The Only Way?
Jesus said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me" (Jn:14:6). For many people, this is a real stumbling block. Often their objections are captured in a question like, "How can you say that only Christians are going to heaven? What about all the other people in the world who have never heard?" These exclusive claims made by Christianity are really hard to swallow.
Well first and foremost, the plight of lost people ought to stir our hearts as the people of God. "The harvest is ripe. Pray that there will be more than enough workers to go into the fields and reap the harvest." But in order to respond to the question, we need to revisit what Jesus was really saying.
What helps us to make good sense of Jesus' claim here is to understand that He is not actually talking about "going to heaven when you die." For Jesus, eternal life was above all about knowing the Father (Jn.17:3), not about going to heaven. These really are two very different things. The Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached was about entering into a new kind of life — a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When we try to truncate His message down to a formula for going to heaven, we miss the very heart of the Good News. This is not a trivial distinction. "Going to heaven" is not a shortcut phase for "having a relationship with God." They mean very different things. And only when the relationship is central, do the two things have anything in common. If we don't get this, we will not know what Jesus is talking about.
If then Jesus is speaking about becoming a real child of God who knows and loves the Father, then everything else He says necessarily follows. Because in order to have a relationship with God, we have no choice but to know what God He is talking about. We cannot create a relationship out of thin air with whatever it is we wish God to be for us. That's not a relationship with Jesus' Father, but an imaginary trip down a fabricated "reality" that has nothing to do with Jesus or God at all. If we want to know who God is — the God Jesus knows — then we have to ask Jesus who this God is. We have to come to the place where we realize there is no way to know God unless He is revealed to us. And that's exactly what Jesus did. "If you have seen me, then you will have seen my Father" (Jn.14:9).
Now it begins to make sense when Jesus says, "If you want to come to the Father, you have to come through Me." One of the main reasons He came to earth was to "show us the Father" (Jn.14:8-9). Jesus is "the truth" we need to know in order to see and know the Father; He is "the Life" we need in order to be with the Father, because spiritually dead people cannot relate to God; and so He is "the way" to get to the Father at all.
If anyone is so inclined as to make up their own idea of who God is, then no one can tell them how to get there — they get to make up that, too — and almost anything will suffice. But if you want to "fall in love with the God Jesus knew" (James Bryan Smith: The Good and Beautiful God) then you will need to go to Jesus, the only one who has ever seen God and revealed Him to us.
If you were lost in the wilderness and on the verge of dying when an experienced field guide showed up and told you he could save you if only you would go with him, you would not think him presumptuous, you would be grateful for his compassion on your plight. Jesus wasn't making an arrogant claim to be the only way. He was bringing us great hope by shedding brilliant light on something of vital importance. "Believe in Me. I know the Father I am talking about. And I can show you how to have a life with my Father! Nothing else will work."
Thank you, Jesus, for showing us the way and for giving us new life so we could be with the Father.