If you were really into Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in the 80’s, or like to get your theology from Elvis Presley, then you’ve probably joyfully engaged conversation with other Christians over the mansion that Jesus has waiting for you in glory.
Actually, it’s not so much Elvis’ fault as it is the fault of the translators of the Authorized Version (KJV). In John 14:2, in the KJV, we read of Jesus’ telling His disciples that in His “Father’s house” were “many mansions” and that He was going “to prepare a place” for them. You can see how easily a prima facia reading of this particular English translation would render the following meaning to Christ’s words: Jesus went to heaven to make a room for His people in a mansion. In fact, in what must be considered among the most ludicrous moments of biblical interpretation, some have actually suggested that Jesus (a Carpenter) went to heaven to build mansions for His people. But is that what Jesus was teaching His disciples? A consideration of the Greek word in 14:2–which the KJV gives the transliteration, “mansions”–suggests otherwise.
The first thing to take into consideration is context. Jesus is heading to the cross. In the final section of the previous chapter, Jesus told Simon Peter, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Then He gave His disciples the commandment to love one another. Simon Peter, hung up on the mystery of the words “Where I am going, you cannot come,” completely dismissed the commandment and asked Jesus, “Lord, where are You going?” to which Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward;” to which Peter again responded, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Peter failed to understand that Jesus was telling him that He was going to lay down His life for Peter’s sake. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are the focal point of the passage. This frames the meaning of the opening words of John 14.
Having revealed to His disciples that He was going away, Jesus then gave them words of comfort and assurance to carry them through the remainder of their sojourning here. The purpose of John 14:1-6 is that of spiritual comfort for downcast disciples. If we take Jesus’ “going away” in 13:33 to be a “going to the Father by means of the cross,” then we would have to take the “I go to prepare a place for you” to refer to the same. As A.W. Pink helpfully suggested:
We also understand this to mean that the Lord Jesus has procured the right—by His death on the Cross—for every believing sinner to enter Heaven. He has “prepared” for us a place there by entering Heaven as our Representative and taking possession of it on behalf of His people. As our Forerunner He marched in, leading captivity captive, and there planted His banner in the land of glory. He has “prepared” for us a place there by entering the “holy of holies” on High as our great High Priest, carrying our names in with Him. Christ would do all that was necessary to secure for His people a welcome and a permanent place in Heaven. Beyond this we cannot go with any degree of certainty. The fact that Christ has promised to “prepare a place” for us—which repudiates the vague and visionary ideas of those who would reduce Heaven to an intangible nebula—guarantee that it will far surpass anything down here.
…God never has, and never will, take His people into a place un-prepared for them. In Eden God first “planted a garden,” and then placed Adam in it. It was the same with Israel when they entered Canaan: “And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he swear unto thy father, to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, to give them great and goodly cities, which you did not build, and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant” (Deut. 6:10, 11). And what can we say of the grace manifested by the Lord of glory going to prepare a place for us? He will not entrust such a task to the angels. Proof, indeed, is this that He loves us “unto the end.”
“And if I go and prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). “A special people taken from the earth in a risen Christ must have a special place. A new thing was to take place, men brought into Heaven! Man was not made for Heaven, but for the earth, and so placed here to till the earth and live upon it. By sinning he lost the earth and the earth shared his ruin. But by sinning he brought down the Son of God from Heaven, who by His descent opened Heaven as the normal place for those believing on Christ, and so in Him” (Mr. Malachi Taylor).1
Add to this the biblical-theological meaning of the words “My Father’s house.” Everywhere in Scripture, this phrase is used of the Temple–the dwelling place of God. To the side of the Temple were rooms in which the priests lived. This idea captures so well the use of our Lord’s words, “In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” The word that the KJV translates “mansions” is better translated “dwelling places” or “abiding places.” The same word is used later in the chapter when Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). The Father and the Son dwell in the New Covenant Temple–namely, the people of God. In the hereafter we will dwell in His presence forever in the heavenly Temple. Through the death of Jesus we have been made “Kings and Priests to our God.” We will forever dwell in the presence of God and the Lamb and serve Him as priests offering up the spiritual sacrifices of praise.
If you are disappointed to learn that the Scriptures don’t teach that Jesus is building you your own personal mansion in glory, take heart–dwelling in the heavenly Temple in the presence of the Father and the Son will far outweigh any expectation that you might have about the reward of the inheritance. It will be everlasting ecstasy. As the Psalmist puts it, “In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus went to prepare a place for us. He has secured your dwelling place in glory by shedding His own blood at the cross. Now He comforts us with the words, “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.” Simply put, heaven means dwelling with Jesus.
1. A.W. Pink Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) pp. 753-760