Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:5–6)
One of the most common objections today to Christianity is that it is “exclusivistic.” Christians believe that God made the world, and that he has revealed himself to us in some specific ways, and so we exclude claims to truth that oppose or contradict what God has said. We believe in right and wrong. We do not include, as part of our faith, any given view on life and the world simply because someone expresses it. We have a particular set of beliefs; therefore, for the sake of honesty and love, we “exclude” alternate claims about those central realities. Part of being genuinely Christian is believing that the biblical faith is true, and that opposing and alternate faiths are not.
When critics take aim at us for such exclusivism, they often mention Jesus’s claim to be “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) — that no one comes to the Father but by him. It is widely regarded today as one of the most controversial things Jesus said, but it is almost always quoted out of context. To be clear, Christianity is indeed exclusivistic, but there is much more to Jesus being “the way” than many are prone to see.
Our Only Way
For starters, it’s good to consider that the dialogue of John 14 happens privately, in an intimate context with close friends, not in the public square — not at a debate or showdown with religious rivals. The banner over this chapter is verse 1: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (also verse 27). Jesus as “the way” is first about the comfort and peace and assurance his followers need. These are not first fighting words but soul-quieting, heart-feeding truth. John 14:6 is first comfort, not controversy.
Notice that when Jesus talks about “the way,” he doesn’t say, “Christianity is the way,” but, “I am the way.” Essentially all objections (at least that I’ve heard) about Christianity being “exclusivistic” misunderstand Jesus’s mention of “the way,” as if it’s a commitment first to a particular religious system rather than allegiance to a person. Other religions and systems of belief simply have no category for how personal this is.
Christians do not prepare a place for themselves; Jesus prepares a place for us (John 14:2). We don’t work our way to where Jesus is; he comes again to take us to himself (John 14:3). Jesus didn’t merely lay down “the way” for us to live; he himself is the way. “The way” here isn’t a path to walk, but a person to trust.
Our Search Is Over
What comfort, then, do we find in confessing Jesus as “the way”? He speaks to his disciples in their confusion in John 14. In their uncertainty. In their anxiety and fears. And he comforts them by saying, “I will be enough for you.” I will be sufficient for you. You don’t need to look elsewhere; you don’t need to supplement me with anything else. You’re disoriented, and I am the way. You’re confused, and I am the truth. You’re fearful, and I am the life. Knowing me is enough. Your search can end with me.
Jesus gets the glory of being “the way,” (not “a way”), “the truth” (not just true), and “the life” (not just life), and as he does, we get the joy and peace and stability of having a Lord and Savior like him. Jesus as “the only way” isn’t about us. It’s not about our religion, our philosophy, our system, our worldview. It’s about who he is — his honor, his praise, his lordship. You cannot have him truly as Lord and see him as anything less than “the way.”
So, for the disciples of Jesus, both two thousand years ago and today, he is the way. “Believe in God,” he says in verse 1, and “believe also in me.” For us, “the way” is not centrally belief in certain principles or execution of particular actions, but trusting and treasuring a living person. At the heart of Christianity is not pillars to follow, but a person to know and enjoy.
Jesus’s Only Way
But there’s a second “way” in this passage: not for us, but for Jesus. And it’s utterly unique to him. Where he goes next, after this upper-room conversation in John 14, is not first to heaven, but to the cross. There was no way. And Jesus made a way. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Preparing a place” for us doesn’t mean construction in heaven, but crucifixion on earth. And not only does Jesus make the way possible, but he also says, “I will come again and take you.”
He not only speaks the truth, but is the truth. He not only provides eternal life, but he himself is the life. The only way to God is trust in Jesus.