“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Christians are often criticized for claiming that Jesus is the only way to God. After all, there are billions of non-Christians in the world. Are we really so narrow minded and bigoted that we think these people will be excluded from heaven just because they happened to be born in the wrong country or have been taught the wrong religion?
Rabbi Schmuley Boteach summed up the feelings of many when he said, “I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred.”5
Those who make such objections have a point. If Jesus is merely one more religious teacher out of countless others, then his claim would be absurd. How can one person have a monopoly on the truth or proclaim his “way” as the only way to God? After all, humans are finite and fallible, while God is infinitely greater than our small minds can comprehend.
But if Jesus is, in fact, God himself, that puts his claim in an entirely different light. An infinite being has the ability to say with certainty whether there is one God or many, and whether there are multiple ways to know him or only one. Jesus doesn’t say that he merely speaks the truth; he claims to be the embodiment of Truth. He doesn’t say he can give life; he tells us he is the source of life itself. And he doesn’t say he is one pathway to God among many; he asserts he is the only Way.
Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus made this claim to the Jewish people who came to hear him. They were some of the most religious people on earth. They worshiped the God revealed in the same Bible that Jesus read, and they were passionate about obeying his commands. Yet Jesus told them, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). Later, he told the same audience: “If you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Consider this somewhat imperfect analogy: The movie Braveheart described the exploits of William Wallace as he led the Scottish people in rebellion against Edward Longshanks, the king of England. As Wallace’s victories became more numerous, his reputation grew exponentially. Then one day he came to lead some Scottish warriors into battle who had never met him.
He announced to the soldiers, “Sons of Scotland! I am William Wallace.” But one incredulous warrior exclaimed, “William Wallace is seven feet tall!” “Yes, I’ve heard,” Wallace replied. “Kills men by the hundreds. And if he were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning” (laughter from the soldiers). “I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my country men, here, in defiance of tyranny… Will you fight?”
Suppose they had replied, “We will not follow or fight for you. We will wait for the real William Wallace to appear.” Do you grasp the absurdity of that situation? There was no other William Wallace. And if they didn’t follow him, then their wait for another would be delusional.
In a similar way, the people of Israel had read about God in their Scriptures, but now he had shown up in person. It was ludicrous to think that they could reject him and still claim to follow the God they had only read about.
On the same evening when Jesus made the claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he added, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (4:6–71).
One of his disciples named Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “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’?” (vv. 8–9).
Jesus was not displaying arrogance nor was he trying to foster “spiritual racism.” He simply stated the truth. There is only one God, and he became a man in the person of Jesus. As Jesus walked this earth, he showed us what he is really like and gave us the opportunity to truly know him. We can wait for another to show up who is seven feet tall and has fireballs in his eyes, but there is no other. Jesus tells us plainly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus says he’s the Way. What he means is that he’s the only way. Sometimes following Jesus means giving up other things. What might you have to give up to follow Jesus?