Study Notes 10-20-13: John 14:13-14

Whatever you Ask, I will Give
John 14:13-14
 

14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

The Heart of Jesus for His Sheep

This is one of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture. It speaks to the mind of Christ for His sheep. He cares about us; He is our advocate in heaven. Ridderbos says the focus on this section is “the progress of Jesus’ work and the involvement of his disciples in it, as well as doing this work and keeping his commandments, the assistance of the Spirit as the ‘other Paraclete’, and Jesus’ ongoing fellowship with is own.”

Christ begins by emphasizing in verse 13 that whatever we ask and need while He is “away” He will grant us.  He wants us to know that we will be fully equipped if we ask for the resources He gives. He’s speaking most especially, in this context, of spiritual resources. The disciples here aren’t concerned with material blessings, but with the presence of their master. Jesus wants them and us to know that though He is going away, He will still be with us, He will see our trouble, our needs, and He wants them and us to know that we can come to Him with our troubles. This is the universal teaching of the New Testament. Christ pleads for us to come to Him with our desires, needs, and cares. The author of Hebrews reminds us of this, and says:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Paul also says:

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:11-12)

And Christ says in Matthew’s gospel:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)

Note especially that what He is promises in this Matthew passage is His presence.  All of these things can be done because He is here with us. We can do “greater works” (vs. 12) because He is the one here manifesting His power through us to spread the gospel. Therefore His being here is the key, and we’ll talk more about that and we are to understand this clearly in the verses to come.

Whatever We Want?

As we examine the specific nature of what Jesus is saying here, it is impossible to miss the fact that Jesus says that He will give us “whatever” and “anything” we ask of Him. Those statements seem pretty wide open, don’t they! In fact, it’s statements like these that lead immature believers to assume that they can just waltz into the throne room of the Most High and order whatever happens to be on the menu of their heart at the time. Of course all the while claiming this promise, and fully expecting their demands to be met.

After all Jesus says here just “name it and claim it” right?

Then they are disappointed that their requests are not answered. What’s worse, they chastise other believers who try to correct them on their misunderstanding of the promise. They say, “You just don’t have enough faith!  Don’t be such a hater. Jesus promises this so I’m claiming it – you just don’t have the faith necessary, so don’t hate on me for asking of the desires of my heart!”

In fact, many people take this a step further into the extremely inane and silly by posting “blessings” on Facebook, Twitter and via email.  The thought is that if you tweet, forward, or repost these “blessing” messages that you will be blessed. These messages often make great claims that cannot be substantiated. One such message I read recently said this:

REPOST:

Please read this…Not Joking…

God has seen you struggling with something. God says it’s over! A blessing is coming your way. If you believe in God, send/post this message on and please don’t ignore it, you are being tested. God is going to fix two big things tonight in your favor. If you believe in God, drop everything and pass this on.

Now where in the world do things like this come from? From the pit of Hell. Let me explain why using this, rather typical message, as an example.

Note that the message above claims that God will “fix two big things tonight in your favor.”  It presupposes that the person posting has the power (not merely the faith) to assert that God is going to “fix” these things (whatever that may mean). Of course this will ONLY happen if you repost the message. As if God wants to see that you love Him by reposting this error-filled tripe. The arrogance of these little blessing messages can easily be missed. This one even claims that God will “fix” specifically TWO things “in your favor” – which presupposes that by reposting, your subjective opinions and desires will be immediately bowed to by the God of the universe. He will see your post, and immediately snap into action!

This isn’t new my friends. This is superstition masquerading as true spirituality, and it preys on the uneducated and easily manipulated. The fool in his folly not only reposts, but chastises others for correcting his idolatry! This same superstitiousness was used in the medieval ages to manipulate the uneducated poorer classes to support crusades, despotic and evil popes, corrupt kings, and twisting of church doctrine until it was used to justify every wish of those in power.

And what is worse, we commonly wink at this. We let it go. We see someone we know posting it, and don’t say anything. For those who do stand up and correct a brother or sister, be warned, there will be consequences. There will be backlash. Superstitious, uneducated foolishness parading as Christianity is Satanic. Period.

As we examine how to correctly understand the passage, it will become clear why this is such a distortion of the passage, and how Christ expects us to understand fellowship with Him.

How to Rightly Understand this Passage

First, I want to remind us that these great promises of Christ are not new in the sense that they are tied to His character, for God has always been desirous that we have a heart which mirrors His. In fact, we are reminded of how closely aligned with Christ’s words are those from Psalm 37:4-5, which says:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
 

That verse first says “take delight in the Lord” and the consequence of this is that he will give us the desires of our hearts – in other words, he will give us Himself if we first are delighting in Him, because it is presupposed that the delight of our heart and its chief desire is “the Lord.” Therefore, He will bless us with our greatest desires when those desires match His!

For more evidence of this, look at what John says in his first epistle:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:21-22)

We’ll speak more to this keeping of the commandments a little later on, but note that we have confidence to ask “whatever” we need and know He will give us these requests if we are keeping His commandments – we keep His commandments if we are walking in the Spirit. If we are acting this way and in this mindset then necessarily what will occur is that we will be asking for things that accord with His will.

Now turning back to the passage in John 14…we cannot isolate this from verse 12, which says that we will do “greater” works than what Christ did on earth. It is in the context of Christ carrying out His work in us that He gives us the reassurance of His fellowship with us. The idea is that as we are doing His works, not greater in power but in number, He is the one working through us.  If we need help (and we do), then we are to come before His throne to ask for that help.

Furthermore, Jesus says here that he will give us what we ask in order that “the father may be glorified in the son.” This statement qualifies our requests – it shows us the purpose for the request.  Jesus is saying that the whole purpose of Him giving you “anything” or “whatever” you ask is that the Father might be glorified!

This happens in the following ways:

  1. When we ask for things in the name of the Son the Father is glorified in the lordship of the Son, because this lordship exhibits our desire to please Him, and mirrors the relationship that the Father and the Son have together. In other words, the Father is glorified in the Son because Christ is glorified in us. The Trinitarian relationship is made manifest, and it reflects back the Father’s own glory (Heb. 1:3).
  2. The Father is glorified in the Son because when the Son answers our requests He exhibits his power, mercy, grace, kindness and love – all of which are character qualities shared with the Father. Therefore, by His acts of love on our behalf, the Son exhibits the heart of the Father.
  3. The Father is specifically glorified in the Son because “whatever” He grants will be in accordance with the “greater works” (vs. 12) of the Son. In other words, when we ask for “whatever” we need, it is in the context of verse 12 and doing His works, which is to say that we are asking for His help to do His work. We are basically bowing before Jesus and saying, “this is Your work Lord, give us help to do this work of Yours.” The Father is glorified in this because it is the Son doing the work and it magnifies the Son’s work and the Father’s plan and character as (again) mirrored in the Son and His creation (us).

In sum, when the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified because the Son acts according to what he knows will delight His Father. The Father’s supreme plan and headship over all things is brought to glorious revelation before his creation and within the Trinity itself when the Son acts on behalf of his creation.

Ridderbos affirms this view, and though these comments are extensive, I think they are right on point, and worth soaking in:

…the saying here is not intended as an unconditional pledge that every believing prayer, of whatever content, will be heard. The saying must be understood in immediate connection with what precedes: it ties in with ‘for I go to the Father’ and explains the ‘for’ by suggesting that from his position in heaven Jesus will do whatever the disciples ask with a view to the glorification of the Father in the Son. This saying must always, in fact, be understood anew in this context, with regard to both what Jesus’ disciples may ask of him, the Exalted One, and what they may expect as answers in this earthly dispensation. The main point is that by putting so much stress here an in what follows on prayer in his name, Jesus is pledging to his disciples that he is not withdrawing from them by his departure but will be able, because of his heavenly glory, to give them everything they will need for the continuation of his work on earth, and he refers them to prayer as the way of his continuing fellowship with them.

Therefore, the Son would never grant us “anything” that did not conform to His ultimate desires and plan for our lives. He will not just give us “whatever” if “whatever” does not first conform to His plan for us. In fact, we must admit that there are times that the Son give us things we do not want in order to prepare us for the thing we want most, namely Himself and heaven. So that in all things the Son is acting on our behalf and for our best interests, even when we stray from asking the things that accord perfectly with His will. This is why, by the way, it is so very important that Christ be fully divine and fully God.  He must know all things because if He didn’t know all things, then our theology would be mangled, and our hope would be in ourselves rather than in Christ’s omniscient all-powerful guiding hand.

When we replace superstition for true spirituality, we replace Scripture with myth and exchange Christ’s authority for a false authority (for there is no other true authority in the universe, only pretenders, i.e. Satan, and ourselves). When you “name it and claim it” or “repost to get blessed” you make God your cosmic butler who will “fix” things in conformity to your plan and not His.

He has a purpose, and His purposes will be carried out in and through us because He is here with us. “The Son’s purpose does not change: he enables his own to do ‘greater things’: in order that he may bring glory to the Father” says Carson.

D.A. Carson gives a wonderful summary of verses 12-14 and prepares us for the following passage:

Glorified with the glory he had with the Father before the world began (17:5), the Son is no longer limited by the pre-death humanness that characterized his ministry. At that point redemption is won, the kingdom of God is triumphantly invading the nations with saving and transforming power, the locus of the covenant community stretches outward from its Jewish confines to embrace the world, and the disciples themselves are empowered and equipped to engage in far-reaching ministry. The latter turns on the first of the Holy Spirit, which gift is about to be introduced into the discussion (vv. 15ff.).

9-29-13 Study Notes: I Am the Way

John Chapter 14

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

The Heart of a Shepherd

It makes all the sense in the world for Christ to continue his discourse here by telling the disciples not to let their hearts fall into despair.  Remember, He has just delivered a very harsh rebuke to Peter, whose heart must have absolutely sunk at Christ’s stinging words.

Therefore, Christ tells them in strong terms not to let their “hearts be troubled”, and subsequently issues a command: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” It seems that what Jesus is saying here is that the antidote to fear here is to trust Him.

D.A. Carson explains that perhaps the best way to understand the word “believe” here is to use the word “trust” given the context. Jesus is calling these disciples (and us as well) to trust Him. This is the solution to their fear. Trusting in God and His Son is letting your heart and mind dwell upon His promises, and taking Him at His word (Is. 26:3; 1 John 4:18). Well did the proverb say:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

And as in so many cases, Christ doesn’t simply issue forth the command as in a vacuum, but goes on to explain what He has said.

John MacArthur makes the point that “Instead of the disciples lending support to Jesus in the hours before His Cross, He had to support them spiritually, as well as emotionally. This reveals His heart of serving love” (cf. Carson who makes the same point). It reminds us of the role of Christ as our great Shepherd.  Consider what He said earlier in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15, ESV)

And this is what was predicted by the prophet Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, ESV)

It is here and in so many other passages that we see the compassion of our Shepherd. We are His sheep, and He looks after us, just as He looked after the disciples. In subsequent generations God would raise up other shepherds to look after His sheep – even unto death.  I am specifically reminded of Ignatius of Antioch, who even on his way to Rome to be tried and executed, wrote seven pastoral letters to the churches and to his friend Polycarp, encouraging them and strengthening them in the faith.

In one of those letters Ignatius wrote:

To what end have I given myself up to perish by fire or sword or savage beasts? Simply because when I am close to the sword I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by the lions, I am surrounded by God. But it is only in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of sharing his sufferings, that I could face all this; for he, the perfect Man, gives me strength to do so.

Surely this echoes of the character of Christ, of whom John says:

…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1b)

14:2-4 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.”

It is not for nothing that Christ has told these men to take heart and believe in God, for He follows this command by announcing a promise that is so full of comfort that it is worth our examination of the saying in-depth.

He Knows You by Name

First Christ says that “in my Father’s house are many rooms.”  This alone tells us that in heaven there will be a multitude of saints. Though we know the truth of the doctrine of election, and the solid fact that Christ has not chosen all men for new birth, yet we see here that the number He has chosen is voluminous. What a comfort to know how effective and bountiful the love of Christ is upon sinful mankind, and to be counted in this group, well, it is something beyond comprehension.

Then Jesus doubles down on the truth of His claims by appealing to His own truthfulness. He basically states that, “if there weren’t many rooms in heaven for you, would I have said so in the first place?” The answer, as we know, is emphatically “no.”

Isaiah closely captures the feeling here:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

He can swear by no higher name (Heb. 6:13) because what His name stands for is absolute truth, as we’ll soon see in just a moment…

But first, as we look closely at the end of verse two, we see that when Christ goes away to “prepare a room” it is a very personal, individual task. He has individual persons in mind. Therefore we see here an idea that is contrary to what is taught by Arminians who say that God predestines groups of people in a very general way “in Christ” (His elect Son) but does not effectually choose specific individuals.

Perhaps an example is helpful. When my parents purchased one of their first homes in Oregon City (Oregon), they prepared and furnished each room based upon which child would be living there. My room was blue, with a red stripe down the middle, and had large basketball and car posters of hung up on the walls. My sister’s room was a girly sort of color (probably pink, but I can’t recall) and had all the frills that my mom knew she would enjoy.  In short, each room was personalized. The same principle is true of Christ. He doesn’t simply give grace to a nameless group of people who may or may not accept Christ’s atoning work on the cross. No indeed, Christ had you in mind when He died, and has an eternal plan for you personally. That plan includes work on His behalf here as well as enjoyment of Him here, but also includes an eternal specific ordained plan for you after you die and join Him.

The Way is Not Yet Prepared

Next look with me at verse three, which begins by saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” John Piper, who delivered a sermon on this passage, is wise to point out that Jesus is going to prepare a place in two senses, and I think he’s right on target here.

First, the way is not yet prepared.  This is not to say that from the foundation of the world God has not already planned that you will be with Him in heaven (Ephesians 1:4-10), or that somehow heaven is in a state of disrepair. No indeed!  The first sense of the phrase here used by Jesus is that, “you cannot come where I am because the way is not yet open! I am about to make a way for you through my death, burial and resurrection.”

Heaven is prepared my friend, but you could not go there until Christ first suffered and died and conquered the power of death. This strongly ties in with verses 5 and (particularly) 6 in which Christ declares that the way to the Father is through the Son.

Now if we take into account the following truths we’ll end up understanding the next part of verse three: 1. From the foundation of the world He has prepared this place for us, 2. Christ must conquer death first before we can come where He is, and 3. He is the only way to this place. This leads us to understand better why He says, “I will come again and will take you to myself” and leads us also to the second sense of the meaning of verse three, which is that Christ is not talking specifically about heaven in this passage, but rather Himself.

Piper says this:

Don’t use this passage of Scripture to show that whe(n) Jesus comes back at the Second Coming he will take you to heaven. It does not say that. It says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And where will he be when he comes? We will meet him in the air, and he will establish his reign on the earth. And so we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

What this text focuses on in the Second Coming is not a return to heaven but a reunion with Christ. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” Therefore, my beloved disciples, let not your heart be troubled. Trust. Trust me that I am coming for you. I will come. I will take you. And trust me because the dwelling I have prepared for you is my crucified, risen, and glorified self. Don’t be troubled, I will come and take you to myself.

Jesus is focused on Himself here, not heaven. As Morris notes, “Nothing is said about the nature of the place that Christ prepares (vs.1-2). It is sufficient for believers that we will be with our Lord.” Jesus knows that it is His presence that provides ultimate rest, peace, and security, and that is why He turns from discussing heaven to His second advent.

Furthermore, as believers looking back on this time, we can see that contrary to the situation in which Jesus is speaking these words, when He comes back He will do so in power, and a display of glory and brilliance unmatched by anything the world has seen or heard. He points the disciples forward in their minds to a time when His triumphal entry will be nothing short of spectacular!

The Motivation of our Shepherd

Now look at Christ’s motivation for this preparation. He says, “that where I am you may be also.” If you aren’t getting the picture by now, you will certainly understand when you look closely at this portion of verse 3, that Christ has a plan for you, and furthermore wants to have a relationship with you. He does all that He does in order that, at least as it concerns us, He will have eternal fellowship with us, His bride!

Let me bring this home a little more. Many of us long for fellowship and companionship, and many children as they grow up are shaped by the relationships they have with their parents – and with friends at school. Often young people who don’t have many friends are left feeling hurt and abandoned by God and family. We naturally need fellowship and do not like to be lonely.  But Christ is not this way. Yes He also loves fellowship, but He does not need it from us. He already has all the companionship He needs in the eternal fellowship of the trinity. And so we are not fulfilling a need of His here. It isn’t as though He is somehow fearful that He will die and be in heaven bored out of His mind because of the exciting times He’s just left on earth! No! In heaven Christ is forever and continually worshiped and adored! He doesn’t get bored!

So this desire of His to have us be “with Him” in heaven, this entirely God-initiated, God-driven desire is an expression of the depth of the love He has for us. We must keep in view the fact that He made us after His own image, as Augustine said, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

What an amazing thought. You can go away from this text knowing, for certain, that going into the last hours before His death, Christ is preparing mentally for eternity with you! And this theme continues throughout the next few chapters.  We’ll see in chapter 17 that Christ prays that all who believe in His name will come to be with Him in heaven. In the final moments of His life He is more concerned with petitioning the Father for our presence in heaven than He is for His own safety here on earth. And so here we see the overflowing love of God in Christ made manifest in His words. What a great comfort! What a great love He has for us.

Knowing vs. Understanding

Lastly, He finishes this portion of His saying by expressing a sort of realized eschatology. These disciples haven’t caught up yet to the riches of what He is promising them. Their minds are still stuck on the fact that He’s going to leave them, and its deeply upsetting to them at the time. So Jesus says that, “you know the way to where I am going.”  Huh? They don’t know where He is going! And that is expressed by Thomas, who is clinging more closely to some words more than others and isn’t reading between the lines.

Jesus, who knows all things, knows that He has implanted in them the truth of His mission and destination. Even if they don’t realize what He is saying now, they will realize it when the Spirit leads them into all truth (John 16:13). That is why I say it is a sort of “realized eschatology” because Jesus is anticipating that, though they actually know the truth now, very soon they will understand what they already know. They will actually start to piece together the truth He has already imparted to them.

Why do I bring this up? Because so often we only listen to part of Scripture, and very often that part is the part we want to hear. Sometimes we’re too distracted to pay any attention at all. If the disciples had been paying attention they would have understood – at least to a small degree – that their Lord was imparting magnificent truths to them. Now was the time to set aside their emotions and focus on the words of their Lord.

How much more ought we to focus on the words of those in the pulpit who are breathlessly expositing the words of life to us. Yet I find that so often my own mind wanders, when it ought to worship. Let us heed this admonition and the (bad) example of the disciples at this point, and cling to every word of our Savior, always asking the Spirit to help us discern the intended meaning and to root out any sin that may be impeding our growth in grace.

14:5-6 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

First we see Thomas’ reaction of complete confusion.  “What are you talking about Jesus? Have I missed something?” Yes you have. But Jesus doesn’t say that does He…instead He takes the opportunity to teach an even greater truth to them, but one that is not off-topic.

The Sixth ‘I AM’ Statement of Christ in John

What is Jesus’ reaction to Thomas? He says, let me spell it out for you Thomas, if you want to know how to come to me and the Father (who are “one”), you simply must believe in me, for I am the way to the father. There is no other way but through me and me alone. This is also the sixth ‘I Am’ statement of Jesus in the book of John. As a reminder of the others, I have listed them below. As you read through these statements, they lead us to our next point of discussion, namely, that Jesus was continually making extraordinary (and highly) exclusive claims about Himself. The others are as follows:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7, 9)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (John 10:14)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (John 11:25)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 5)

When Jesus says, “I AM”, let us remember that He is not speaking thus in order to point us simply to the adjective (“door”, “shepherd” etc.), but to the pronoun. R.C. Sproul reminds us that the Greek words that are rendered “I AM” in our English translation here are “ego eimi” which means, “I am, I am”. These words bring to mind the sacred name reserved for God the Father in the Old Testament, a name sometimes referred to as the “ineffable” name of God, YHWY. “Ineffable” means simply “too great, powerful, or beautiful to be described or expressed in words” (a combination of dictionary definitions here).

Therefore when Jesus says, “I AM” the way the truth and the life, He is invoking the unspeakably awesome name of God to describe Himself.

The Three-Fold Declaration

Now let us turn to examine specifically what Jesus, the ineffable One says about Himself:

I AM The Way – This is an answer to Thomas, and to all who for millennia would ask, “How is my soul to be saved?” This phrase is so significant that it would soon be used by early Christians to identify themselves with their Lord (Acts 22:4), and it’s no doubt closely connected with his exclusive claims about being the Door of the sheepfold (10:7, 9).

I AM The Truth – He is asserting nothing less than being the embodiment of absolute truth – the standard of what is right and wrong for the entire universe. He is the Word of God incarnate (1:14). Not a word, action, or thought of Jesus proceeds apart from the antecedent reality that it flows from His absolute perfection of veracity.

I AM The Life – He reminds us of a previous declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25b), and, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

The Exclusivity of Christ

For thousands of years the church has stood on the exclusivity of the statements Christ makes in this passage. Despite what many have tried to argue over the ages, Christianity is not a religion that follows a “many paths to God” approach. We believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way one can be saved from sin and death.

Furthermore, it is clear from our understanding of the early church that the Apostles thought of Christ as the only way to be saves.  Look at what Peter says before the council in Acts 4:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12 ESV)

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord” (First two affirmation of ‘The Apostles Creed’ – emphasis mine)

Also, this is the Apostle Paul’s understanding. He says that without Christ we are alienated from God, and that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and man:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

In his defense of this principle, Christian apologist William Lane Craig lays out the Biblical reason for Christ’s exclusivity – namely, the problem of sin:

Sin is the great leveler, rendering all needy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Given the universality of sin, all persons stand morally guilty and condemned before God, utterly incapable of redeeming themselves through righteous acts (3.19-20). But God in His grace has provided a means of salvation from this state of condemnation: Jesus Christ, by his expiatory death, redeems us from sin and justifies us before God (3.21-26). It is through him and through him alone, then, that God’s forgiveness is available (5.12-21). To reject Jesus Christ is therefore to reject God’s grace and forgiveness, to refuse the one means of salvation which God has provided. It is to remain under His condemnation and wrath, to forfeit eternally salvation. For someday God will judge all men, “inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.8-9).

Lastly, later on in his epistles, the Apostle John lays out further (and very clear) teachings about the fact that Christ is the only way to salvation:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [23] No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The Many Paths to God: Contemporary Pluralism

During the first century the church had to deal with many persecutions, but most of those came from the Jews rather than outside governments – like Rome. It was the exclusive nature of the claims of Jesus Christ (that He was the Messiah) that caused Him to be a stumbling block to the Jews, and eventually led Him to Golgotha.

Look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church in his day:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

And so the Jews provided an early impediment to the spread of Christianity, but as we’ve learned in our study of the book of Acts, the more Christians were persecuted the more Christianity spread like wildfire.

However, it is the “folly” of the gentiles (as Paul put it) that we battle today.

Christianity is the only major religion in which its founder claims such exclusive privileges and power. It is also the only major religion in which its followers do not have to earn their way to heaven, rather it is through the work of the God-man Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand on the ‘Day of Judgment’, because it is only through His righteousness that we have access to the promises of God – namely eternal life.

Our more specific problem in our own country today is that of ‘Tolerance’.  So-called tolerance has become code for, “you believe whatever you want to believe, so long as you don’t push your views on me.” There are no moral absolutes: we live in an age of relativism. And somehow we think this is “new” or “revolutionary” or “evolved”, but that simply isn’t the case.  For we read at the end of the book of Judges the following statement by the author:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 ESV)

Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But that is why the claims of Jesus are so important in our day. People are looking for truth, they want to know why things are the way they are. And its here that we must not forget the second part of what Christ claimed here, namely, “I am the truth” – He is the ultimate standard for what is right and wrong in the universe.

He reveals what can be known about Himself through both general and special revelation. Here Jesus is specifically speaking to special revelation, meaning, the Word of God. He is the Word incarnate, and all that He speaks is 100% truth.

I really like what James M. Boice has to say about these amazing claims of Christ, “Although they are indeed exclusive, they ought not to be offensive, for they are actually what we most need as human beings. They should be received with joy and thanksgiving.”

Therefore, we must make our appeal in more refined ways – like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. We must understand the relativism of our culture and the environment we find ourselves in today. But we must not deny what the Bible primarily speaks of, and what Jesus here claims for Himself: I am the only way and the only truth and the only way to life everlasting.