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No verse has done more to separate Christians from others than John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” People often interpret that verse to mean that Jesus is the sole agent of salvation—for all time.
That often happens when one or two lines get taken out of context. The message of John 14:6, however, cannot be separated from John 14:1-5. These verses begin with acknowledging Christ’s disciples’ distress at recent events. Jesus counseled them in John: 14:1-2: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 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?”
On the face of it, this statement acknowledges many places of salvation in God’s House–and that Jesus’ departure, his coming martyrdom, would allow him to prepare a place for his disciples in heaven. That’s a far cry from any assertion that Jesus is the only agent of salvation–in fact, it’s the opposite.
Jesus then went on to explain that he was going to his Father’s house to prepare a dwelling place for his disciples. In that House, Jesus said, he would meet them. The verses in John 14: 3-4 read “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. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
The disciple Thomas, however, couldn’t follow the “way” metaphor Christ used. The next verse (5) reads: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” Then comes the famous verse cited above, John 14:6.
In context then, Jesus’ response effectively says: Disciples, when I am gone, follow my example (way)–in my being and actions I have shown you the way that will get you to the dwelling place I am preparing for you in my Father’s house. He then goes on to explain how he has mirrored the Father’s will so that anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father.
This clearly does not constitute a claim to be God’s sole agent for all time; it’s a claim that Jesus, like many messengers before him, reflected God’s agency for humanity.
The divine prophets of all the world’s great Faiths make this claim. It is clear to anyone who studies the life of Jesus that he lived a holy life and that he had a unique mission of salvation. It’s also a far cry from the out-of-context interpretation of John 14:6 often used by Christians to condemn people of other faiths.
On both logical and historical grounds, we know that spiritual salvation existed both before and after the historic Jesus. The Hebrew Bible tells of many divine agents who brought people to God long before Jesus. In addition, the Christian New Testament offers dozens of prophecies (almost 100) about divine agents who will guide people to God after the time of Jesus. Indeed, in the New Testament, the role of bringing all people together does not belong to Jesus, but rather to his return—to the Chief Shepherd (see for example 1 Peter 5:4).
Baha’is believe this has now occurred:
The function and purpose of a shepherd is to gather and not disperse his flock. The Prophets of God have been divine Shepherds of humanity. They have established a bond of love and unity among mankind, made scattered peoples one nation and wandering tribes a mighty kingdom. They have laid the foundation of the oneness of God and summoned all to universal peace. All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each One has announced and extolled the One Who was to follow, and all laid the foundation of reality. They summoned and invited the people to love and made the human world a mirror of the Word of God. Therefore, the divine religions They established have one foundation; Their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form They differ, but in reality They agree and are the same. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 151.
God’s activities on behalf of our souls have never been limited to a single person in a single time.
A common Christian rejoinder: Jesus is the only way to God, because he was really speaking as God’s preexisting Word or Will. That is true, but that Word did not speak only through Jesus. It spoke both before and after the historical Jesus. The process of salvation is very old, necessarily eternal, and all-embracing.
Baha’is do not believe that Jesus was just a philosopher, preacher, good man or occasional prophet. They view him as an infallible agent of God and acknowledge that his words were holy, transformative and binding. Further, Baha’is believe that salvation depends upon acceptance of the spiritual authority of God’s chosen agents. These agents speak across time on behalf of a single agent—God—calling us near, reaffirming the ancient path of morality, but also delivering necessary and timely adjustments dependent on the needs of the times.
Only God’s messengers have the authority to make these adjustments and thus, while the path is ancient, its requirements are often new. Responding to Jesus was the only way to respond to God’s will in his day, but he was not the first, nor the last prophet of God.
As Christ said, in God’s house there are many rooms and now, in this day, the whole house is being called to come together. That Baha’i message completely and consistently resonates with the whole of John 14.