Jesus Comforts His Disciples
1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 My Father's house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 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. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."
Jesus the Way to the Father
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
About four years ago my wife and I saved up a little money and got some incredible deals that my wife found online and so we decided to take our two boys to Orlando, Florida. It was the first and only full-scale vacation that we’ve taken as a family and it was a very enjoyable time. While we were there, we spent our first couple of days going to Universal Studios, but it finally came time to go Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Our boys were completely stoked about going to the Magic Kingdom and I wanted to make sure that we got to the park early so that we could get in. I was convinced that it was going to be so crowded that there would barely be room to move around once we got there. As we arrived, I discovered something that surprised me. There was only on way into the Magic Kingdom. You actually have to take a train from the parking lot across a little lake to get to where the theme park is located. We might have tried other ways to get there, but that train was the only way. I thought we could walk quickly to the park and beat the crowds, but I didn’t feel condescended to or judged when my wife told me that I was wrong, we couldn’t walk and would have to ride the shuttle train with everyone else. That was just the way it was. Once we got there, I discovered that I was wrong again. There was plenty of room of in the Magic Kingdom. The place was far larger than I could ever have imagined.
Of course, I’m not trying to compare God’s presence or the age to come with the Magic Kingdom. In fact, one problem with the world today is that many people go about trying to create their own little make-believe kingdoms based on false beliefs and philosophies, their own magic kingdoms, rather than seeking after the only true Kingdom. My point is that just as I discovered that day that there was plenty of room within the Magic Kingdom and that there was only one way through which people could enter into the park, Jesus points out those same truths when it comes to the Kingdom of God. There is only one way, and you best believe, there is plenty of room.
One thing that we must keep firmly in mind to keep the present passage in context is the previous section that leads up to Jesus’ words here. Peter has just boldly declared that he will go anywhere and do anything to follow Jesus, even if it means laying his life down in that pursuit. Nothing will keep him, in Peter’s mind, from following where Jesus is going to go. Peter may have viewed Jesus’ words that they could not follow where he was going as a test. Wasn’t it their entire vocation, after all, to be his disciples, to follow him wherever he went and learn to be like him? If it was a test, then Peter was determined to answer. He would follow, but Jesus’ words must have been disheartening not only to Peter but to the entire group. Not only could Peter not follow, but he would deny Jesus three times. We can only imagine the blow that these words would have struck to Peter and the other disciples. Peter would fail? What could possibly be coming that would cause that? What would that mean to the rest of them. It was one thing for them to hear that the Jews couldn’t follow Jesus where he was going (7:34), that might have even been encouraging. But to hear that they were seemingly in the same boat?
Jesus wants them to face the reality that in the short term, God has other plans for them. They were clearly and deeply distressed about all of this, though, so Jesus comforts them. What Jesus is about to do, he must do alone, but they will follow in time. What is true of the king is true of his people. He will not abandon them. If they trust in God, which Jesus does not at all call into question, then they should trust also in him. Jewish people never doubted that God would protect, comfort, and be with His people, so Jesus comforts them that they can have that same confidence in him. The Father has sent him, his words are the Father’s, Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him, so if they trust in God’s provision, they can have faith that Jesus’ provision for them will be that of the Father Himself.
In short, Jesus is reassuring them that they will be part of the Father’s family. A major part of what Jesus came to do was to call his followers to a new reality, a new family centered around himself and comprised of those who did the Father’s will (Mk. 3:35). Just because he is leaving and they cannot follow doesn’t mean that all of that has gone away. They will still be part of the family. Jesus is comforting then about their situation on earth when he is no longer with them more than he is trying to encourage them about what will happen to them when they die.
In Jewish families, in fact, it was common that sons, once they were married, would build on a new portion to the Father’s house and his wife and subsequent children would all be part of the larger family. After being betrothed, the husband-to-be would go to the Father’s house and begin to add on a room for his new portion of the family. When he was completed, he would go and get his wife and bring her into the home. The houses could get quite large, with dozens of rooms as the families got bigger and bigger. This is the imagery that Jesus uses here. There is plenty of room in the Father’s house for them. What Jesus has to do is go to prepare their place, to enable them to be able to enter into the Father’s family. His sacrifice on the Cross will enable them to become the children of God and be part of His family. Jesus will leave but not to abandon them, it will be to bring them into the family of God. His words here, then, have much more to do with identity as the people of God rather than specifics about a location. They know that he is returning to the presence of the Father to sit down next to Him as His Son, and they know the way to life and the family of God because he has already told them.
Thomas has missed the point, though. Perhaps Jesus is speaking literally, Thomas thinks, but whether he is or not, Thomas is confused and wants a clear answer. He wants clear directions on the way so that they do not get lost. But Jesus has already told them that he is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). This wasn’t philosophy, it was reality. Jesus is the true Son of God and the only One that has kept God’s covenant and deserved his place in the resurrection and the age to come. Jesus affirms this with words that are so simple and yet so profound. He is the way and the truth and the life. There is simply no access to the Father except through his life. It is only through Jesus’ life that people can be counted as righteous and enter into the Father’s family. We can never earn our way in, be good enough, or do enough to gain access. Try as humans might, we will never be worthy of being part of God’s family. It is only in dying to self and entering into the life of Christ that we can truly say that we belong to the King and what is true of him is true of us (cf. Rom. 6:3-14).
Above all, this will be a statement that will demand faith on the part of the disciples. Very shortly they will wonder how he can be the way when he is being led to his death. They will wonder how he can be the truth when he will be ingloriously killed at the hands of the Romans rather than being shown to be God’s Son as he claimed to be. They will wonder how he can be the life when his lifeless body is lowered from the Cross. Yes, it will take faith. But soon, the Counselor (as he is about to tell them) will show them and lead them into the kind of faith necessary to see the truth. The way is the way of the Cross and the act of dying to self. The truth is that one can gain access to the Father and do His will by entering into the life of the King. And the the life is his life, the only one that will ever bring us reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:16-21). The way, the truth, and the life; truer words were never spoken.
Jesus reminds them that knowing him and knowing the Father are the same thing. If they really know Jesus, then they know the Father. They should be doubly comforted because they might feel like they know Jesus but don’t really know the Father, and they might have trust in the provision of the Father but unsure about Jesus’ ongoing provision for them. If they trust the Father, they can trust Jesus, and if they know and trust Jesus then they can realize that they do know the Father. They will be brought into His eternal family. They have seen Jesus, his works, and his character, and so they have seen the Father. They don’t ever have to doubt that. There is only one way to the Father and they know it because they have spent the last three years watching it and being a part of it.
Jesus was going to lay his life down for others so that they could enter into God’s family. That wasn’t arrogance, it was self-sacrificing love. Many in our world today, though, aggressively challenge the belief that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. Perhaps the reason they challenge verse 6 so much and reject is because we, as Jesus’ people, haven’t embraced doing what he did. We haven’t truly embraced the foot-washing and the laying down of our lives for others that showed the true nature of Jesus. When we do what Jesus did and become what Jesus was for those around us, perhaps they will be able to swallow a little easier the idea that he is the only way.