It was Thursday evening of Jesus’ Passion Week. So many things had happened that the disciples were almost punch drunk with confusion. The thrill of Sunday’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on the most holy of all holy weeks for the Jews, the Passover festival, was almost euphoric. They had enjoyed sweet fellowship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany each evening. Their walks between Jerusalem and Bethany had yielded some blessed and even some startling conversation with Jesus. The disciples pondered them but could not explain them. Jesus had declared God’s rejection of the Temple and had led them to walk away from it, reenacting the prophecies of Ezekiel 10-11 where God was pictured as walking away from the Temple. And then earlier that evening, Jesus had wrapped a towel around his waist and had washed their feet. How confusing! Things were definitely happening that were causing turmoil in the hearts of the disciples.
Four questions (one is worded more like a request than a question) seem to propel us further into the text that is before us, the Upper Room Discourse. In 13:36, Peter had directly asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” As Jesus gently ministered encouragement to the group Thomas asked the second question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Philip followed up with, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Finally, Judas (not Iscariot) asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” All of these questions have one thing in common. The disciples were confused by Jesus’ discussion of his leaving them and his return. Coming and going? They didn’t understand. Even modern scholars are confused as to how to properly deal with the import of Jesus’ words. As he spoke of leaving them was it just his death or was it also his impending ascension to the Father? What about his coming back to them? Was that the resurrection? Was it the coming of the Holy Spirit? Was it the Second Coming? Was it all of these things combined? The disciples were confused.
This all brings us to the opening phrase of chapter 14, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” That’s a strange statement given the fact that three times already we have heard that Jesus was troubled. In chapter 11 Jesus was troubled at the tomb of Lazarus, in chapter 12 Jesus was troubled at the prospect of the cross, and in chapter 13 Jesus was troubled over the Judas betrayal. It would seem that it should have been the disciples seeking to comfort Jesus rather than him comforting them. After all, in the midst of all these personal conflicts and burdens he was headed to his death! They may have been confused and distressed but he was going to die. And yet, here we find Jesus ministering comfort. It was an admonition. “Do not let your hearts be over come with anxiety.” The cure? Believe! It is interesting that the double statement, “Believe in God! Believe also in me!” features a form of “pisteuo” that can be either an imperative or an indicative. The indicative form would have been a commendation to them for something they were already doing. “You believe in God. You believe in me.” But the context doesn’t seem to favor that approach. Some scholars see a comparison at work here. “You believe in God (indicative). Believe in me (imperative).” But there is little evidence that this was the historical understanding of the text. Frankly, the faith of the disciples, even the faith of Peter, seems to be in jeopardy. It doesn’t seem logical that Jesus would be commending them for their clear belief in God when they were so full of questions. How would we best understand his words given the context? For all practical purposes, the people of God have historically understood Jesus’ words to convey the double imperative. “Believe in God! Believe in me!” This is a very powerful lesson in faith. For faith to be legitimate, it must have a proper object. That was exactly what Jesus was saying to them. “Place your faith in what you know to be true about God. Place your faith in what you know to be true about me! That is where you will find relief for your troubled hearts.” Jesus’ instructions present a formidably high Christology. They link Jesus with the Father as an appropriate object of faith. Certainly, in the mind of the Apostle John, this link was inevitable. If Jesus invariably spoke the words of God and performed the works of God, should he not be trusted like God?
The rest of the text deals with the leaving and coming question. This is important because it is all a part of the greater Upper Room Discourse trajectory. Judas had left. The atmosphere in the room had changed to a very intimate and personal focus. Jesus was ministering to their need to understand his mission more fully so he explained to them his leaving and coming process and assured them that he would never leave them to be orphans. He would always be with them. He was coming again for them someday. And he was instructing them as to how they were to live in the interim. The comfort that Jesus was offering was centered in two powerful truths:
I. A Place For You (vv. 1-3)
- As Jesus discussed his departure he continually returned to a theme emphasizing the fact that there was a benefit for them of which they needed to be convinced. While the disciples were confused and troubled over the prospect of his departure, Jesus wanted them to realize that this was not only the Father’s plan, it was a plan that held special benefit for them. This would even be repeated more forcefully for them when he gave them instruction about the coming Holy Spirit.
- One primary reason why the disciples did not need to be troubled, and why Jesus was faith worthy, was because of his testimony of Heaven. This is an interesting place for Jesus to start. How much did the disciples know about Heaven? Certainly, John’s gospel (nor the Synoptics) did not record everything that Jesus and his disciples had discussed during their three-year relationship. It would not be unreasonable to assume that they had had such discussions. But in the context of comfort Jesus brought them first to the reality of Heaven.
1. Throughout the history of civilization there have been many ideas and theories about Heaven. In the early history of the church it was very popular to think of Heaven as being a place where the disembodied spirits of the dead lived. When Jesus had resurrected Lazarus from the grave he had told his disciples that he was sleeping. The early church theorized that this meant that when people died their bodies went to the grave but their souls entered a “sleeping” state. This gave way to thoughts about ghosts and about restless spirits as the saints waited for something better. This even played into the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding purgatory. The idea was that the disembodied spirits were dependent on their loved ones here on earth to do something beneficial for them so that they could be moved to something more permanent.
2. Christians also popularized the theory that in Heaven we all become angels, sprout wings, and sit in clouds playing on harps. There’s no teaching to support this and it sounds kind of boring to me!
3. Some have even suggested that Heaven is more like a church service that will never end. Seriously? I’ve been through some of those! That’s not comforting!
4. What did Jesus declare about Heaven? It is God’s home. Heaven defines where God lives. All of Heaven is his home. It is his “monia” as the Greek text described it. God’s dwelling place. It is a thrilling subject for us to explore because of our desire to see God.
- Jesus’ words then took them to the next step. His departure was necessary because it was directly linked to preparing a place for them in God’s abode. Within God’s “monia” Jesus was going to prepare a dwelling for them. A “mone.” It was the Latin Vulgate, the Bible of the church for over 1,000 years, which took liberty with this term and called it a “mansiones.” During the early 17th century this term would have described a very simple dwelling. Unfortunately, both the KJV as well as the RV popularized the concept that Jesus was going to prepare a palatial dwelling for each believer. This distortion misses the true point. Within God’s “monia” would be a “mone” for the believer. The joy of Heaven will not be having a palace bigger than anyone else on the block. The joy of Heaven would be the fact that we would live with God! We would abide with God. In the next chapter the noun “mone” would be replaced by the cognate verb “meno.” Abide in him. Jesus would be leaving them to prepare a place where they would be able to eternally abide with God but through the indwelling Holy Spirit believers are presently enabled to abide in God! A very powerful truth.
- As he had already done and as he would do several more times, Jesus linked his certain departure with a certain coming again. Jesus insisted that it was necessary for him to go so that he could prepare a place for the believers within God’s dwelling place. But inferred in the necessity of his departure was also the necessity of his return for his own. The disciples were very concerned about where he was going because they longed to be with him! He had already told them that where he was going they could not come. But he declared something even better to them, he would return for them. It was a necessity and it was a certainty.
- Not only did Jesus promise that he would come again for them but also promised that when he did come he would gather them to himself and take them back to the Father’s dwelling place (monia) so that they could live with him forever. That was comfort!
II. A Path For You (vv. 4-11)
- Why did Jesus insist that his disciples already knew the way to the Father’s home? Certainly, they had heard the gospel articulated by Jesus many times. That was a part of the issue. But it seems that Thomas’ response revealed that the disciples had not fully come to grasp what Jesus had just taught them about Heaven. It’s as though Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t really understand where it is you say you’re going…how can we possibly know the way?” OK. Granted, the disciples were confused by many things. But what Jesus had already made clear to them was this: What made Heaven truly heaven was the fact that God was there. And what made Heaven an even more compelling place was the fact that Jesus was going to personally return for them and personally take them to Heaven to be with him and the Father. Jesus’ entire ministry had been centered in revealing the Father to mankind. For Thomas, there shouldn’t have been confusion on this matter. To long for Heaven was to long for God, the Father. To know the Father, you must know the Son. All of the history of the Jew’s knowledge of the Most Holy was being forced to a crisis. Jesus came as the revelation of the Father (John 1), and access to the Father would only be through him.
- After Thomas’ request Jesus gave one of the most important exclusive truth statements ever expressed in all of literature. It was a trilogy of three declarations about him that could only be true of the Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” There was no subordination expressed in this phrasing. Some have tried to argue that the word “way” was most important in Jesus’ statement and that the validity of him being the way was because he was the truth and the life. If Jesus had intended that “truth and life” be subordinate to “way” there were other ways that the Greek language could have communicated such a concept. Rather, in emphasizing all three statements, Jesus was declaring himself to truly be the Messiah as prophet, priest, and king.
- As prophet, Jesus is the truth of the Father—he is the Word made flesh, the final word God has spoken to his people (Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”). As priest, Jesus is the way to the Father—he is both the sacrifice for our sins and the mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”). And as king, Jesus is the giver of the life that comes from the sovereign giver of life, the eternal Father—who gives life now and in the coming age of eternity (Hebrews 6:5, “And have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.”). Additionally, he is the king whom the Father has already installed in Zion (Psalm 2:6, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”) and the ruler over the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:4-5, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”).
- Thomas a Kempis is famous for having written, “Follow thou me. I am the way the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing, and without the life there is no living. I am the way, which thou must follow; the truth, which thou must believe, and the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; and the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; and life true, life blessed, life uncreated.”
- This claim of Messiahship required that the disciples truly know Jesus. This closing conversation (vv. 7-11) is both a rebuke and a confirmation. Yes, the disciples know Jesus. They know him better than most. They would come to fully understand this in the days, weeks, and months ahead. They would boldly testify that they knew him. As John would declare in 1 John 1:1-3, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Obviously, when Jesus said to them, “From now on you do know him” he was referring to their future ministries and even deaths. They knew him. Yet, like many people, they wanted to see him. That’s what Philip was asking. Like Moses of old who asked to see God but who only was allowed to see the back fringes of his glory. The disciples were asking for a special glimpse of God in Jesus. But John’s gospel records for us that they had already seen that glory because they had seen the Son. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
- Verse 11 brings us full circle from where we began in v. 1. There, Jesus was admonishing them to exercise faith. He offered himself as the object of their faith. Following such a powerful discourse, Jesus was saying to them, “Believe in me and believe what I have said to you.” John’s gospel had already declared the evidence in the Book of Signs where Jesus’ miracles and discourses proved conclusively that Jesus was the Messiah. Although the Jews had rejected this evidence, Jesus still required his followers to believe. Twice before Jesus had called for such faith (5:36 and 10:37-38). But the context of this passage makes it the most telling of the three. Jesus’ point was not simply that displays of supernatural power frequently prove convincing, but that the miracles themselves are signs. Thoughtful meditation on, say, the turning of the water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves, or on the raising of Lazarus would disclose what these miracles signify…that the saving kingdom of God is at work in the ministry of Jesus. The miracles were non-verbal signposts pointing to the Messiah. But now, Jesus was openly and adamantly demanding that they choose to believe in him. Believe in God! Believe in me! Believe the works that I have done because they point to the Father! Believe!
Conclusion: The disciples were having a very hard time understanding the fact that Jesus came to die. They were looking for a king but he came to be the Savior. By boldly affirming the fact that he was the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus was demonstrating his role as prophet, priest, and king. Jesus was instructing the disciples to look beyond the things of this life and learn the perspective of eternity. Someday, when we stand in his presence in Glory, we will finally realize that we are then truly home. Heaven is what God made us for!