I AM THE WAY AND THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
Many of us are familiar with John 14, where Jesus tells His disciples that He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. But what did that saying really mean for them, and what does it mean for us? The Bible teaches that there is no other way to salvation than through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is not a way, as in one of many; He is the way, as in the one and only. No one, regardless of reputation, achievement, special knowledge, or personal holiness, can come to God the Father except through Jesus. Jesus is the only way to heaven for several reasons. Jesus was “chosen by God” to be the Saviour (1 Peter 2:4). Jesus is the only One to have come down from heaven and returned there (John 3:13). He is the only person to have lived a perfect human life (Hebrews 4:15). He is the only sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 10:26). He alone fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). He is the only man to have conquered death forever (Hebrews 2:14–15). He is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the only man whom God has “exalted . . . to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9). Jesus spoke of Himself as the only way to heaven in several places besides John 14:6. He presented Himself as the object of faith in Matthew 7:21–27. He said His words are life (John 6:63). He promised that those who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:14–15). He is the gate of the sheep (John 10:7); the bread of life (John 6:35); and the resurrection (John 11:25). No one else can rightly claim those titles. The apostles’ preaching focused on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Peter, speaking to the Sanhedrin, clearly proclaimed Jesus as the only way to heaven: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul, speaking to the synagogue in Antioch, singled out Jesus as the Saviour: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Acts 13:38–39). John, writing to the church at large, specifies the name of Christ as the basis of our forgiveness: “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name” (1 John 2:12). No one but Jesus can forgive sin. Eternal life in heaven is made possible only through Christ. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To receive God’s free gift of salvation, we must look to Jesus and Jesus alone. We must trust in Jesus’ death on the cross as our payment for sin and in His resurrection. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). At one point in Jesus’ ministry, many of the crowd were turning their backs on Him and leaving in hopes of finding another saviour. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). Peter’s reply is exactly right: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). Jesus made the way to go to God with his crucifixion, so he said he is the way. He is the truth because he revealed the truth, that means, he is the Son of God. He is the life because he is giving the eternal life with his flesh and his blood.
This conversation happens on the last night before the crucifixion, during the Passover meal. Before this, Jesus had washed the disciple’s feet, predicted his betrayal by Judas, predicted his denial by Peter, and told the disciples he would soon be going away (John 13). All of this prompted questions about where Jesus was going, and why it was that they couldn’t follow with him. Jesus was preparing His disciples for the days ahead. For over three years, these men had been following Jesus and learning from His teaching and example. They had placed their hopes in Him as the Messiah, the promised deliverer, yet they still didn’t understand how He was going to accomplish that deliverance. After the Last Supper, Jesus began speaking about His departure, which led to questions from His disciples.
In these words, Jesus was declaring Himself the great “I Am,” the only path to heaven, the only true measure of righteousness, and the source of both physical and spiritual life. He was staking His claim as the very God of Creation, the Lord who blessed Abraham, and the Holy One who inhabits eternity. He did this, so the disciples would be able to face the dark days ahead and carry on the mission of declaring the gospel to the world. Of course, we know from Scripture that they still didn’t understand, and it took several visits from their risen Lord to shake them out of their disbelief. Once they understood the truth of His words, they became changed people, and the world has never been the same.
2.0 I AM
“I am the way and the truth and the life” is one of the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus Christ. In the Greek language, “I am” is a very intense way of referring to oneself. It would be comparable to saying, “I myself, and only I, am.” Several other times in the Gospels we find Jesus using these words. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, where God uses the same intensive form to say, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews clearly understood Jesus to be calling Himself God because they took up stones to stone Him for committing blasphemy in equating Himself with God. In Matthew 28:20, as Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it emphasis by saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When the soldiers came seeking Jesus in the garden the night before His crucifixion, He told them, “I am he,” and His words were so powerful that the soldiers fell to the ground (John 18:4–6). These words reflect the very name of God in Hebrew, Yahweh, which means “to be” or “the self-existing one.” It is the name of power and authority, and Jesus claimed it as His own. In John 10 Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd and, in a debate with the Jewish leaders, makes the claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). It was a bold statement – one His audience found quite audacious – and it reveals much about who Jesus is.
3.0 THE WAY
As Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way, there are multiple meanings involved. First off, he addresses our very human instinct to know where we are going before we start a journey. The disciples wanted to know the next step, the next turn, the ultimate destination of where this journey in faith would lead them. When we have a long trip ahead of us, we want to turn on our GPS and get an idea of how long it will take and the roads we will travel on to get there. We determine the best, fastest routes and then start our journey. Thomas was looking for the same kind of information. However, Jesus makes it clear that they (or we) won’t know the defined way we are supposed to travel in life. We are instead tasked with simply knowing and trusting in Jesus daily, and walking in faith that HE is the way. When we abide in him, we will not know a defined course, but we can rest in the comfort of faith – that he will lead us exactly where we need to go as we walk in him. This leads to the second meaning. In John 10, Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore, Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is comparing himself to a shepherd and us to his sheep. Sheep don’t choose their own path to safety and protection but rely on the shepherd to guard and care for them. In order to be safe, we have to trust the shepherd, and not wander off on our own adventures and try to find out own way. That will lead us to danger and pain. But when we follow Jesus, he leads us to exactly where we need to be. Finally, he is making clear that he is the way to the Father, and by extension, to heaven. He says that he goes to prepare a place for us, and this suggests that after we have completed the journey of this life, we will find ourselves in a place of rest where the Father is.
The way – Jesus used the definite article to distinguish Himself as “the only way.” A way is a path or route, and the disciples had expressed their confusion about where He was going and how they could follow. As He had told them from the beginning, Jesus was again telling them (and us) “follow me.” There is no other path to heaven, no other way to the Father. Peter reiterated this same truth years later to the rulers in Jerusalem, saying about Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The exclusive nature of the only path to salvation is expressed in the words “I am the way.”
4.0 THE TRUTH
What is truth? And how can we know truth? After Jesus had been arrested, He found Himself standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. He had been accused of blasphemy, of stirring up the people to revolution, and it was rumoured He called Himself a King. In speaking to Him, Pilate found no evidence of any crime worthy of death but was fascinated by His talk of a Kingdom that was “not of this world” (John 18:36). Pushing back on the idea of whether this lowly carpenter from Galilee truly considered Himself to be some kind of King, Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate’s response comes in the form of a question, the same question that humanity has been asking for centuries, the same response to Jesus that keeps so many from faith: “Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?'” Jesus answered this question in John 14 with the disciples when he tells them “I am the truth”. Jesus can testify to the truth and teach the truth because he himself is that truth. In him there is nothing false, nothing misleading, and nothing fake or uncertain. Each of us are capable of knowing truth, but none of us can claim to actually be truth. There are too many things we don’t know, and too many things we get wrong throughout our lives. Yet Jesus claims to be truth, and in doing so claims to be one with God. The words of John 1:1 set the stage for this very fact: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In this one sentence, John is proclaiming Jesus as ‘the Word’, which would have suggested that he is the beginning and culmination of all that has been true throughout eternity, and that to seek the truth ultimately leads us to seek him. When we seek to figure out what is the truth and what is a lie, we can measure it against the words of Jesus, who himself is the truth.
The truth – Again Jesus used the definite article to emphasize Himself as “the only truth.” Psalm 119:142 says, “Your law is the truth.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded His listeners of several points of the Law, then said, “But I say unto you . . .” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44), thereby equating Himself with the Law of God as the authoritative standard of righteousness. In fact, Jesus said that He came to fulfil the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1) is the source of all truth.
5.0 THE LIFE
This saying also draws us back to the shepherd analogy of John 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. … “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Here Jesus is not only painting a picture of how he defends and leads his sheep, but also foreshadowing his death on the cross. But if this is true, why do Christians still struggle in life? Why do we still endure pain and heartache? Because this life is not the point. This life is not our ultimate goal and does not encompass the entirety of who we are. This life is a mere drop in the ocean of eternity and serves as the starting block on the marathon that leads us to our goal of eternal life. We can slow it down, we can spend time, money and energy working to fight against it, but we can’t stop it from marching forward. Jesus is teaching us that what we are to really be concerned with is not this life, but with eternal life. The Scriptures speak often of the life to come after our life on this earth, and as we follow the voice of our shepherd, we can grasp what that eternal life is in the here and now. We can live this life in such a way that we are not chasing things that don’t last but chasing the things that do last and have eternal significance. This type of life has eternal impact not only for us but for untold others around us.
The life – Jesus had just been telling His disciples about His impending death, and now He was claiming to be the source of all life. In John 10:17–18, Jesus declared that He was going to lay down His life for His sheep, and then take it back again. He spoke of His authority over life and death as being granted to Him by the Father. In John 14:19, He gave the promise that “because I live, you also will live.” The deliverance He was about to provide was not a political or social deliverance (which most of the Jews were seeking), but a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death to a life of freedom in eternity. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. (John 6:53)
When Jesus refers to himself as the way, the truth, and the life, he is giving us a better way to live our lives through him. He is showing us that through following him daily in faith, he will lead us to a better, richer, more meaningful life than we could ever find on our own.