We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. Yesterday, we looked at the overall theme of the speech: don’t worry, but trust Jesus – who is God’s authorised representative. Today, Jesus starts to fill out what that means.
Jesus gives access to the Father
Straight after reassuring them not to worry, but to trust in him, Jesus gives a reason. They won’t be without him forever. In fact, he has to go for a while, in order for them to be with him forever:
John 14:2-3 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
The background to this image is found in the marriage customs of the day. A couple would become engaged by the guy travelling to the girl’s house and asking her father’s permission to marry. The prospective groom would then leave to go back to his own father’s house, to prepare a place for them to live together. But before he leaves, he makes a promise to his fiancée to return, saying: ‘I go to prepare a place for you; if I go, I will return again to you.’ He then wouldn’t see his bride until the wedding day, giving him an incentive to build quickly.
This is a bit different from customs in the West today. Most engaged men don’t spend several months building extensions onto their parents’ house. They spend it instead searching for rental properties that cost less per week than their combined incomes. And, of course, they know the date of the wedding.
But back in the first century, the wedding date wasn’t fixed like that. Probably because you didn’t have to worry about booking photographers, limousines, and reception venues. In fact, the wedding could only happen when the groom’s father approved of his son’s preparations. So if you asked the young groom when his wedding would be, he could only say, ‘no-one knows except my father’.
In using this analogy from everyday life, Jesus is saying to the disciples: don’t worry when I’m gone. It means I’m getting things ready so we can be together forever. So you can live forever where I am, and where God, my father, is.
Jesus’ absence, then – his coming death – doesn’t mean that he’s failed as God’s representative. Rather his absence – his sacrifice on the cross – is what makes it possible for us to have access to God.
He alone gives access to the Father
And as God’s authorised representative, he alone controls that access:
John 14:4-6 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Again, we see echoes of Moses: the Old Testament describes the Israelites’ path through the desert as ‘the way’. And again, Jesus claims to be the one who gives access to God. In fact, the only one who can give that access.
Now what follows might be a lame comparison, but it quite accurately reflects the analogy from first century society that Jesus was drawing on. And that is: getting in contact with God is a lot like contacting a famous person today. You can’t just knock on their door or give them a call. Your only hope is to go through their agent. The agent is the one who controls who gets to see them and who doesn’t. And the only reason the agent has that kind of control is that they have been given that authority by the celebrity themselves.
At a time when the popular view is that all paths lead to God, it’s important that we understand what the Bible says about this. Here, Jesus claims to be the only authorised agent. Not Mohammad, not Buddha, not even Moses any more. Jesus said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
And further back in John’s gospel, Jesus claims that God has given him this authority to decide who can come to the Father:
John 5:21-22, 27 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son… 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
In effect, God has said: ‘if you want to get in touch with me, talk to my agent – talk to Jesus.’ These days, we are also, in a sense, God’s agents. We don’t get to decide who comes to the Father. That’s still Jesus’ job. But we are the first point of contact. When people want to get in touch with God, all they should need to do is talk to one of his agents. God has offices everywhere!
Jesus alone can give access to the Father. That means that, among all the religions, we alone have the message of salvation. That’s not arrogance. It’s simply putting into practice Jesus’ command: ‘trust in God; trust also in me’. Trust that he is God’s only authorised representative. That he is the only way, the way of truth and life.