Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”
John Goodwin comments: “These may be said to have been given unto Christ by the Father, not because they were the Father’s by election from eternity, for doubtless the sons of perdition, as hath been said, was none of His in such a relation.” (Redemption Redeemed, p.79)
The fact that Judas is mentioned, proves that this was in reference to the disciples.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “If you look in the context, Jesus speaks of those given to him by the Father. Judas is one of them. In fact, Jesus says here that He protected them, and only one of them that He was protecting had perished. So Judas has been given to Jesus, and Jesus was protecting him, yet he perished of his own free will. The designation of Judas as the ‘son of perdition’ merely draws attention to the fate his own evil actions brought to him, actions which were foreknown by God, but not caused by Him.” (SEA)
Goodwin adds: “They are said to have been the Father’s i.e. as it were, the Father’s disciples, or persons ‘taught by the Father,’ John vi. 45, and so, after a sort, appropriable unto the Father, (as those that believe and are taught of Christ are said to be Christ’s, or to belong to Christ) before they became Christ’s apostles, or were chosen by him upon this account; and are said to have been given unto him out of the world by the Father, because they were peculiarly qualified, and as it were, characterized and marked out by the Father to be formed into apostles by his Son.” (Redemption Redeemed, p.80)
Steven Hitchcock writes: “Certainly no one can come to Jesus unless God is granting, leading, and drawing, but these statements by Jesus say more than that. They assert a particular election of Jews at a time when there was a unique hardening of the Jews. In regard to the Jews, Jesus would have them to know that they needed a special election to believe in Him. Foreign to Jesus’ intention for these passages, the Calvinist mistakenly thinks that these particular verses are to be universally related to the world. Quite the contrary, Jesus is making an emphatic point that had a particular audience in mind that is specifically explained by John in chapter 12. During the time of Jesus’ ministry there was a special hardening upon Israel and this was why Jesus did not have the expected unity that would have automatically provided a certain legitimacy to His claim of being the Messiah.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)
Hitchcock continues: “To solidify this corrective in our interpretation, here is a text of great significance that Calvinists do not seem to want to know about, that expressly relates to these important verses. In John 18:8,9, when Jesus is being seized, Jesus says, ‘I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,’ to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.’” Those whom the Father had given to Jesus had their fulfillment at that time and therefore the ‘given Me’ passages of John 6, 8, and 10, do not relate to the universal church. They specifically relate to those believers at that time in contrast to the majority of Israel that did not believe in her Messiah. These verses in John 18 show that the context relates to the disciples that God gave to Jesus during the time of His ministry for the express purpose that they might validate His claim to being the Messiah and that they might continue on as witnesses of everything that would happen to Jesus. It was imperative that they not be killed, so that they might witness His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and then as those who must give personal testimony of being the recipients bodily of the promise of the Spirit that occurred upon Jesus’ Glorification at Pentecost.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.192, emphasis mine)
John Calvin comments: “‘…to all those you have given him.’ Christ does not say that he has been put in command over the whole world in order to give life indiscriminately, but he restricts this grace to ‘those you have given him.’ But how were they ‘given’? For the Father has also subjected the reprobate to him. I reply: only the elect belong to his own flock, which he has undertaken to guard as a shepherd. So the kingdom of Christ extends to everyone, but it only brings salvation to the elect, who follow the Shepherd’s voice willingly. He forcibly compels the others to obey him, until at last he utterly crushes them with his iron rod.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, pp.390-391, emphasis mine)
Calvinists infer an eternal flock of the Father, given to Christ from eternity past:
John Calvin comments: “‘They were yours; you gave them to me.’ First he points out the eternity of election, and then how we should think of it. Christ says that the elect always belonged to God. God therefore distinguishes them from the reprobate, not by faith, nor by any merit, but by pure grace; for while they are far away from him, he regards them in secret as his own. The certainty is in his committing everyone he has chosen to the guardianship of his Son, that they may not perish. That is where we must look if we are to be certain that we are among God’s children. In itself the predestination of God is hidden, but in Christ alone it is revealed to us.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.393, emphasis mine)
How does the statement, “they were Yours” (John 17:6), imply anything of an eternal nature? Consider the disciples, Andrew and John. They were the Father’s because they had heard and learned from the Father (John 6:45), through John the Baptist, and by his preaching, they turned to follow Jesus. (John 1:35-37) Additionally, how does the phrase, “You gave them to Me” (John 17:6) imply “not by faith...but by pure grace,” as in Irresistible Grace? Again, recall what Jesus stated: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” (John 6:45) That’s the transference of the Father’s flock to the Son’s flock, by faith, and not by “pure [irresistible] grace,” as Calvin insists.
Calvin writes: “This way of speaking, however, may seem to be different from many passages of Scripture which attribute to Christ the first foundation of God’s love for us and show that outside Christ we are detested by God. But we ought to remember, as I have already said, that the Heavenly Father’s secret love which embraced us is the first love given to us.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, pp.76, emphasis mine)
In other words, Calvin attributes the foundation of the love of the Father to Election [in the Father], rather than to Christ, which he admits, appears at variance with Scripture. Arminians object on the grounds of John 14:6, in which Jesus stated: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Arminians feel that Calvinism is a philosophy that circumvents John 14:6, by making Unconditional Election a way to the Father apart from being first through Jesus.
Calvin continues: “Therefore Christ, when commending the eternal election of His own in the counsel of His Father, at the same time shows where their faith may rest secure. I have manifested, He says (Jn 17:6), Thy name to the men whom Thou didst give Me. Thine they were, and Thou didst give them to Me, and they have kept Thy word. We see here that God begins with Himself when He sees fit to elect us; but He will have us begin with Christ so that we may know that we are reckoned among His peculiar people.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.127, emphasis mine)
On this basis, Arminians believe that Calvinism is a matter of God having chosen us in Himself, when yet Ephesians 1:4 states that God chose us in Christ, which is a point that Calvinists often miss.
John Calvin comments: “We also learn from these words that God chooses out of the world those he thinks fit to choose to be heirs of life, and this distinction is not made according to people’s merits but depends entirely on his good pleasure.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.395, emphasis mine)
John 16:26-27 states: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” Is this not God’s good pleasure? “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1st Corinthians 1:21) Certainly there are degrees of God’s love. By His own prerogative, He loves the whole world who were created in His image (John 3:16), and also by His own prerogative, He loves believers. (John 16:26-27)
John Calvin adds: “Those who think the cause of election lies in people have to begin with faith, but Christ explicitly states that those who are given to him belong to the Father, and it is certain that they are given so that they may believe, and that faith comes from this giving. If the origin of faith is this giving, and if election precedes it in order and time, what is left but to acknowledge that those God wishes to be saved out of the world are elected by free grace?” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.395, emphasis mine)
So the difference is in being given because they believe or given so that they may believe. I take the former, in that the believing sheep of the Father were given to His Son whom He had sent. (John 6:45) Here is a Blog discussion taking place on John 17.