Troubles have a way of stirring doubt in what we would otherwise firmly believe. Consider John the Baptist. No one was more sure of the Messiah than him. While they were both still in their mother’s wombs, John leaped to announce the Christ’s nearness (Lk. 1:41).
Thirty years later, John saw Jesus across the Jordan and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Not long after that, he baptized Jesus and witnessed a spectacular display of divine affirmation. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the Father audibly announced from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt. 3:16-17). Nothing would have been more convincing.
Afterward, John had no qualms with pointing his inquisitors to Jesus for their salvation. However, his imprisonment and impending death stirred up unrelenting doubt. The king’s wife wanted John’s head on a platter and he was happy to oblige. Awaiting his decapitation, he sought peace of mind. John sent two of his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the Messiah?” (Lk. 7:20, paraphrased). Troubles caused him to doubt what he otherwise believed.
This is paralyzing to think about. Jesus said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). If John, a man of untouchable faith, was stirred to doubt amidst his troubles, how much more would we who are lesser.
This was true for the disciples. On the evening of Jesus’ arrest, uncertainty ensued and doubts arose. They knew Jesus was leaving. They were told that one of them would betray Him, another would deny Him, and all of them would scatter from Him when He was killed. The disciples were unsurprisingly rattled. As troubles arose, so did their doubt.
“And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”John 14:4–6
This passage is a straightforward question and answer. Jesus makes a statement that extracts doubt. Thomas asks a question that expresses their doubt. And, Jesus answers in order to extinguish their doubt. This is deep comforting, a soul massage. They are reaffirmed that Jesus is the only way to God.
The Statement that Extracts Doubt
If there was anyone who did nothing by chance, it was Jesus. Knowing what was in their hearts, Jesus reaches into their doubt and pulls it out. “And you know the way to where I am going” (Jn. 14:4). The thing is, they didn’t. Troubles caused them to disbelieve.
Jesus had just explained to them that He was going to the Father’s house in order to prepare a place for them (Jn. 14:2-3). It was the first time they had heard of it, according to the gospel of John. It was new news. However, for the past three years, Jesus had been telling them that He was the way.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”John 10:7-18
Jesus was going to extinguish their doubt. First, He drew it into the light. “You know the way to where I am going,” He says (Jn. 14:4). And, as John the Baptist doubted in the troubled chamber of his heart, so the disciples doubted there in the upper-room. They knew the way, but they doubted.
The Question that Expresses Doubt
It seems fitting that it was Thomas who expressed his doubt audibly. Growing up, we had a nickname for him based on his most infamous story. After Jesus arose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples while Thomas was away. Hearing about it, Thomas made a name for himself:
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”John 20:25
Doubting Thomas. He had to see it to believe it. Frankly, who wouldn’t. Let’s be honest. Troubles stir doubt, and there was nothing more troubling than seeing your Lord killed and hearing about His body being stolen.
The word “know” appears repeatedly in John 14:4-7 along with various other synonyms. It refers to the accumulation of knowledge based on observation. Thomas wanted to know. He wanted to see. He wanted to examine and experience it with his senses. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:5).
With a less intuitive reading of the verse, we might wonder if Thomas was paying attention to Jesus at all. Did they really not know where Jesus was going? Did He not just say, “I go to prepare a place for you,” twice (Jn. 14:2-3)? Did He not just tell them that He was going to “the Father’s house” (Jn. 14:2)?
The Greek language, as well as the context, suggests that the adverb “where” refers to the “way” to the Father’s house, not the destination. In other words, Thomas was not saying that they didn’t know where Jesus was going, but where the path was that Jesus was taking. “Lord, we don’t know where the way is.” This makes more sense.
Thomas, as well as the disciples as a whole, couldn’t see the way. They didn’t know how the Lord was getting to the Father’s house. Doubt clouded their mind. So they asked the Lord, “How can we know,” or see with our own eyes, “the way?” (Jn. 14:5). “You say that we know the way, but how are we supposed to know the way?” Jesus extracted their doubt and they expressed it.
This was no small question. “How can I know the way to God?” There is nothing more pressing upon the human soul than this question. Let’s rejoice in Thomas’ boldness to ask. We can all learn from it.
The Answer that Extinguishes Doubt
Before we look at Jesus’ response, let’s appreciate what He doesn’t say. I am a parent of four children. There are things that I have to say to them repeatedly. I want your room cleaned. Pick up after yourself. Fold your laundry and put it in your dresser. Don’t mock your sisters. It gets old and tiresome. Sometimes, it gets under my skin, and they don’t like me when I’m angry.
Jesus is nothing like us in this regard. He doesn’t grow impatient. He doesn’t wonder to Himself why we are so forgetful. He never raises His voice and throws a book at us—I haven’t either, by the way. Rather, Jesus is loving and longsuffering.
Despite their disciples’ doubt, Jesus “loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). He didn’t send them off in anger. He didn’t ridicule or embarrass them for their weakness. Instead, He gladly extinguished their doubt with a double-dose of truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
We call this a parallelism. In two sentences, Jesus tells them the same thing—once in a positive way and once in a negative way. It works to further hammer the nail of truth into our brains. He is explicit, definite, and ever so clear.
This is the sixth time Jesus uses an “I am” phrase (Jn. 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25). A seventh time will occur in John 15:5. It resounds with the bolstering thunder of God’s conversation with Moses on the mountain. “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). It reminds us that there is no one like God. He exists before all things and all things were made for Him, through Him, and by Him. “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus said (Jn. 8:58).
As if this wasn’t enough, the “I am” phrase is followed by the definite article. The word “the” is easy to take for granted. But consider how different Jesus’ response would have been had He used the indefinite article. “I am a way” is sadly what many in this world believe. However, Jesus is “the” way—the one and the only. There is no other.
You can read His first response more firmly by inserting these unique absolutions, “I am the way, and I am the truth, and I am the life.” There are no exceptions. Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will be able.”Luke 13:24
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”Matthew 7:13-14
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”John 1:17
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”John 5:26
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”John 11:25
There is only one way to God. It is through Jesus. All other attempts to get to the Father’s house will lead to hell where the wrath of God is infinitely poured out for all eternity. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
Jesus is the only way to God. “You know the way to where I am going,” said Jesus to the disciples. They knew Jesus. He was the way. So, they knew the way. However, troubles arose and so did doubt. Fortunate for us all, Jesus arose as well. Not just to face our doubt head on, but from the grave as the one who leads all His followers into the Father’s house.
“To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”John 10:3–4
Do you know the way? During troubling times, do you find yourself doubting as Thomas did this dark night? If so, Jesus is not rattled. He answers you right now from this passage. “I am the way. No one goes to heaven except through me.” (Jn. 14:6). “Believe in God; believe also in me” (Jn. 14:1).