STUDY 18: JOHN 14:1-14 - YOU KNOW THE WAY

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

Chapter 14, spoken only to the eleven disciples, takes up two thoughts already expressed by Jesus: [1] that he is going away [7:33,34; 8:21; 13:33]; [2] that believing in him is believing in the one who sent him, that seeing him is seeing the one who sent him [12:44,45]. It also introduces the topic which will be the focus of the following two chapters: The coming of the Comforter/Counsellor.

 

A. WORDS OF COMFORT

To counter the disturbing information that he is about to go away, Jesus begins to reassure them:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled …’

The fact is they were already troubled. Literally the Greek text reads: ‘Stop being troubled!’ They were troubled by the up-coming betrayal [ 13:21 ,22]; they were troubled by the fact that Jesus was going away [ 13:33 ]; they were also troubled by Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial [ 13:38 ] – Peter, the up-front, confident disciple, who was bold when the rest of them were timid.

‘Trust in God; trust also in me’

It is difficult for translators to know how to translate this verse from the Greek. In the particular verbal form of the word translated ‘believe’ [which automatically includes the subject of the verb - ‘you’] there is no difference in the Greek between the spelling of a command [imperative mood] and the spelling of a statement [indicative mood]. Thus these words can be translated with equal grammatical accuracy in four different ways:

      • You trust in God; you trust also in me [2 statements of fact].  In the context it makes good sense for Jesus to make these two statements as a means of reassuring his disciples – he knows they trust in both God and himself, and on the basis of this already existing trust in the Father and the Son they have no need to be troubled.

 

      • Trust in God; trust also in me [2 commands]. Given the dismay in their hearts it also makes equally good sense for Jesus to give them this double-barrelled encouragement to believe in both God and himself, rather than to continue in their agitated state. Things are about to happen that will shake their very foundations of their faith. They need to keep trusting.

 

      • You trust in God; trust also in me [1 statement followed by 1 command] This also makes good sense in the context. Their faith in God is the basis on which Jesus commands them to trust also in himself, because he is one with the Father. As the events unfold they need this admonition to keep on trusting in him even when all the observable evidence of the validity of his claims has been removed.

 

      • Trust in God; you also trust in me [1 command followed by 1 statement]. This makes least sense, and seems rather clumsy.

 

Whatever was Jesus’ original meaning – whether statement or command, or half and half, it centred in trust in himself and his Father at this disturbing time. We must remember here that Jesus has already affirmed that believing in himself is believing in God [ 12:44 ]; there is no room for any distinction between genuine faith in Jesus and genuine faith in God, and Jesus’ words may include an unspoken reminder of that.

Jesus moves on from this to give them assurances and promises which they are to trust and keep on trusting. [The trust/believe in verse 1 is present continuous tense in both instances.]

‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms’

Jesus assures us that there is more than enough room in his Father’s house, that where his Father and all who belong to him live there are many dwelling places – many spaces. The Greek for ‘rooms’ is mone, which is only used twice in the New Testament: here, and in John 14:23 , where Jesus refers to himself and his Father coming to make their home within the believer. The word is related to meno [remain, have one’s habitual dwelling place] and refers to the place where one lives permanently. In the Father’s house there are many permanent dwelling places. He assure them strongly of this saying ‘if it were not so, I would have told you’. He knows what his Father’s house is like! For that is where he came from; that is his eternal home.

‘I’m going there to prepare a place for you’

Jesus is going back to where he came from – back to the presence of the Father. In what way does his return to the Father prepare a place for us? According to the writer to the Hebrews Jesus enters the Father’s presence as our great and permanent High Priest with the blood of his once-for-all eternal sacrifice and makes atonement for our sins [Hebrews 8:1,2; 9:11-12, 24-27a]. Thus his death, which must precede his return to his Father, is an essential element in that return, and in his preparation of a place for us.

‘I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’

Hebrews 9:27b states ‘he will appear a second time … to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him’. At one level of understanding this looks ahead to the return of Christ and his gathering of all believers unto himself and into his eternal kingdom. At another level of understanding, all who believe in him have already been raised with him and are even now with him in the presence of God [Ephesians 2:6].

‘You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Even though they do not realize that they know the way, they do. Because they know Jesus, they know the way. Jesus assures them of this. Thomas’ question [14:5] reveals their lack of awareness of what they do actually know, and moves Jesus to explain more fully in the following verses.

 

B. JESUS THE ONLY WAY

In John 14:6 Jesus makes the sixth of his absolute and exclusive claims, again using the ‘I AM’ that he has used so frequently in this Gospel. Like the others, this claim contains unavoidable discrimination against all other religious leaders, religious belief systems and religious promises. It is, from the perspective of the contemporary definition of ‘tolerance’, a highly offensive and unacceptable statement.

[1] I am the way - an exclusive, absolute statement. Jesus Christ, and he alone, is the way [Greek: hodos – a road or way], that is the road to God. There is no other road, no other way of access or means of access, to God. Every other supposed road to God does not lead to the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ. Other religious or spiritual roads may lead to some kind of religious or spiritual experience, but Jesus Christ alone is the one road to God.

Compare this with Jesus teaching in Matthew 7:13-14

 

 

 

[2] I am … the truth - Again, an exclusive, absolute statement. Not only did Jesus teach the truth about God, he is the truth. He, in his person, in his living, in his speaking, is the truth about God. Not part of the truth, but the truth. Everything outside of Jesus Christ, everything other than Jesus Christ is not the truth. It is either partial truth and partial error, and therefore misleading and deceptive; or it is total error. Only the person who knows Jesus Christ knows the true, unadulterated truth about God.

Reflect on this in the light of John 12:45

 

 

 

[3] I am … the life - This identification of himself with life has been a recurring thought in Jesus’ teaching, indeed, in John’s gospel. Again Jesus makes a claim that excludes all but himself as the source of a real relationship with God: he and he alone is the life. Apart from him there is no spiritual life. Apart from him there is only spiritual death. All of the spirituality, all of the devotion, all of the religious endeavours that abound in various religions all around the world, all of these, no matter how sincere, no matter what they promise, hold people in spiritual death. Only in Jesus Christ can a person find spiritual life, for he, and he alone, is the life.

Read 1John 5:12 . How does this verse, together with Christ’s claim to be ‘the life’ in John 14:6, teach us that Jesus Christ is the gift that he gives? That it is not that ‘life’ is something distinct from himself that he gives to us, but that when we receive him, we also, of necessity, receive ‘life’, for he is the life.

 

 

 

[4] No one comes to the Father except through me. In case we had not understood the implications of the three claims just made, Jesus spells it out so that there can be no mistake. No one comes to the Father except through him. No matter how important someone is. No matter how religious or spiritual someone is. No matter how many followers someone has, or how many people they have influenced. No matter how good or kind or law-abiding. No matter how devoted. No matter how genuine. No-one. Everyone who rejects Jesus Christ cannot come to God.

[5] No-one comes to the Father except through me. If Jesus Christ had no real right to make the claims he did, this would be one of the most repulsive. These three words reduce all of our ideologies and religions to nothing. These three words stand in stark judgment on all who have promised their followers eternal blessedness or union with the divine. If these three words are true, then all the promises and claims of all other religions, cults and philosophies are empty and false. All of the hype, all of the charisma, all of the countless millions of devotees, all of the pain and the sacrifice - all of this, all around the world, means nothing and achieves nothing of any eternal value. According to Jesus Christ: no-one comes to the Father except through him.

The meaning and the force of these simple words of Jesus are clear: there is no other way. Those who believe in him must also bear with the hatred and rejection that the exclusiveness of this claim attracts. Only by distorting and reducing the obvious meaning of the words can we escape their absoluteness and their narrowness; but then we would be left with an impotent apology for the Gospel.

 

C. JESUS CHRIST – GOD WITH US

In verse 7 Jesus gives us the essential truth that validates the astounding claim he has just made in verse 6: he rightly says he is the way, he rightly says he is the truth, he rightly says he is the life, he rightly says no one comes to the Father except through him because he is one with the Father: to know him is to know God, to see him is to see God. Here in Jesus Christ that which is impossible actually happens: we humans see God.

How do these verses refer to the impossibility of a sinful human being seeing God?

John 1:18

1Timothy 6:16

Isaiah 6:5

1Kings 19:13

Exodus 33:18-23

Exodus 20:19

All of the above passages help us to understand the awesome claim that Jesus is making here in John 14:7ff. That which is impossible, that which is potentially destructive to us, here, in Jesus Christ becomes possible, and is potentially life instead of death. Here in Jesus Christ the knowledge of God which had been impossible before is available and accessible to all. That which before had only been seen in shadows and symbols here stands before us in reality. The coming of Jesus Christ removes the darkness. The coming of Jesus Christ removes the questions. The coming of Jesus Christ removes the ignorance. Here in Jesus Christ we both know God and see God.

Here in these words all the scepticism of the agnostics and the denials of the atheists are invalidated. God is known, God is seen, in Jesus Christ.

But still Philip misses but the point, as millions since have missed it, and the majority in the contemporary church still miss it: ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’

The power of Jesus’ words has passed right over him. So incredible, so unexpected, is the incarnation that has taken place in the coming of the Son of God to earth in the conception, birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth, that Philip does not realise what Jesus is saying.

To Jesus the surprising thing is Philip’s failure to understand: ‘don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?’ For three years Philip had lived with Jesus, hearing his teaching, witnessing the miracles. Both of these were adequate indicators of the true identity of Jesus. [See John 5:36; 6:63,64; 10;25,38; 12:47 -49]. Certainly, the disciples have understood far more than the general crowds; and Peter has spoken for them in his confession ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ But the impact and implications of that confession have not yet hit them. They do not yet realise the sheer immensity of what is going on here.

Jesus hammers it home: ‘anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’

Now we must understand that Jesus is not here making a pantheistic New Age statement, in which he is god because all is one and all is god. If this were true then you and I, and everything on the earth could make this same claim.

Nor is he speaking as one who thinks that every believer is a reduplication or incarnation of God, as taught by some current pseudo-christian televangelists and writers.

The claim Jesus makes here is unique and radical. It is a claim only he can make. It is a claim that goes beyond all human thought and expectation. In some ways we could say it is the essence of the Gospel. More demanding than the cross. More significant than the cross. If we fail to understand Jesus here, then we cannot rightly understand the cross and the resurrection. If we fail to believe Jesus here, then the cross can do nothing for us, for the cross mediates life and forgiveness only to those who believe in Jesus.

Anyone who has seen Jesus, has seen the Father.

Here, in Jesus Christ, the Father is known. If we do not recognize the Father here, if we do not see God here, then we do not know him. If we do not recognize him here, then we will not see him anywhere. If we do not believe that in seeing Jesus we see God, then the god we believe in is not God; it is but a figment of our individual or corporate imaginations. Non-existent. Powerless.

The true, the only God reveals himself in his Son, Jesus Christ. Anyone who has seen Jesus, has seen the Father. So certain is this, so evident, so unavoidable, so unquestionable, that Jesus asks: ‘how can you say “Show us the Father?”’ Those who see and know Jesus Christ need have no more questions about God. No more ‘Who is God?’ ‘What is God like?’ ‘What does he do?’ ‘What does he say?’ ‘What does he require of me?’ No-one ever again needs to ask even one question. All we need to do is to look at Jesus Christ. Here all the questions about God that have ever been asked and ever will be asked are answered. Standing face to face with Jesus Christ, we see the Father.

Jesus further reinforces this truth in verses 10 and 11 with things he has taught previously:

      • Jesus is in the Father; the Father is in Jesus [compare 10:38b]
      • Jesus’ words are the Father’s words [compare 3:34 ; 8:26 ; 14:24 ]
      • Jesus’ work is the Father’s work [compare 5:19 ; 9:4; 10: 25,3238a] [note that the word translated ‘miracles’ in some of these verses in the NIV is the Greek word erga – works].

How can they possibly say ‘Show us the Father’ … that is exactly what he has been doing all the time he has been with them. They should have seen it by now, they should have believed it by now. Even if they doubt his words, the evidence of his works should have convinced them [verse11].

Reflection : Think deeply about your own perception of Jesus Christ. To what extent do you believe that in seeing and believing in Jesus you are seeing and believing in God?

 

 

 

 

 

D. THE OUTFLOW OF FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST

When we read 14:12 -13 we need to consider them in their context. They are part of this teaching that Jesus is giving about his identity with the Father. They are not stand alone snippets about Christian miracle-working or Christian prayer.

‘… anyone who has faith in me …’

That is, anyone who believes what Jesus has just taught about himself, and what he has been teaching in word and work all along. He is not talking here about ‘if I have enough faith that Jesus can do miracles he will do miracles through me’. Rather he is talking about ‘if I believe Jesus is God’.

‘… will do what I have been doing …’

What has Jesus been doing? He has been revealing the Father by word and action. Refer back to 14:10b where Jesus said ‘The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’ Here it is the words of Jesus, his teaching and his claims, that Jesus describes as the Father doing his work [NIV; note: Greek text has works, plural]. When Jesus in 14:11 tells his disciples to ‘believe the evidence of the miracles themselves’ [NIV] the Greek text has the identical word ‘works’ as verse 10. We must think deeply then before we automatically assume that Jesus is saying that we will do the miracles that he did. The key concept in the context is that Jesus has revealed the Father. If we believe in him we also will reveal the Father. Not in the same way that Jesus did, but by proclaiming the truth about him.

‘He will do greater things than these …’ [Greek text: he will do greater than these]

The accurate revelation of God in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, was limited to a small geographical area and a small number of people. Its total impact was exceedingly small. Through the church [these faithful disciples and those who would believe through the testimony of the Gospel] that revelation, that glory of God, will be multiplied repeatedly and taken, as the prophets predicted, to the ends of the earth.

‘… because I am going to the Father’

In these words Jesus anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers which can happen only after Jesus’ return to the Father. He will teach about this at length shortly. Note the ‘because’ – it is because he is returning to the Father that these ‘greater’ works can be done by those who believe in him.

‘… I will do whatever you ask in my name …’

With a slight variation, this is stated twice [ 14:13 ,14]. The ‘whatever’ is, in itself, a blank cheque. Anything. Anything at all. But it is followed by ‘in my name’, which immediately puts a boundary around it. Leon Morris comments:

‘This does not mean simply using the name as a formula. It means that prayer is to be in accordance with all that the name stands for. It is prayer proceeding from faith in Christ, prayer that gives expression to a unity with all that Christ stands for, prayer which seeks to set forward Christ himself.’ [p646]

This is not a little ‘open sesame’ that we tag onto our prayers and expect thereby automatic positive answers. Rather it expresses alignment with Christ’s person and Christ’s agenda, and excludes all requests that are contrary to his purpose and his kingdom.

The slight variation: in both verse 13 and 14 Jesus states that it is he who responds - ‘I will do it’. In verse 13 we are not told who we are asking, but in verse 14 Jesus says ‘you may ask me’. Not infrequently Christians wonder who we are supposed to pray to: God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Some reply with ‘only God the Father’. And this is indeed how Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Yet here he says clearly that it is him, Jesus the Son, whom we are asking, and that it is he, Jesus the Son, who responds to the prayer. This does not deny the normality of praying to the Father, but it does affirm the legitimacy of praying to the Son. And perhaps, in the context of his immanent departure, this indication of continuing contact with him is important for the disciples to hear. He is telling them not to be troubled by his departure, and in that context, telling them he will continue to be accessible to them.

‘… so that the Son may bring glory to the Father …’ [Greek: ‘so that the Father is glorified in the Son’]

When the Lord Jesus answers our prayers made in his name, with him and his agenda at their centre, the purpose and result of his response to our prayers is the glory of his Father. It is not about us and our needs and our difficulties. Just as his whole life was directed to his Father’s glory, so is his response to our prayers that enables us to do the ‘greater works’ that will redound to his Father’s glory. As Jesus thus enables us to continue his work of revealing the Father by our proclamation of Christ, the Father is glorified ‘in the Son’.

Reflection : Consider the contrast between the perspectives above and the kind of prayer that demands of God personal miracles for personal comfort.