John 14:1–14 is part of the lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10th. The backdrop for this passage is the Savior’s final meal with His disciples before His crucifixion.
During what is now called the Last Supper, Jesus demonstrated what it truly means to be a bondservant. Even though He was the Son of God (1:34, 49), He humbled Himself by washing the feet of His disciples.
This act was so deferential that at first Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash this disciple’s feet. In response, Jesus told Peter and his peers that unless this was done, He could not accept them as one of His own.
After washing the feet of the Twelve, Jesus explained that He had set an example for them. In particular, it was emblematic of how they were to serve one another (13:1–17).
Next, Jesus spoke at length about the purpose of His earthly ministry and the responsibilities of the Twelve as His chosen apostles. Jesus also warned that one among them would betray Him, and said that He was about to depart from them (vv. 18–32).
Then, Jesus noted Peter’s upcoming denials, which likely further upset the disciples. Even though they had asserted their faithfulness to the Savior, He knew that they would falter during His darkest hour (vv. 33–38).
Jesus’ followers needed some comforting words as the cross-resurrection event was about to unfold. The Savior began by urging His disciples to calm their troubled hearts. The way to do this was to put their trust not only in the Father, but also in the Son (14:1).
It is remarkable that Jesus focused on consoling His followers, rather than dealing with His own needs. The treachery of Judas and the fickleness of the rest of the Twelve did not prevent the Savior from being a calming presence among them. In this way, He proved to be the true “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).
Next, Jesus spoke about heaven, perhaps to further ease the minds of His followers. He referred to heaven as a large house that belonged to His Father and had plenty of room (John 14:2).
Though Jesus was leaving the disciples, He was going to heaven to “prepare a place” for them, one filled with many permanent, spacious residences. Jesus told the disciples that if this were not so, He would not have promised it to them.
Jesus’ pledge, however, was true. Indeed, the disciples could count on Jesus one day returning to bring them back with Him to heaven (v. 3). This promise of being reunited with the Savior would be fulfilled no matter what happened to either Him or them.
Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, He had been teaching His disciples what it meant to follow Him. Now, He told them that they knew the road He was taking to His final destination. As the Twelve followed that pathway, they would end up at the celestial home with Jesus (v. 4).
Thomas openly expressed his confusion. He was probably speaking for the other disciples as well. They neither knew where Jesus was going nor the way to get there (v. 5).
After all, how could the Twelve really know? Had not Jesus already said that where He was going, they could not come (13:33)? Understandably, they were dumbfounded.
Jesus’ reply to Thomas is the most profound “I am” declaration in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus not only identified Himself as the divine-human Messiah, but also that He is the only path to God (14:6).
When Thomas asked Jesus about the route to take, Jesus did not hand the disciple a smartphone with a map application and instructions on how to use it. Instead, Jesus told His followers that He alone is the “way” to God, along with being the “truth” and the “life.”
In a few hours, some of Jesus’ followers would see Him hanging on a cross and would wonder how the above claim could ever be true. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection, they would understand that as the one who died for their iniquities (along with those committed by the rest of humanity), He is the sole mediator between the Creator and repentant, believing sinners (1 Tim 2:5; 1 John 2:1).
Often today, when the unregenerate are told that the Son is the one and only way to the Father, they are deeply offended. Accusations of bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and arrogance abound toward those who believe what Jesus declared. Nevertheless, there simply is no other path to God.
Despite all the lies that were charged against Jesus during His public ministry and since then, Jesus’ words, deeds, and character have shown Him to be the embodiment of truth. Put another way, He is truth incarnate (or enfleshed).
All that Jesus ever taught has proven to be reliable. Through Him we see the truth of God in action. And what better proof of knowing that Jesus is the life than His spectacular resurrection. Indeed, only Jesus has the power over life and death (Rev 1:18)
Previously, Jesus’ disciples had not fully known Him. While they had seen glimpses of His true identity and had a partial understanding of His glorious nature (John 1:14; 2:11; 1 John 1:1–3), they had not fully experienced Him as the divine-human Messiah. If they had, they would have known that they were seeing what God the Father is like by seeing the Son. In the coming days, however, Jesus’ followers would more fully know Him, as well as the “Father” (John 14:7).
Centuries before the Redeemer’s incarnation, Moses made an audacious request to God: “Please, let me see your glory” (Exod 33:18). The word, “glory,” when used of the Creator, refers to the radiant display of His person, that is, His majestic revelation of Himself to humanity. This definition is borne out by the many ways the term is used in Scripture.
For example, brilliant light consistently accompanied the divine manifestation (Matt 17:2; 1 Tim 6:16; Rev 1:16). Moreover, the word “glory” is often linked with verbs of seeing (Exod 16:7; 33:18; Isa 40:5) and appearing (Exod 16:10; Deut 5:24), both of which emphasize the visible nature of God’s splendor.
Since no human being can see God in His full, unfiltered glory and live, what Moses requested was more than what the Creator would grant—for Moses’ own good. Nevertheless, God did agree to place Moses in a crevice and then cause the divine glory to pass by (Exod 33:19–23).
What actually occurred during Moses’ encounter with God? As a human being, Moses could not look directly at the Lord’s radiant presence, for to do so would be fatal. Therefore, God protected Moses by covering his face until the Creator’s majestic splendor passed by.
When Philip asked Jesus to show the Father to the disciples, Philip was likely making a request to see God in the same way Moses had. If Jesus could do that for His followers, allegedly they would be satisfied and it would end any doubts they had about Jesus’ messianic claims (John 14:8).
The Savior was disappointed that Philip (and the rest of Jesus’ followers) still did not understand His statement about knowing and seeing God (v. 7). After all, the disciples had spent nearly three years with the Son. There was no need for any of them to ask Him to show them the Father.
If the disciples truly knew the Lord Jesus, they would have understood that in seeing Him, they had gazed upon the Father (v. 9). Later New Testament writers made similar affirmations.
For instance, Paul stated that the incarnate Son was “by nature God” (Phil 2:6), as well as the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Likewise, in the Messiah the “entire fullness of God’s being dwells bodily” (2:9). Similarly, according to Hebrews 1:3, the “Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of the divine nature.”
Jesus continued to describe His unity with the Father (and the Spirit) by asking the disciples whether they believed the Son was in the Father and the Father was in the Son (John 14:10). Jesus was prompting His disciples to consider and accept as true what would have been an outrageous claim to an ethnic, pious Jew, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth is one in essence with Yahweh (the Lord disclosed in the Old Testament; John 10:30).
The Son’s words and works were a revelation of the triune Godhead (John 1:18). This is because the Father gave the Son the words He spoke and through Jesus performed the works He executed (14:10).
There are at least three theological reasons why Jesus had to be fully divine (along with being fully human). First, only someone who is the infinite God could bear the full penalty of all the sins of unregenerate humanity.
Second, no mere human or creature could ever save people. Only God Himself could do so (Jonah 2:9). Third, only someone who was truly and fully God could be the one mediator between God and human beings (1 Tim 2:5), both to bring fallen people back to God and to unveil God most fully to them (John 14:9).
Once more, Jesus exhorted His disciples to believe that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. After living with Jesus and witnessing the way in which He lived, His followers should have taken Jesus at His word. Yet, even if they could not do so at this point, they could at least base their belief on the miraculous signs Jesus carried out (v. 11).
Admittedly, the Messiah was presenting faith based on miracles as a less desirable alternative. The best foundation for saving faith was Jesus’ proven character, especially when a longed-for sign did not appear.
Jesus performed many miracles during His earthly ministry, some of which are not recorded in the four Gospels. His miracles were extraordinary expressions of God’s power. When the Son performed a miracle, the Father directly altered, superseded, or counteracted some established pattern in the natural order.
Jesus’ miracles served several purposes. First, they confirmed His claim to be the Messiah. Second, they validated the Son’s assertion that He was sent by the Father and represented Him.
Third, Jesus’ works of power substantiated the credibility of the truths He declared to the people of Israel. Fourth, these signs encouraged the doubtful to put their trust in the Son. Fifth, they demonstrated that the one who is love incarnate was willing to reach out to people with compassion and grace.
Jesus, with considerable solemnity (“Amen, Amen”; v. 12), told His disciples that those who believed in Him would do even greater deeds than what He had been performing. In making this statement, Jesus did not mean His followers would possess greater powers, or that they would outshine Him in displaying the Creator’s glory.
Instead, the Son was referring to the Spirit working in Christians to bring about the conversion of the lost. Whereas Jesus’ ministry was confined to Galilee and Judea, Jesus’ followers would proclaim the gospel in distant lands.
Yet, even then, the disciples could do none of the above unless the Son first returned to the Father. Jesus recognized that His followers could not serve Him effectively in their own power. They would need ongoing, supernatural help.
In particular, the disciples would need the gift promised by the Father, namely, the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came, the disciples would be filled with courage and the ability to witness to the lost about Jesus.
The testimony of Jesus’ followers would not remain confined to Jerusalem. Before long, they would take the message of salvation to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and even to the farthest reaches of the planet (Acts 1:8). Christians could do so knowing that the Father had given the Son “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18).
These truths aside, the essential nature of prayer to effectively undertake God’s work, merits emphasis. When we make our evangelistic requests known to the Father through the Son’s “name” (signifying all He is as the divine-human Messiah; John 14:13), Jesus would bring our requests to pass.
It would incorrect to conclude that Jesus was providing a magic formula for believers to use, as though one were bidding a genie to grant a wish. Nor did it mean that Jesus would always fulfill a petition in the way His followers desired. Instead, Jesus was referring to requests whose primary purpose was to glorify the Father, and so were in agreement with His will (John 15:7; Jas 4:3; 1 John 5:14–15).
Concisely stated, answered prayer brings honor to the Trinity. Through personal experience, we discover that God can do “infinitely more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
Regarding the above, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf (Rom 8:26), and the Son represents us as our Advocate in the Father’s sacred presence (1 John 2:1). He, in turn, graciously works through our petitions and circumstances to bring about His will for the salvation of the lost.
The Messiah’s statements do not limit the power of prayer. Instead, they remind Christians to make their petitions consistent with the Son’s character and in accordance with the Father’s will (John 14:14).
When we focus our requests on fulfilling the Creator’s plan and purpose, especially in the salvation of the lost, our spiritual priorities dramatically shift to align with His. Then, as we pray in the authority of Jesus’ name, He promises to answer our petitions, and in this way, the triune God is glorified.
Key ideas to contemplate
Jesus was about to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. The news of His departure would leave the disciples unsettled and traumatized. Jesus realized this and sought to comfort His followers. He also spotlighted how important it was for them to regard Him as the one and only way to the Father.
1. The need for guidance. Imagine being on a hiking trip with our church group. Suddenly, some of us become separated from the rest of our peers and find ourselves all alone. With no sense of which way to go or how to rejoin the group, we begin to feel uneasy. The only perceivable solution is for someone knowledgeable to come along and guide us back to our friends.
2. The Savior as our supreme Guide. In the spiritual realm, it’s also easy to get disoriented and lost. It happens all the time to many people. The only way to get and stay on track is for us to trust in Jesus. Only He can guide us to our heavenly Father and make Him fully known to us.
3. The eternal blessing of Jesus leading us. When Jesus is at the center of our lives, we benefit from the divine truth and life He brings. He also enables us to become more effective in our Christian service.
4. The opportunity to glorify God. With Jesus as our guide, we can do great things for God, things that will bring Him glory and last for eternity. Also, with Jesus as the focal point of our prayers, we will make requests that are in harmony with God’s will. We can be assured that such petitions—especially for the salvation of the lost—are certain to be answered.