The Gospel of John records a number of sayings of Jesus which begin “I am…” In this series we think about some of the profound things he said about himself.
AS THEY were sharing the Last Supper on the night before he died Jesus said to his disciples, “Where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:4).
Thomas, one of his disciples, asked him “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6).
The disciples had been with him for a long time. It is remarkable that Thomas did not know ‘the way’. Perhaps at the time the disciples still suffered a disconnect with Jesus’ teaching and failed to fully understand the Gospel he preached. It wasn’t until they had been endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–4) that it all became clear.
What Did They Understand?
By this time, the disciples understood certain things about Jesus’ message. They understood and believed he was the Christ —the Messiah, the anointed king—as Peter confessed when Jesus asked them if they would leave him:
From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:66–69).
At this point in Jesus’ ministry the disciples were fully convinced that following and obeying his teaching was the only way to eternal life. But although they understood his message, they apparently failed to understand the bigger picture. We can see this in the way they had difficulty in understanding some of the parables Jesus told and they had to ask him to explain them (for example Luke 8:9).
When Will The Kingdom Come?
Jesus told his disciples: “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). The Kingdom was not going to come immediately. There were certain events that would happen first (as he explained in the Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, see pages 4 & 7).
But clearly the disciples did not fully understand, because after his resurrection they asked him “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (v. 7).
Possibly the disciples were over-eager to see the Kingdom of God established there and then, in their lifetime. After all, they had recently fallen into a dispute about “who would be greatest in the kingdom of God” (Mark 9:33–35 and Luke 9:46–47).
The general expectation of the Jews at the time was that the Messiah would cast out the Roman occupiers and set up God’s kingdom in their place. This expectation seems to have been shared by the disciples, and it blinded them to Jesus’ words when he told them he was to die by crucifixion (Luke 24:7) and that the Gentiles had been given a time to tread down the city of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). The disciples’ disappointment was expressed by two of them after Jesus’ crucifixion: “We were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
The Way of Christ
When Jesus said, “Where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:4), Thomas probably spoke for all of them when he said that they did not know the way. However, Jesus did not mean a literal way, or a real path. He was speaking spiritually.
In the First Century, Christians were known as followers of ‘the Way’ (see Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:22; Hebrews 9:8, 10:20). Peter, in his second letter, calls it “the way of the truth” (2 Peter 2:2).
The only way to the Father is through the sacrifice of Christ. As the Apostle Paul says, “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son”
Anyone who wants to embrace true Christianity in their lives must believe in the Gospel message. In the words of the Bible they must believe “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Then having given ‘a good confession of their faith’ (1 Timothy 6:12) they must be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), and live a new life. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians
4:22–24). This new life puts God and others first, and has as its focus prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17), the reading of God’s Word (1 Timothy 4:13), and the regular remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 22:19).
This is “the way, the truth and the life” that Jesus meant when he replied to Thomas.
Grahame A Cooper