Wineskins Archive

December 4, 2013

In My Father’s House (Dec 2012)

Filed under: — @ 2:20 pm and

By Al Maxey

It was the night of His betrayal and arrest. The events associated with the Last Supper were very quickly coming to an end. The feet of the disciples had been washed; Judas had left to carry out his mission. Our Lord was engaged in conversation with the eleven remaining men who had walked so closely with Him during the past three years. Choosing words designed to bring them comfort for the trials that lay ahead, He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NKJV).

These words have been the source of tremendous encouragement and comfort for countless disciples during the intervening centuries from that night until now. As His people face the trials and tribulations of this life, as they boldly serve their Lord and proclaim His grace amidst an ever growing and encroaching spiritual darkness, resolved to remain faithful unto death, hearts are cheered at the thought of those “mansions” our Lord and Savior has gone to prepare. Indeed, our hymns are filled with such rapturous expectations and contemplations:

“I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we’ll never grow old; and some day yonder we will never more wander, but walk the streets that are purest gold.”

“There’s a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar; for the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a dwelling place there.”

Yes, there are a few inaccuracies in these beloved hymns — it is the Son who has gone to prepare for us this dwelling place, not the Father, and it is a street (singular) of gold that awaits us, not streets of gold. But such discrepancies, unnoticed by most disciples who sing these words, in no way detract from the blessed assurance we have of this great reality. We’re on our way home! We can’t wait to arrive in that sweet by-and-by! Won’t it be wonderful there?!

As precious and promising as this passage is, however, it has nevertheless raised some questions among some disciples who have paused to ponder it’s soteriological and eschatological messages more deeply. In what sense does Jesus “prepare a place” for His disciples? What exactly needs to be done in that fair land that has not already been accomplished? In other words, what is the nature of these preparations? There has also been some debate among biblical scholars as to what specific events are in view in our Lord’s “going” and “coming again.” Does the former refer to His death or His ascension? As for the “coming again,” is this a reference to His resurrection, the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost, or His Parousia? And just what are these “mansions” of which Jesus speaks? Are they literal or figurative? Strangely, this beautiful, comforting passage of Scripture has become, in some theological circles, a heated battleground.

Our Mansion
“In My Father’s house are many mansions.” This is the rendition of the KJV, the ASV of 1901, and the NKJV. When we sing of that “mansion over the hilltop,” we again reinforce the wording of these versions. Not all translations of the text use this word, however. A great many inform us that within the heavenly Father’s house there are “many rooms” [NIV, RSV, CEV, ESV, and Hugo McCord’s translation, just to name a few]. The NASB, NEB, NAB, again just to name a few, say that in the Father’s house are “many dwelling places.” The NWT reads, “many abodes.” So, which is it? There is, after all, quite a huge difference between a “mansion” and a “room.” Further, has anyone ever wondered how there can be a mansion inside of a house?

The familiar phrase, “My Father’s house,” of course, is figurative, not literal, and is a poetic reference to the eternal abode of our God. Obviously, the word “house” is not to be taken literally, as we know from Acts 7:48 — “The Most High does not live in houses made by men.” He is too vast to be contained in a box, no matter how impressive that box might appear to us. The Jews often referred to their temple in Jerusalem as the “House of God,” but even this location was not the exclusive residence of deity.

R.C.H. Lenski, in his commentary on the gospel of John, sees in the use of the terms “Father” and “house” a tender depiction of His familial love. “He has a house, a home, to which the ‘household of God’ now on earth (Ephesians 2:19) and all His children (Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:14-17) shall be transferred. All the tenderness and the attractiveness, the restfulness and the happiness that lie in the word ‘home’ are thus in the loftiest degree applied to heaven. With only a stroke or two Jesus draws a picture which fills us pilgrims, who are still far from home, with both heavenly homesickness and the sure hope of soon reaching our home” [p. 970]. David expressed this longing when he wrote those inspiring words, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” (Psalm 23:6).

Within this heavenly home — our Father’s “house” — are many “mansions.” The word mansion “appears only once in the KJV at John 14:2, where it is an apparent carry-over from the Latin Vulgate word ‘mansiones,’ meaning ‘abiding places.’ With the passage of time, the word ‘mansion’ has come to have an idea of grandiosity not intended by the original Greek nor the Latin translation” [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1075]. “‘Mansion’ is derived from the Latin, but this does not mean a palatial house. A room set apart for each person is connoted” [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 69]. The Greek word employed by the apostle John is “mone,” which is “a cognate of the verb ‘meno’ (to remain, abide); it expresses the permanence of the believer’s dwelling in the Father’s house” [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 241].

“The true meaning of the Greek term is ‘abiding places,’ ‘abodes,’ or ‘dwelling places'” [Wycliffe, vol. 2, p. 1075]. “Permanent abiding places” [Lenski, p. 970]. “The imagery of a dwelling place (‘rooms’) is taken from the oriental house in which the sons and daughters have apartments under the same roof as their parents” [Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 143]. “Our Lord alludes here to the temple, which was called the house of God, in the precincts of which there were a great number of chambers — 1 Kings 6:5; Ezra 8:29; Jeremiah 35:2, 4; 36:10” [Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, vol. 5, p. 622].

The view before our eyes here is of a magnificent, eternal home in which all the children of the Father will be privileged to dwell “under one roof.” We’re all family — His spiritual household — so it is only natural that we would dwell together. David’s prayer, “Let me dwell in Thy tent forever” (Psalm 61:4), will be realized. And just “who may abide in Thy tent?” asks David (Psalm 15:1). The answer is: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He who does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Psalm 15:2-3). In other words, we are family … so we had better act like it. Otherwise, don’t count on dwelling within the Father’s house.

“Home of the soul, beautiful home, there we shall rest, never to roam; free from all care, happy and bright, Jesus is there, He is the light. Oft, in the storm, lonely are we, sighing for home, longing for thee, beautiful home of the ransomed, beside the crystal sea” [from the hymn: “Home of the Soul”]. “How beautiful heaven must be, sweet home of the happy and free; fair haven of rest for the weary; how beautiful heaven must be” [from the hymn: “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”]. Jesus wanted His troubled disciples, both then and now, to appreciate, and anticipate, the joys of home. It will bring us an inner peace while we sojourn as “strangers and exiles upon the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). There is a beautiful, eternal home to which we are headed, “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Will there be ample space in this home for me? Will it be big enough? Will there be a room in the house just for me? Our Lord’s words address the unspoken question of the disciples — “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you” (John 14:2, NIV). “The apparent teaching is that there is plenty of room for the disciples in the Father’s house. … in the Father’s house there will be an abundance of rooms for all believers in the life to come” [Wycliffe, vol. 2, p. 1075]. “A room set apart for each person is connoted” [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 69]. “There is room in heaven for the whole family of God” [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, part 2, p. 232]. “Why is the great house so spacious and commodious? Because it has been constructed to contain multitudes of inhabitants” ibid, p. 237]. Many rooms for many children! How terribly sad that some of God’s children here on earth do not realize the spaciousness of the Father’s house, thus declaring a great many of their spiritual siblings to be unwelcome in that heavenly home! I think many disciples are in for quite a surprise one day. Someone said the most frequent expression to be heard that day will be: “I certainly didn’t expect to see you here!” Thank God for His grace! Maybe we should all start learning to live together here, since our Father’s plan is for us to live together there. Why not get a head start?!

In our Lord’s comforting, encouraging words to these eleven devoted disciples, and by extension to us as well, we also clearly perceive the permanence of this dwelling within the house of the Lord. The Greek word which the KJV translates “mansion” is actually “mone,” “which expresses the permanence of the believers dwelling in the Father’s house” [ISBE, vol. 3, p. 241]. It comes from a word which simply means “to remain, abide.” In the Father’s house are many abiding places; many “rooms” within which we may forever remain. “It is derived from ‘menein’ — ‘to abide permanently;’ the word indicates the believer’s eternal, unchangeable and final home in the House of God” [Zondervan, vol. 4, p. 69]. To those who overcome, Jesus has promised that He will make them “a pillar in the temple of My God, and they will not go out from it anymore” (Revelation 3:12). Our sojourn will be over; our wilderness wandering will at long last be at an end. “The settled life is thought of rather than the wandering one” [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, part 2, p. 260].

Going – Preparing – Coming
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3, NKJV). Our Lord speaks of going, of making preparation, and of coming again. One might think the interpretation here would be a rather simple and obvious one, however one would be wrong. There has been some significant debate over just where Jesus was going, and also just when, and in what manner, and for what purpose, He would return. How one answers these questions will have a tremendous impact upon how one then interprets the statement that He has gone to make preparation. First, consider some of the theories relating to His going: 
The Cross — A few biblical scholars, though they are very much in the minority, believe Jesus was speaking of going to His death on a cross. After all, the closer that event came, the more He prepared His disciples for it. Indeed, immediately prior to the passage under review, Jesus, speaking of His passion, said, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. … Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33). Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (vs. 36). Jesus responded, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Most scholars feel Jesus was speaking of His own death, and also the fact that Peter would years later follow the Lord to his own cross in the city of Rome. It is at this point that Jesus makes the statement about going to prepare a place for them. It doesn’t take a wealth of insight to perceive that it was at the cross that our Lord Jesus Christ truly prepared for each of us a dwelling place in His Father’s house.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22). In a statement that almost echoes this thought, Jesus declared, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). At the cross, Jesus would prepare the way to the home of the Father; that pathway would be through His personal sacrifice. Therefore, when Jesus went to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house, it was to the cross that He went to make that preparation. “This statement about the many mansions must thus be read in connection with the mission of Jesus and its accomplishment” [Lenski, p. 970]. Some would interpret that “mission” to be His atoning sacrifice on the cruel cross, through which preparation was made for us to dwell forever with the Father. “Jesus left by the road of death; He will return by the road of life” [Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 143].

The Father’s House — Although the former view has much to commend it, and we certainly can’t deny that our Lord truly did make preparation for us at the cross, nevertheless the far more popular view is that Jesus spoke of going to the Father’s house where He would make preparation for our arrival. This leads to a rather significant question, however — just exactly what needs to be prepared? Is not that home with God already prepared? In Matthew 25:34, where Jesus speaks of His return to claim His own, He tells us that these words shall be heard: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Thus, what additional preparation is required? By the way, the same Greek word is used in both places (John 14:2-3; Matthew 25:34) – “hetoimazo,” which means “to make ready; to prepare.” The Pulpit Commentary asks, “Is this to be taken as a real preparation, or is it only a way of speaking? Is there now some actual work of the glorified Jesus going on which amounts to a necessary preparation for His glorified people? Surely it must be so!” [vol. 17, part 2, p. 260]. Just as God, the Creator, made earth ready for habitation by men, “in like manner Jesus is making heaven ready” [ibid], although one is still left wondering just what was previously lacking that now must be prepared, and is it really taking Him hundreds and thousands of years to accomplish this task?

Interesting questions!

Most of those who embrace this view feel that the use of the term “preparation” is purely a figure of speech, and is not to be taken literally. In other words, we should not create this picture in our minds of Jesus “up in Heaven” feverishly “building and decorating mansions” so that they will all be ready when the Father gives the signal it is time for Him to return and lead the redeemed home. Jesus is merely using terms and phrases that would have been meaningful to the disciples. Just as Jesus sent several of them ahead, on that very same day, to prepare a place where they could all surround the table and observe the final Passover meal together (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13), so now does Jesus suggest to them that He will go ahead of them and prepare that eternal feast at the table of the Father. David, when speaking of the house of God in which he longed to dwell forever, said, “Thou dost prepare a table before me” (Psalm 23:6). In our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Feast, we find the king saying, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner … come to the wedding feast” (Matthew 22:4). Jesus has gone to the Father’s house (this took place at the ascension) to make ready that eternal wedding feast. John was told to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).

I am personally of the view that much of the language of the Lord to these disciples was figurative, and that it had reference to the Jewish wedding customs, with which these disciples would have been very familiar. After all, are not we (the redeemed of all ages) the bride of Christ Jesus? Thus, is it not logical that He would go to prepare a place for His bride, then return to claim her and take her to that home? Notice the various elements of the Jewish wedding festivities:

The Betrothal — Considered far more binding than our “engagement” today. In the presence of witnesses, the terms of the marriage are jointly accepted and God’s blessing is pronounced upon the union. From that day forward the two are legally regarded as husband and wife, although they do not yet begin to live together, nor do they yet consummate the marriage through sexual union. During this present Christian dispensation the church is betrothed to Jesus Christ. When we individually accept Christ, and are added to Him, we become a part of that bride to whom He is betrothed. We then are responsible for keeping ourselves virtuous and faithful to Him alone. “For I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (1 Corinthians 11:2). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). See also: Hosea 2:19-20.

The Interval — Following the courtship process and the betrothal, and as a part of the betrothal itself, a dowry is paid by the groom. Christ purchased His bride (paid the dowry) at tremendous cost. The price was the shedding of His blood upon the cross (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Revelation 5:9). Thus, in a very significant way, a vital part of our Lord’s preparation for the claiming of His bride, and taking her to live forever with Him, was indeed that old rugged cross. During this interval the groom would also prepare his house, adding rooms if necessary, to accommodate his new bride. In the meantime, the bride makes herself ready for the coming of the groom, and she keeps herself pure for him.

We are the betrothed of Christ, and we are currently awaiting His return for us. While we wait, and while He gets the “mansion” ready for us, we keep ourselves pure for Him. I believe this to be the symbolism Jesus employed when He used the words He did to address the disciples that evening.

The Procession — At the end of the interval (and there was no standard length of time among the Jews; it could last weeks, months, or years), the wedding procession takes place. The bride is ready, the dowry has been paid, the house has been made ready, and the feast is prepared. He gathers together his friends, and they proceed to the home of the bride to claim her and take her to her new home. Among the ancient Jews this procession generally took place at night, and one was never really sure when that procession might come by where one was waiting to join it. Thus the need to be prepared — see the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). A day is coming, and we know neither the day nor hour, when the Bridegroom will return with His angels to claim His bride. See: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

The Wedding Feasts — This is the final stage of the Jewish wedding process. It should also be noted that this event is not just a single feast, but actually “feasts” (plural). It is literally a series of feasts lasting for days and even weeks (see: Matthew 22:1-14). At some point in the future, and we pray it will not be long, our Lord will come again to claim His bride, and He will take her to His home (which is also His Father’s home), and the wedding celebration will last forever (Revelation 19:7-9).

If this is indeed the scenario that our Lord sought to convey to these beloved disciples that evening, and I believe it is, then His coming again would be a reference to His Parousia (the second coming at the end of time). This certainly seems to fit our text — “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NKJV).

“All things are ready, come to the feast. Come, for the table now is spread” [from the hymn: “All Things Are Ready”]. Our eternal home is a prepared place for a prepared people. We merely await His coming. Although some would suggest the “coming” of Christ mentioned to the disciples that evening was really the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, or His coming out of the tomb on the third day, neither of these truly fit the language and figures employed.

“The reference is not to Christ’s return from the grave, but a return from heaven, the second coming of the Lord, which is a part of the Christian faith” [David Lipscomb, The Gospel According to John, p. 220].

“The promise of Jesus refers to the Parousia. The coming again is the counterpart of the going away; visibly Jesus ascends, visibly He returns — Acts 1:9-11” [Lenski, p. 974].

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann rightfully and insightfully observes, “There are few passages of Scripture that are so replete with the merciful love of the Savior as this one” [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT: vol. 1, p. 488]. “The mansions are there even now, by the love of the Father; and trust in the Savior will bring them into the possession of all believers. As children of God, through faith in Jesus, we have a right and a part in the home of the Son. And Jesus, having made all preparations for their reception and eternal entertainment, will not leave His disciples to find their way above as best they can, but will complete His labor of love by coming again and receiving them to Himself and taking them along with Him to the places of their everlasting stay” [ibid]. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

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