Meditating on Great Themes in John: 21. Way, Truth and Life
John 14:4-6 You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
We have called these ‘Great Themes’ but the truth is that sometimes this ‘theme’ is a single phrase and gets its significance from others like it. So in our verses here in chapter 14 we have Jesus declaring that he is “the way, the truth and the life”. If it is significant it is because it is one of the seven “I AM” sayings of Johns Gospel. We have not highlighted these before so perhaps we should do so now. These are seven self-descriptions of Jesus introduced by “I am” (see 6:35, the bread of life, 8:12; the light of the world, 10:7,9, the gate, 10:11,14, the good shepherd, 11:25, the resurrection and the life, 14:6, the way, the truth and the life, 15:1,5 the vine.) The significance of the “I AM” element of these sayings is that “I AM” was the name that God gave Himself to Moses (see Ex 3:14) which forms the Hebrew name Yahweh which is always shown as LORD in capital letters throughout the Bible. It is taken by most that Jesus is in each of these making a subtle claim to divinity.
In context, Jesus has just said, “Where I am going, you cannot come. (13:33)….. Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later. (13:36) ….. You know the way to the place where I am going,” (14:4) to which Thomas replied, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:5) it is this which makes Jesus reply with this threefold saying. So what does it mean?
The WAY: The Jews knew the Old Testament often spoke of ‘the way’, for example, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isa 30:21. Check also Gen 18:19, Deut 1:32, 5:33, 9:16, 13:5, Psa 1:1,6, Psa 5:8, Psa 18:30 etc. etc.) The ‘way’ in each of these references indicates a specific way to live. We associate ‘way’ with path or road and this ‘way’ leads us into eternity with God.
When Jesus is saying, “I am the way,” he is saying I am the way to live as God designed us to live and I am the path that leads to heaven and to eternal life. The illustration has often been given of a man arriving in a city and asking the way to a specific destination. Various people give him directions but directions are always difficult to follow. Eventually one man he asks says, “I will come with you and show you.” He becomes the way. In the same way Jesus comes literally into our lives by the presence of his Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us and encourage and inspire us on towards the ultimate destination, living out the life in the God-designed way.
The TRUTH: Again the Jews knew about truth in their writings, for example, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth.” (Psa 86:11 See also 1 Kings 17:24, Psa 25:5, Psa 26:3, etc. etc.) but there is more to think about. What is the truth about existence? There is a living God who has designed and created all that we know. He energises it and communicates with it and interacts with it. This is the truth. Everything flows from that.
When Jesus says he is the truth, he is saying that he is ultimate reality and everything finds its meaning in him. He is behind everything and “without him nothing was made that has been made,” (Jn 1:3) and indeed, he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) Without Jesus, nothing is. That is how significant this is. Truth is fact, reality, what is real. Jesus claims to be only what God could claim to be, ‘the ground of all being’.
The LIFE: Again the Jews knew all about ‘life’ from the very beginning: “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) Life comes from God and life energises everything else. (Also check out Psa 21:4, Psa 39:5, Psa 133:3 etc. etc.) Whenever we speak about a living creature (or even a plant) it gets its life from God. “For with you is the fountain of life.” (Psa 36:9) But now life is a way to be lived in accordance with how God has designed us. John says of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) Most of the time now when scripture refers to the life that Jesus brings it refers to ‘eternal life’.
Listen to some of the phrases from Jn 5:22-29 from the Message version: “The Son gives life to anyone he chooses…. Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father….. has at this very moment the real, lasting life …..This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living……dead men and women will hear the voice of the Son of God and, hearing, will come alive.” Before we come to Christ we are spiritually dead (which is why we are insensitive to God and He seems a million miles away) but when He draws us and we come and surrender, He imparts real life – His own presence, the Holy Spirit – and this life becomes one with our soul and we have eternal life which takes the soul on (as we saw when we considered resurrection) Jesus is life and Jesus leads us in the life God has designed for us. Hallelujah!