What Jesus Really Meant by ‘I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’

Many of us are familiar with John 14, where Jesus tells His disciples that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  But what did that saying really mean for them, and what does it mean for us?

This conversation happens on the last night before the crucifixion, during the Passover meal.  Before this, Jesus had washed the disciple’s feet, predicted his betrayal by Judas, predicted his denial by Peter, and told the disciples he would soon be going away (John 13).  All of this prompted questions about where Jesus was going, and why it was that they couldn’t follow with him:

John 14

“‘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. 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. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (emphasis added)

By using this phrase, Jesus is establishing that knowing Him is not only the ultimate meaning and fulfillment of life on earth, but the only way to really know the Father in heaven.

I Am the Way

As Jesus tells his disciples that he is the way, there are multiple meanings involved.

First off, he addresses our very human instinct to know where we are going before we start a journey.  The disciples wanted to know the next step, the next turn, the ultimate destination of where this journey in faith would lead them.  When we have a long trip ahead of us, we want to turn on our GPS and get an idea of how long it will take and the roads we will travel on to get there.  We determine the best, fastest routes and then start our journey.  Thomas was looking for the same kind of information.

However, Jesus makes it clear that they (or we) won’t know the defined way we are supposed to travel in life.  We are instead tasked with simply knowing and trusting in Jesus daily, and walking in faith that HE is the way.  When we abide in him, we will not know a defined course, but we can rest in the comfort of faith – that he will lead us exactly where we need to go as we walk in him.

This leads to the second meaning.  In John 10, Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd:

 “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (emphasis added)

Jesus is comparing himself to a shepherd and us to his sheep. Sheep don’t choose their own path to safety and protection, but rely on the shepherd to guard and care for them.  In order to be safe, we have to trust the shepherd, and not wander off on our own adventures and try to find out own way.  That will lead us to danger and pain.  But when we follow Jesus, he leads us to exactly where we need to be.

Finally, he is making clear that he is the way to the Father, and by extension, to heaven.  He says that he goes to prepare a place for us, and this suggests that after we have completed the journey of this life, we will find ourselves in a place of rest where the Father is.

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Source: Crosswalk