Our study of Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in the hours between the end of his public ministry and prior to his arrest and crucifixion bring us to one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. Before we read this verse, let’s review some of the threads which have set up Jesus’ answer to Thomas’s question.
First, the context is an intimate conversation with his disciples, following a very public display which infuriated the institutional powers of Religion and State. Jesus really “poked the bear” and he knows it’s gong to cost him his life.
Second, Jesus shows his disciples in an unforgettable object lesson what the leadership of his Kingdom looks like, namely, the leader is the foot washer, or servant leadership. This is to create the stark contrast to the institutional power plays right outside their doors.
Then he admonishes his disciples to lead from the bottom just as he has. He knows that no one can over-power the powers, and the design of his kingdom is to subvert the power-over with loving service and inclusion. Those who live, work and thrive in the “world” will be those who do not identify with any institutional power’s propaganda or power, but derive their identity from this other kingdom of love and service and humility. He said the world will know his kingdom people by their love.
Now he tells his disciples he’s going to die and that his death is not the end, but that he is going to return to the Father. This return to God, from where he came, is a return to “Being” itself, or divine union. He likewise reminds his disciples that they know the way to where Jesus is going, but this confuses Thomas and we saw last week that he asks Jesus; “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
It’s really easy to overlook that there are two dimensions to this conversation, one is spiritual or non-physical reality or (Truth) and the other is the present physical frame of view. This is common in Jesus’ teachings for he often used metaphor, allegory, or parables to help people see the other dimension to which his teachings point us. Thomas, like most of us, misses this nuance. Thomas’s question comes from the lower plane of reality or simply empirical existence. Jesus answers from the broader, Kingdom reality (Truth) which comprises both the physical and non-physical (spiritual).
This comprises the contextual set up to this question. We saw last week how Jesus revelation of this other dimension is “ontological” or based in ultimate “being” or existence. The return to the Father is directed to the disciples “inner selves” (kardia) and he tells them he is going to “take you to myself” where his disciples can join this divine union in Christ, in the Father or in Ultimate Reality. It is a return to our Maker our to find our “true inner self” in “the house/dwelling” of God. We cannot underscore enough that this “undefined” ultimate existence which comprises Ultimate Reality (both physical and spiritual) is Jesus returning to his ontological center, or what Church history has called heaven, but Jesus didn’t call it that.
Now we can hear Jesus answer.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:6-9)
This verse is known as Jesus claim of exclusivity. It has been interpreted and used by church history as a verse to prove that only those who convert to the Christian religion can go to Heaven. I’d bet money your pastor, TV preacher, or bible teach taught it to you in the same manner. I have included the wider context of the passage because most of us will never hear the whole thing, we only get the tribal meme.
So may I ask you?
- Is Jesus specifically speaking of what we know as the Christian religion and it’s contemporary conversion strategy? How could this be possible when Christianity didn’t even exist at this time?
- Is Jesus specifically speaking about “Going to Heaven” as we have been taught by church history? The confusion of Thomas and Philip represent those stuck in the lower dimension of the conversation, and Jesus’ answer reveals the conversation is not about Heaven per se, but about Jesus’ unique way of saying, “While I’m NOT the Father, I am also not OTHER than the FATHER.”
Now we can see how Church history went off the rails and became tribal. In fact all institutional powers and world religions are by definition extremely tribal. So if Jesus mission and work is to subvert tribal institutional powers with love of the “other” how is this passage a necessary prerequisite for entry into Heaven via the modern Christian religion? The answer is; “It’s not.”
Jesus claim of exclusivity is not unto the Christian religion, for every religion makes a similar claim of exclusivity. Jesus claim is not unto religion, but unto the Father or unto the very Being of God, “ontological center”. Exclusivity is not unto “Christianity” as we have come to know it, but unto Christ as the means all of human history has come to know God. He is not saying that only Christians go to heaven when they die. He is saying that if any person, anywhere, at anytime has ever had an experience with Ultimate reality, or God, it has only occurred because the Christ of God has brought the two dimensions of Reality (Truth) together. This is clearly Paul’s conclusion, that the experience of the Hebrew people (another religion) was a Christ experience. The same could be said for Moses (Exodus 17:6) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) who both hid in “the rock/cave” and then later met with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13)
“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4)
Jesus exclusivity is unto an understanding of the “true” Christology, not unto Christianity. It’s to help disciples (Thomas/Philip) see both dimensions of reality. This is proved out in Paul’s missionary journey’s and the establishment of the early Church. Christ following was never an alternative religion, but the freedom from institutional bondage. Today, we must not assume the Christian religion always possesses the correct Christology even though it talks about it the most. Some churches posses it, some don’t. In the same way, the Jews did not have the correct Theology about Yahweh. The correct Christology reveals that religion is too small. Salvation for the disciples was to place their faith in Christ, not in their institutional religion. Salvation for us today is precisely the same. True Christianity or biblical Christianity is not a religion, nor an irreligion, but a lifestyle of faith and striving to find and follow the Christ in and through life.
Let me break this down to all you Thomas’s and Philip’s out there.
The disciples knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ (anointed one) of God, but they primarily knew him as Jesus the man (as Jesus referred to himself; “son of man”) They still struggled to see God (the Father) from their religion’s framework, but they were conscious of the messianic promise and were witnessing it. Jesus is telling them that it is his ‘Messiahness” that is connecting them to God, not their religion. It is the very work of the Christ to bring together our physical reality and ultimate reality which comprises both the physical and non-physical (spiritual).
Is Jesus a man or God or both?
“I am the Way…” When a person has a transcendent experience, even a brief flash or moment where they consider, “there must be more to life,” this elevation in conscious awareness is exclusively, solely, and forever the work of the Christ. This is not religious conversion, this is spiritual awakening or seeing the other dimension. Perhaps at a gave side, or the birth of a baby, or an amazing sunset or view within creation. It may be a moment of inspiration, a creative impulse, or the means by which unlikely circumstances come together. All of these “human” experiences are brushes with Christ, the conduit unto Ultimate reality. Every moment of meditation, every prayer, inspired song, or live changing conversation…these are not coincidences, they are Christ, “the Way.”
“I am the Truth” When a person replaces the truth as it is for them with the wider truth as it actually is, this is the Christ experience. All learning, progression, gain of knowledge, scientific pursuit, is the gradual discovery of the Truth. Ultimate Reality, or capital “T” Truth, or God, is always a Christ experience. Whether you call it the burning bush for Moses, the overcoming of addiction, the quantum mechanics of sub-atomic particles, Bayes Theorem in mathematics, engineering or arts, all of these comprise a gradual conformity to the Truth which lays beyond our ability to grasp it all. All discovery of Truth disrupts or “subverts” our established framework for reality and brings within it an incremental advancement toward that which is ultimately True or Real. That impulse within us all to seek Truth, is the function of the Christ drawing us all “unto himself“, coming back for us all to the Fathers house, and he does so with a room, or framework which is perfectly suited to you and your individual “inner/true self”. That impulse which is evident in all of us is the Christ. “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
“I am the Life…” Bodily death isn’t the end of life, and our birth is not the beginning of it. Our life is integral to our bodies, but not limited to them. At the moment prior to our death, our bodies possess life. The moment after, they do not. The life, then is something other than mere biochemistry, it exists outside of and despite the workings of our bodies as evidenced by countless studies in consciousness. Even now, in quantum science, we have discovered how consciousness comes prior to and alters the physical world. This life is not “us” nor “ours” as we understand it. It is the larger, non-diminishing energy of all creation, that is given to and shared among everything thing that lives. This force or energy, has another name, that of “Christ”. The Christ life is not the tree, the animal, or the person, but in and through and prior to all of these. Jesus, the man in history, is said to be the perfect embodiment of this life, the life and glory of God, and we are said to be born in the image of God, possessing this life. Because life is so common, we are oblivious to its full revelation, and yet, life is always found to be treasured and beautiful. When it isn’t, we unanimously call this evil, regardless of our upbringing.
The fact that “no one comes to the Father except by me” is not an indictment to humanity to convert to a religion, it is a return to what the Hebrew’s called the “Shama”, the Lord is One , not merely in a monotheistic sense, but in a sense of total convergence. Paul later put it this way:
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6-7)
Within the “spiritual dimension” Jesus reveals that there is far more going on than most people perceive. In fact, this spiritual dimension comprises most of reality and the work of Christ is to reconnect humanity to all that is real, or true, or THE TRUTH. We are constantly bumping up against it, but like Thomas and Philip we are often oblivious to it.
I’ve said a lot today, and there is much more still to say. I hope you can see that I just popped the lid off of entirely new way to think about the Bible and a life of faith. The ripple effect of this kind of seeing will deconstruct much of church history so it may take some time to digest. The religious establishment will and has always rejected this message, or gospel, preached by Jesus and practiced by so many over the millennia. It’s now our time for “rethink and to think again” about all this stuff. The biblical word for this rethinking, is “metanoia“, or repentance. If “rethinking” is the entry point to gaining eyes to see, then perhaps, placing these words within a new context, is exactly what the world needs right now.
May we all hear these words again, perhaps, for the very first time.