in the original, but reads, "I will draw i>all unto Me," i.e., all sorts and conditions of men, all classes of men, out of every tribe, tongue, people, nation, and from every age to the end of the world. "All that the Father giveth Me" (John 6:37) is the meaning. Better, instead of the wordmen, would be the word Mine: "I will draw all Mineunto Myself." This is what the text is really saying. John 17:10 confirms this: "All Mine are Thine, and Thine areMine, and I am glorified in them." The Lord is saying, among other things, I will draw all Mine even from the islands of the seas—from Vancouver Island, from Jamaica, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland; also from Africa, China, Russia, America, from everywhere! That is the allintended in the text.
How does Jesus accomplish this drawing to Himself? By His almighty power, which brings about the resultsHe intends. He does not employ beggings, pleadings, offers, invitations, as though "coming to Jesus" is in the hands of men who may decide to "be a good sport," and "give God a chance." God works through Christ, and when Christ draws, He not only says, "they shall be drawn," but, "I will do it; I will draw them." Then they come to Him and He loses none of them. None would come to Him if Jesus did not draw them by sovereign, irresistible, invincible grace. (Consider John 5:40.) The way the Lord works in saving us is that He draws us and we come! The sinner may draw away the shoulder from Him (Neh. 9:29), as far as he is able. Will his evasive action succeed? Being one of the Lords chosen, only up to a point. He may say, I will not be drawn by Him. He may draw away from the preacher, withdraw from the preaching of the Word, and from the Spirit in the preacher; but when the Spirit begins to operate in his heart, then he cannot and no more will resist. It is then that Christ begins to draw him. Then he will as surely be drawn to Jesus and heaven as Jesus is there Himself. Then he will run to Him, fly to Him; in fact, His sheep shall flock to Him. They will come to Him so suddenly and in such numbers that the church will cry, both in astonishment and exultingly, "Who hath begotten these? These, where had they been?" (Is. 49:21). Abraham's true spiritual seed shall be so many as the stars in the sky for multitude, and as the sand of the seashore, innumerable. He will draw them up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, set their feet on a rock, and establish their goings with a new song in their mouth (Ps. 40:2, 3). To do this He needs not choirs, organs, cathedral architecture, beauty of ritual, or experts in oratory. Christ's people, in their sinful flesh, and in their unregenerate state, are always unwilling to come unto Him; but they shall be willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3). For Christ in the preaching of the Word has mighty, effectual attraction to Himself. By the Word of the Cross the sinner is enlightened and blessed with spiritual discernment, so that His eyes become fixed on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and He is irresistibly drawn to Him. The things of Christ, taken by the Spirit and revealed unto him, are disclosed and revealed to him under the mighty sway of omnipotence.
Then we may express it, as one Christian poet so very well does: "My ever precious Lord, I long have will'd, Because Thou gavest me the will, That none but Thee should have dominion o'er My soul; and when I see Thee on Thy throne, The voice that thunders dreadful, dark despair To sinners ruined, Pharisees most proud, Shall say, 'Behold a subject of My Grace—A blessed child of My own Spirit born; The purchase of My own atoning blood, The gift of My all-glorious Father's love, Make room, ye angels; lead him to his seat, that there he may for ever gaze and muse O'er glories that he tried to spread on earth!'"
Rev. Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996) was born in Riverdale, MD on July 27, 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and was ordained in October of that year. He served congregations in Lynden, Washington (1955-1963), Kalamazoo, Michigan (1963-1974), and as Home Missionary (1974-1979). He retired from the active ministry in 1979. He passed to glory on December 14, 1996.