Did you know that Christians have not always been called “Christians”? The earliest apprentices of Jesus only became know by this title later in the first century A.D. in the large, ethnically diverse, Syrian capital of Antioch (Acts 11:26)…. Throughout the pages of the New Testament these earliest of believers seemed to select other names for themselves like “saints,” “brothers,” and “disciples.” However, in referring to what and who they were following, the earliest self-description we know of is followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 11:26). And this description has no little significance. In describing what we call “Christianity” today as “The Way,” these first followers of Jesus made a radical claim about the person and work of Jesus.
The Hebrew people (and their own Scriptures) have employed the word “Torah” to describe not only the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), but also the entire collection of 39 books which make up the Old Testament….
Torah has been classically understood by the Hebrew people as laying out the way in which Israel might experience human flourishing…. “So,” you might ask, “what does this have to do with the name which the early Christians chose for themselves?”
Think about how radical to the Jewish mind it was when Jesus of Nazareth stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life….” (Jn 14:6-7). Jesus was putting himself on the same level as Torah. He asserted that only as one accessed God the Father through the person of Jesus could one expect to have a relationship with the Father. He daringly maintained that our human flourishing could only be realized by coming in contact with him.
You see, this is one primary way in which Jesus differentiates himself from other religious leaders/thinkers (Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, etc.). Such religious icons claim to be “way-showers” or “signposts.” That is, they point away from themselves and to the end or goal of human flourishing. But none claims to actually be “the way”, in and of himself. As John Stott writes in his classic book “Basic Christianity,” “(Jesus) was not just another signpost, but the destination to which the signposts had led”….
These first Jewish “Christians” then, understood Jesus to be equal with, even superior to, in function, Torah—God’s self-revelation to humanity…. Jesus is the divine logos, the true Torah, who makes God the Father known not just in his words or declarations, but in his very personal presence….
This is why Christians, or followers of the Way, have the most highly exalted view of Jesus possible. It would be inappropriate, even blasphemous, to offer worship to a mere mortal creature. But what about this Jesus, the God-man? What are we to make of one who, claiming to be “the gate,” then asserts that “all who ever came before me,” and all who “climb in by some other way” are “thieves and robbers” (Jn 10:1-10)?… To be a “Christian,” Jesus’ contemporaries understood, means nothing more and nothing less than throwing one’s entire life in to follow, and be identified with, the one who is the only door into which anyone may enter human fulfillment and flourishing. To be a Christian, for us too then, is to recognize that Jesus is quite simply, the only Way.