Our study will be most profitable to us if we begin by reading the whole passage within which the words of our text are found. It is one continuous conversation, with one central theme: the impending departure of Jesus from earth.
John 13:30-14:30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. 31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
36 Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. 37 Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. 38 Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 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. 3 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. 4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.
30 Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. 31 But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.
These forty verses were spoken during the span of time from the departure of the traitor to the departure of Jesus and His disciples from the upper room. In this passage, Jesus gently instructs His disciples regarding what to expect, and what they are to keep in mind; so that their faith will not altogether fail when He is cruelly put to death, and their most cherished hopes seem to fail. He repeatedly referred to His coming demise, so that it would be clear to them that He was going away from them; first in death, and then by His ascension unto heaven.
As I said, the theme running through this discourse is the imminent departure of Jesus from this world; or rather Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for this pivotal, and — to them — traumatic event. There are no less than twenty-four verses out of these forty which contain references [italicized] to the end of Jesus’ bodily presence on earth among His disciples; but the whole is directed at the needs of their hearts and minds; both at present, and when He must leave them. For this is the night in which He is going to be betrayed.
At the heart of this passage are the words whose meaning is in question:
14:2 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. 3 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.
These are simple words; and many people think that it is obvious what they mean:
1. That Jesus will come again, at some time in the future, from our reference point.
2. That He will come this time bodily.
3. That He will then take us to heaven, where our eternal homes are prepared and waiting for us.
4. That this is either the Second Coming (traditional Protestants) or the Rapture of the church (Dispensationalists).
But this view, however obvious it may seem, falls short of a correct interpretation, for the following reasons:
1. The context does not support it. I have already shown that the subject matter of this passage is the imminent departure of Jesus from this world; and that its purpose is to prepare the twelve disciples for that earthshaking event. Accordingly, Jesus is allaying their fear and grief at the thought of being left alone, without Him. He assures them that they will follow after Him (without, however, telling them when); and that at length, they will “be with” Him.
[Take note that, while these words were recorded for us; they were not addressed to us. While they described something that was in the future from the disciples’ perspective, they should not be assumed to speak of an event that is future from our point of view. In fact, they are not.]
It is to this end, “that [they] may be with [Him]”, that He “will come again and receive [them] unto [Himself]”. The Greek words which are translated as “that where I am, there ye may be also” constitute a “purpose clause”. He comes and receives them in order that they may be with Him in glory.
Here is the problem: these disciples, to whom He spoke, have already died, and been with Him for many centuries (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Why then would He say that He would “come and receive” those who are not here, so that they might be with Him in heavenly mansions? They were already there with Him long before the Second Coming, which has not happened even yet.
The Second Coming could not possibly have come while the Apostles were still alive; because there were prophecies that had to be be fulfilled before He would come again. For example, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, which did not occur until 70 A.D. after most of the disciples were dead. He could not possibly have returned to the earth before that time.
2. It follows, then, that Jesus must have been speaking of something that would occur before the Second Coming, when the Apostles were still alive. Notice that He does not say in this place that He will return bodily, nor does He say that this is going to be His Second Coming. He simply says that He will “come” to them. Now, there is a spiritual coming of Christ as well as a physical one. The spiritual coming is found in unmistakable terms in this very passage. I would refer you to verses 14:18, 23:
“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (verse 18)
Here, He is saying to His disciples that He will come to them when the Comforter comes (verse 16). Jesus will send Him when He is glorified, that is, when He has ascended to His throne in heaven. (See John 7:39; Acts 2:32-33) When a king sends an ambassador with authority to act in his name, it is as if the king himself had come; for only the King’s words and his will are communicated, and any messages will be returned to the king. This may be sufficient to explain the words, “I come to you”.
But a better explanation is that, because the Holy spirit and the Son of God are one in the unity of the Godhead, Jesus’ presence accompanies the Spirit’s. It is for this reason also that the Holy spirit is called “the Spirit of Christ”. (Romans 8:9) Jesus is leaving them as to his bodily presence; but He will come to them and continue to be with them Spiritually. What comfort is in these words!
“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (verse 23)
This is not spoken of a once-for-all coming of Christ at the last day, but of God’s rewarding individuals in this life with His spiritual presence (see verses 21-22). Jesus and the Father are one with the Holy spirit, the Comforter; so that one of them cannot come to them without the others also being present. (see 14:9-11) This is a spiritual coming.
3. Heaven is only a temporary home for believers who are absent from the body, but present with the Lord; only for as long as the Lord is in heaven. We were made from the earth; and for life on earth. The fact that we will be raised again out of the earth makes our connection with the earth even stronger. Heaven is not our eternal dwelling-place; for we are destined to live forever on a renewed earth:
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)
Revelation 21:1-5 “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’. And he said unto me, ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful.'”
Some may object that these verses do not prove that the redeemed will stay on earth; for these passages say that God will make a new heaven, too. But this “heaven” is simply the material heavens — the sky, the atmosphere. Surely we were not made to dwell in the earth’s atmosphere! And God will never need to remake the heaven where Christ and the people of God are now; where God the Father has placed his throne. But the material heavens “being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat”. (2 Peter 3:12) The old heaven and the old earth must be “burned up” (2 Peter 3:10) to make way for the new.
Besides, the New Jerusalem (whether you consider that to be the dwelling-place of the church, or the church itself) “descends out of heaven”, (verse 2)which must mean that it descends to earth. And there God, in the person of Christ Jesus, dwells with His people forever. (verse 3)
4. This coming of Christ is not the Second coming, as traditionally understood; but it is not what Dispensationalists call “the rapture of the church” either. Once again, if it is interpreted as a single event, then it must have happened in the first century, before the disciples had died. Otherwise, His coming to receive them, so that they could be with Him, would be unnecessary.
Our Lord is in heaven; and not on earth; where He sits on the throne of His glory, and where He must remain until the day of His return (Acts 3:20-21) , and of the resurrection of the dead:
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (1Corinthians 15:20-23)
When He returns to earth, He will bring with Him those believers who “sleep”; that is, those who have been with Him in heaven, whose bodies are in the grave, as it were, sleeping, waiting to rise again.(1 Thessalonians 4:14) They will be re-united with their bodies, just as those believers who are still on earth will be changed and caught up to be with the Lord in the air. They will not return to heaven. Christ is returning to earth; and they will return with Him the rest of the way, as men go out to meet an important person when he comes to their city, to escort him within their gates.
This will not be a secret event; nor will believers just silently disappear from earth when it happens. It will be open, visible and public:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
In conclusion, Jesus was speaking of a “coming” which will occur whenever a disciple of Christ dies. Jesus will come to each of us and receive us unto Himself; that where He is, we may be also. Taking all considerations into account, there is no other possible interpretation. It may be that He will send His angels in His place to bring us to Himself. (As He did for Lazarus, Luke 16:22). Or it may be that He will manifest Himself to us spiritually, without ever leaving heaven. Or it may be both. Regardless, there is great comfort in knowing that Christ will be there for us, when it comes our time to be absent from the body.
We still look for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the Savior and judge of the world. That will be the greatest day of all! But in life, and in the day of our death, Jesus is always the hope of the saints; and He will be there when we need Him most.
Howard Douglas King
June 15, 2019