This passage is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. Arrest, trial, crucifixion looms. The world is going to radically change for these followers in the next hours. Jesus offers his disciples comfort: “don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus is stating that though the disciples’ world is going to be turned upside down, this is not the last chapter. “I am going to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says. This is a message of hope: I am not abandoning you. You are not alone.
Still, the disciples are full of questions. Where are you going? What is the way? Jesus’ response is clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These words declare the uniqueness of Jesus. In this phrase Jesus summarizes the revelatory event. God is the missionary God who steps into our world. God has shown himself through Israel, and most completely God has shown himself through Jesus. We are not left alone.
God has come to us. God wants to be in relationship with us. Look at me, Jesus says. By what I say, and what I do, ultimately through the cross and empty grave, you see who the Father is. Do you want to know what God is like? Just look at me. I am the way, the truth, and the life. It is about a relationship with God the Father.
A relationship! The thrust of this passage is about a relationship between the disciples and Jesus, and more, it is about a relationship between the disciples and the Father.
This text is about relationship more than it is about dogma. Certainly there is doctrinal truth here. When Jesus says, I am the way, the truth and the life, he is making a very important statement. But this text is primarily an invitation from Jesus to his followers about entering into a relationship. This changes to mood from arrogance and a sense of triumphalism.
Jesus concludes this passage by talking about mission. Jesus says, “you will do every greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” We do not simply enter into a relationship with God, we are also called to extend the invitation to others. This passage anticipates chapter 20, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. That changes everything. We are given work to do, relationally extending the good news to others.