In the words of Jesus in John 14:1-4, spoken to His disciples during the hours of The Last Supper immediately prior to the Crucifixion, Christ spoke to the disciples regarding the house of His Father. The Biblical passage says this:
- Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
- 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.
- And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
Here, Thomas says “we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” to which Jesus replies “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.”
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 what is the usual interpretation placed upon that passage? Many hymns speak of a general departure of “the church”, or “God’s people” out of this earth to go to some heavenly country to occupy glorious palatial mansions allotted to each by way of regard for services rendered on earth, one might expect that Christ was not destined to return at all! Such hymns are all apparently in large measure based upon this mistaken interpretation, and, while we may sing them in fellowship with our friends, I might question whether the theological thrust of the wording is in strict accord with Scripture. Let us see what our study reveals.
I would suggest that such a concept of a heavenly abode in some distant realm vaguely assumed to be “somewhere altogether parted from the earth” is a common misconception, to which the true meaning of that passage is quite startlingly at variance. I herewith offer an alternative interpretation of the true meaning of this passage, related to Scriptural cross-references; one which I believe will be consistent with Christ’s intent when He uttered the words of this teaching.
Let us review the words and phrases in this teaching, and see if other scriptures will throw some light upon what Christ was actually stating to His followers. I will begin by asking the question “What constitutes that Father’s House” wherein all those “places of abode” are located? The Companion Bible has a marginal notation which offers an alternative rendering of the term “many mansions.” It reads “abiding places.” That reference goes on, in the same note, to state the words “Gr. mone (from meno, a characteristic word in this Gospel), occurs only here and in v. 23.” Young’s Concordance also agrees with the explanatory word “abode.”
That marginal notation tips off the careful reader to look up the rendering of this word in Vine’s “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” where we find under the term “Mansions” the following information: “MONE… primarily a staying, abiding (akin to meno, to abide), denotes an abode (Eng., manor, manse, etc.), translated ‘mansions’ in John 14:2; ‘abode’ in verse. 23. There is nothing in the word to indicate separate compartments in Heaven; neither does it suggest temporary resting-places on the road.” I think, therefore, that it will repay us to consider carefully the indication that is made clear in that reference, to correct the vague misconception that there are many huge palaces being prepared by a divine carpenter for each person, somewhere “away beyond the blue” in some heaven far away, as so often superficially thought!
After I had presented the theme in 1997, I later discovered the same approach in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, for Foxe states that before his fiery martyrdom St. Lawrence faced an avaricious tyrant bent on acquiring church treasure. Indicating the poor Christians, St. Lawrence said “These are the precious treasure of the church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath his mansion-place. What more precious jewels can Christ have than those in whom he hath promised to dwell?”
Let us consult the words of St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul writes: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Again, in 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul makes the point in the words: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
In Ephesians 2:19-21 St. Paul writes to the saints at Ephesus in these terms: They are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Paul makes it quite clear to those who read his words in all these Scriptures that “ye are the temple of God….” So we are to be the “abodes” or “mansions” of God!
Revelation 3:12 confirms this interpretation in the words “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
Let us note there also the fact that the whole design of this new Jerusalem is said to come down to earth from God Who dwells in heaven. It is Christ’s “departure” through Crucifixion and death which is the pre-condition which, so to speak, “sets the stage” and by that means facilitates the building of those “mansions” in His followers!
Now another matter may be of interest. In Matthew 21:12 we read: “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.” This was the second time that that had happened. In John 2:13-17, we read that Jesus had done the same thing at the beginning of His ministry, and on that occasion, it had led to a dispute wherein Christ stated “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”, to which the Jews who opposed Him argued: “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” The passage continues “But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.”
While we see that the opposition remembered the words Jesus had spoken, and repeated them with derision but without understanding their meaning in Matthew 26:61, Matthew 27:40, Mark 14:58 and Mark 15:29, let us place three or four scripture concepts together to observe a possible double meaning therein. The “temple” of His body was raised up in three days. Jesus’ followers are, as we have seen, also “the temple” being built and, in II Peter 3:8 we read “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” It is therefore possible to construct a scenario in which, just as the Israelites followed the Ark of the Covenant towards Jordan as they were entering the Promised Land, but were to remain about two thousand cubits behind it (Joshua 3:4), so the “body of Christ”, His “temple” of living stones, may likewise follow Him into the “Promised Land” of His Kingdom within three one-thousand-year “days” through a similar experience, so that Christ will be “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29)! Revelation 21:22 states in the symbolism of that Book “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” As Christ is the head of His body of followers that combination would be just what Revelation describes. That may provide some food for thought and meditation!
Editor’s Comment: We are please to present this article by the renowned Bible scholar, Douglas Nestbit. Now in his mid-eighties, he has much to reflect upon in his lifelong contribution to the Israel Truth. One of his greatest achievements was stepping in to rescue a failing BIWF in Toronto in the mid-eighties. He remained the driving force until two years ago when he turned the gavel over to Kent Purvis, his young energetic protégé. But Douglas still remains active and is also establishing a BIWF museum in Alliston, Ontario.