JESUS IS THE WAY. . .But Is He the Way to Heaven?

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 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 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, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ John 14:1-7 (NIV).[1]

“I am the way, the truth and the life” must be one of the best-recognized sayings in Scripture next only to John 3:16. The saying is part of Jesus’ own words to his disciples as he prepared them for his departure back to the Father.

What did Jesus mean by referring to himself as “the way”?  Is he saying he is the “way to heaven,” as some Bible teachers and evangelists[2] would have us believe?

The Context

John 14 is a portion of a big context that begins in 13:1 and ends in 17:26. The whole context is called “The Upper Room Discourse.” It was the Lord’s last and parting discourse addressed to his disciples in the Gospel of John.

It is important to note what lies behind this discourse. It is the imagery of an ancient Jewish marriage or wedding.[3](See Richard Novick’s well-written piece, “The Marriage Motif in John 13 and 14, Part 1” in the Friends of Jesus website,

Here is the broad outline of the discourse. First, John states the preamble. Jesus demonstrates his perfect love for his disciples. He loved them “to the end.”[4] Then he tells them he is going to his Father’s house to prepare “rooms” for them, and that he is coming back “…and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”[5]

What follows next are images of pure, blissful intimacy. Jesus tells his disciples about what type of relationship awaits them. He uses the term “indwelling.”[6]

As a result Jesus expects his disciples to bear “fruit.”[7] “The Spirit will take from what is mine,” Jesus promised, “and make it known to you.”[8]

And he ends all this with a prayer to his Father. “May they be one as we are one.”[9] Unity among the Lord’s disciples is the ultimate goal of the Lord’s love for them and theirs for him.

All this occurs while Jesus and his disciples were in the “upper room.”[10] Do you see the double entendre here?

Jesus is the Way

So given the above background, what did Jesus mean when he told his disciples “I am the way”? Was he telling them he was the “way to heaven”? Or about what they can expect in the future when they die?

If heaven is where his Father’s house is, and Jesus is going there to prepare “rooms” for his disciples, after which “I will come back and take you to be with me,” then, yes, Jesus is the disciples’ “way to heaven.”[11]

The question is, did the disciples understand Jesus’ words precisely in this sense? I doubt it!

After Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going,” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”[12]

The response of Jesus: “I am the way…. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We must observe what is happening in the text here. First, Jesus tells his disciples he is going to his Father’s house where there are “many rooms” to “prepare a place for you.”

Then he promised to “come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus was sure that the disciples “know the way to the place where I am going.” At this point, Jesus was talking about “the way to the place where I am going.” Well, he just told his disciples he was going to his Father’s house, did he not?

That seems clear enough. But evidently not to Thomas! “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Up until this point the conversation revolves around the “place” where Jesus was going. Or more precisely, the “way” to that place.  However, Thomas did not know where the place was nor the way to it. How do we get to that place? Where is the way from point A to point B?

Jesus said, “I am the way.”

He is the way to heaven? No.

He is the way… to the Father!

This is what Jesus said, “I am the way…. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Did you notice the development of thought here? The text went from way to a place to way to a Person!

And the way to this Person (that is, the Father) is through knowing Jesus.[13](Hence to trust him as we trust God.)

And Jesus was not talking about something that may happen in the lives of his disciples in the future. Jesus was now talking about what happens in the lives of the disciples in the present: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus unpacks to his disciples a new reality about himself that they had not known before, but nevertheless had been true all the while.[14]“If you really knew me, you would know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Now it was Philip’s turn to ask. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?”[15]

Jesus was not promising the future (heaven) to his disciples, although he started the conversation in that manner. He was going to his Father’s house where there are “many rooms,” and he was going to come back for them. But then he imparts a revelation: it is not so much now a question of a disciple[16]going to a place as it is the disciple’s “coming” to the Father – there and then–that is, his coming into a dynamic and continuous relationship[17] of knowing the Father through Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“Don’t you know me, Philip? …Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”![18]

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?”

Knowing Jesus and the Father through him is not an anticipation but an experience only a disciple of Jesus can enjoy in the here and now.[19] It does not wait for the future! It is now the on-going, living reality of those who Jesus loves and who love him in return.[20] A reality of intimacy to Jesus and the Father mediated by the Holy Spirit.[21]

Remember that marriage is the notion that lies at the background of all this conversation.

“All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

Jesus’ “I am the way” is not for the lost sinner but for the disciple of the Lord Jesus.



[1]All scripture used in this study is from the NIV, except when cited otherwise.

[2] I am sure you have heard these very words of Jesus used in evangelism time and time again. “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior because He is the only way to heaven,” or some such words. People are urged to heed the “altar call.” There even was a “One Way Movement” launched in the Philippines in the early 70s. A famous pastor once guested in a Larry King Live telecast in the US. When King asked the pastor what he thought about other religions in a pluralistic society in the context of Jesus saying “I am the way” to God (“Is Jesus the only way to God?”), the evangelist hedged. He said he is not the one who saves, but God. At another time a famous evangelist explained to King: “God sent me to preach, not to tell who gets to heaven.” Or some such words. The two were roundly criticized by conservatives in the evangelical community. The proper way to address the question is to rephrase it. “In what sense is Jesus ‘the only way to God?’” Let me say two things in response. One, Jesus was talking to his disciples, not sinners.  Surely the disciples did not need saving at that stage in their relationship with Jesus? Two, other religions can have their own gods. But not Israel. “Do not have other gods before me,” is one of God’s 10 Commandments to Israel.  The God of the Old Testament scripture is a divine revelation: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” (Deut 6:4).  Now we read in the New Testament that God sent His Son into the world (Jn 3:16-17). And his name was Jesus (Mat 1:21,25; cf Lk 1:30-35).Jesus called God his “own” Father (Jn 5:17-18). And God called Jesus his beloved Son (Mat 317; see Jn 3:16).This is the testimony of Jesus: “No one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mat 11:27). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared (made known) Him” (Jn 1:18).Thus Jesus Christ stands in a unique relationship with God. Only Jesus is the way to God as to know God in a personal intimate way! Beyond that is the deep mystery of indwelling in the Godhead. In John Jesus said “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”! That’s only the face of the mystery, not the essence of it. That is, no man in this life can begin to understand how one Person may fully indwell another, and vice-versa! People in a 2-dimensional world can see us 4-dimensional people only as dots on their screen, as one physicist put it. Paul says we see things in this life as in a dark mirror. “We know in part.” But a time is coming when “we shall know as we are known” (1 Cor 13:12)!

[3]Cf  Mat 25:1-13.In ancient Jewish weddings betrothal is the first stage of marriage. At their betrothal the couple are considered legally married but cannot yet live together as husband and wife. (This was the case between Joseph and Mary. After their betrothal Joseph considered “divorcing” Mary, although they had not yet started to live as husband and wife. See Mat 1:18-25; cf Lk 2:5.) The next stage is for the husband to leave his wife to prepare a dwelling place where he and his wife will live together, usually by his father’s house.  This stage climaxes when the husband returns to take his wife – usually at night – and takes her to the marriage chamber or room that he has prepared for the purpose. On that night the marriage is consummated. And from that night on the couple live together as husband and wife. The language of Jn 14:1-4 and Mat 25:1-13 reflects this setup.

[4] 13:1-38. The preamble: “It was just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world he now showed them the full extent of his love” (13:1). Jesus loved his disciples “to the end” (Greek, telos, in sense of consummation, hence, to the end.)

[5] 14:1-4.

[6] 14:5-31.

[7] 15:1-16

[8] 16:15.

[9] 17:1-36.

[10] See Mk 14:15. John himself did not identify the place where the discourse occurred. What we can know from John is the discourse occurred at a place where Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover. It was left to Mark to supply further details (Mark 14:12-26).

[11] All emphases are mine.

[12] What Jesus was telling his disciples was evidently new to their ears.

[13] Among the Hebrews this is a kind of knowing on a personal level, that is, experiential. The first usage of this term in Scripture is in the sense of intimacy between a man and a woman, “And Adam knew his wife and she conceived…” (Gen 4:1, KJV). Only the man can know his own wife in this sense. Another interesting text tells us of the last days of king David. His servants brought to him a beautiful and young virgin to keep him warm. “And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him, but the king knew her not,” that is, did not have sexual intimacy with her (1 Ki 1:4, KJV).

[14] Like the shifting of the rail Jesus expertly used the questions of Thomas and Philip as a platform on which to reveal to his disciples something about himself that they could not have known about him up until this time but was nevertheless true all along. “From now on” the disciples were to live in this new level of awareness and relationship to Jesus and to God. It is their new reality.

[15] 14:9, etc.

[16] Jesus individualized the invitation. “No one comes….” Nobody can come to the Father for you.

[17] That is why Jesus later said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you: (15:4). And “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (15:9). An imagery of marriage!

[18] “Know” and “see” in this context are verbs that denote a personal, intimate level of love. Remember that the image of marriage lies behind this discourse. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (15:9).

[19] Hence, the Jewish marriage imagery. “I go to prepare a place for you.” Only the bride/disciples can get into the rooms “in my Father’s house.”

[20] “We love him,” John writes in his epistle, “because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19, KJV). John deepens the understanding about this love between a disciple and God. He uses the expression “born of God.” John’s language is candid and stark: he who is “born of God” carries the “seed” of God in him! Read these lines thoughtfully: “Everyone who practices righteousness is born of God” (2:29). “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him” (3:9). “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves him who begot also loves him who is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. …Whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (5:1-5; see also 1 Pet 1:22-23). The same terminology and usage occurs in the Gospel of John. “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name. Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of men, but of God” (Jn 1:12-13).  (In Matthew the word is the seed that is sown [13:19] while Jesus himself is the sower [v37]. See entire parable of the hearer in Mat 13:3-23.)

[21] The indwelling Spirit uses the words of Jesus to enable his disciples to bear fruit. This is why obedience to Christ’s commands is imperative. “Without me you can do nothing.”

One thought on “JESUS IS THE WAY. . .But Is He the Way to Heaven?

  1. To put it simply, this article is a masterpiece! In evangelical circles, John 14:6 is uncritically repeated by preachers and evangelists alike. Unfortunately, the understanding accompanying all that repetition is superficial. This article, powerfully written and “to the point,” corrects that. As editor of the website, I considered delaying publication of the article until the “Marriage Motif” series was finished. However, the aricle was so great, I couldn’t wait to publish it! It’s a “must read” for the serious student of Scripture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *