The I AM Statements in John: I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life

God was there. While from a distance, it may have appeared that the entire tabernacle structure was the residence of the Almighty, a closer look showed that the Lord’s location was much more specific and precise. At the westernmost part of this rectangular structure stood a piece of furniture over which the Lord had promised to meet and commune with His people “above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” (Exo 25:22).[1]

While much is made of the significance of the ark and the mercy seat because they marked the presence of God, Jehovah was adamant when emphasizing the importance of every detail of the tabernacle (Heb 8:5). Each vessel described to Moses was necessary if God was to dwell in the company of a sin-defiled people. Furthermore, for the congregation’s representative to enter into the immediate presence of God, every detail of feature and function must be observed; the way in depended on each vessel being made to God’s standard.

John’s Gospel is tabernacle-influenced from beginning to end. One of its nuanced themes is that the Lord Jesus is the antitype of the tabernacle’s furniture. Let’s see if our simple search can locate each tabernacle vessel in the fourth Gospel.

The Mercy Seat: Skillfully crafted by Bezaleel and found in the holiest place, it is the material of the propitiatory that interests us most: it was made from pure gold. Gold, speaking to us of deity, stops us at the first verse in John’s Gospel where we read, “The Word was God.” At the very outset, we are left with no doubt about the deity of the Lord Jesus. He is God.

The Ark: This chest, inseparably linked with the mercy seat, was composed of a different substance: the fine-grained, “incorruptible” shittim wood overlaid with pure gold. And so we have another picture brought before us. The gold remains present, but now it is combined with a symbol of Christ’s holy humanity. In this we have a beautiful picture of the incarnation, and we marvel at the words of John 1:14, “And the Word was made [became] flesh.”

The Altar of Incense: One of the three items in the “first tabernacle” (Heb 9:6) was the golden altar used to burn incense continually. Incense can be a picture of at least two different aspects of Christ. First, it is the pleasure His life brought to the Father, which we notice in John 8:29, “I do always those things that please him.” Then, we acknowledge that incense illustrates prayer (Psa 141:2; Rev 5:8), and find the High Priestly character of the Lord’s prayer in John 17 to fulfill this type.

The Table of Shewbread: The bread displayed on this table was to be fine flour made into pierced cakes and baked with frankincense. This speaks of the Lord Jesus in His perfect humanity, whose life of suffering and sorrow brought forth a sweet-smelling savour to His Father. We see this theme of bread enlarged in the Lord’s Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6.

The Golden Candlestick: Again, the gold takes precedence, and Christ’s deity and Spirit-filled ministry are displayed. But primarily, this lampstand was designed to give light, and we do not need to stretch our imaginations in seeing John’s Gospel here. From chapter one’s “In him was light” to chapter eight’s “I AM the light of the world,” His character illuminates the pages of the fourth Gospel.

The Brazen Altar: In the tabernacle’s outer court were two items. The first item one would see upon entering the court would be this altar, made of wood overlayed with brass (copper). We see in this the vicarious sacrifice and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. We could view this fulfilled in the Baptizer’s words, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” But we also know that John’s description of the sufferings of Christ, culminating in the triumphant cry of “Finished!” takes us to this altar without which there would be no access to God.

The Laver of Brass: This item was designed for cleansing, apart from which a person could never enter the door of the tabernacle. The water of the laver is a figure of the Word of God and its cleansing effect. The foot-washing discourse at the beginning of the upper room ministry reminds us of the necessity of holiness and is John’s answer to the laver of brass.

To summarize, viewing the pathway into the holy of holies from the gate, one must first come across the brazen altar (which speaks of Christ), wash at the laver (which pictures His cleansing power), and then enter the door to view the table of shewbread, golden candlestick and the altar of incense, all functioning in harmony to illustrate Him. Finally, moving into the presence of the Shekinah glory, the ark and mercy seat testify to the beauty and character of the Son. Every step of the way, we see Him because He is the way. So it is that the Lord Jesus Christ is our way to the Father.

But let’s consider another reference to help us. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that even with those vessels and sacrifices, only the High Priest could enter into the holiest, alone once a year. No others could ever enter Jehovah’s immediate presence, as “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Heb 9:8). In contrast, consistent with Hebrews’ theme of “better things,” we are taught that because of the blood of Christ, every individual Christian has confidence to enter into the holiest (10:19).

The blood gives us boldness in the presence of God, but what about the way in? That is addressed with the words “by a new and living way …” (v20). This way, through the heavenly veil, is His flesh. Now, because a real Man has entered into the presence of God under a better covenant based on better sacrifices and better promises, today and every day we move into the holiest of all places, where, with assurance, I address God as my Father. His presence there has procured and preserves my access to the Father; He is the Way.

With this, our three-part study of this saying is complete. He is the way to know the Father (Joh 14:9). As our Bridegroom, He is the way to the Father’s house. As the fulfillment of all tabernacle furniture and priestly function, He is our way into the Father’s holy presence right now!

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.