A Meditation on John 14
By: Dr. Mark E. Ross
John 14:2 is one of the most loved and familiar verses in the Bible. Most of us can recall it in the King James Version, perhaps because it is often used in funeral services. It includes the memorable line, “In my Father’s house are many mansions . . .” Modern English translations no longer use the word “mansions” in this verse, for its meaning has changed since 1611, when the KJV was first published. In those days, a “mansion” was any kind of dwelling place, from a spartan, overnight lodging room, to a spacious and opulent house. It simply meant a place where one dwells or stays. Using the word “mansion” in this passage today would be misleading, for the Greek word translated here, like the word “mansion” in the seventeenth century, does not tell us anything about the quality of the dwelling place, whether it is big or small, lavishly or only sparsely furnished. It just tells us that it is a dwelling place, a place where one can stay.
Letting go of “mansion” as a translation might seem to be a loss, for then we lose a rather warm and inviting image of a supremely comfortable and well-appointed dwelling. An old hymn celebrated the idea, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.” But this word actually distracts us from the primary point being made here, and one that is far more important. It concerns not the quality of our dwelling place, but its location. The room or dwelling place which Jesus prepares for us is “in (his) Father’s house.” We will dwell near to the Father, and with the Father, in his own house, one filled with the glory and goodness of God.
There is more. The word for “house” used here can also mean “household,” meaning, those who dwell within the house, that is, the family. In the beginning of John’s Gospel, we read that those who receive Jesus, who believe in his name, have the right to become children of God (1:12). Now in John 14 we learn that their everlasting dwelling place is to be “in the Father’s house,” as members of God’s own household, received as his sons and daughters, made “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, ” (Rom. 8:17). This is so much better than having a mansion of our own.
In the Old Testament, God’s house was in the tabernacle and later the temple. As the book of Hebrews teaches (8:5, 9:23f., 10:1), these structures were copies and shadows of God’s heavenly dwelling place, but they signified that God had come down from heaven to dwell with his people (Exod. 25:8). Even so, the people were still outside the house, separated from it, barred from entering it. Their only access was by the priests who entered the house for them.
But through Christ the great high priest, a sacrifice for sin has now been offered which puts away sin for all time and gives us access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit (Heb. 9:11f., 10:19-22). Now we ourselves can enter into the very presence of God, without fear that our sins will expose us to death. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, where we will live in the presence of God forever and ever. We have a room in his house, his temple, his dwelling place, filled with all his goodness and love. Nor are we there as slaves or servants, but as daughters and sons in his family. We are no longer kept outside the house.
Often this passage is quoted when the subject is heaven and the life which is to come, and it surely has much comfort and hope to offer us on these topics. But when Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, it was not they who were going to die but him, and it was not they who were leaving for heaven but him.
He comforts his disciples and assures them that he will not leave them as orphans but will come to them (v. 18). He assures them that those who love him will be loved by his Father, and that he and the Father will come by the Spirit and make their home with them (v. 23).
So, the passage is telling us not just about heaven, but about this life too. It reveals to us that Christ has provided for us both here and hereafter. For now, the Holy Trinity makes a home in us who believe, and hereafter we will have a room in God’s house. We are thus never without the Father’s love, without our Savior’s love, or without the Holy Spirit’s love. God’s presence and his love are always with us, now and forever.