v.5 As so often, the disciples interpreted the Lord’s remark in a crassly literal way and then misunderstood it, as if the Lord meant he was going to, say, Antioch or Rome.
v.6 The Lord answered Thomas’ question by saying that he is the way. That is the chief point, as is indicated by the second half of verse 6. But that he is also the truth and the life support the thought and link it to so much of what the Lord has said about himself in the Gospel so far. He is the truth because he embodies in himself the supreme revelation of God, and says and does precisely what the Father sent him into the world to say and do. He is the life because the Father has granted the son to have life in himself (5:26), he is the resurrection and the life, as he said in chapter 11 and demonstrated in the case of Lazarus, and so has the power to give eternal life to his sheep, as he said in chapter 10.
The famous passage from a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ is often quoted in connection with the Lord’s statement here.
“Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life-blessed, life uncreated.” [56.1]
The “no one comes to the Father except through me…” is one of many statements in the Bible against which shatter all attempts to find other ways to God and salvation than that of faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which they may be saved. The other religions and philosophies of the world cannot bring men to God. Only the Son of God can do that and he does only for those who believe in him.
The faith required to embrace this statement about Jesus should not be underestimated. Think of the immediate context in which the Lord made this statement. “I am the way to God” he said and in a matter of hours he would be hanging impotent upon a cross. “I am the truth” and in still less time vicious reports of his blasphemy would be made the cause of his sentence of execution. “I am the life” and the next afternoon his corpse would be placed in a tomb. [Morris, 641] And today, still, it cannot be seen with the eye that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
v.7 Depending upon what text is read in v. 7, and there is good reason to read either one, the Lord is saying either that the disciples already know him and what they now must understand and appreciate is that knowing him brings them to the true knowledge of the Father or that they haven’t really known him as they should know him and now, as a result of the events about to unfold, they will and the result will be that they will know the Father as well.
v.10 The mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son is “a linguistic way of describing the complete unity between Jesus and the Father.” [Schnackenburg in Carson, 494]
v.11 Twice before in the Gospel the Lord has said something similar about believing in him on the basis of the evidence of his miracles. Here he is saying that the miracles are, as one commentator put it, “non-verbal Christological signposts” [Carson, 495]. That is, they reveal more than that Christ has supernatural power. They show that he is, in fact, the revelation of God and his saving will to the world, that he is one with God the Father. Think of the miracles and what they suggest: the turning water to wine, the feeding of the 5,000, the opening of the eyes of the blind, the raising of the dead! These are pictures of salvation such as only God can provide.
v.12 This point will be elaborated later. Clearly the disciples did not do greater miracles than Jesus did, but they did, upon the descent of the Holy Spirit, bring conviction, faith, and new life to the world in a measure far beyond what Jesus the preacher ever accomplished. Peter brought more to faith in Christ by his Pentecost day sermon than Jesus may have through the entire three years of the ministry. This will take place because the Lord will go to the Father, which is the precondition of the sending of the Holy Spirit which is the subject of the next section of the Upper Room discourse.
v.14 The departure of the Lord Jesus will not mean that he is not still accessible to his disciples or that they will not be able to obtain his help and blessing. Indeed his purpose will not change. He still will seek to bring glory to his Father, but now he will do so by enabling his disciples to accomplish great things in his name or for his sake. He enables us to serve him and by our serving him the Son brings glory to his Father. Note, by the way, the connection between doing work for the Lord in v. 12 and prayer in vv. 13-14. The latter is the method of the former.
When Philip said, in v. 8, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” he said more than he knew. In seeking sight of God, Philip joined the long and illustrious line of men and women through the ages who understood that there is no greater good, no higher blessing, no experience that would be so wonderfully elevating, purifying, and productive of everything good for a human being than just to see God as he is in his everlasting glory. Indeed, to see God is to enter into the complete fullness of what it means to be a human being. We were made in God’s image, we were made to see God, and we will find the life we were made for when and only when we see Him.
This was, you remember, the same request that Moses made, that he should see the glory of God, but he was allowed to see only its aftereffects as God hid him in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while he passed by, else Moses be consumed and destroyed by that divine glory. And through the ages since wise men and women have hungered and thirsted for some sight of God, knowing that there is nothing else that will finally complete and fulfill a human being. We were made for God. We were made to walk with God and to have fellowship with God, as Adam did in the Garden. Sin meant that we have been banished from God’s presence, our sins, Isaiah tells us, have made a separation between us and God.
And Christ came into the world to bridge that chasm and to bring us back to God. In this life we come part way, — we are given a certain sight of God – but, in the world to come, believers in Jesus Christ will go the rest of the way – as close as a finite creature can come to the beatific vision, the actual sight of God. It is a sight that will change us for ever. Even the sight of the man Jesus Christ with his glory on him will change us: as the Scripture says, we shall be made like him because we shall see him as he is.
Philip knew enough to know that if he could only see God he would never be the same man, his desires would be drunk up into that vision, his love, his loyalty, and he would forever after be a man who had seen God. Do you remember how Dante describes the scene at the end of the Paradiso? It has often been observed that Dante’s Inferno, his description of hell, is a work of greater genius, of greater power, than the Paradiso, his description of heaven. Why? Because it is easier for human beings to imagine and describe hell than it is for them to understand what is meant by the glory of God. Easier, much easier for men who live largely without the glory of God to imagine the absence of that glory than to know what it will be like to see it and live in its presence. Dante did his best, but I’m sure he knew that it was not nearly good enough.
“…for when I tell of it
I feel that I rejoice so much the more.
One moment brought me more oblivion
Than five-and-twenty centuries could cast
Upon those Argonauts whose shadow once
Made Neptune wonder. Even thus my mind,
Enraptured, gazed attentive, motionless,
And grew the more enkindled as it gazed.
For in the presence of those radiant beams
One is so changed, that ‘tis impossible
To turn from it to any other sight –
Because the good, the object of the will,
Is all collected there. …
There was no other than a single semblance
Within that Living Light on which I gazed,
For that remains forever what it was;
And yet by reason of my vision’s power,
Which waxed the stronger in me as I looked,
That semblance seemed to change, and I as well.
For within the substance, deep and radiant,
Of that exalted Light, I saw three rings
Of one dimension, yet of triple hue. …
How powerless is speech – how weak, compared
To my conception, which itself is trifling
Beside the mighty vision that I saw!
Now, to be sure, everyone knows this at least at some level. Everyone knows that the completion and fulfillment and perfection of human life lies in the sight of God, in being happily in the presence of God. That is, after all, what heaven is, and hell is its opposite: estrangement from God, separation from God, banishment from God.
I say, everyone knows this, even those who are estranged from God, who hate God, who spend their lives fleeing from God. For what they seek in life, what they crave, what they long for with an inconsolable longing are just those things that human beings have been created to find in God himself. They seek eternity and the conquest of death – even if they can find no other way to surmount death than by refusing to think about it. They seek the pleasures that they have been made for, even if, in sin, they must find those pleasures in places and seek them in ways that are more destructive than life-giving. They seek meaning, hope, joy, peace, and especially deathless love – all that finally and truly can be found only in God and the sight of God – even if they must look for them everywhere else. They seek God, even as they run from God and rebel against God.
When the Apostle Paul describes the condition of mankind in sin, in Ephesians 2:12, he sums it all up by saying that mankind is “without God in the world.” In God’s world, without God. That is the curse and the condition of human beings. They were made to be with God, to find perfection only in the presence of God their maker, but sin has separated them from God and so they must spend the days of their sojourn in this world anxiously looking for what they cannot find.
Sometimes this looking in all of the wrong places is done religiously, even in very Christian forms, sometimes philosophically in very anti-Christian forms. Sometimes it is done without any overt reference at all to the search for the way, the truth, and the life. In this way, the nominal Christian, however religious his type, the practitioner of some other faith, and the worldly agnostic or atheist are finally all the same. They are looking for the beatific vision in places where it cannot be found. They cannot help but look for it, for that is how they have been made. As Augustine put it long ago:
“You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
We have been made for the sight of that glory. You have within you the capacity to be awestruck, to be struck dumb by the wonder of something. In all your life, only a few times and then only for a few moments have you ever had that marvelous power of yours summoned up from the depths of your soul. But you have that power because you were made to see the glory of God and to live in a state of perpetual wonder!
But, if it is true that they are looking for God, however much refusing to submit to God, it is also true that the human condition is described in the Bible simply by saying of men and women that “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” That is how Paul sums up the human condition in Rom. 3:18, citing Ps. 36:1.
Men and women in their fallen nature are in rebellion against God, against their Maker, against their Ruler, against their Judge. And they express that rebellion by refusing to acknowledge God as He truly is! Whether it is the sophisticated, scientifically oriented skeptic, like Einstein, who said, “if there is a God, he is the great Mathematician, preoccupied with the whole universe. If so, he has no time for me;” or the devout practitioner of some other religion, who performs his religious obligations with impressive consistency; or one of the great multitude who cheerfully and thoughtlessly contents himself with the image of God as an avuncular figure, harmless, good-intentioned, who, to the extent he has any say about it, will seek the happiness of everyone.
As the great Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schememann, brilliantly observed, “It is not the immorality of the crimes of man that reveal him as a fallen being; it is his ‘positive ideal’ – religious or secular – and his satisfaction with this ideal.” [For the Life of the World, 100] It is man’s inventions and, especially, his invented gods, that reveal him a fallen creature, a rebel, a fool, a knave, however much he pretends to goodness. In every way man reveals that he has no willingness to face or to seek or to submit to the God who really is and to the true goodness that lies in God alone! The God men refuse to submit to, the God they replace with deities made in their own image, is the only God who can account for the overwhelming realities of creation, of moral judgment, of meaning, and of human longing that lie so heavily on the life of mankind in this world.
But human beings crave another God, a God who is subject to them, a God who leaves life in their hands and its outcome under their control. In other words, man in a thousand different ways seeks the same thing: to domesticate God.
But it cannot be done. Not to the living God. Not to the God whose life is so magnificent, so far beyond our knowing, that we hardly know what we are talking about when we speak of him. Not to the God the sweep of whose rule extends to the tiniest details of every single human life – Einstein’s God was not too large, he was far too small in comparison to the true and living God! – and yet, at the same time, holds all the universe and all its wheeling galaxies effortlessly in his hand. Not to the God whose eyes are so pure that he will not behold iniquity, who is angry with the wicked every day, and who will by no means clear the guilty. Not to the God who in love and mercy made a way back to himself and to the fullness of life for his rebel creatures, the only way that could be made, the way that cost him more than we can possibly know or ever calculate. Not to the God who is willing to stoop from highest heaven to be near the children of men, to love them as their Father, to pity them as his children. Not to the God who asks, with perfect justice, of course, nothing but that we should give ourselves entirely to him, to their Maker, – a demand he makes for no other reason than that it is the only way to eternal happiness and fulfillment for us –, but demands that complete surrender – not the qualified surrender that so many stand willing to make – because there is no other way for him to bless us, no other way that is right and just and holy and true.
This is the whole story of the world – mankind’s rebellion against God and God’s gracious intervention to overcome that rebellion. Mankind’s seeking God in every place except that place where he may be found and God seeking out men and women to overcome their stubborn rebellion and draw them to himself. There are two and two only kinds of people in this world: those who are seeking God and those who – whatever they say to the contrary – are seeking anyone and anything except the true and living God. There are those who hope, with Philip to see God – so much as a human being can see Him and who know that the sight of God will be the everlasting fulfillment of everything it means to be a human being – and those for whom the prospect of the sight of the true and living God holds no pleasure, no promise, no joyful anticipation whatsoever.
Ask yourself the question. Put it to your own conscience. Do you want to see the true and living God, is it the greatest hope and longing of your life to behold the glory of God? Or, be honest, do you hope never to see that glory because of what you instinctively know must be the consequence of your coming face to face with Almighty God.
And, you Christians, what of you? We live in a day when the program of domesticating God is fully underway in what we today call the evangelical church. There is, even as we speak, a view of God becoming more and more popular in so-called Bible-believing churches, in which it is maintained that God does not know the future, that he is dependent upon us to make the future, that, in many ways, he cannot act except by responding to choices we have made. Why? Why would a Christian ever believe such a thing; why would a Christian with a Bible in his or her hands ever consent to such a view of God? Well, the advocates of the so-called “Openness of God” thinking explain their position without so much as a blush. It would not be fair for God to rule over his creatures so completely. We cannot honor God unless he is more like us and unless he shares his rule, his sovereignty with us. These are not liberals, these are people who claim to be evangelicals, who are saying these things!
No! But for Bible-believers to get to a place where they are willing to say such things about the Living God there first had to be a long process in evangelical churches in which God was domesticated in more subtle ways and in which the entire notion of “seeing God” was emptied of all its seriousness and its wonder and its terrible power. God’s otherness, his majesty, his glory, his transcendence were largely lost a long time ago. Not lost theoretically, but lost practically, lost in the way in which those realities weigh on the heart and the mind. They were lost in preaching, they were lost in the teaching of the Christian life, they have been lost in much of Christian worship, and getting them back in a culture such as ours that is so utterly unfriendly to high thoughts of Almighty God, is not going to be easy! The holiness, the otherness of God, is the very cornerstone of our Christian faith, and of reality itself. It is this that makes sin so serious, it is this and this alone that makes divine grace so glorious, it is this that makes the kingdom of God worthy of all the striving and all the hungering and thirsting it takes to obtain it.
This fact stands above all over our Christian faith: that, at the end, there is a God the very sight of whom will satisfy all of our purest and deepest longings and will, by itself, transform us, perfect us, and lift us up into everlasting joy.
Alexander Whyte speaks of the impression made upon him by reading Lancelot Andrewes’ Private Devotions; how even short sentences in that 17th century book of prayers would leave such a powerful impression on his mind and heart.
“I have never forgotten the impression that one word of his in one of his confessions of sin made on my own imagination…the first time it leaped out upon me. ‘I have neglected Thee, O God!’ Andrewes cried, and I trembled as I heard him cry it. And I have never come upon that awful word from that day to this without a shudder. That I should neglect God, — Andrewes has made me see that to be my true description. If I make my bed in hell at last Andrewes has made me hear them pointing me out and saying, ‘That is the man lying there who neglected God!’ It is this neglect of God that makes so many men [and women] infidels and atheists and outcasts. You neglect God till you come to say, and that not without some reason, that there simply cannot be such and such a God else it would be a sheer impossibility that you could have neglected him as you have done. You look within, and you look around, and you see yourself and all men absolutely pushing God aside till it is as good as demonstrated to you that there can be no God.” [Lancelot Andrewes, 53-54]
But, then, hear the Lord Jesus himself say to you, my friends, that there is a way to the living God. “No one has ever seen God”; John began his gospel by telling us that. But then he went on to say, “But God, the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” God himself – God the Son – has come among us, has become a man, precisely so that he could make the way and show the way to God. And so it is that he alone can show us the living God and take us to him. No one else can do it. Men have tried to find their own way all these centuries, but they have never found the true and living God. There is no other way, or truth, or life except that way, truth, and life that Jesus, who came from God and has returned to God, has revealed to us. It is the greatest conceivable thing to see God. It is the summation of all that a human being could ever hope for. And it is possible. But in one way and one way only, the way of Jesus Christ. And whoever denies this does not know who and what God really is, or how immeasurably great a thing it is that people like us, so sinful, so small, so inconsequential, should someday stand, made righteous in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and bask in the brilliant warmth of the glory of God.