Father’s House — Many Mansions!

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Jesus says in John 14, “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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1–3).

This is the King James Version, familiar to many Christians, its language deeply lodged in Christian hymnody and devotional piety.

Yet this is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. The problem is that Jesus’ comforting words here have been seen through the lens of medieval ideas of heaven rather than in light of the Old Testament and Jesus’ other teachings.

If we examine the whole chapter carefully, what do we find? Some key points:

“Many mansions.” In King James’ day, a “mansion” was a room, not a huge, fancy house. Today most translations say “many dwelling places” (NRSV), or “plenty of room,” as the TNIV helpfully puts it. Jesus’ central meaning is this: There is plenty of room with God. (It apparently has not troubled many Christians that “In my Father’s house are many mansions” is nonsensical as “mansion” is popularly understood.)

“My father’s house.” This does not mean heaven. Heaven is not mentioned once in the whole chapter. What then is the “Father’s house”?

Jesus speaks out of the context of the whole Old Testament revelation. In the older Testament, the Lord’s “house” or “dwelling place” is an immensely rich idea. It essentially means the place or places where God’s presence is manifest. Often in the Psalms God’s “house” or “dwelling” is the temple in Jerusalem. Other times it refers to the whole creation, or even the whole universe. Some Psalms describe God himself as our “dwelling place” (Ps 90:1, 91:9).

The point is: God’s “house” or “dwelling place” is wherever God is and wherever his presence is made evident and his will is done. Jesus assumes this in many of his discourses. The meaning of John 14:2 is, “There is plenty of room with God.”

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus assures his apostles that in going away (through his crucifixion and death), he is accomplishing the next step in God’s plan for his kingdom to come in fullness.

This verse echoes God’s word to Israel in Exodus 23:20, “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” Jesus very self-consciously fulfilled all the Old Testament promises concerning himself. In Exodus, the reference was to the Promised Land. In the New Testament, in fulfillment of the promises, the Promised Land becomes the whole earth, recreated as “new heavens and new earth.”

Jesus’ words here thus mean: “I go to accomplish the next step in bringing the complete fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation and creation healed.”

A Profound Truth

John 13–16 is a tightly woven discourse and acted-out parable, capped profoundly by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. John 14:1–3 is to be seen in this context. John 14 itself has several interlinked allusions to home, dwelling, and to coming and going. For instance:

“I go to prepare a place . . . I will come again and will take you to myself ” (vs. 3)

“My Father will love [those who love me and keep my commandments], and we will come to them and make our home with them” (vs. 23).

“I am going away, and I am coming to you” (vs. 28).

In these passages, Jesus is explaining the unexplainable. Note the apostles’ many questions and baffled reactions in John 13–16. You see them struggling but often failing to get it.

Like us, the apostles were limited to spacetime categories. That explains much of their confusion. Jesus says: It’s not about when and where; it’s about who; about the relationship.

A subtext of this whole passage is John 13:7, “Later you will understand.” Note other similar passages: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them” (John 10:6). “As yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). And especially, “his disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him” (John 12:26).

The point in John 14:2–3 is not the place, but the person—Jesus Christ. The key statement is: “Where I am, there you [will] be also.” And where will Jesus be? For awhile in heaven or Paradise, but then finally and everlastingly on earth when all is made new.

John 14:1–3 is not about heaven. It is about our “dwelling place” being eternally with God—beginning now on earth and in “the heavenlies” (Eph. 1:3, 2:6) as we love him and keep his commandments; for awhile in heaven before Jesus returns; and finally in the new creation—the new earth and heaven.

Jesus does not say in verse 3, “I will take you to heaven.” He says, “I will take you to myself.” And Jesus promised to return to earth, once for all.

The point in John 14:1–3: Not the place. Rather, the Person and the relationship. In the end, Jesus establishes the perfect relationship of shalom between himself, human beings, and the whole creation. For now, Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I think this is the most important scripture in the New Testament. The biggest problem with Christianity for most people is that the dogma that excludes people from heaven that don’t follow his teachings. Mark 16:16. Although the authenticity of Mark is in question by most scholars. This passage of Jesus will prepare many Rooms in my Fathers Mansion is clear to me that ALL people are excepted of all faiths and creed.

    • Jenny, I think you misunderstood my piece. In any case, it is clear from Scripture that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ (though it leaves open the question of how much people actually must know about him in order to be saved), and that salvation means much more than “going to heaven” (as it’s often understood). See my book, “Salvation Means Creation Healed.”

    • Your belief is an example of taking scripture out of context. Scripture clearly reveals your error. You must be Born Again. That can only happen when you ask Jesus to become your Lord. Everyone is born into Satan’s Kingdom because of Adam and everyone MUST change Lords / masters. Only then can one enter into the Kingdom of God. This IS the Gospel.

  2. Mr. Howard,
    You are so right about the meaning of salvation, many mansions,and what the holy spirit is telling us all. Yes he is coming back just like he said. And its very sooner than we all think. Good news. Thank you for your true understanding.
    Rosa Ranson

  3. Thanks for this commentary. I dug into May scripture about life death afterlife & abodes several years ago after my mother’s death to get a more biblical perspective than the ‘gospel of going to heaven at death’ so often preached, especially at funerals. I believe it’s not as much about where, but with whose family, God’s. Encompassing our welcoming His glorious return, reigning with Him on earth, and dwelling with God & the Lamb forever. It’s about Family.

  4. The scope of this wonderful insight of relationship and Jesus preparations, is confirmed with John 14.16. His sending of the Holy Spirit “Whom shall dwell with us forever.”

  5. In the Old Testament, the Jewish Temple was the place where God dwell, or rather the place where God’s glory dwelt. Jesus, after driving out the money changers, quoting both Isaiah and Jeremiah, said, My Father’s House shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, how dare you make it a den of thieves. They asked by what authority He did those things, and He answered, Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days. He was alluding to the fact that new His own Body had become the House of God, for in Him all the fullness of God dwells. John tells us that the Spirit could not be poured out because Jesus had not yet been glorified, which is a reference to His death and resurrection. Through His death and resurrection, He prepared a place for believers. He could now breath His Spirit into us, making us part of His Body, the Temple. And so through faith, now WE become part of the House of God. We are the Temple of Christ’s Body, which is God’s House. The “many” dwelling places, or mansions, are the Living Stones in the Temple, believers in whom God dwells by the Spirit. The Church is built of the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone. In Him the whole building is fit together and rises to become a dwelling place for God through the Spirit. We are the Living Stones that Christ is using to build His Body, the Church. The word wrongly translated a “mansion” means, dwelling, abode, an abiding, and Jesus used this same word when He told the disciples to remain, or abide in Him, and He in them. Both Timothy and Paul tell us that the Church is now the House of God. Just as our living on earth does not make the earth our House, so God living in heaven does not make heaven His House. His House is the Church, which will be consummated in the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem. Jesus said that “At that day,” meaning the day that He comes to receive them unto Himself, that they would know that He was in the Father and the Father was in them , and they in Him. It is talking about a mutual indwelling.

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