When you hear the name Jesus, what’s the first word that comes to mind? You might say loving, compassionate, or all-powerful. I imagine one word
that isn’t at the top of anyone’s list is intolerant. To call Jesus intolerant borders on blasphemy, we think. But that is because we have confused the Jesus of the Bible with the Jesus of our imagination.
Dorothy Sayers wrote, “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah [and] certified him ‘meek and mild.’ . . . . We cannot blink at the fact that Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger.”1
When it comes to the issue of salvation, it is critical that we base our beliefs on what Jesus actually said instead of what we wish He had said. As we look at what He taught about three specific subjects, we will see that Jesus firmly believed that not all roads lead to heaven.
What Jesus Taught about His Uniqueness
Let’s consider what Jesus taught about His uniqueness. What made Jesus unique?
First, Jesus claimed to be God. In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” I AM is the most holy name for God—the name by which God identified Himself to Moses. With those two little words, Jesus was saying, “I am God.”
We find another example when Jesus was standing trial in front of Caiaphas, the high priest. In Mark 14:61, Caiaphas asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus answered, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (v. 62). This was a quote from the book of Daniel about the Messiah’s second coming. Jesus was saying, “I am the fulfillment of that prophecy.”
Look at Caiaphas’s reaction: “‘You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (vv. 63–64). Jesus wasn’t crucified for telling people to turn the other cheek; He was crucified for claiming to be the Son of God.
Jesus also claimed that belief in Him leads to eternal life. No other religious leader has ever tied eternal life to what you believe about that leader. In John 6:40, Jesus said, “Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus was saying, “If you want to have eternal life in heaven, you must believe in Me.”
What Jesus Taught about His Death
People talk about Jesus’s death as if it were an unlucky, tragic end to an otherwise happy story. No, His death was always part of the plan. Jesus said, “No one has taken [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). He taught over and over again that His death was central to His mission.
Why was His death central? In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The Greek word for “ransom” referred to payment that was made to buy a slave out of the slave market. That is what Jesus did for us. You and I were born into this world slaves of Satan, but Jesus, seeing our plight, ransomed us out of the market of sin and death with His own blood. The only way Jesus could secure our freedom was by His death. That’s why He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There is no way to heaven except through Jesus.
What Jesus Taught about Personal Faith
Jesus repeatedly said belief in Him is the link to eternal life:
“He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life” (John 5:24).
“Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40).
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25–26).
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? It does not mean to agree intellectually to certain facts about Jesus. You can believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world and still go to hell when you die. After all, Satan and his demons believe those things (James 2:19).
When missionary John G. Paton was translating the New Testament for the residents of the New Hebrides islands, he struggled to find a word for belief or faith. One day, he lifted his feet off the ground, leaned
back in his chair, and asked one of the islanders to describe what he was doing. The man said in his native language, “You are leaning wholly on the chair.” Instantly, Paton knew he had the word he was looking for.2 To believe in Jesus means to put your whole weight upon Him, to depend upon Him completely. You are trusting in Him alone—not your works, your baptism, or your church membership—for your salvation.
Jesus taught that we are in danger of eternal death, and God in His graciousness sent Christ to die for us. But we must be willing to lean wholly upon the Savior. According to Jesus Himself, that is the only way to be saved.
1. Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 4, 55.
2. W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Christian Life and How to Live It (Chicago: Moody, 1919), 30–31.