1 “Your heart must not be troubled. You believe in God believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

It’s no accident that Jesus’ words have been seen as a source of comfort. The disciples were afraid of being left as orphans; the Messiah with whom they have lived for the past three years was going to be delivered up to death.

Jesus reassured them that though he must leave, he will also come back again to get them that they may dwell together (v.3). What I would like to do is present four different interpretations of John 14:1-4, listing their strengths and weaknesses. First, Jesus’ words traditionally have been interpreted as the promise of heaven. Second, it has been understood that Jesus would come again after his resurrection and see the disciples again. Third, Some have suggested that these words refer to an intermediate state for the dead before the resurrection. Finally, the text could be understood as a promise of fellowship in the Messiah through the Spirit.[1] Understanding Jesus’ promise as having the earmarks of heaven appears to be responsible exegesis. Jesus did say he was going to a place where the disciples could not presently go (John 13:36).

In his encouragement he mentions the Father’s house and since the Father dwells in heaven then that is where Jesus would bring his disciples. Furthermore, Jesus already made a similar exclamation to the Pharisees, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:22), then interpreting his own words as his heavenly origin as contrasted with their earthly one (8:23-24). Since the Father is in heaven[2], then the disciples naturally would be expecting Jesus to take them to the heavenly realm, after their deaths and resurrections. There seem to be a number of passages in the NT that lend credence to this view. Notably, Paul envisions the saints being “with the Lord in the air” and awaiting him from heaven (presumably to bring us back with him)(1 Thess 4:13-18; Philippians 3:20-21).

The traditional interpretation has strengths but the weaknesses out weigh them. I will only list a few so as not to spoil the interpretation of the other three views, the other weaknesses will be drawn out in the forthcoming views. Matthew records Jesus as saying to the faithful, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34). In what sense was heaven in need of preparation since it had been prepared from the foundation? In fact, Paul’s sentiments, “to die and be with the Lord is far better” is the closest thing that resembles disciples being with the Lord at death, but it must be admitted that this actually lends credence to interpretation number three–that of an intermediate state, not the resurrection.

The second explanation also has a reasonable bit of evidence to support it. This interpretatios has an impressive array of verses in the immediate context of John to support it. Later in his discourse Jesus blessed the twelve, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you…I am going away and I am coming to you” (John 14:27-28). Interpreters introduce John 16:16-17 as a couplet to 14:1-4; in other words, in a little while you will not see–because I will die–but in a little while you will see me again–because I will appear to you after I resurrect. The real meat and potatoes that rivets this interpretation together is the language found in the post resurrection appearances. The peace that Jesus left with them is the peace he enjoins to them when he appears after the resurrection (John 20:19-21, 26), perhaps John is evoking Jesus words that he would “come again” with his coming to them (20:19)

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. 28 You have heard Me tell you, ‘I am going away and I am coming to you. (John 14:27) Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. (John 20:21)

Further, this view holds that the reason for Jesus’ going away, so that the Spirit could come (John 16:7), finds its fulfillment in the closing remarks of John. Jesus appears to the disciples for the second time, breaths on them, and says “receive the Spirit” (John 20:22). This view evincing as it may be has weaknesses. It doesn’t account for the closing statements of John, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you” (John 21:23). There is a since in which Jesus coming was understood as future even after the post resurrection. Also, the comfort of many lodging places in the Father’s house is left unexplained. The father’s house has no place in the explanation as far as I can tell. This views loose ends are tied up when combined with the fourth view.

The third view has many things going for it as well. It makes a good bit of use with second temple literature, something which I find admirable. This position also holds that the Father’s house is the temple, and sees the the “many rooms” as the apartments found in the Temple. The many rooms that are found in the temple will similarly be found in the heavenly rest. Further this view suggests that mone (dwell, remain), is characteristic for dwelling with or in Jesus in John (1:38; 4:40; 6:56; 8:31, 35; 14:10; 15:4-10) as well as a temporary lodging. Similarly to how sojourners would reside in the Temple temporarily, even so, those who die will be with the Lord in the heavenly realm until the resurrection[3]. As with the other views their are many things it gets right, but it too fall short in some areas. It does not seem all that clear that the Father’s House should also be understood as the the realm of the departed. Granted Jews believed the temple to be where heaven and earth intersect, but I am unsure how that view of the temple meshes with the intermediate state. I can concede the point that heaven is the intermediate state (which I would probably agree with), so this weaknesses is not so devastating.

Finally, the text can be understood as a reference to the indwelling of the Spirit in the heart of the disciples. This view meshes well with the immediate context. The disciple do not need to be concerned about being orphans because the Spirit would come to them–or as Jesus said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another comforter to be with your forever. He is the Spirit of Truth…I will not leave you as orphans I am coming to you” (John 14:15-18). The reference to the Father’s house fits nicely in this exegesis. John contrast the Jewish temple with the temple of Jesus body (John 2:21), where the believers would dwell (John 6:56). In the immediate context Craig Keener observes:

The noun…[translated]“dwellings” appears only one other time in the entire New Testament-later in this passage, where Jesus expands on the information he has already given his disciples about dwellings. Through the Spirit, Jesus and the Father will come and make their dwelling within each disciple (14:23), thus making them temples of the Lord (the Father’s house). The term dwell, or abide, which is the verb form of dwelling, appears several times in John 15, where Jesus talks about dwelling with us and we with him (15:4-7, 9-10).[4]

Further, this view completes view three. Jesus not only comes back to them again after the resurrection but also breathes on them and imparts the Spirit to them [5]. Paul’s writing also seems to support this reading. He describes saints as being raised “up and seated..in the heavens” with the Messiah (Eph 1:20-22; 2:6). This is possible, says Paul, precisely because, we are a “holy sanctuary in the Lord” having been built together “for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (Eph 2:21-22) Now the body of Christ (his temple 1 Corinthias ) is the place where heaven and earth intersect and this is made possible through the death of Jesus, the power of God and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Perhaps the weakness of this view is similar to the view#2; it fails to incorporate the possibility that “come again” refers to Jesus coming to resurrect the saints. This objection is noted but perhaps if we view the kingdom as breaking into history in stages, having its culmination in the resurrection, that this problem is resolved. Paul’s had what I call a “now-but-not-yet” eschatology. We sit in the heavens now, but not yet it ts fullness. I believe the same is true of Jesus. We have eternal life now (John 17:3; John 5:28), it is realized, but its not yet (John 5:28-29). In a similar sense, he has come in the Spirit, and we live with him now, but its through a glass dimly where we longingly wait the glories manifestation of the children of God.

ENDNOTES

[1] I apologize in advance for not citing the various authors who hold these positions for those who desire to do their own research. This blog entry is intended on being a light read, or some of my “musings” if you will. I only intend on giving a summary of the views and show the strengths and weaknesses.

[2] Philo however does refer to heaven as the Father house (Philo Som. 1.256). “Father’s House” in John meant temple, Jesus said, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!” Jesus understood the Father’s House to be the temple–and John expects the reader to connect this catch-phrase with the earlier reference.

[3] The Book of Enoch and Baruch depict the righteous souls in chambers awaiting the final resurrection; this disembodied state would only be until God’s eschatological return.

[4] Craig Keener. Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (pp. 28-29). Kindle Edition.

[5] I think it is a mistake to interpolate Luke’s witness of the Spirit coming on Pentecost with John’s that has the Spirit coming on the disciples at the resurrection. The image John is painting is new creation, where God breathes life into man, understanding it as proleptic disturbs the picture.

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