Mansions in Heaven?

pexels-photo-87378One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Matthew 12:6

The idea that heaven looks like a celestial version of a luxurious suburb where the rich and famous live, lined with multi-storey “mansions” that have been prepared for us by Jesus, derives from the King James Version’s translation of Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3:

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.

The word “mansions” is an unfortunate mistranslation of the Greek “moinia,” which is the plural form of “moné,” a word which is more accurately translated as dwelling place, abode, lodging or room. Thus, modern translations have dropped the usage of “mansion” and typically use “room” or “dwelling place.”

But here is the interesting thing: As always, the Bible is its own best interpreter, if one would only look. The word moné only appears twice in the entire Bible, and its second appearance is but a few verses on, in John 14:23:

Jesus answered 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.”

Thus, the dwelling place that Jesus said he would prepare for us in the Father’s house is the very dwelling place that he said he and the Father would bring back and make with us!

Even more amazing, Jesus spoke these words to clarify his statement in verse 20:

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This sentence makes it abundantly clear that the dwelling that has been made possible by Jesus is reciprocal, namely us in Jesus/the Father and, at the same time, Jesus/the Father in us.

How will all of this this happen?

Verses 16 to 19 answer this:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.

With this in mind, we are ready to re-read verse 3 which immediately follows the KJV’s “mansions” statement:

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.

For Jesus to receive us “unto himself,” so that we can be “where he is,” is to receive us into the very dwelling place “in the Father” that he alone had enjoyed since eternity before time. This is the “dwelling place” that he had to go and prepare for us in order to receive us into it so that we can be “in the Father” as he is “in the Father” and so that both he and the Father can indwell us.

It now seems incredible that one could miss the obvious meaning of Jesus’ statement. The “coming again” of verse 3 is clearly not a reference to Jesus’ second coming on the clouds, but a reference to his coming through the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by another one of Jesus’ statements in the very passage that we are busy with. Note verse 26:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Ultimate Aim: Abide in Christ

If any doubt remains, note that the whole of John 14 serves as a precursor to John 15, a chapter that gives us the following statement right in its introduction:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.[1]

Firstly, note the reference to the reciprocal indwelling: Us in Christ, and Christ in us.

Secondly, note the word “abide.” As you may have picked up, it closely resembles the noun “abode” spoken of earlier, and is in fact its verb form. This is not only true in English but also in Greek. The Greek word for abide, believe it or not, is “menó” which happens to be the root word from which “moné” is derived!

Thus, to abide in Christ, as we are told to do in John 15, we first need the abode of John 14! Put differently, we cannot dwell in Christ unless he has first prepared a dwelling place for us in which to dwell!

The logic and simplicity of Jesus’ teaching is astounding once we see it, and provides us with profound insight into the central aspect of the Spirit’s ministry: To enable God to dwell in our midst, according to all the Scriptural promises in the Old Testament, by dwelling in us and allowing us to dwell in him.

One of the main problems, it seems, is that we derive our understanding of the Spirit’s work from the book of Acts rather than from the teaching of Jesus, especially as it has been recorded in John’s gospel.

Whereas Acts focuses on the effect of the Spirit’s outpouring, Jesus’ teaching focuses on the reason behind it.

The difference is monumental: Note that Acts is all about the activities of a church who have experienced a divine life exchange due to the fact that they have received the dynamic life and presence of Christ in the place of their old carnal lives.

This is the result of the Spirit’s infilling, and can be compared with the way in which a young man’s schedule and habits may be completely changed as a result of having entered into a relationship with the woman of his dreams.

But to say that the purpose of a romantic relationship is to receive the power and ability to change one’s lifestyle is to put the cart before the horses and to lose all romantic perspective!

Yet this is exactly what we have done by elevating the power of the Spirit above the relational dynamic between God and humanity made possible by it.

The Location of the Father’s House

Finally, let us note that the KJV’s “mansions” that we have now identified as “dwelling places” or “abodes,” are prepared by Jesus in the “Father’s house:”

In my Father’s house are many mansions…

What and where is this house of the Father?

Again, Scripture is its own best commentator. When Jesus was twelve years old he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Feast of Passover, without his parents’ knowledge. They looked for him for three days before finding him in the temple. When they finally did, this is what he said to them:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?[2]

Similarly, earlier on in the gospel of John we read the well known story of how Jesus drove the money-changers and religious merchandizers out of the temple in Jerusalem.[3]

Note Jesus’ words while he was doing so:

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

When Jesus spoke about “my Father’s house,” he was referring to the temple! There is not a single example in the entire Bible where he, or anyone else, uses the phrase in any other way.

This is where it gets really interesting. The incident with the money-changers continues in John’s gospel to include the following conversation:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Whilst we are told that Jesus was referring to the “temple of his body,” there is a clear play on words here. The “destruction of the temple” hints to an event that Jesus predicted elsewhere,[4] and that was literally fulfilled in 70 AD when the Roman armies sacked Jerusalem under Titus.

But it also refers to his crucifixion, which explains what he meant when he said that he would raise it up in three days.”

Here Jesus begins to expand our understanding of the temple. It will no longer be a building made with bricks and built by human hands. It will be the resurrected body of Christ.

As we know from the rest of the New Testament, Jesus was not only referring to his physical body, but to the regenerated saints who would become his dwelling place, thus his “body.” We are raised with him, we are in him as he is in us, and so we are called his “body:”

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.[5]

So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.[6]

It follows naturally that if we are the resurrected body of Christ, then we are also the rebuilt temple that he spoke of to the Jews, namely the place of his indwelling through his Spirit. This is not just a logical inference, but the exact way in which the Bible refers to believers:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.[7]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?[8]

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”[9]

In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.[10]

If the “Father’s house” is the temple, and we become that temple, then it follows naturally that we also become the “house:”

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope of which we boast.[11]

…you will know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.[12]

Once we see the glorious outcome of it all, it becomes extremely simple to understand why Jesus had to prepare a dwelling place for us in his Father’s house before we could become that house. The “rebuilding” of the house necessitated such a preparation, and makes perfect sense when we consider another verse that refers to this issue:

…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[13]

The bricks of the temple had to be replaced with living stones, and Christ had to prepare a place for those stones to be laid. Thus, we are given a ”dwelling place” in the Father’s house, but we also end up becoming the very fabric of that house, enabling God to dwell in us through his Spirit even as we dwell in him.

The Chambers in the Temple

There is one last point to consider, and it is to be found in Peter’s words quoted above. Note that the living stones are also identified with the priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices.

To “dwell in the temple” was no New Testament invention, and neither was the idea that there were specific “rooms” or “abodes” in the temple to enable such a dwelling. This is clear right from the beginning of the history of the temple:

Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts; for the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, and all the work of the service in the house of the Lord; for all the vessels for the service in the house of the Lord…[14]

The description of the chambers in the temple bring to mind Jesus’ words “in my Father’s house there are many rooms,” and illustrates the ridiculousness of imagining that he was referring to heavenly mansions that resemble the estates of the Hollywood elite.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about these chambers in his famous Wars of the Jews:

Now, about the sides of the lower part of the temple there were little houses, with passages out of one into another; there were a great many of them, and they were three stories high…[15]

These chambers had a variety of functions, which included priestly service. This dated back from the time of God’s first “house”, the Tabernacle:

…the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.[16]

It goes without saying that the disciples who were listening to Jesus’ words in John 14:2 would immediately have thought of these priestly chambers and the functions associated with them. This was Jesus’ way of preparing them for the very truth that he would establish a new “priesthood” in his “Father’s house,” and that this would be linked to his return to them, when he and the Father would make their home with those who have placed their faith in Christ..

This could only take place through the “Spirit of truth” who would be sent to “dwell with them and be in them.” Here we find the true ministry of the Spirit, and a fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose, namely to have an offspring in his image and likeness with whom he would dwell eternally.

 (The above is an excerpt from Romans: the Big Picture)

[1] John 15:4

[2] Luke 2:49

[3] John 2:13-22

[4] See Matthew 24:2

[5] Ephesians 1:22-23

[6] Romans 12:5

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

[8] 2 Corinthians 6:19

[9] 2 Corinthians 6:16

[10] Ephesians 2:21-22

[11] Hebrews 3:6

[12] 1 Timothy 3:15

[13] 1 Peter 2:5

[14] 1 Chronicles 28:10-13

[15] For Josephus’ description of the temple, see The Wars of the Jews, V 5: 1- 6

[16] 1 Chronicles 9:26-27