Jesus' ministry occurred at a time in Israel when different groups were absolutely certain that they knew "the way" to gain God's approval. Each of the Jewish groups in Palestine correctly identified the true and living God. Each of them, in their own understanding, were committed to the true and living God. However, each group was in basic, serious disagreement on the means of identifying the will of the true and living God.
The Pharisees basically declared that the means to gaining God's approval was through correctly keeping the proper rites. Though they were devoted to many rites, it seems they especially stressed cleanliness laws [regulations that promoted or protected purity] and Sabbath laws [regulations that kept Saturday a holy day by defining and prohibiting work]. To do the will of God, they said it was essential to have the correct practices demonstrated by doing the right things in the right ways. That was the way to be true to God and true to scripture.
The Sadducees stressed what many Christian's today would classify as a materialism. They noted the fact that God blessed the Jewish forefathers through material things. They stressed God's material promises to Israel. For example, God blessed Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and their descendants materially. God by promise gave Jacob's descendants Canaan and Esau's descendants Edom [Mount Seir] (see Deuteronomy 2:4-7). God brought Israel's ancestors out of Egypt with valuable gifts from the Egyptians--material blessings (see Exodus 12:35, 36). God sustained their ancestors in the wilderness--material blessings. God gave their ancestors Canaan complete with (a) cities and homes they did not build and (b) established orchards and vineyards they did not plant--material blessings. Deuteronomy 28 declared the conditions that produced Israel's prosperity or the conditions that guaranteed Israel's curses--each material in emphasis. The Sadducees placed total confidence in material blessings. A proper pursuit of the material was the way to be devoted to God's will.
The Zealots stressed only God had the right to rule Canaan. When people who were not Israelites were in political control of Canaan, their political control seriously affronted God. Why? Only God was King of Palestine, and God ruled through His chosen people, Israel. Zealots often used violence against those collecting Roman taxes or collaborating with Roman control. The way to serve God's will was through violently opposing any political force that challenged Israel's political position in Palestine.
The Essenes considered Israel's first century society hopelessly corrupt. Temple worship was so corrupted that no devout Israelite could worship there. The way to follow the will of God was (a) to withdraw from Jewish society, (b) live in separatist communities dedicated to purity, and (c) live an ascetic lifestyle (a lifestyle of deliberate physical hardship).
It was in this context that Jesus declared that he was the way to God. He did not declare he was a way to God, but THE way to God. In fact, God could not be reached unless people came through him. The fact that Jesus Christ is "the way" was affirmed throughout the New Testament. Jesus said of himself, "I am the door" (John 10:9). He plainly stated that access to security was through him.
Paul declared to the Christians in Rome that it was through Christ that they had peace with God (Romans 5:1,2). He is our access to God's grace, and God's grace enables the Christian to stand. Without faith in him, there can be no peace with God, no access to divine grace.
Paul also wrote to the Christians in Ephesus that through him [Jesus Christ] we [both those who were Israelites by physical birth and those who were not] have access to God (Ephesians 2:18). In other words, he is the way to God for all people.
The author of the writing called Hebrews declared Jesus Christ to be the "new and living way" into the temple's holy place (Hebrews 10:19-21). Through Jesus Christ's blood any Christian could do what any Israelite would consider unthinkable--go into the immediate presence of God. That is possible because Jesus Christ is our high priest before God. He is our way to God.
Interestingly, the earliest known designation for Christianity was "the Way." Paul [before his conversion to Jesus Christ] wanted authority from the high priest to go to a Jewish synagogue in another country. His intent was to arrest Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was the resurrected Christ, bind them, and return them to Jerusalem for trial. He wanted to arrest anyone "found belonging to the Way" (see Acts 9:1, 2). Years later, when the Christian Paul taught in Ephesus, some Jewish opponents "spoke evil of the Way before the people (multitude)," and Paul withdrew from the synagogue (Acts 19:9). Later the devotees to Artemis caused a major disturbance in Ephesus concerning "the Way" (Acts 19:23). Speaking of his prechristian hatred for those who followed Jesus, Paul said he "persecuted this Way to the death" (Acts 22:4). Paul said his enemies called the Way a sect, but he served the God of the Jewish fathers according to the Way believing everything that was in the Law and prophets (Acts 24:14). Acts notes that even Felix who had a Jewish wife, Drusilla, had "a more exact knowledge about the Way" (Acts 24:22). Acts 24:24 makes a connection between the Way and faith in Jesus Christ.
The Way? Why the Way? In Jesus words, "...No one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6). Jesus was "the Way." Jesus is "the Way." Jesus always will be "the Way." Those who find Jesus find "the Way." Those who want to find God follow Jesus.
For the Christian of today, the fact that Jesus is the way to God the Father is not a theoretical matter. It is not a philosophical curiosity to tantalize our thoughts as we offer opinions about Jesus' necessity or Jesus' identity. The issue is much bigger than "who is the correct group" or "what movement should I recognize?" As important as those questions are, something is more important.
Who can show and tell us God's concerns and purposes? Who can show and tell us the human character God classifies as godliness? Who can show and tell us what godly integrity is? Who can show and tell us the meaning of following God? Who can show and tell us human behavior that is righteous behavior by God's standards? Jesus can show and tell us. He is the way to God. Only through him am I able to see God's priorities. Only through him can I see what the person who belongs to God looks like.
Why is it so challenging to live in this world and follow Jesus as the way to God?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 10
previous page | table of contents | next lesson