In John 12:32, Jesus says that his death on the cross will have an astounding saving effect: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
This verse is sometimes mistakenly interpreted to mean that Jesus draws all individuals to himself. John’s Gospel, however, will not permit that interpretation. In John 6, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (6:37), and also, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44).
In John 6:37 and 6:44, both verses describe people “coming” to Jesus, which is synonymous with “believing” in him (see the parallelism in 6:35 that shows how “coming” to Jesus and “believing” in him are equivalent phrases).
Also in both verses, Jesus speaks about the same people with the phrases “all that the Father gives me” and “the Father who sent me draws him.” Those who are given are those who are drawn. Since John 6:37 implies that not every individual is given, we can confidently say that not every individual is drawn.
In John 6, those who are “drawn” are saved. If 12:32 means that every individual is drawn, then we must affirm universalism (the teaching that every individual will eventually be saved by God). But since Scripture does not teach the salvation of every individual, we must reject an individualistic interpretation of 12:32.
If not every individual is drawn to Jesus, though, then what does he mean in 12:32, “I…will draw all men to myself”?
Interpreting “all men” in an individualistic way is not the correct, or the only, way to view those two words. The words should be interpreted this way: “Jesus draws people to him regardless of ethnic distinction.”
This interpretation is strengthened and supported in three places:
(1) In John 12:9 and 12:12, Jews approach Jesus with interest in him as the Messiah, mainly because of his recent miracle in raising Lazarus (11:43, 45; 12:9-11, 17-18). And in 12:20, some Gentiles go to Jesus as well. John 12, then, portrays both Jews and Gentiles going to Jesus.
(2) In John 10:16, Jesus promised that he would have one flock, comprised of Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles are those “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd (10:11), would call both Jews and Gentiles to salvation.
(3) In John 11:51-52, the narrator says that “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” The “scattered children of God” are the elect Gentiles who will be part of the people of God through faith in Jesus.
John 10, 11, and 12 all prepare us for Jesus’ statement in 12:32: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth [=death on a cross], will draw [=save] all men [=people who are Jews and Gentiles] to myself.”
Jesus indeed draws “all men,” not because every individual is drawn but because sinners are drawn without bias to their ethnic distinction. Jesus not only came for Jews, he came for Gentiles. He not only came for the Jewish nation, he came to give himself for every nation!
John 12:32 teaches that people from every nation will be saved (Rev 5:9).