“I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life”
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe Jesus’ relationship to the Father.
2. Define what Jesus meant by the way and the truth and the life.
3. Develop a plan for meditating on one of Jesus’ miracles each day to increase belief.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Feb. 12—A New and Living Way (Hebrews 10:19–23)
Tuesday, Feb. 13—Jesus Testifies to the Truth (John 18:33–40)
Wednesday, Feb. 14—Jesus Has Brought Life (2 Timothy 1:8–14)
Thursday, Feb. 15—Turn from Darkness (Ephesians 4:17–24)
Friday, Feb. 16—Walking in the Truth (3 John 2–8)
Saturday, Feb. 17—Jesus Is the Way (John 14:1–7)
Sunday, Feb. 18—The Son Reveals the Father (John 14:8–14)
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Why Teach this Lesson?
Have you ever heard the phrase “You can’t get there from here”? What this usually means is that the destination is a difficult place to reach or that describing how to get there is nearly impossible. When Jesus talked about Heaven, though, he made it clear that you can get there from here. You do so by taking THE way, which is Jesus himself.
Along this one, true path are many opportunities for detour. There are many signs alongside the way to Heaven that try to point people in all kinds of directions. But only one sign is the right sign. That sign is Jesus, who points toward the Father. Jesus, as the light of truth, illuminates our journey. The comforting and convicting words of Jesus in today’s text are for those seeking direction for life in the here and now and for life everlasting in the presence of God.
A. Famous Last Words
For some reason we attach special significance to the “last words” of a famous person. Good or bad, a person’s final words often seem to summarize his or her life. The last words of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) were, “I’ve always loved my wife. I’ve always loved my children. I’ve always loved my grandchildren. I’ve always loved my country. I want to go. God, take me.”
Nathan Hale (1755–1776), an American revolutionary spy, said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” just before he was hanged by the British. Karl Marx (1818–1883), reflecting his prideful spirit, came to the end of his life by saying, “Go on. Get out. Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
As his crucifixion approached, Jesus had “much more to say” to his disciples (John 16:12). But he was no fool, as Marx’s statement would suppose! Many of the final words of Jesus, recorded in John 13–17, are notable for their emphasis on the future.
B. Lesson Background
Our lessons in this series so far have focused on passages from the first 12 chapters of the Gospel of John. As we noted last week, this section is often called the Book of Signs because it highlights Jesus’ public ministry of miracles and teachings; it portrays Jesus’ actions as signs of his divine nature.
Yet despite all these great works, most people either did not believe Jesus or refused to confess their faith for fear of persecution (see John 7:13; 9:22). Following this rejection, Jesus met privately with his disciples on the last night of his life in an upper room. There they celebrated the Passover (John 13:1–3).
It is interesting to compare the Gospel accounts here. Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus mainly on the events surrounding the institution of the Lord’s Supper (see Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–38). John, however, includes lengthy excerpts from Jesus’ “farewell address”—his last words for the disciples before his arrest.
The farewell address occupies all of John 13–17. It focuses on the need for unity after Jesus’ departure. This includes not only the disciples’ unity with Christ but also unity with one another. In today’s passage Jesus reminds the disciples that they can come to God only by believing in him and following his example.
I. Ultimate Comfort (John 14:1–4)
A. What to Do (v. 1)
1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
The original, Greek text of this verse can be translated in two different ways. One possibility is that Jesus could be urging the disciples to believe in both God and himself. Following this approach the New International Version reads Trust in God; trust also in me.
On the other hand, Jesus may be building on their already existing belief in God to encourage them to place complete faith in him as well. The King James Version follows this approach: ye [already] believe in God, [now] believe also in me. The King James Version seems to be the better translation. As Jews the disciples naturally believe in God and his power; now, however, Jesus asks them to trust in him as well.
Jesus asks this knowing full well that the faith of the disciples will soon be tested by the shocking events of his arrest and crucifixion. The disciples should not lose faith even though most others do not believe. The disciples should maintain belief even when it looks like the forces of evil have won the day.
B. What Awaits (vv. 2–4)
2. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
The totality of Jesus’ remarks undoubtedly give the disciples both comfort and alarm. The alarm comes with his announcement that he is going to leave them for a time. The alarm leads to confusion in the minds of the disciples when Jesus says that he is going to a place where they cannot come (John 13:33).
Peter, and apparently the others, take this to mean that he is going to go into hiding for a while. Peter then insists that he will follow Jesus even to death (13:37). Now Jesus assures the disciples that he is not leaving forever. He wants them to be with him, so he must prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.
Believers have no permanent place in this world, which hates and persecutes the disciples (John 15:18; 16:1–3). We can take comfort, however, in the fact that Jesus has prepared rooms for us in God’s house. Then we can be with him forever in Heaven.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you think our future, eternal dwelling places will contrast with our current, earthly homes?
3. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
This is the good news: Jesus will not abandon his people. The word go clearly refers to his upcoming death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus’ death pays sin’s penalty while his resurrection shows his mastery over death (Revelation 1:18). That is how Jesus is able to prepare a place for those who love him.
Commentators are divided on the meaning of come back. Some argue that Jesus is referring to his appearances to the disciples after the resurrection, when he will give them further teaching. Others, however, suggest that the phrase take you to be with me refers to our eternal home in Heaven (v. 2), so that come back must refer to Jesus’ second coming. In either case Jesus stresses that a temporary departure will ultimately make it possible for believers to dwell with him forever.
4. “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Based on Jesus’ ministry and teaching to this point, the disciples should understand who Jesus is and what is about to happen to him. They should realize that his origin and destination is Heaven (the place where I am going) and that he must die (the way) in order to prepare their heavenly home. Jesus presumably intends to continue discussing that issue, but Thomas interrupts with a question that reveals a lack of understanding about Jesus and his mission.
II. Profound Truth (John 14:5–11)
A. Know the Way (vv. 5–7)
5. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus’ popularity seems to ebb and flow. Jesus was at a height of popularity following the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:1–14. But then Jesus’ popularity in Galilee collapsed following his hard teachings (John 6:60–66).
The resurrection of Lazarus served to refocus attention on Jesus’ indisputable power (John 11:45). A huge crowd has just welcomed him to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem (John 12:12–18). Even the Pharisees are forced to admit that “the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19).
It is against this backdrop that the disciples probably expect that Jesus will now take charge. Will he lead a revolt against Rome? Will he reform the temple? Thomas reveals some of this “earthly thinking” with his question. Exactly where is Jesus going and how are the disciples supposed to get there? Is Jesus going home to Galilee for a visit? Is he going into hiding so that he cannot be arrested (see John 10:39; 11:54; 12:9–11)?
Thomas’s question shows a lack of spiritual discernment. It has not yet occurred to him that Jesus may be talking about his death and return to Heaven.
What Do You Think?
What was a time in your life that you showed a lack of spiritual discernment? How did you grow from this experience?
6. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The first part of Jesus’ answer to Thomas’s question features three nouns: the way and the truth and the life. Jesus’ statement that he is the way to God most directly answers Thomas’s question in verse 5, “How can we know the way?” Jesus is the truth in that he defines correct beliefs about God. When we look at Jesus, we learn the truth about who God is, how he operates, and what he expects. For this reason, all people must accept Christ in order to come to a proper understanding of the Father.
Finally, Jesus is the life because he has life in himself (John 5:26). He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). These facts mean that no one comes to the Father except through me. Truly John 14:6 is one of the most important verses in the Bible!
What Do You Think?
Suppose that you share John 14:6 with a skeptic. In response he or she says, “You’re just being narrow-minded. Surely a loving God would make a way for those who have never heard of Jesus!” How do you prepare yourself in advance for this kind of reaction? [Make sure to consider Matthew 7:14 and Acts 4:12.]
7. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Because Jesus is God’s Son, and because he follows God’s will perfectly, knowing Jesus gives us knowledge of God as well. The verb know goes beyond simple awareness that God exists; rather, it refers to a certain understanding of who God is, how he operates, and how we are to live as his people.
The disciples have learned (or should have learned) all that they need to know about these things through their experience with Jesus. The word if opens a criticism of the disciples’ failure to understand adequately that Jesus is the true way to the Father. Now that Jesus has explained the matter more fully, he expects them to have a better comprehension from now on.
Visual for Lesson 12
“Why is this one of the most confrontational
statements that Jesus could possibly make?”
B. Know the Father (vv. 8–11)
8. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Philip’s innocent request reveals that he, like Thomas, is still having a hard time understanding Jesus’ plan for the future. His request seems more unusual, however, in light of what Jesus has just said to Thomas.
As a result, students of the Bible are divided on Philip’s intent. On the one hand, some believe that Philip harbors doubts about Jesus’ claims to be the only way to God, and therefore Philip wants to see evidence to confirm his faith. Under this theory, the phrase show us the Father would thus be a request for some sort of visionary experience that would allow them to be certain of the truth of what Jesus is saying.
On the other hand it simply could be that Philip does not yet realize that Jesus’ “Father” is not Joseph of Nazareth, but rather the eternal God in Heaven (compare John 6:42). If this is the case, then Philip perhaps thinks that Jesus is going back to Galilee to visit his parents. So Philip wants Jesus to explain exactly why he is going to do that. In either case Philip clearly does not yet comprehend fully that God the Father has made himself known in Jesus.
There are numerous phrases that mean, “Prove it!” One that was popular a few years ago was “Show me the money!” (from a movie). Enthusiastic talk is one thing. But when the impatient seller wants to close the deal, he or she may say, “Show me the money!”A similar phrase is, “Put your money where your mouth is!” Big talk is not enough.
This “prove it” attitude cuts across many areas of life. For several years I have been active in accrediting associations that review institutions of higher education. At one of our annual meetings a couple of years ago, the staff of the association sported buttons that proclaimed, “Show me the learning.” It is not enough for a college to say they educate their students; they have to demonstrate that learning does in fact take place.
Our modern world is filled with demands of “Show me!” The same was true in ancient times, as we see in Philip’s request. Jesus had identified himself with the Father and said that the disciples had seen the Father in Jesus’ activities. Yet even after three years, Philip still did not understand. “Show me,” he demanded.
We are not much different. Our actions constantly request, “show me Your grace,” “show me Your forgiveness,” “show me Your love,” “show me that You understand what I am going through.” Before we make too many such requests of God, we should remember that Jesus did show us—on the cross. —J. B. N.
9. Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus has spent some three years (such a long time) with the disciples, teaching and working miracles. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus has explicitly discussed his unity with the Father and has said that he came to reveal God to the world.
Jesus is therefore dismayed at the lack of understanding in even his closest followers. They still do not really understand who he is. This is spiritual blindness.
10. “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
Jesus’ question reflects his frustration. His words emphasize his complete unity with God—the Father is in Jesus, but Jesus is also in the Father, suggesting that the two think and act as one. This has been called a “mutual indwelling.”
Jesus points to two areas of his ministry where this relationship should be obvious: the things he says and the things he does. Both Jesus’ teachings and miracles reveal God to the world in an unprecedented way.
11. “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
Jesus did a tremendous miracle in John 6 when he fed the 5,000. But the result was that people sought him out not because of the miracles but because they had had their fill (John 6:26). Jesus’ miracles should prove that he is more than just a prophet, magician, or a bread king. These mighty deeds should lead people to understand that he reveals God in a new and unique way.
What Do You Think?
Make a list of some out-of-the-ordinary things that Jesus did in front of his disciples. Despite the miraculous things on this list, what made his disciples linger in their uncertainty about Jesus’ identity and authority? How are your own doubts similar?
Jesus assumes that his works will eliminate any doubt about his own identity and the identity of his Father. If Philip can’t understand Jesus’ teachings about himself, which seem to be obvious enough, perhaps he should ask himself what it means that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead!
III. Extreme Promise (John 14:12–14)
A. What We Can Do (v. 12)
12. “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
This verse presents us with some interesting challenges of interpretation. First, who is it that will do greater things than Jesus? Is it only the original apostles or is it all believers? The phrase anyone who has faith in me points to all Christians.
With that identity established we next need to ask, “In what sense will Christians be able to do greater things than Jesus?” The clue to answering this question is found in the last phrase because I am going to my Father. That exaltation will happen only after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is Jesus’ sacrifice that launches a new era of power. None of Jesus’ own miracles or teaching up to the point of the cross and empty tomb could bring about salvation.
Compare the power of the gospel before and after the cross. Even after more than three years of Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and miracles, his most dedicated followers were relatively few in number. But after Jesus’ resurrection comes Pentecost. Preceding that glorious day, there were only about 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). Peter’s sermon and the arrival of the Holy Spirit then add about 3,000 (Acts 2:41)! Whereas Jesus’ displayed his power in a limited geographical region, his followers eventually proclaim the gospel across the Roman Empire. Their efforts will reach a much larger number of people, including Gentiles. Christ empowers us to show everyone that he alone is the way to the Father.
What Do You Think?
Jesus talked about others doing things even greater than he had done. How do you apply Jesus’ expectations in your own life?
B. What Jesus Will Do (vv. 13, 14)
13, 14. “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
These verses must be interpreted both within their immediate context and within the larger context of the John’s writings. Jesus has just told the disciples that believers will be empowered to do “greater things.” In verses John 14:15–17 (not in today’s text), Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples that he will ask God to send “the Spirit of truth” to abide with them. The Spirit will give comfort in the face of persecution (John 14:26-27) and will work with the disciples to convict the world of sin (John 16:8–14). Jesus clearly is speaking, then, of the power to proclaim the gospel. This is what brings glory to the Father (John 7:18; 8:50, 54; 12:28).
Consistent with this theme, 1 John 5:14, 15 states that God will answer prayers that we offer “according to his will”; in that context this apparently refers to prayers for those who have fallen away (1 John 5:16). Jesus is not saying, then, that we can expect God to grant our whims like some sort of heavenly Santa Claus. The emphasis, rather, lies in the phrase in my name: Through Jesus alone we come to God, and through him God grants us power to proclaim the truth in a lost world.
Ask in My Name
My father was a carpenter who spent most of his working years building houses for a contractor. While working on one project, he and his crew experienced significant harassment from the residents of a neighboring house. They threatened to sue because some of the workmen had walked through a corner of their yard, damaging some grass. They refused to allow the workmen to get drinking water from an outside tap. They wanted a ridiculous amount of compensation because they said that the workmen had damaged some vegetables in the garden.
This hostile situation changed dramatically when the neighbors discovered that the workmen were under the contractor rather than under the developer. The neighbors had been cheated by the developer, but they had no grudge against the contractor. The name of the contractor was respected; the name of the developer was despised.
It is important to establish in whose name we operate, isn’t it? If we come to God and request things in our own name, or on our own merits, we will not get much response. But when we ask in the name of Jesus according to his will, that’s a different story! The name of Jesus opens us up to the marvelous power of God. —J. B. N.
Many have tried to describe, in song, poem, and prose, what eternity in Heaven will be like. To try to describe the indescribable is quite a job! The hymn “Mansion Over the Hilltop” by Ira Stanphill (1914–1993) is one such attempt. Its well-known lyrics compare the “cottage” the singer has on earth with the “mansion” that awaits in Heaven.
The word mansions occurs in John 14:2 of the King James Version. When that translation came into being in 1611, the word mansion simply meant an “abode” or “dwelling place” or a separate apartment that was not part of a larger building. In this sense an abode in Heaven is the special place that God has prepared for those who are faithful to him. Jesus does not emphasize the material comforts of this heavenly dwelling. Instead he focuses on the essential benefit that we will enjoy: God and Christ will be with us forever.
In the meantime Jesus calls us to live lives that show we are in fellowship with him. As we do we have the confidence that he will give us the power we need to do all that he asks. This may be difficult, but a heavenly home awaits for those who remain faithful.
Thought to Remember
Believe in Jesus and find God.
Father, we live in a world of falsehood. Sometimes we have a hard time saying what the word truth means anymore. Please help us live lives that are pleasing to you. Give us confidence so that we can stand up for you and do the greater works that Jesus calls us to do. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing