“I heard about a mansion he has built for me in glory…” so goes the old hymn Victory in Jesus. The author, of course, heard about that mansion from the text of Scripture. In John 14:2 (KJV) we read:
“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.”
But if you read from new translations the text reads, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms…” (emphasis mine). Why do modern translations take away our mansion? What does Jesus even mean in John 14 and how is this meant to be encouraging?
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jon Lovette
What Is the Context of John 14?
Before considering what is meant by “mansions” it is helpful to consider the overall thrust and meaning of the passage. John 14 is part of Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples. He has had a Passover meal with them, he has spoken of his betrayal, his death, and even that the disciples would abandon him. The experience of chapter 13 had to have been discouraging to His followers. The mood is clearly somber. And so Jesus asks for their trust. “Let not your hearts be troubled…”
John 14 is filled with encouragement. Jesus is going to the Father and will prepare a place for the disciples. They will eventually be with him again, but in the meantime, he has given to them something far greater; namely, the indwelling Spirit of God. The promise of John 14:2 is similar to the promise made in John 14:23. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and he will come to him and make our home with him” (emphasis mine).
The entire passage is an encouragement to discouraged disciples. And the form of that encouragement is a promise of Jesus’ continual presence — in the present age and in the age to come. Once Jesus’ bodily presence departs from them, His presence will still be with them through the Spirit. And someday the disciples, and all those who also trust in God’s promise, will one day fully live in and experience the presence of God. This is the overall thrust of the passage. What, then, is the specific encouragement of verse 2?
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/aldomurillo
What Does This Verse Mean?
To fully understand this verse, we may be given some help by understanding the culture in which Jesus spoke these words. During the time of Jesus, the “father’s house” would have consisted of three generations living together. It was customary during the betrothal period for the bridegroom to go and prepare a place for his bride to be. Once he was prepared, he would return and claim his bride. It is likely that similar language is being used here. Jesus is telling the disciples that he is preparing a place for them to be together and he will return.
This does not mean that Jesus was going to build many individual houses — or even that he would build his own lodging separate from that of the Father — but rather that he was making a way for them (us) to be together. Colin Kruse says it well:
“When Jesus said, ‘I am going to prepare a place for you,’ we should not think of him returning to heaven, and having arrived there, setting about the construction of ‘rooms’ for his disciples to occupy — a task he has now been occupied with for some two thousand years! Rather, we should recognize that it was by his very going, by his betrayal, crucifixion and exaltation, that he made it possible for us to dwell in the presence of God. The imminent departure of Jesus, which so troubled the hearts of his disciples, was in fact for their benefit.”
The comfort in this passage is not about having streets of gold or a beautiful mansion with a white picket fence and exquisite garden, etc. It’s about the presence of God being with humanity. In John 14, Jesus was telling the disciples that he was making a way for this to happen. For us today it is a great promise that Jesus has indeed made a way for us to be in God’s presence. D.A. Carson also says it well:
“The simplest explanation is best: my Father’s house refers to heaven, and in heaven are many rooms, many dwelling-places. The point is not the lavishness of each apartment, but the fact that such ample provision has been made that there is more than enough space for every one of Jesus’ disciples to join him in his Father’s home.”
Because of Jesus, there is room for you in the presence of God. That is his encouragement in John 14:2.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Valentina Locatelli
Does Jesus Mean There Are Literal Mansions (or Endless Rooms) in Heaven?
There is a popular meme that comes from Oprah Winfrey giving away a car to her entire studio audience and yelling out “you get a car” repeatedly. I think a common understanding of heaven is that there will be a day in which God says to every resident of heaven, “you get a mansion” and “you get a mansion” until every last soul has their own mansion. But is Jesus here speaking of individual lodgings that are as big as mansions?
But the context and meaning of that word makes it rather unlikely that Jesus is referring to literal individual mansions. The word translated in the KJV as mansions is the Greek word μονή (moné). It is not a common word – only used here and in John 14:23. It’s simply a place where one may lodge or dwell. A hotel room is probably a more fitting representation than an individual mansion.
So, how did we end up with the word “mansions”? For that we can look to Jerome. In his Latin Vulgate he used the word mansiones. The Latin word means the same thing as it does in Greek; namely, a place to stay. It could even mean a stopping place or a halting place. When the translators of the KJV used Jerome’s Vulgate they picked the closest English word — mansions. But a mansion in the King’s English means something rather different than it did in both Latin and Greek. Thus developed the notion that Jesus went to develop for us literal mansions.
There is no indication from this text, then, that believers will receive their own individual mansions. But what we do receive is far better.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/belchonock
What Kind of Place Does Jesus Go to Prepare for Us?
Scripture doesn’t give us many specific details about our future dwelling. Will we live in houses? Will they have shiplap? What about a white picket fence with beautiful bushes and glorious fruit trees? Will they be carpeted or wood flooring? We don’t know. But there is one word that does describe the place that Jesus is preparing for us.
That is the point of John 14. Jesus is taking us back to the Garden of Genesis 1 and 2. He is restoring to humanity our rest, our rule (our purpose), and our relationship. We will once again live happily in the presence of God. I don’t know all the details, but I know it will be glorious because Jesus is preparing it and He does all things well.
Pinning my hopes on a mansion in the sky is aiming a bit low, in my estimation. Rather God, in Christ, is giving us the greatest gift imaginable. Himself. I think John Piper says it well:
“…all the saving events and all the saving blessings of the gospel are means of getting obstacles out of the way so that we might know and enjoy God most fully. Propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, imputation, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven — none of these is good news except for one reason: they bring us to God for our everlasting enjoyment of him. If we believe all these things have happened to us, but do not embrace them for the sake of getting to God, they have not happened to us. Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God…”
Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 292.
D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 489.
Piper, God is the Gospel, 47
Photo credit: Unsplash/Prottoy Hassan