“You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going,
so how can we know the way?” John 14:4-5
This is an interesting exchange because the disciples apparently know something they do not realize they know. Jesus insists, and I do not believe that he is mistaken, that the disciples do know these things. So why were they confused?
As is often the case with us as well, they tended to think about what Jesus said literally and in an earthly sense. Thomas likely assumed Jesus meant some location that one could find on a map, perhaps another town or city. Without knowing the destination it would be impossible to follow the route to get there.
However, Jesus was speaking figuratively of a journey of the soul and not just the body. Everything he had been teaching them was how to travel into a closeness with God, into oneness through love, and he had explained in detail how to do it. He had announced the coming near of God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:17) and had taught extensively how one might enter, receive, and live within it.
In some respects, Jesus had always been in that place.
That where I am, there you may he also. John 14:3
I and the Father are one. John 10:30
Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me . . . John 11:41-42
And yet, in another sense, he was returning to the closeness that he had previously shared with the Father (John 17:5). Jesus believed that he was headed into the beauty of a more profound fellowship and intimacy with his Father, which we commonly call heaven. Though he had emptied himself in becoming human (Philippians 2:6-7), Jesus lived his life thoroughly present to God, and God to him.
Our journey is into that rich fellowship with God. It is not to a place but into a love. We cross not physical distances, but come from the far country of spiritual separation, on account of our ignorance, rebellion, and willfulness, to the home of union with God.
When Jesus promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), we are being assured that we are and will always be inseparably related to God throughout our life in this world. In a sense, we are always in heaven through the abiding presence of Christ.
Trusting Jesus, what he shows, teaches, and graciously does, is how we live into the kingdom, relationship, and presence of God. Jesus is clearly the way to this experience of love.
The disciples did know where Jesus was going. He was returning to the Father, the One he had shown them and into whose care he had entrusted them. The reign of God that Jesus announced and brought near is his gift to join into the eternal life of God’s presence.