As a Jewish person, the first time I heard the gospel was in a Bible study organized by the Navigators at San Diego State University. After sharing some of the Old Testament prophesies, they turned to the Gospel of John, showing how Jesus was the fulfillment of all the prophesies. That was the beginning of a journey where the Lord showed me that Jesus is not the prophet of the Christians, as I had thought my whole life, but he is indeed the Jewish Messiah, the lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. So, the Gospel of John has a special place in my life, but not only because of my first encounter with John the evangelist.
John begins his Gospel with the words “In the beginning,” just as Genesis 1 begins with those same words. Matthew brings us back to David and Abraham, Mark goes back to John the Baptist, Luke brings us to the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist, but John transports us all the way back to the creation. John introduces us to the agent of creation, the One who not only was from the beginning, but from whom all things came into being. Paul, later on referring to Jesus in Colossians 1:16, clearly tells us, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
Jesus the Light of the World
In the creation account, the first element that was created was light, as darkness covered the formless and void earth. In creating light, God saw that it was good, and he separated it from darkness. In his Gospel, John emphasizes darkness and light. Light alone appears thirty-seven times (twenty-four times in his Gospel and another thirteen times in his other writings). In the prologue, he writes that light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it. As we read the Gospel and move from the prologue to the birth and life of Christ and his ministry, we see indeed how light conquers darkness, slowly but surely, one person at a time. For example, Nicodemus sees the light in John 3, as does the Samaritan woman in John 4 and then the Twelve, the seventy, and finally the multitudes that are dragged out of their darkness into the light. Indeed, Christ as the light of the world is the very glory of God, and that is exactly what John tells us in 1:14, “and we have seen his glory; glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman illustrate the universality of the gospel. A man and a woman, a Jew and a Samaritan, an honorable man and a less honorable woman were in total darkness with no spiritual comprehension. And right in the middle of these two conversations come the words “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” The world that God so loved is the world of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, who were in total darkness; their minds could comprehend only worldly ideas. Nicodemus was thinking about physical birth when Jesus was talking about spiritual birth from above, and the Samaritan woman could think only of physical water, hoping that it would save her a few trips to the well. She was completely unable to comprehend the spiritual water that Jesus alone can offer. However, in both cases, after their encounter with Jesus—the light of the world—their minds and hearts were transformed. The darkness was replaced by light, and just like at the creation, it was good.
Jesus Himself Is “The Way”
In one of his “I Am” discourses, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In this bold statement, he leaves no room at all for any other way, any other truth, or just any kind of life. He, and he alone is the way. In fact, that is why the first Christians were called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9). Those who belong to Christ and follow him are the only ones who know the way to the Father, and there is no other way to the Father. Consequently, all those religions—including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and others that claim that by following their way we can reach heaven—are all wrong. There is only one way, and Jesus claims it solely for himself.
The Comfort of Knowing “The Way”
For us as followers of the way, the truth, and the life, however, these are words of comfort. The context of these words shows us clearly that they were uttered for the comfort of the troubled disciples. In John 13, after washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus refers to his coming crucifixion and tells them, “Where I am going you cannot come” (v. 33). Only a few verses earlier (v. 21), Jesus had told them that one of them would betray him. At the end of the chapter, Peter, who too often spoke before putting his brain in gear, heard the words that before the rooster crowed three times he would betray his master. Not the best of times for the disciples who followed their master and saw him perform miracles, cast out demons, feed thousands with a little bread and fish, and even saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. From the height of victory, they now seem to be falling to the depths of defeat. One of them will betray him, and the one closest to him will quickly deny him. Jesus will be handed over to be humiliated and will die the most painful, humiliating, and unjust death of all history. Jesus’ very next words, as recorded in John 14:1, are:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.
We can only imagine what a comfort these words were to the troubled disciples. He calms them down by assuring them that he is leaving for their sake and that he is going to prepare an eternal place for them. More than that, he will personally come again and take them there himself. He does not give them the address and say, “See you there.” No, he will come back to escort them to that marvelous, eternal, joyful, no-death, no-fear, no-tears place. And when Thomas the doubter remarks that they don’t know where he is going, so how can they know the way, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” These three definitive words are given not only to make theological points but also to comfort us today. And we certainly need comforting words in a world that is moving farther and farther from even the most basic truths of the Scriptures.
Adapted from David Zadok,”‘I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” Modern Reformation, May/Jun 2019. Used by permission.