The title of this article is something that our Lord Jesus said and is recorded in the Gospel of John. The reason I chose this as the title of the article is because Jesus repeated this statement several times, in slight variations. Anything that is repeated in the Bible, you pay attention. Anything that is repeated more than once requires intense scrutiny!
So, the places where this phrase is used, or a variation of it are:
“You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”
“So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.””
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”
“Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
The interesting part about all these uses of a very similar language construct is that in the original Greek, they all vary enough to be somewhat distinct. The meaning is obviously similar. Let’s examine the context of what Jesus is saying, and to whom he is speaking in order to give ourselves a better understanding.
In the first statement (John 7:34), Jesus is speaking at the Temple to the Pharisees and Chief Priests. It’s not clear from the text, whether he made the statement directly to them, or through the officers who were sent to arrest him (by the Pharisees and Chief Priests). However, one thing is clear, the meaning in this case is that Jesus is telling them that their “Works” based “Religion” is not sufficient to get them to Heaven. In fact, no person is able, under their own power, to get to Heaven. Jesus had been telling them that anyone who seeks to do the will of the Father will listen and obey the teaching of the Son (Jesus).
In the second statement (John 8:21), Jesus is again speaking at the Temple (near the Treasury) to the Pharisees and he repeats his earlier statement with a slight variation: Jesus tells them where he is going they cannot come. This is a contrast to the earlier statement in that in John’s gospel, the words “eimi egO” are used (in verse 7:34) in the “where I am” (a reference to the “I am” possibly?) but in their usage as a pronoun or object form (not as a subject as in the 7 distinct “I AM” statements) and thus are reversed from their usual ordering in the “egO eimi” used elsewhere.
The second usage omits the “eimi” completely and simply uses the present active form of the verb to denote “am going” and so gives us this slight variation in the two texts. The meaning, however, is obviously the same, since Jesus’ audience is the same set of people, he means to tell them the same sad news – that their “Religiosity” will not get them to the prize of “Eternal life” in Heaven. Jesus had been speaking to them of the “Witness” about himself given by both himself as well as the Father’s testimony. Thus, here, Jesus tells them they must believe the teaching because the witness about himself is valid.
At this point in John’s gospel, we can ascertain that the Pharisees have asked him (Jesus) those three important questions: “Where did you come from?” Jesus’ answer to that was simple: “Heaven”. They also asked him from where he got his teaching? To which Jesus also replied: “Heaven”. The third question is the one we are dealing with here, and they simply cannot understand his response when he tells them where he is going: “Heaven”. It is just not in their framework of understanding to be able to make that leap of faith to assume that God himself would come to earth to both show us who he is and teach us about himself.
Thus, the last usage of this phrase in John 13:33 and John 13:36 gives us a different perspective on Jesus’ teaching about where He is going. In the last case (taking both of these passages together), Jesus is addressing the disciples (during the “Last Supper”). Specifically, the usage here indicates that Jesus is referring to his impending death on the cross. In response to the Lord’s first using this passage along with the new commandment to love one another, Peter asks the dreaded question: “Lord, where are you going?” To which the Lord answers, using the third variation of our text: “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward.” In reality, there is a double-meaning here, since Jesus’ statement indicates both his appointment with death on the cross, as well as his return to Heaven after the resurrection.
The second part, the additional phrase “but you will follow me afterward” may also carry a double meaning in that Jesus is telling Peter and the other disciples that they will be suffering death for the Kingdom of God also. As John is the only disciple who did not suffer a martyr’s death, we can infer that Jesus may have only been speaking this double meaning to Peter, or possibly some of the other disciples as well.
Is he also speaking to other believers in this third passage? That is the real question for all of us as followers of Jesus here in the “Church age”. I believe the message from both these statements Jesus made to the Pharisees as well as his follow on statement to Peter and the disciples gives us a clear imperative to avoid “Religiosity” or simple outward observance of the law, thinking that will gain us entry into Heaven, and instead to repent (surrender, turn from our sin to Jesus) and believe in him and follow his commands, to love one another most of all, and to do everything possible to serve the Kingdom of God and spread the gospel message to all people!