Comfort Comes from Trusting Christ’s Proclamation
And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (14:4–6)
Since He had already told them that He was returning to the Father (e.g., 7:33; 13:1, 3), Jesus expected the disciples to know the way where He was going. But by this time their minds were so rattled (cf. the discussion of v. 1 above) that they were not sure of anything. Thomas vocalized their perplexity when he said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (cf. Peter’s similar question in 13:36). By now they understood that Jesus was going to die. But their knowledge stopped at death; they had no firsthand experience of what lay beyond the grave. Furthermore, Jesus Himself had told them that at this time they could not go where He was going (13:33, 36). If they did not know where the Lord was going, how could they know the way to get there?
Jesus’ reply, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” is the sixth “I AM” statement in John’s gospel (cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; the seventh comes in 15:1, 5). Jesus alone is the way to God (10:7–9; Acts 4:12) because He alone is the truth (John 1:14, 17; 18:37; Rev. 3:7; 19:11) about God and He alone possesses the life of God (John 1:4; 5:26; 11:25; 1 John 1:1; 5:20). The purpose of this gospel is to make those things known, so they are repeated throughout the book so as to lead people to faith and salvation (20:31).
The Bible teaches that God may be approached exclusively through His only-begotten Son. Jesus alone is the “door of the sheep” (10:7); all others are “thieves and robbers” (v. 8), and it is only the one who “enters through [Him who] will be saved” (v. 9). The way of salvation is a narrow path entered through a small, narrow gate, and few find it (Matt. 7:13–14; cf. Luke 13:24). “There is salvation in no one else,” Peter boldly affirmed, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Thus, it is “he who believes in the Son [who] has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36), and “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11), because “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The postmodern belief that there are many paths to religious truth is a satanic lie. F. F. Bruce writes,
He [Jesus] is, in fact, the only way by which men and women may come to the Father; there is no other way. If this seems offensively exclusive, let it be borne in mind that the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word … mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach. (The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 298)
Jesus alone reveals God (John 1:18; cf. 3:13; 10:30–38; 12:45; 14:9; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9; Heb. 1:3), and no one who rejects His proclamation of the truth can legitimately claim to know God (John 5:23; 8:42–45; 15:23; Matt. 11:27; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 9). It was because the early Christians taught that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation that Christianity became known as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
The Only Way Home
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The exclusive claim of the Lord Jesus Christ to be “the way and the truth and the life” is wrapped up in three phrases. He claims to be the way to God, indeed, the only way; he claims to be the truth about God, himself the truth; and he claims to be spiritual life, not merely the way to life. We would think, as we read that phrase, that it has said all that needs to be said. Yet, as we read the Lord’s own words, we find that immediately after saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says the whole thing over again in different words, lest we misunderstand it. He says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” If the Lord stated this a second time, lest we misunderstand it, then we should look at it a second time also.
Only through Jesus
Taken together, these phrases mean that Christianity makes an exclusive claim. People sometimes suggest that we are narrow-minded as Christians when we say that Christ is the only way to God, and we have to confess that this is precisely what we are at this point. We are as narrow as the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord said—this is the emphasis of the verse—that he is the only way to God. There is no other way. So while it would be nice for us to equivocate on this point and say, in order to win friends and influence people, that other ways have some value—though we would like to say this, we are nevertheless unable to do so. Rather, we find ourselves affirming with the Lord Jesus Christ and with all the biblical writers that there is no salvation apart from Jesus.
Many verses teach it: 1 Corinthians 3:11—“No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”; Acts 4:12—“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved”; 1 Timothy 2:5—“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
If you are one who is rejecting all this, if you are one who perhaps is interested in Christianity but not exclusively, if you think that perhaps Jesus Christ is a way to God but not the way to God, I want to stress that, according to his teaching, he is the only way and that any attempt to find another way is folly, is bound to produce despair, and is perverse. The tragedy is that apart from the grace of God folly, despair, and perversity characterize each one of us. We are fools because we seek another way. We despair because there is no other way to be found. We are perverse because God has told us that there is only one way. Therefore, in turning from him to try to find another way we dishonor him.
The Fool Has Said
First, there is the folly of trying to find another way. Why is it folly? It is folly because, if a way to God has been provided, it is nonsense to look for another. Who would seek for a second cure for cancer if a perfect cure had been found?
Yet this is the folly of the human heart in spiritual things. Jesus told about it in a parable that concerned a rich man. This man thought the way to life was through material possessions, so he spent a lifetime accumulating worldly goods. He was a farmer. He had produce. His wealth was in the storage of his barn. When the barn became too small for what he was accumulating, he said, “I’ll tear down my old barn and build a bigger one that can hold my possessions.” The Lord’s comment on that man’s life was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20).
It is not the preacher who calls the unbeliever a fool. If that were the case, it would mean little indeed. The unbeliever could simply say to the preacher, “You are the fool for believing as you do.” No, God is the one who calls men fools, fools for refusing to come to him in the way he has provided.
If we explore a bit deeper to find out why this is so, we find that it is because we are determined to provide for ourselves. During World War II, my father served as a doctor in the air force in the southern part of the United States. When he was released from military service he and the family began to drive northward to the family home in western Pennsylvania. It was only a few days before Christmas. So it was no surprise that on the way we ran into an early blizzard in the mountains of Tennessee. The storm got worse and worse and eventually halted our progress. At one point, however, before we had stopped for the night and as we were going uphill in a little mountain area with a dangerous precipice at our right, a car up ahead stopped. My father realized that, if the car ahead stopped, he would have to stop and, if he stopped, he would immediately begin to slide over the precipice. So he grabbed a blanket, jumped out of the car, ran around to the back wheels and stuck the blanket under one of them to stop our descent. We were stopped. But there we were, stranded in the blizzard on the mountainside.
My father was an Irishman, and at this point two things characterized him: first, pride in his achievement and, second, determination to bring off another. He had saved us from going over the precipice. Now he was going to get us up the mountain. So he began to work, shoveling snow and placing boards and blankets under the tires. He worked for about an hour, but without much success. All the time my two sisters and I, my mother, and my aunt were in the car, getting colder and colder. We were very depressed. Suddenly a truck with wonderful traction came by. This truck moved ahead of us and stopped. It was obvious that the driver knew he could get going again. He got out, came back to my father and said, “I have a chain. Would you like me to hitch onto your car and take you up the mountain?”
Do you know what my father said? He said, “No, thanks. We’re doing fine.” And he did do fine! But it was about sixty cold and gloomy minutes later!
God says that we are exactly like this spiritually, except for the fact that it does not matter whether we spend an hour, two hours, a year, or a lifetime. We are never going to get ourselves going up the road to salvation. So Jesus says, “Look, I’ve come to provide the way to salvation. I am the way. Don’t be so foolish that you turn your back on me out of pride.”
Second, you are not only foolish, you are also on a trip to despair. If Jesus is right when he says, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through me,” then no other way can be found. The Father is the source of all spiritual blessings. The way to the Father is through Jesus. If you are trying to find another way, you are never going to get those spiritual blessings. To go in any other way is to embark upon a road that has no exits and no destination.
Paul spells it out in the Book of Romans, pointing to the different ways men and women try to reach God. There are three categories. First, there is the way of natural theology. This is the way of the man who goes out into the field at night and says, “I am going to commune with God in nature.” It is the man who says, “I worship God on Sunday afternoon in my golf cart.” Paul says that this is a dead end, because you cannot find God in nature. No man has ever found God in nature. You can find things about God in nature, but these condemn you.
Romans says that nature reveals two things about God. It reveals the “Godhead” of God, that is, his existence, and it reveals his “power,” because obviously something or someone of considerable power stands behind what we observe. That is all that can be known of God in nature. So if you think you are going to find God in nature, you are destined to emptiness in your search. You cannot worship an eternal power; you cannot worship a supreme being; you cannot worship a law of nature. Moreover, says Paul, “You don’t even try!” Because when you say to yourself, “I’m going to worship God in nature,” what you are really doing is using nature as an excuse to avoid God. Actually you do not want to be with Christian people, nor do you wish to be under the preaching of the Word. You find it disturbing. What you are really trying to do is to escape from God into nature. If you worship anything at all, it is nature you worship; and the worship of nature is idolatry.
Some years ago, after I had given a message along these lines, a woman said, “I found that to be true in my work with the beach crowd in California.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well,” she said, “we used to have meetings on the beach, and I used to witness to the surfers. When I would speak to them about God, they would reply that they worshiped God in nature. At first I didn’t know what to say, but after a while I caught on. I learned to ask, ‘And what is God?’ They would reply, ‘My surfboard is my god.’ ” At least that is honest, but it is paganism and idolatry.
Second, there are people who try to find God in the way of human morality. They say, “God certainly likes good men and women; therefore, I’ll be good, and I’ll get to him that way.” Paul says that this line will lead you to despair also. Why? We see the answer when we reason as follows. If God loves good people—and it is true that he does—how good do they have to be? The answer is that they have to be absolutely good, perfect, because God can settle for nothing less. But no one is perfect. So Paul says, “When you start like that, when you start thinking that you are going to please God by getting better and better, you fail to see that even if you could achieve the maximum goodness possible to anyone in this world, you would never get to God in that way because it would not be good enough.
We have a strange situation in the church today. The church has a message to proclaim; it begins with the total depravity of man. But this is offensive to most people. So the church gets cold feet at this point—ministers do, of course—and it backs off from preaching these things. Ministers say, “We admit that the Bible does say that all are sinners; it does say that all are dead in trespasses and sins; but it does not really mean that. It is hyperbole. What it really means is that we just need a little help. People are really pretty good underneath. So if we just appeal to their natural goodness, they’ll come and be Christians. Besides, they’ll join our churches and give us money.”
Does the world congratulate the church for congratulating the world? Not at all! The world knows that this is not true. So you have people like Jean Paul Sartre and other existentialists leaping to their feet to say, “If the church is not going to tell the truth, we are going to tell the truth! We know that when you scratch beneath the veneer of mankind, when you get rid of the social conventions, when you get rid of the desire to be acceptable with other people by matching up to certain preestablished patterns of behavior, what you find beneath the surface is garbage. You find a sewer of corruption.” The existentialist does not have the answer. The despair of the existentialist is proof of what lies at the end of his road. But at least he speaks out; he is not silent.
Then, in Romans 2:17–29, Paul says that there is a third way that people try; it is the way of religion, a sort of formalism. This person says, “If I cannot be righteous, at least I can do things that God likes. I’ll be baptized. I’ll be confirmed. I’ll go to communion.” Paul says that this leads to despair also. Why? Because it is based on a false conception of God. It suggests that God will settle for externals. Does he? No! People may settle for externals, but not God; he looks on the heart. God sees that although you can go through the rite of baptism, it does not mean a thing if your heart is not cleansed. He sees that although you may come to communion, it does not mean a thing unless you have first fed on Jesus Christ by faith and have drunk at that stream that he provides.
An Insult to God
To say that one is a fool for looking in another direction than Christ sounds insulting. To say that it leads to despair sounds grim. But there is worse to come. For seeking a way other than Jesus is not only foolish and leads to despair, it is perverse. It is insulting to God. How is it insulting? It is insulting because Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” So if you go another way, it is not merely that you are doing something for yourself, and it is certainly not the case that you are doing something praiseworthy. What you are really doing is saying to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord Jesus Christ, you are a liar!”
Do you think that God is going to be proud of you for trying to find your own way? Do you think that God is going to admire you for that, love you for that, praise you for that? God is going to regard this for what it is, an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ his Son, because that is the equivalent of saying, “You, Lord Jesus Christ, you in whom the Father is well pleased, cannot be trusted.”
Furthermore, to seek another way is not only an insult to Christ, it is an insult to the love of God who planned the way of salvation out of his great love for the sinner. What the Lord Jesus Christ did was in fulfillment of the desires of his Father. He said, “I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). It was God’s will that Jesus Christ, his Son, should die in your place. So it is an insult to God to ignore it. Do you think that it was easy for God to send Jesus Christ to die for you? I am asking you fathers: Would it be easy for you to give up your son or your daughter, to see that son or daughter killed, in order that someone else might be saved? I ask you mothers: Would it be easy for you to have a son or daughter killed in your sight, to turn your back when you could save that son or daughter, in order to have someone else saved? Of course not! You who are brothers: Would you give up a sister? You who are sisters: Would you give up a brother? If it is not easy for you, why should you think that it would be easy for God? Yet that is what God did for you.
Do you think it was easy for the Lord Jesus Christ to stand with his disciples on the verge of his crucifixion and say, “I am the way”? He knew what it meant to be the way. It meant that he had to go to the cross; he had to die; he had to suffer; he had to have the Father turn his back on him while he was made sin for us; he had to have the wrath of God poured out upon him. That is what it meant when the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through me.” Yet he said it.
Come … Come
So I ask: Is it anything but sinful, obstinate perversity for someone to say, “That is all very nice, but I am going to go another way”? To go another way is to condemn yourself to hell! For there is no other way. “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
How foolish it would be, how much despair is involved, how perverse on your part to go away, saying, “Well, that is all very interesting, of course; but I’m going to look a bit farther.” Today is the day of salvation! This may be the last opportunity you will ever have! I cannot promise that you will ever hear the gospel again. I cannot promise that the Holy Spirit will ever speak to your heart again, if he is speaking at this moment. Heed the invitation and come! The Bible says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).
6 Unwittingly, the mundane question by Thomas led to one of the most far-reaching and provocative statements ever made by Jesus. For Thomas, the way to an unknown destination cannot be known. Jesus answers, “I am the way.” Jesus is not one who shows the way but the one who himself is the way. He is the way—the only way—to the Father, for “no one comes to the Father except through [him].” The particularism of Jesus’ teaching has caused many to stumble. The mind-set of secular society regards such exclusive claims as intolerant. Certainly there are other paths that lead to God. Not so! To accept Jesus Christ involves accepting all that he said, even though open support of his claims may cause a bit of embarrassment when brought up in certain circles of contemporary society.
Jesus is the only way to God because he is also “the truth.” Note that each of the three nouns (way, truth, life) is preceded by a definite article. “Truth” and “life” do not modify “way,” as though Jesus were saying, “I am the real and living way” (Moffatt). He is the truth. Ultimate truth is not a series of propositions to be grasped by the intellect but a person to be received and therefore knowable only by means of a personal relationship. Others have made true statements, but only Jesus perfectly embodies truth itself. He is the truth. And he is also “the life.” Eternal life is to know Jesus Christ (17:3; cf. 1 Jn 1:2; 5:20). Apart from him is darkness and death.
Barclay, 2:157, mentions that in this sublime statement Jesus took three of the great basic conceptions of Jewish religion and made the tremendous claim that in him all three found their full realization. The fifteenth-century Augustinian priest Thomas à Kempis (The Imitation of Christ [1441; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983], 208) joined the three as follows: “Without the way, there is no going; without the truth, there is no knowing; without the life, there is no living.”
6 Jesus now introduces a somewhat different topic. He has been talking about leaving the disciples, and it is with this that Thomas is concerned. But Jesus is to go to the Father (13:3; 16:5, 10, 17), and he now speaks of the way (“way” is emphasized by repetition, vv. 4, 5, 6). He not only shows people the way (i.e., by revealing it), but he is the way (i.e., he redeems us). In this connection “the truth” (see Additional Note D, pp. 259–62) will have saving significance. It will point to Jesus’ utter dependability, but also to the saving truth of the gospel. “The life” (see on 1:4) will likewise take its content from the gospel. Jesus is both life and the source of life to believers. All this is followed by the explicit statement that no one comes to the Father other than through Christ. “Way,” “truth,” and “life” all have relevance,18 the triple expression emphasizing the many-sidedness of the saving work. “Way” speaks of a connection between two persons or things, and here the link between God and sinners. “Truth” reminds us of the complete reliability of Jesus in all that he does and is. And “life” stresses the fact that mere physical existence matters little. The only life worth the name is that which Jesus brings, for he is life itself. Jesus is asserting in strong terms the uniqueness and the sufficiency of his work for sinners. We should not overlook the faith involved both in the utterance and in the acceptance of those words, spoken as they were on the eve of the crucifixion. “I am the Way,” said one who would shortly hang impotent on a cross. “I am the Truth,” when the lies of evil people were about to enjoy a spectacular triumph. “I am the Life,” when within a matter of hours his corpse would be placed in a tomb.
6 Although Thomas speaks for all the disciples, Jesus replies at first “to him” alone: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). This is the first “I am” pronouncement since “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), which it resembles in two ways: first, in that Jesus says it only once, and second, in having more than one predicate (one of which is “the Life”). The dominant predicate here is “the Way.” Jesus could have just said, “I am the Way. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and the dynamic of the exchange would have been the same. “The Truth” and “the Life” simply spell out for his disciples the benefits of the salvation to which “the Way” leads. Jesus has already told Martha explicitly that he was “the Life” (11:25), and he implicitly claimed to be “the Truth” by telling a group of “believing” Jews at the Tent festival that “the truth will set you free” (8:32), and “if the Son sets you free, you will really be free” (8:36, italics added).
The central pronouncement, “I am the Way,” is profoundly significant within the chapter as a whole, for it states in so many words what Bunyan knew, that “the way” is not what Thomas thought it was, a literal route or pathway, but a Person, Jesus himself. The destination, accordingly, is not a place (not even precisely “my Father’s house”), but also a Person, the Father himself: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (italics added). The terms of the whole discussion now begin to change, from talk of a departure, a journey, a “way,” and a destination, to talk of Jesus and the Father. There is profound mutuality in their relationship, for the claim that “No one comes to the Father except through me” stands as a kind of sequel to the principle stated much earlier that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (6:44), or “unless it is given him from the Father” (6:65). That is, only the Father can bring anyone to Jesus, and only Jesus can bring anyone to the Father. Those who are quite willing to press the exclusivity of the latter principle—that is, that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ—are sometimes less willing to acknowledge the exclusivity of the former—that is, that no one comes to Christ without being “drawn” or “given” by the Father to the Son. But both things are true, and therein lies the characteristic exclusivism, even dualism, of the Gospel of John.53 At the same time, the invitation is universal, for the last phrase, “through me,” recalls an earlier pronouncement that accented its positive side: “I am the Door. Through me, if anyone goes in he will be saved, and will go in and go out and find pasture” (10:9). Such is the dialectic of salvation throughout this Gospel.
I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Christians are sometimes dismayed by the world’s opposition to our gospel. For this reason, many Christians emphasize having a nonoffensive attitude toward unbelievers and seek to use expressions that avoid giving offense. So long as we do not compromise our message or biblical standards of behavior, it is proper for believers to show such care in their dealings with non-Christians. Yet as we do this, we will soon find that the gospel’s real offense is one that we cannot easily avoid. Christianity’s true offense is none other than Christ himself. This is especially true when we consider Jesus’ exclusive claims as the one Lord and only Savior of mankind.
One modern critic has spouted contempt for Christianity’s exclusivity in these words: “Christianity is a contentious faith which requires an all-or-nothing commitment to Jesus as the one and only incarnation of the Son of God.” We can endorse this author’s assessment, though not perhaps all that he goes on to say: “[Christians are] uncompromising, ornery, militant, rigorous, imperious and invincibly self-righteous.” This is not a recent opinion of our faith: Philip Ryken asserts that “for the past 2,000 years, Christianity’s claims about the unique truth of Jesus Christ have aroused no end of opposition from Jews, pagans, Muslims, Communists, humanists, and atheists.”2
We might think this opposition to have lessened with the advent of post-modernity, given its emphasis on tolerance. Instead, the opposite has happened. Postmodern unbelievers grant tolerance to every religion except Christianity, precisely because the gospel is seen as the ultimate intolerant creed. The gospel’s message that only Jesus can save offends postmodernity’s relativist mantra, since Christians insist that all other religions are false and any other route to God is a dead end. Objections to these doctrines have marked the world’s hatred for Jesus ever since he spoke the words that John’s Gospel continues to proclaim today: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
This is the sixth of Jesus’ seven famous “I am” sayings, each of which is radically exclusive in setting Jesus apart as the one and only Savior. In each of these statements, Jesus uses the word the rather than a. He is “the bread of life” (John 6:35), not a bread of life: that is, Jesus is the one and only source of satisfaction for the hunger of our souls. Likewise, Jesus is “the light of the world” (8:12), the only guide who can lead mankind out of darkness into the light of God. Jesus said, “I am the door” (10:7), since through him alone we can enter the fold of God, and “I am the good shepherd” (10:11), who alone lays down his life for the sheep. To these, Jesus added the remarkable statement, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), claiming to be the Conqueror even of death—a claim that he backed up by raising Lazarus from the grave (11:43–44). Each of these statements is radically exclusive, asserting that none but Jesus can save us from sin, bring us to God, and grant us eternal life.
This same focus on the person of Jesus is seen all through this portion of John’s Gospel, which centers on four questions asked by the disciples, each of which Jesus answered by directing them to himself. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36). Thomas continued, “How can we know the way?” (14:5). Philip added, “Lord, show us the Father” (14:8), and Judas (not the betrayer) asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (14:22). These are slightly different questions, and each receives a slightly different answer. But each of the answers is a variant on John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Despite the world’s disdain for John 14:6, the content of this saying tells us why we must not surrender Christ’s exclusive claims, however offensive they may be. For not only is John 14:6 true, but it offers the only real answer to the great needs of the world. Man’s tragic plight is that we are alienated from God, ignorant of truth, and condemned to both physical and spiritual death. Jesus has come as the answer to sin’s dreadful predicament. He is the way for sinners to be reconciled to God, the truth that God has revealed to correct our ignorance, and the life that we need to regenerate us from the power of death.
The Way: Reconciliation
There is an obvious priority to the first of Jesus’ descriptions. While Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the context focuses on Jesus as the way. We can see this in the dialogue, going back to John 13:33. Jesus informed the disciples that he would soon depart, adding, “Where I am going you cannot come.” This was disturbing to the disciples, so Peter demanded, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (13:36). Jesus was referring to his return to the glory of heaven, and perhaps also to the cross that he would bear on the way. But Peter was not settled, insisting that he would follow Jesus even to death (13:37). This statement prompted Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s three denials that very evening. Then, to comfort the disciples, Jesus told them that he was going to his “Father’s house” to prepare a place for them and that he would return to get them (14:1–3). He concluded in verse 4, “And you know the way to where I am going.” This time it was Thomas who answered: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). He meant that if one does not know the destination, he cannot know the way there. To clarify his meaning that the disciples’ relationship to himself was the way of which he spoke, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Like Thomas, if we are to understand what Jesus means, we have to know the destination to which he was referring. Verse 6 makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of God the Father and his glorious presence in heaven. That is where Jesus was going, and that is where we are to follow him. But we need also to know where we are. A way is the path between a starting point and an ending point. So, spiritually speaking, where does man start? In what condition does man find himself in his search for God? According to the Bible, mankind is utterly ruined. We are condemned before God for the guilt of our sin. Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and are thus barred from God’s holy presence and his blessing. Our need is to be reconciled to him.
So bad is our condition that there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. Even if we should turn a new leaf and begin leading a morally upright life, we still have the guilt of our previous sins to pay for. Moreover, we are not only condemned in sin, but utterly corrupted by sin. Therefore, we are not able to perform an adequate moral reformation. In the light of the Bible’s teaching of God’s unrelenting justice, our past haunts us, our present confounds us, and our future dismays us. For this reason, not only is it true that sinful mankind cannot come to God, but sinful mankind does not even want to come to God. Just as Adam and Eve clothed their shame with fig leaves and fled from God in the garden, we are alienated not only by God’s justice but by our own God-loathing consciences.
We see now where the true offense of Jesus’ gospel lies. Christianity scandalizes because the gospel declares that man’s alienation from God is humanly hopeless because of sin. The gospel says that we could be reconciled only if God sent a Savior to die for our sin. Only Jesus, as God’s sinless Son, could atone for sin through his death. His way of salvation requires us to confess our sin, humble ourselves seeking pardon, and surrender our claims to self-rule: the very acts that sinful mankind refuses to do. Man hates the message that he cannot save himself! Man would come to God, but not by this way! Jesus offers only a salvation from sin, and a world that will not confess its sin takes offense in him and refuses reconciliation with the God who sent him.
Yet it remains good news that Jesus came from heaven to earth in order to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus said that he was returning to his Father’s house, and this makes us wonder why God’s Son departed the glory of heaven to live in our world. The answer is given in all the Gospels, which record Jesus’ explanation for why he came. Luke records: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In Matthew, Jesus explained: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). John’s Gospel records another of Jesus’ explanations: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Thus, when Jesus said that he is “the way,” he meant that sinners may come to God only through the ministry of reconciliation for which he came. Jesus is the way because God in his grace has provided for sinners to be justified in his sight through faith in his Son. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul laments. But the good news is that we may be “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24).
Skip Ryan tells of having served on a special project for the United States Department of State. The working group to which he was assigned once held a briefing at the White House. The meeting took place in the Roosevelt Room, a conference room across the hall from the Oval Office. After the meeting, the State Department official in charge asked whether Ryan would like to see the Oval Office, the official working place of the President of the United States, since the President was out of town. Ryan recalls two things about that visit. The first was the awe he felt at being in such a place. The second was that he could not possibly have entered the Oval Office unless he was taken there by someone authorized to bring him.
If that is true of the office of the President of the United States, how much more true is it of the glorious presence of almighty God in heaven? People who would never think to enter the White House simply assume that they will go to heaven after they die. But heaven is far more restricted than any high-security location here on earth. Heaven is guarded by mighty angels armed with swords of divine power (Gen. 3:24). Entry into heaven is governed by the perfect and unyielding justice of God’s holy law. How much more true of heaven are the words that Psalm 24 spoke about God’s temple in Jerusalem:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:3–5)
To enter heaven and approach God on your own rights requires you to present hands that have never sinned, a heart that has never known impure thoughts, and lips that have never spoken falsely. None, of course, can meet this holy standard. For us, therefore, there must be someone authorized to bring us into heaven, and it was for this that Jesus came: he said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). It is through his perfect life and atoning death that we may “receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps. 24:5).
The Truth: Revelation
The second and third statements that Jesus made about himself in John 14:6 are rightly seen as subordinate to the first. Jesus is first the way, and coordinated with this is his claim to be the truth and the life. Some scholars have therefore wanted to translate the verse to read, “I am the true and living way.” But that is not what Jesus said. He said that he is the way, and that he is the truth and the life.
Man needs the revelation of truth because it was through ignorance and lies that we first fell into sin. Our first parents did not merely happen to sin, but they were led into sin by Satan. The Serpent of the garden beguiled Eve by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). God had not said that: they could eat of every tree in the garden except one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:16–17). Satan’s lie suggested that God’s commands are not for our good and that the way for mankind to experience freedom and blessing is by breaking God’s commands. This lie has marked the way of sin ever since.
A great part of mankind’s plight in sin is ignorance of God and blindness to God’s truth. Paul explained, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). In order for us to be saved, we must therefore be enlightened by the revelation of God’s truth, the fullest expression of which comes through Jesus Christ.
Most specifically, Jesus is the truth “because he embodies the supreme revelation of God—he himself ‘narrates’ God (1:18), says and does exclusively what the Father gives him to say and do,” and is himself one with God the Father as his only begotten Son. Jesus is the way to God not only by what he did for lost mankind, dying on the cross for our sins, but also in revealing the truth of God so that we might believe and come to God through faith in him.
God had been revealing the truth about himself and his salvation before the coming of Christ. But Jesus is the truth in that all that God ever revealed points to Jesus and comes into focus in him. D. A. Carson writes, “The test of whether or not Jews in Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, really knew God through the revelation that had already been disclosed, lay in their response to the supreme revelation from the Father, Jesus Christ himself.” This is why the writer of Hebrews said that God had previously spoken in many ways through the prophets, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). All that God ever revealed comes into clarity, focus, and ultimate truth in the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ.
We must expand this principle beyond the realm of mere religious knowledge, for when Jesus said that he is “the truth,” he spoke of all truth. Even when men and women know things and those things are true, unless this knowledge is held through faith in Christ, it is not known truly. Truth itself is known falsely if opposed to Jesus. It is out of accord with its true purpose and meaning. The great model of this falseness is Satan, who knows many truths but knows none of them truly. “There is no truth in him” (John 8:44), Jesus said about Satan, for despite his great genius and vast knowledge, in his rebellion to God and his Son there is no truth.
This reality explains so much of the darkness and ignorance of our well-educated times. For all of mankind’s increasing knowledge, unless it is held in obedience to him who is the truth, there can be only ignorance, folly, and darkness. Ultimately, as A. W. Pink wrote, “Truth is not found in a system of philosophy, but in a Person—Christ is ‘the truth’: He reveals God and exposes man. In Him are hid ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3).”
The obvious application of this teaching is that Christians must therefore be students of Jesus, which means that we must be devoted in study of his Word in the Bible. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus said, “but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” he taught, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). In the light of heaven, Christians will wish they had read their Bibles more frequently and looked at newspapers or the Internet less often. How much more true will this be of unbelieving men and women who neglected him who is the truth and thus entered into eternity unsaved and unforgiven by God.
The Life: Regeneration
Jesus’ third claim is that he is “the life” (John 14:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and man in sin has fallen under death’s power and curse. Apart from Christ we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), unable to do anything spiritually for our salvation, so that life increasingly becomes a living death, without satisfaction or hope. But Jesus came “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). John said of him at the beginning of his Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4).
Jesus is the source of eternal life for those who believe and follow him. It would not have been enough for Jesus as the way to gain our reconciliation with God, tearing down the veil by his death on the cross for our sins. It likewise would not be enough for Christ the truth to grant us a revelation of God. We would yet remain dead, morally corrupt, and spiritually disabled, so that we would never be able to follow in the way that he has made or believe the truth that he has revealed. Jesus made this known to the Pharisee Nicodemus, saying, “Unless one is born again …, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5). In order to be saved, we must be not only forgiven but also regenerated. We must be made alive spiritually, so that we believe and are made willing and able to follow after Jesus.
Jesus is the source of the life that we need, and he conveys his power of life through his Word. Thus he called to dead Lazarus, who had been four days in the grave, “Lazarus, come out,” and “the man who had died came out” (John 11:43–44). All who are saved come to Jesus by the power of life in his call through the gospel. And those who come to Jesus as the way of salvation and believe him as the Revealer of God’s truth receive life in him. His is the way of truth that brings life. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (5:24). For “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (3:36).
Jesus’ answer to Thomas’s question was, according to James Montgomery Boice, “probably the most exclusive statement ever made by anyone.” Jesus’ claims so assume deity that we must either reject Jesus or worship him as Savior and Lord. Just in case we missed his radical claim to be the exclusive and only Savior, Jesus added, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Little wonder that this Jesus has aroused such opposition and hatred from the world. How bold were these words on the eve of the cross! Leon Morris comments: “ ‘I am the Way,’ said one who would shortly hang impotent on a cross. ‘I am the Truth,’ when the lies of evil people were about to enjoy a spectacular triumph. ‘I am the Life,’ when within a matter of hours his corpse would be placed in a tomb.” How could Jesus speak so boldly when he knew what was about to happen? The answer is that Jesus also knew that he would rise from the grave, that his truth would be proclaimed with power across the world, so that multitudes who believed and followed—in the earliest times they were called followers of “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23)—would be reconciled to God and enter into glory with him. As the bearer of resurrection life, Jesus can give eternal life to those under death’s power. As the incarnate truth, Jesus can reveal the truth amid the errors and lies of the world. And as the only way to the Father, Jesus has the right to demand our faith and exclusive devotion, as our only Savior and Lord. No wonder the apostle Paul stated of salvation that “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). For as Peter declared, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Since only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, he calls us to faith in himself. Notice that when Thomas asked the way to the Father, Jesus did not hand him directions, or point out a path of good works or spiritual achievements that must be followed. He directed Thomas, and us, to himself. “I am,” he declared, and we are not saved by following a way, believing a truth, or seeking after life. We are saved by Jesus, and he is the way, the truth, and the life. We therefore do not need to discover or make a way for ourselves, but we need to trust in Jesus and follow him. We do not need to master all truth, but we need to know Jesus and then grow in his truth. We do not need to achieve the life that we desire, but we need to receive Jesus and the life that he gives.
The question may be asked what kind of life we will have if we simply trust in Jesus. The answer is that as he is the way, he will lead us to the Father and we will gain a life of love as dear children. As Jesus is the truth, he will teach us the wisdom of salvation so that our lives are freed from the darkness of ignorance and folly. As he is the life, he will grant us entry into the courts of heaven and we will know an increasing measure of life as we draw nearer to him. Apart from Jesus, the world offers many things, but they are all godless, darkened, and deadly. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus said (John 14:6). He presents himself to us, demanding no achievements, not waiting for our improvement, but calling us simply to receive him in trusting faith, and ready to give to us by grace all that he has and all that he is. We will never receive a better offer, and we will never have a better time to receive Jesus than now.
6. Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.
This is another of the seven great I AM’s of John’s Gospel (for the others see on 6:48; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; and 15:1). In the predicate each of the words way, truth, and life is preceded by the definite article.
“I am the way.” Jesus does not merely show the way; he is himself the way. It is true that he teaches the way (Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21), guides us in the way (Luke 1:79), and has dedicated for us a new and living way (Heb. 10:20); but all this is possible only because he is himself the way.
Christ is God. Now God is equal to each of his attributes, whereas he “possesses” each attribute in an infinite degree. Hence, not only does God have love (or exercise love), but he is love, nothing but love; he is righteousness, nothing but righteousness, etc. So also Christ is the way: in every act, word, and attitude he is the Mediator between God and his elect.
Notice also the pronoun I. In the last analysis we are not saved by a principle or by a force but by a person. In the school the pupil is educated not primarily by blackboards, books, and maps, but by the teacher who makes use of all these means. In the home he is brought up by father and mother. So also the means of access to the Father is Christ himself. We are persons. The God from whom we have been estranged is a personal God. Hence, it is not strange that apart from living fellowship with the person, Jesus Christ, who exists in indissoluble union with the Father, there is no salvation for us (cf. Rom. 5:1, 2).
Now Jesus is the way in a twofold sense (cf. also on 10:1, 7, 9). He is the way from God to man—all divine blessings come down from the Father through the Son (Matt. 11:27, 28); he is also the way from man to God. As already indicated, in the present context the emphasis falls on the latter idea.
“I am … the truth.”
Much of what has been said in connection with “I am the way” applies here also. Jesus is the very embodiment of the truth. He is the truth in person. As such he is the final reality in contrast with the shadows which preceded him (see on 1:14, 17). But in the present context the term the truth seems to have a different shade of meaning. It is that which stands over against the lie. Jesus is the truth because he is the dependable source of redemptive revelation. That this is the sense in which the word is used is clear from verse 7 which teaches that Christ reveals the Father. Cf. Matt. 11:27.
But just as the way is a living way, so also the truth is living truth. It is active. It takes hold of us and influences us powerfully. It sanctifies us, guides us, and sets us free (8:32; cf. 17:17). Basically, not it but he is the truth, he himself in person. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (18:38). Jesus here in 14:6 answers, “I am the truth.”
“I am … the life.”
Jesus is not referring here to the breath or spirit (πνεῦμα) which animates our body. He is not thinking of the soul (ψυχή) nor of life as outwardly manifested (βίος), but of life as opposed to death (ζωή). All God’s glorious attributes dwell in the Son of God (see on 1:4). And because he has the life within himself (see on 5:26), he is the source and giver of life for his own (see on 3:16; 6:33; 10:28; 11:25). He has the light of life (8:12), the words of life (6:68), and he came that we might have life and abundance (10:10). Just as death spells separation from God, so life implies communion with him (17:3).
All three concepts are active and dynamic. The way brings to God; the truth makes men free; the life produces fellowship.
How are these three related? As more or less separate, wholly coordinate entities? Or, as forming a single concept: “the true and living way”? It is not necessary to choose either of these alternatives. Truth and life are nouns, not adjectives. Christ is the truth and the life, just as well as he is the way. Nevertheless, the context indicates that the idea of the way predominates. The meaning appears to be: “I am the way because I am the truth and the life.” When Jesus reveals God’s redemptive truth which sets men free from the enslaving power of sin, and when he imparts the seed of life, which produces fellowship with the Father, then and thereby he, as the way (which they themselves, by sovereign grace, have chosen), has brought them to the Father. Hence, Jesus continues: No one comes to the Father but by me.
Since men are absolutely dependent upon Christ for their knowledge of redemptive truth and also for the spark that causes that truth to live in their souls (and their souls to become alive to that truth), it follows that no one comes to the Father but through him. With Christ removed there can be no redemptive truth, no everlasting life; hence, no way to the Father. Cf. Acts 4:12. Both the absoluteness of the Christian religion and the urgent necessity of Christian Missions is clearly indicated.