As we study through the book of John, we come upon a very interesting passage in John 14:2-3.  Many have lauded this as a very beautiful passage, and indeed it is.  Yet this is another one of those passages that it is very difficult to deal with.  This is not because it is hugely difficult to figure out what the Lord is talking about, or that what He intended to say is unclear.  The reason this passage is hard to deal with is because it has been used by many as a passage relating to death, and to comfort people whose loved ones have died.  This passage is often quoted at funerals, and many are the mourning relatives who have been comforted by the thought that the Lord Jesus has received a deceased loved one into a mansion in heaven.  Yet, emotions or not, it is necessary for those of us who deal, not with popular interpretations, but rather with truth, to examine this passage and see if this is indeed what the Lord was saying, or if there is another explanation that the Word of God would set forth to us.

Now the common interpretation of this passage is that Christ was going off to heaven to spruce the place up to prepare it for the many people who were going to be arriving there.  It is also taught that He was going to be starting a major building project to prepare huge, ornate houses with many rooms for the people who were about to be arriving in heaven.  This is the common interpretation of the passage, yet, I am afraid, this does not fit at all with the Biblical facts in the matter if we really start looking into it.  People believe this interpretation just because it has been taught them from early on in their lives as a believer.  We need to dig deeper, and see what the Word of God really has to say on the matter.

The assumption that most people start with, and that gets them on the wrong track immediately, is that this statement of Christ’s is made concerning all believers.  Ignoring whom Christ was speaking to, and including ourselves in pronouns like “you,” is often a greater cause of error than just about anything else when it comes to interpreting the Word of God.  Christ was talking here to His eleven disciples, with only Judas missing, the one who had betrayed Him and whom He had already dismissed back in chapter 13 verse 27.  So only His faithful disciples remained, and it was to them that these words were spoken.  We need to keep this firmly in mind as we study the passage and seek to find the truth that God was trying to convey through it.

Let us examine John 14:2.  It reads,

2.  “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.

Now first of all, we come upon this phrase, “My Father’s house.”  It is instantly assumed by most that this is a reference to heaven.  Unfortunately, this assumption is made because we are far more familiar with Christian traditions than we are with the Word of God.  There is nothing in this passage to suggest that heaven is what is meant by this phrase.  If we wish to know what it really means, we need to look for Scriptural precedent, and find out what God meant when He used this phrase, not what Christians mean when they use it.

This exact phrase, “my Father’s house,” only occurs twice in the New Testament.  The only other occurrence of the word besides this one is also in the book of John, chapter 2 verse 16.  This passage is the story of Christ casting the moneychangers out of the temple, and in that verse we read His words.  “And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’”  Here, Christ speaks of His Father’s house.  And here, what His Father’s house is is plain.  What He calls the Father’s house here is the temple of God in Jerusalem.  There just can be no doubt about this.

Although there are no other occurrences of this exact Greek phrase for “in My Father’s house” other than these two, we could examine passage after passage dealing with “God’s house” or with “the Lord’s house,” and we would find that every one of them has to do with the temple.  It is only Biblical illiteracy that would ever cause us to even imagine that “My Father’s house” might mean heaven.  Can it be that “My Father’s house” means the temple in one occurrence, and “heaven” in another?  Some might argue this.  It cannot mean the temple in John 14, they say.  How could Christ be preparing a place for His disciples in the temple?

To discover this truth, we must turn, not to the New Testament, but rather to the Old.  Unfamiliarity with the Old Testament is what leads to many errors like this!

In Psalm 65:4, we read some very interesting things.

4.  Blessed is the man You choose,

Here, the Holy Spirit through David talks about the man God chooses.  That is exactly what He had done with these eleven men.  Remember, Judas Iscariot had departed now, and only the eleven faithful disciples remained.  These men, back in Mark 3:13-14a, were chosen by the Lord Himself.  There, we read, “And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him.”  These men had been chosen by the Lord in a very special way.

Back to Psalm 65:4:

And cause to approach You,

Anyone familiar with the way things worked in an oriental court would know what it meant for a king to choose a man and then cause him to approach him.  It meant that this man had been marked out for special service by the king.  This was also true of the disciples in Mark 13:14b-15.  “and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”  These men were chosen, and they were called to approach Him.  We can literally see their approaching back in verse 13.  Yet also figuratively, they were given this task to do by the Master Himself.  They were given a position before Him.  Yet notice what it says next in Psalm 65:4 that the Lord will do for these men He chooses.

That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.

These ones He chooses are to dwell in His courts and be satisfied with the goodness of His house.  And notice how His house is again defined here: as His holy temple!  Now the temple of God in Jerusalem might not be something that is very important to you.  This building no longer exists, and has not existed for over 1900 years.  Most Christians, when they speak of the temple, dismiss it quickly, or say something like “God’s temple is now in our hearts.”  Yet, though the temple may not be important to us, the temple was always important to God.  We may fill our minds with thoughts of heaven, and that might seem like a far more worthy topic to us, but to God the temple was very near to His heart and a very dear place to Him.  We must not sell the temple short just because our prejudices are against it!

Another person who is clearly meant to dwell in the temple is David.  We read of this in Psalm 23, a very familiar Psalm to most of us.  There, in verse 6, we read,

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

“Forever” in Hebrew is “for the olam.”  Olam is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word aion, which we have studied, and which speaks of the great flow of God in His future Kingdom.  When that Kingdom comes, David expects to dwell in the house of the LORD.  Yet when we examine the facts in the case, we will find that the house of the LORD again is not heaven.  David was not expecting to be in heaven, and to be missing all the glorious events God has planned for the future earth.  David knew exactly where his place was to be in God’s future, and that was to be dwelling in His temple.

But how can a man dwell in God’s temple, one might ask?  How could there be room?  Here, again, we are making a mistake because we do not really understand much about the temple.  The fact is that the temple was not just one building, as we like to think of it.  There was one building that was at the center of the temple, and that was the focus of the worship of God that took place there.  Yet the temple itself was more what we would call a campus, and many buildings existed on the temple grounds.  The university campus where I went to school was very large, and had many buildings on it.  Just recently, even years after I graduated and left the school, I went back to campus and entered a building I had never been in before.  And I’m sure that was not the only such building either!  Many, many people live and work and go to school on a large college campus.  And this is the sort of place God’s temple was in the past, and that God’s temple will be again in the future.

Now, regarding David, we can clearly read of the place he will have in the temple in the book of Ezekiel.  First of all, we need to realize that David is called “the prince” in the book of Ezekiel.  We can see this clearly stated in Ezekiel 34:24.

And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

This passage clearly reveals that David, in his resurrection life (for he was long since dead when Ezekiel wrote!) would return to the land of Israel to be their prince under the LORD, Who would be their God.  Some, who cannot seem to believe that people who have died will ever be raised from the dead to live on the earth (and we wonder if they truly believe in resurrection at all if they cannot believe this!) try to make out that this is talking about Christ, and calling Him David since He was David’s descendant.  Yet the passage clearly says this is David it is talking about, and it distinguishes Him from the LORD Who will be their God, Who is Jesus Christ Himself.  No, this is literally David, and he will be a prince among the people of Israel.  And, Ezekiel also reveals to us where David will dwell at that time.  He reveals that a portion of the temple grounds will actually be reserved for David’s dwelling place!  We read this in Ezekiel 45:7-8.

“The prince shall have a section on one side and the other of the holy district and the city’s property; and bordering on the holy district and the city’s property, extending westward on the west side and eastward on the east side, the length shall be side by side with one of the tribal portions, from the west border to the east border. The land shall be his possession in Israel; and My princes shall no more oppress My people, but they shall give the rest of the land to the house of Israel, according to their tribes.”

Here we learn that a section of the temple campus, the “holy district,” will be reserved for David in that coming Day.  David quite literally will dwell in the house, the temple, of the Lord forever!  Yet will there also be room for men like the disciples?  The answer to this, I believe, is in the phrase, “there are many mansions.”

We know what a mansion is in English.  It is a large, ornate house.  Yet this statement says that in the Father’s house there are many mansions.  It is easy for us to imagine many houses in a mansion…we just have to imagine many different people living in different places in a single mansion.  My great-grandmother’s mansion had several areas with different people living in them.  Yet how in the world can we imagine many mansions in one house?  This makes no sense.  Yet it starts to clear up when we understand that the temple was a campus.  Further light will come if we examine the word “mansions.”  This is the Greek word mone.  This word occurs only twice in the Scriptures, and both occurrences are in this same chapter of John 14.  The second occurrence is in John 14:23, which reads:

Jesus answered and said to him, “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.”

The word for “home” here is the Greek word mone.  It does not mean a mansion, or even a home.  The word carries the idea of the place where one carries out his business.  We know that on a campus like the University of Minnesota, there are many different offices where many different employees of the University carry out their various tasks.  I myself worked for the University and had one of these offices at one time.  And this is the idea of the Greek word mone…a place where one carries out his business, a place like what we would call an “office.”  John 14:23 reveals that the one who loves Christ and keeps His word, the Father will love him, and Christ and the Father will come to him and make Their place of business, Their “office,” with him.

But what about John 14:2?  What did Christ mean, in His Father’s house are many “offices”?  We can read about this, too, in Ezekiel, the great prophecy about the Kingdom Jerusalem and the Kingdom temple.  There, in Ezekiel 41:5-11, we read in great detail about the “side chambers” in the temple wall.  Without quoting the whole passage, we can read of the number of these chambers in verse 6.

6.  The side chambers were in three stories, one above the other, thirty chambers in each story; they rested on ledges which were for the side chambers all around, that they might be supported, but not fastened to the wall of the temple.

This describes to us many chambers that will be in the temple.  There are even more chambers described in the next chapter.  In Ezekiel 42:3, we read,

3.  Opposite the inner court of twenty cubits, and opposite the pavement of the outer court, was gallery against gallery in three stories.

This does not tell us how many chambers there were, but it is clear that there were very many!  But what were these chambers for?  Were they really “offices,” were they really places to carry out business in the temple?  We read what the purpose of some of the chambers is in verse 13 of the same chapter.

13.  Then he said to me, “The north chambers and the south chambers, which are opposite the separating courtyard, are the holy chambers where the priests who approach the LORD shall eat the most holy offerings. There they shall lay the most holy offerings–the grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering–for the place is holy.

So the priests are to use some of these chambers in carrying out holy tasks that the Lord has given them.  Yet these are only the “north and south chambers, which are opposite the separating courtyard.”  There are many other chambers in the temple besides these…many offices, even as the Lord said in John 14:2.  Not all of them will be used by the priests.  What will the remaining chambers be used for?  We cannot say regarding all of them, but now, in John 14:2, the Lord is revealing to His disciples that some of these chambers will be reserved for them!

Then we come to the statement, “I go to prepare a place for you.”   The common interpretation is that Christ was going off to heaven to start a huge building project, making mansions for His people.  Yet Christ was not going off to heaven.  Rather, He was going to the cross.  And it was there He would prepare a place in the temple for His eleven disciples.  There were many laws about being clean before you could enter God’s temple.  In the past, generally only priests or Levites had a place there.  Yet once Christ had paid the penalty for sin for all men, the way would be cleared for any Israelite, no matter what tribe he was from, to have a place in God’s holy temple.  The place that these men would have was prepared for them, not by Christ going to heaven, but by Him paying for their sins on the cross.

Let us continue on in our study to consider John 14:3.

3.  “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.

Now He reveals another truth to them: that if He goes to prepare a place for them (which we know He did!) then He will come again and receive them unto Himself.  We know the common interpretation of this: that Christ is coming again, and that we will all be resurrected or raptured at that time and go off with Him to heaven.  Yet we need to realize that the disciples did not have to wait for the second coming for Christ to come and to receive them to Himself.  He came to them the very day of His resurrection!  In John 20:19 we read of this, that the same day He first appeared to Mary, that that very evening He appeared to His disciples in the room where they were gathered for fear of the Jews.  Then, in verse 22, we read,

22.  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

If this is not “receiving them unto Himself,” then what is?  He was giving them His authority, making them His representatives on earth.  Now, it might be true that He was only with them a short time after His resurrection, and that He will not forever be with them, that where He is, there they may be also, until the millennium and His final return.  Yet certainly we cannot pretend that He did not come again to them, or that He did not receive them unto Himself at that time, for He certainly did!  And, for part of forty days at least, where He was, there they were also!

Thus, we see that this passage is not at all talking about what modern expositors try to make out that it is talking about.  It has nothing to do with heaven, nothing to do with a building project there, and nothing even to do with anyone but His Own eleven disciples (or twelve, once Matthias was added to replace Judas.)  This may not be what we have always been taught.  This may not be what we have found so comforting at funerals or when facing the death of a loved one.  This may not even be what we want to believe.  Yet, clearly, I think, this is the truth, if we truly wish to let the Bible interpret Itself and tell us what It means.  It might not be what we are used to, it might not be what we think of as “normal,” yet this is what these passages are really saying, and, if we are to be believers in what God has said, this is what we need to be believing.  I pray that we all might grow in God’s truth, and better see what His plan truly is for the future, both for His Own chosen disciples, and for us, the sinners He has saved by grace in this dispensation, as well.