Steven P. Wickstrom
all Scriptures quoted from the HCSB except where noted
Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
On the last night before His betrayal and death, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the turbulent days ahead. For over three years, the disciples had been following Jesus and learning from His teaching and example. They had placed their hopes in Him as the Messiah, but they still had no idea what that really meant. Their idea of a messiah was a political one who would rescue them from the tyranny of Rome, not a spiritual one who would rescue them from the tyranny of sin. After the Last Supper, Jesus began speaking about His quickly approaching departure from earth, which led to questions from His disciples. Let's start from the beginning of the chapter at verse one to get a sense of what's happening.
(1) “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.
(2) In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.
(3) If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.
(4) You know the way to where I am going.”
(5) “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don't know where You're going. How can we know the way?”
(6) Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
The question that Thomas asked is probably one that all the disciples wanted to know. Essentially it was this: We don't know where you are going, so how could we possibly know the way? They had not made the connection that Jesus was going back to his Father in heaven. They were still expecting him to deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. They were still expecting a physical salvation, not a spiritual one. Jesus gave them a four-fold answer to the question of where he was going and how they could get there.
- He is the way.
- He is the truth.
- He is the life.
- No one comes to the Father except through him.
What does Jesus' answer mean? What was he saying? When I think of this verse, I look at from this side of the resurrection. We know how this verse applies to salvation, with Jesus paying the penalty for our sin, but that is not how the disciples looked at it. Remember, at the time Jesus gave this answer to the disciples, he had not yet died and been resurrected. The disciples heard this statement on the far side of salvation. At this point in time, the disciples are still under the Law. All they know is what we refer to as the Old Testament.
So what did a small group of twelve devout Jewish disciples, still under the Law, hear Jesus say? How did they understand his words? My purpose here is not to explain to you what this verse means to us today, instead, I want to want to take you back in time 2000 years and explain what this statement meant to the disciples. So let's go back in time to a point to where the disciple's lives were still governed by the Law and the prophets.
Jesus’ first statement was I am the way. To the Old Testament Jew, the way was the Torah, or the Old Testament. The only way to God was through the law. Psalms 119:1 says, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the LAW of the LORD.” Psalms 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.” They were also very familiar with Exodus 18:20 ”And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.” In the Jewish mindset, that way was the law and the prophets. In Jewish tradition, the way to find the path to God was to study the Torah.
In addition to all its teachings about behavior and ritual, the Torah was also the main source for information about the nature of God. By studying the Torah and seeing the way in which it describes God, students began to understand some of God's nature. God entered into a covenant with Israel, and from that covenant came the Torah. The Israelites could only draw near to God through the Torah, and through animal sacrifices and the various rituals. The disciples had been taught from childhood that the Torah was the way to God. Jesus' comment would have been both an eye opener and a jaw dropper. But Jesus was wasn't finished yet.
Jesus' second statement was I am the truth. To the Old Testament Jew, the truth was the Torah, or the Old Testament. Psalms 119:142 says, “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is truth.”(NASB) Verse 151 in the same Psalm says “You are near, Lord, and all Your commands are truth.” In the Jewish mindset, that truth was the law and the prophets. Absolute truth could only be found in God and revealed in the Law and the Prophets. God was seen as the God of Truth, and the Torah was said to be His thoughts and the revelation of His purpose in the creation of the universe, thereby revealing absolute truth. All “truth” was to be compared against the Truth revealed in the Law and the prophets. The disciples had been taught from childhood that if something did not line up with the truth of scripture, then it was not true. Now the disciples are hearing Jesus tell them that he is truth. Jesus' comment would have been both an eye opener and a jaw dropper. But Jesus was wasn't finished yet.
Jesus’ third statement was I am the life. To the Old Testament Jew, the life was the Torah, or the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 30:11-20, Moses gives the Israelites a choice to make. They could choose life and prosperity, or they could choose death and adversity. If they chose life, they would have to walk in God's ways, and keep his Law, because God is their life. If they chose death, they were free to ignore God's ways and laws. Moses gave them this advice, choose life. For the Israelite, to follow the law was to choose life. The Torah was life. The disciples had been taught this from childhood, and now here is Jesus telling them that he is life. Once again, Jesus' comment would have been both an eye opener and a jaw dropper. But Jesus was wasn't finished yet.
Jesus' fourth statement was No one comes to the Father except through Me. To the Old Testament Jew, the only way to God was through the Law. The Law made it possible for the Israelites to approach God. The sacrifices and rituals allowed them to present themselves before God and to be accepted by him. Those who tried to approach God without following the Law usually ended up dead (look up Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10). All Israelites knew that the only way to God was through the Law. But here is Jesus saying that he was the only way to God. Four radical statements in a row. The disciples' brains must have been spinning.
The Jewish mindset saw the Law (the Torah) as the way, the truth, and the life. In their thinking, the Torah is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through the Torah This was ingrained into their thinking and their lifestyle. Jesus' statement was extremely radical. He was essentially saying that he was the Law (the Torah). Modern day Jews still take great offence at this statement by Jesus. Jesus was claiming to be the Law. At the root of Jesus' claim that He was the Law (Torah), was that he therefore, was the only way to God.
For the Old Testament Jew, God's dwelling place was in heaven and in the tabernacle. His presence dwelt on the Ark of the Covenant on the mercy seat between the two cherubim. Only one person could enter the presence of God, the high priest, and that was only once a year. There was only one entrance to the holy of holies and one person who could go through. The average person could only enter the courtyard to offer his sacrifice. That was as far as they could go. They could not enter into the presence of God.
But we now have Jesus saying that there is a way into the presence of God. It was through him. Jesus was not just saying that no man could come to the Father but through him, but the opposite is also true, all men can come to the Father if they go through Jesus. To the disciples, this must have been a very exciting prospect. To their frame of mind, no ordinary person had access to God the Father, but now Jesus was promising them just that. Through him, they could have access to God the Father. The disciples would not fully comprehend or understand Jesus' words until after his death and resurrection. But once they fully understood the significance of Jesus' words, they exploded onto the scene proclaiming the gospel. They were so excited that they could not keep the message to themselves but shared it with anyone who would listen. So let me ask you a question. How excited are you about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life? How excited are you about coming to God the Father through Jesus? We should be so excited about this message that we want to share it with everyone. Will you?