by Al Maxey

Issue #267 ------- September 27, 2006
Crosses are Ladders to Heaven.
Thomas Fuller {1654-1734}

In My Father's House
A Study of John 14:2-3

It was the night of His betrayal and arrest. The events associated with the Last Supper were very quickly coming to an end. The feet of the disciples had been washed; Judas had left to carry out his mission. Our Lord was engaged in conversation with the eleven remaining men who had walked so closely with Him during the past three years. Choosing words designed to bring them comfort for the trials that lay ahead, He said, "Let not your heart be troubled; you 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" [John 14:1-3, NKJV].

These words have been the source of tremendous encouragement and comfort for countless disciples during the intervening centuries from that night until now. As His people face the trials and tribulations of this life, as they boldly serve their Lord and proclaim His grace amidst an ever growing and encroaching spiritual darkness, resolved to remain faithful unto death, hearts are cheered at the thought of those "mansions" our Lord and Savior has gone to prepare. Indeed, our hymns are filled with such rapturous expectations and contemplations. "I've got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old; and some day yonder we will never more wander, but walk the streets that are purest gold." "There's a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar; for the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a dwelling place there." Yes, I know, there are a few inaccuracies in these beloved hymns -- it is the Son who has gone to prepare for us this dwelling place, and it is a street of gold that awaits us, not streets of gold. But such discrepancies, unnoticed by most disciples who sing these words, in no way detract from the blessed assurance we have of this great reality. We're on our way home! We can't wait to arrive in that sweet by-and-by! Won't it be wonderful there?!

As precious and promising as this passage is, however, it has nevertheless raised some questions among some disciples who have paused to ponder it more deeply. In what sense does Jesus "prepare a place" for His disciples? What exactly needs to be done in that fair land that has not already been accomplished? In other words, what is the nature of these preparations? There has also been some debate among biblical scholars as to what specific events are in view in our Lord's "going" and "coming again." Does the former refer to His death or His ascension? As for the "coming again," is this a reference to His resurrection, the sending of the Spirit on Pentecost, or His Parousia? And just what are these "mansions" of which Jesus speaks? Are they literal or figurative? Strangely, this beautiful, comforting passage of Scripture has become, in some theological circles, a heated battleground. In this current issue of Reflections we shall seek to address these various concerns.

Our Mansion

"In My Father's house are many mansions." This is the rendition of the KJV, the ASV of 1901, and the NKJV. When we sing of that "mansion over the hilltop," we again reinforce the wording of these versions. Not all translations of the text use this word, however. A great many inform us that within the heavenly Father's house there are "many rooms" [NIV, RSV, CEV, ESV, and Bro. Hugo McCord's translation, just to name a few]. The NASB, NEB, NAB, again just to name a few, say that in the Father's house are "many dwelling places." The NWT reads, "many abodes." So, which is it? There is, after all, quite a huge difference between a "mansion" and a "room." Further, has anyone ever wondered how there can be a mansion inside of a house?!

The familiar phrase, "My Father's house," of course, is figurative, not literal, and is a poetic reference to the eternal abode of our God. Obviously, the word "house" is not to be taken literally, as we know from Acts 7:48 -- "The Most High does not live in houses made by men." He is too vast to be contained in a box, no matter how impressive that box might appear to us. The Jews often referred to their temple in Jerusalem as the "House of God," but even this location was not the exclusive residence of deity. R.C.H. Lenski, in his commentary on the gospel account of John, sees in the use of the terms "Father" and "house" a tender depiction of His familial love. "He has a house, a home, to which the 'household of God' now on earth (Eph. 2:19) and all His children (Gal. 3:26; Rom. 8:14-17) shall be transferred. All the tenderness and the attractiveness, the restfulness and the happiness that lie in the word 'home' are thus in the loftiest degree applied to heaven. With only a stroke or two Jesus draws a picture which fills us pilgrims, who are still far from home, with both heavenly homesickness and the sure hope of soon reaching our home" [p. 970]. David expressed this longing when he wrote those inspiring words, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!" [Psalm 23:6].

Within this heavenly home -- our Father's "house" -- are many "mansions." The word mansion "appears only once in the KJV at John 14:2, where it is an apparent carry-over from the Latin Vulgate word mansiones, meaning 'abiding places.' With the passage of time, the word 'mansion' has come to have an idea of grandiosity not intended by the original Greek nor the Latin translation" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1075]. "'Mansion' is derived from the Latin, but this does not mean a palatial house. A room set apart for each person is connoted" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 69]. The Greek word employed by the apostle John is mone, "a cognate of the verb meno (to remain, abide); it expresses the permanence of the believer's dwelling in the Father's house" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 241]. "The true meaning of the Greek term is 'abiding places,' 'abodes,' or 'dwelling places'" [Wycliffe, vol. 2, p. 1075]. "Permanent abiding places" [Lenski, p. 970]. "The imagery of a dwelling place ('rooms') is taken from the oriental house in which the sons and daughters have apartments under the same roof as their parents" [Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 143]. "Our Lord alludes here to the temple, which was called the house of God, in the precincts of which there were a great number of chambers -- 1 Kings 6:5; Ezra 8:29; Jeremiah 35:2, 4; 36:10" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 622].

The view before our eyes here is of a magnificent, eternal home in which all the children of the Father will be privileged to dwell "under one roof." We're all family -- His spiritual household -- so it is only natural that we would dwell together. David's prayer, "Let me dwell in Thy tent forever" [Psalm 61:4], will be realized. And just "who may abide in Thy tent?" asks David [Psalm 15:1]. The answer is: "He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He who does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend" [Psalm 15:2-3]. In other words, we are family ... so we had better act like it. Otherwise, don't count on dwelling within the Father's house!

Will there be ample space in this home for me? Will it be big enough? Will there be a room in the house just for me? Our Lord's words address the unspoken question of the disciples -- "In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you" [John 14:2, NIV]. "The apparent teaching is that there is plenty of room for the disciples in the Father's house. ... in the Father's house there will be an abundance of rooms for all believers in the life to come" [Wycliffe, vol. 2, p. 1075]. "A room set apart for each person is connoted" [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 69]. "There is room in heaven for the whole family of God" [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, part 2, p. 232]. "Why is the great house so spacious and commodious? Because it has been constructed to contain multitudes of inhabitants" [ibid, p. 237]. Many rooms for many children! How terribly sad that some of God's children here on earth do not realize the spaciousness of the Father's house, thus declaring a great many of their spiritual siblings to be unwelcome in that heavenly home! I think many disciples are in for quite a surprise one day. Someone said the most frequent expression to be heard that day will be: "I certainly didn't expect to see you here!" Thank God for His grace!! Maybe we should all start learning to live together here, since our Father's plan is for us to live together there. Why not get a head start?!

In our Lord's comforting, encouraging words to these eleven devoted disciples, and by extension to us as well, we also clearly perceive the permanence of this dwelling within the house of the Lord. The Greek word which the KJV translates "mansion" is actually mone, "which expresses the permanence of the believers dwelling in the Father's house" [ISBE, vol. 3, p. 241]. It comes from a word which simply means "to remain, abide." In the Father's house are many abiding places; many "rooms" within which we may forever remain. "It is derived from menein -- 'to abide permanently;' the word indicates the believer's eternal, unchangeable and final home in the House of God" [Zondervan, vol. 4, p. 69]. To those who overcome, Jesus has promised that He will make them "a pillar in the temple of My God, and they will not go out from it anymore" [Rev. 3:12]. Our sojourn will be over; our wilderness wandering will at long last be at an end. "The settled life is thought of rather than the wandering one" [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, part 2, p. 260].

Going - Preparing - Coming

Jesus said, "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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" [John 14:2-3, NKJV]. Our Lord speaks of going, of making preparation, and of coming again. One might think the interpretation here would be a rather simple and obvious one, however one would be wrong. There has been some significant debate over just where Jesus was going, and also just when, and in what manner, and for what purpose, He would return. How one answers these questions will have a tremendous impact upon how one then interprets the statement that He has gone to make preparation. First, consider some of the theories relating to His going:

The Cross --- A few biblical scholars, though they are very much in the minority, believe Jesus was speaking of going to His death on a cross. After all, the closer that event came, the more He prepared His disciples for it. Indeed, immediately prior to the passage under review in this issue of Reflections, Jesus, speaking of His passion, said, "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. ... Where I am going, you cannot come" [John 13:33]. Peter asked, "Lord, where are you going?" [vs. 36]. Jesus responded, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." Most scholars feel Jesus was speaking of His own death, and also the fact that Peter would years later follow the Lord to his own cross in the city of Rome. It is at this point that Jesus makes the statement about going to prepare a place for them. It doesn't take a wealth of insight to perceive that it was at the cross that our Lord Jesus Christ truly prepared for each of us a dwelling place in His Father's house!

The Father's House --- Although the former view has much to commend it, and we certainly can't deny that our Lord truly did make preparation for us at the cross, nevertheless the far more popular view is that Jesus spoke of going to the Father's house where He would make preparation for our arrival. This leads to a rather significant question, however -- just exactly what needs to be prepared? Is not that home with God already prepared? In Matt. 25:34, where Jesus speaks of His return to claim His own, He tells us that these words shall be heard: "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Thus, what additional preparation is required? By the way, the same Greek word is used in both places [John 14:2-3; Matthew 25:34] -- hetoimazo, which means "to make ready; to prepare." The Pulpit Commentary asks, "Is this to be taken as a real preparation, or is it only a way of speaking? Is there now some actual work of the glorified Jesus going on which amounts to a necessary preparation for His glorified people? Surely it must be so!" [vol. 17, part 2, p. 260]. Just as God, the Creator, made earth ready for habitation by men, "in like manner Jesus is making heaven ready" [ibid], although one is still left wondering just what was previously lacking that now must be prepared, and is it really taking Him hundreds and thousands of years to accomplish this task?! Interesting questions!

Most of those who embrace this view feel that the use of the term "preparation" is purely a figure of speech, and is not to be taken literally. In other words, we should not create this picture in our minds of Jesus "up in Heaven" feverishly "building & decorating mansions" so that they will all be ready when the Father gives the signal it is time for Him to return and lead the redeemed home. Jesus is merely using terms and phrases that would have been meaningful to the disciples. Just as Jesus sent several of them ahead, on that very same day, to prepare a place where they could all surround the table and observe the final Passover meal together [Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13], so now does Jesus suggest to them that HE will go ahead of them and prepare that eternal feast at the table of the Father. David, when speaking of the house of God in which he longed to dwell forever, said, "Thou dost prepare a table before me" [Psalm 23:6]. In our Lord's Parable of the Wedding Feast, we find the king saying, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner ... come to the wedding feast" [Matt. 22:4]. Jesus has gone to the Father's house (this took place at the ascension) to make ready that eternal wedding feast. John was told to write, "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" [Rev. 19:9].

I am personally of the view that much of the language of the Lord to these disciples was figurative, and that it had reference to the Jewish wedding customs, with which these disciples would have been very familiar. After all, are not we (the redeemed of all ages) the bride of Christ Jesus? Thus, is it not logical that He would go to prepare a place for His bride, then return to claim her and take her to that home? Notice the various elements of the Jewish wedding festivities:

If this is indeed the scenario that our Lord sought to convey to these beloved disciples that evening, and I believe it is, then His coming again would be a reference to His parousia (the second coming at the end of time). This certainly seems to fit our text -- "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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" [John 14:1-3, NKJV]. "All things are ready, come to the feast. Come, for the table now is spread" [from the hymn: All Things Are Ready]. Our eternal home is a prepared place for a prepared people! We merely await His coming!! Although some would suggest the "coming" of Christ mentioned to the disciples that evening was really the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, or His coming out of the tomb on the third day, neither of these truly fit the language and figures employed. "The reference is not to Christ's return from the grave, but a return from heaven, the second coming of the Lord, which is a part of the Christian faith" [David Lipscomb, The Gospel According to John, p. 220]. "The promise of Jesus refers to the parousia. The coming again is the counterpart of the going away; visibly Jesus ascends, visibly He returns -- Acts 1:9-11" [Lenski, p. 974].

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann rightfully and insightfully observes, "There are few passages of Scripture that are so replete with the merciful love of the Savior as this one!" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT: vol. 1, p. 488]. "The mansions are there even now, by the love of the Father; and trust in the Savior will bring them into the possession of all believers. As children of God, through faith in Jesus, we have a right and a part in the home of the Son. And Jesus, having made all preparations for their reception and eternal entertainment, will not leave His disciples to find their way above as best they can, but will complete His labor of love by coming again and receiving them to Himself and taking them along with Him to the places of their everlasting stay" [ibid]. "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev. 22:20].

Reflections on CD
Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
Order Your Copy Today

Happy 80th Birthday Dad
Today, Wednesday, September 27th, my dad [Alfred H. Maxey, 3rd ... I am Alfred H. Maxey, 4th] celebrates his 80th birthday. Dad's are very special people, and I'm glad mine is still around to provide love, friendship, and wise counsel. I couldn't have asked for a better one! He has always been there for me, and has always been supportive. God knew what He was doing when He gave me this man for my earthly father! He's a retired school principal and superintendent, and even served for a time as the head of the American schools in Nicaragua. Most importantly, he's a devoted Christian, and has served for many decades as an elder with the Church of Christ in Cortez, Colorado. He was instrumental in helping found the church among the Navajo Indians on the reservation, and I can still remember being in the crowd on Sunday mornings in small gatherings as my dad preached and a Navajo brother translated the message into their language. He was even on the cover of Firm Foundation back in the late 50's or early 60's, with me standing at his side (as just a boy), as he was pictured working with the Navajo people. I still have a copy of that cover page. I'm proud of my dad (and my mom, too), and pray they are around a good many more years!! May God richly bless them, as they have been such a blessing to me and to so many others!

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in California:

Al, We just completed a very good class on the letters to Timothy and Titus, taught by a former elder of our church. Upon reading Titus 3:9-11, and placing it in the first century context, another former elder, who was a member of the class, made the comment [he'd never had any first-hand experience with legalism to the degree I have, so I gave him one of my two copies of "Behold the Pattern;" he could hardly believe what he was reading] that when we malign one another, for whatever reason, it certainly does not bring a smile to the face of our Father. When he made that comment, I thought of you and the recent attack that was made on you by the person in Indiana who called you "a damn liar and a coward." Al, it does my heart good to read your weekly Reflections and the readers' comments. Your ministry is touching lives and changing hearts through the power of the Word. Keep up the good work, my brother!!! Just wanted to encourage you this evening. Also, my wife and I have begun getting up early enough each morning [she teaches school] to walk two miles before getting ready for work. We walk another two miles in the evenings. I find the morning walks a great time to pray, and often pray for you. Evening walks involve our 90-pound psycho-puppy, and that leaves no room for mental distraction!

From a Minister in Arizona:

Dear Bro. Al, Thanks so much for your article on Isaiah 7:14. It was well-written and well-documented. It is also an excellent resource for those who would like to learn about how to study prophecy. I plan to print it out, with your name on it, and make it available for a handout, if you do not mind. It is a great resource, and I would love to share it with my congregation and a few new Christians who need to learn how to approach and study such passages. Thanks, brother!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, It has always been the case that pseudo-scholarship has found great difficulty with true scholarship. Hence, we have all the relatively ignorant criticism concerning the more recent translations of Scripture. On the point of the proper understanding of Isaiah 7:14, not everyone who reads your article may accept your conclusion, but all those who read it should accept the honesty and integrity with which you have handled the subject. It is an inescapable conclusion that many prophecies do have a double fulfillment.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, You do a good job on your articles. On the Isaiah 7:14 passage, however, it would probably have been a good idea to have included an in-depth explanation of the sensus plenior and its relationship to many messianic passages in the OT that are repeated in the NT. "Out of Egypt I have called my son" [Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1] is another great example. It's been great reading your articles over the past year. You are right on with every topic. I couldn't agree more. Keep up the great work. Your articles have been very good, and I always get something out of them. Luckily, I attend a small Church of Christ that is much more progressive than the others in the area. They at least allow people to express their opinions ... and then still fellowship us [imagine that]. I still fondly remember the pummeling you regularly gave me over the chess board at your house in Santa Fe, NM back in the 1980's. I frequently have intense nightmares over it!! My regards to Shelly and the [now grown] boys.

From a Minister in California:

Al, Your article "The Virgin Shall Conceive" is another gem! Scholarly, thorough, accurate, and filled with your usual grace. The real keys to understanding the prophecy are: (1) the principle of dual [or multiple] fulfillment, and (2) the meanings of the words almah and parthenos, which you presented very well. When Bible students honestly search for and find the facts, the understanding of the passage in question falls into place. Legalists within the Stone-Campbell heritage, and other traditions, will likely howl and cry about your analysis being a "liberal" interpretation. Legalists are legalists regardless of their denominational [or non-denominational] label. Nevertheless, your article was an excellent presentation, one which confirms the faith of honest students of the Word. Thanks, brother!

From an Elder in Florida:

Bro. Al, Thank you very much for that in-depth study of Isaiah 7:14. It was just as I myself understand it, but you presented it in a much more understandable way than I could have. You truly are a treasure to us all who read and grow from your weekly Reflections. May God continue to bless you in your work!

From a Ph.d. in Alabama:

Al, I am an avid reader [and purveyor] of your material. It has meant a great deal to me in my search for Truth. I spent the last ten years trying to positively influence a Non-Institutional Church of Christ group and basically got thrown out for teaching the "grace-unity heresy" [laughable, if it weren't so sad]. I am now in the process of moving to a mainstream group with a great deal of sadness over leaving some of my closest friends in bondage to what is clearly a false doctrine. After your recent article in Reflections -- You Bet Your Life [Issue #264] -- I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for membership on MarsList, mostly as an exercise to get a sense of what that whole online community was about. It has been more than two weeks now, and I have received no response from them. I am starting to get a little suspicious that there might have been others who signed up at the same time [right after your article came out on Sept. 6], and perhaps the owners are viewing all of us with suspicion. It's unbelievable that this Internet group is apparently being run as a secret society. Any light that you might be able to shed on MarsList would certainly be of interest to me.

I was reflecting some on our correspondence as I went about my business today, and feel that your true contribution is that you have appealed to traditionally "book, chapter and verse" people with powerful, cohesive, well-grounded arguments, and have enabled them to have an intellectual basis upon which to rest a newfound freedom in Christ. This approach is badly needed in our movement, which has a long history and tradition that is very "propositionally based." Most progressives in our movement have done a poor job of reaching out to the traditional Church of Christ population -- their arguments tend to be too "touchy-feely" to really appeal to that group. Again, your clarity and intellectual integrity are refreshing. I appreciate all of your efforts very much.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Brother Al, Thank you for another encouraging article ["You Bet Your Life"]. I am a multi-generational Church of Christer from a very conservative faction of the Churches of Christ. I had been drowning in doubt of my own salvation, because I was taught to "bet my life" on perfect practice, and it was all futility. Praise the Lord that He led me to understand His grace! Like another one of your readers, I'm now considered lost by my former brethren and my family, even though I consider my own spiritual life to be growing stronger daily as I draw closer to Jesus, who is the focus of more of my thoughts than ever before. I pray that God will strengthen me every day to be able to share the hope that is in me, even with those whose minds may still be darkened by years of legalism. Your articles really help with this, Al. Thanks again. Keep them coming!!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I am a pastor in a Christian Church and am thrilled at what you are doing to educate the folks who have had their minds closed to the truth of the Scriptures. I would love to be on your email list for Reflections, and will look forward to receiving your challenges, as there may be things that I need to examine afresh. God bless you!

From a Minister in Alabama:

Dear Bro. Al, I am an Assemblies of God minister who enjoys the depth of your Bible studies in your weekly Reflections. We also share some of the same commentary sets, but I think you are the superior expositor! I have recently moved into a staunch Church of Christ community in northern Alabama and have been unable to make any progress at all in having fellowship with the area Church of Christ preachers and brethren. Most, though not all, are not very cordial. I don't understand this "closed community" concept, especially when it comes to helping the needy in our area. We have a faith-based, area-wide benevolence program, however the Church of Christ churches, and there are over 100 in my county, refuse to participate in this effort. I just don't understand this spirit of division. Perhaps you could help! Thank you, and keep writing for the Lord.

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Olan and Barbara Hicks spent Wednesday night with us en route home from the ACU Lectureship. We had a long discussion about how so many today misunderstand the teaching of the Bible regarding the person, work, and gift of the Holy Spirit. We are hearing so many "uncertain sounds" in pulpits and papers that are basically Pentecostal in nature, and not biblical. We discussed who among us (within Churches of Christ) would have a broad enough influence throughout the world to effectively curb this troubling trend, and we both came to the same conclusion --- "you are the man!" I have been reading your writings even before you started Reflections, and I have read all of the latter, however I do not recall any specific writings by you on this topic. Have you written anything on this, and, if so, would you please direct me to them? If you haven't, would you consider doing some writing on the Holy Spirit? Brother Al, I deeply appreciate all your efforts for Him!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Maxey, I continue to read your weekly Reflections. You challenge me, almost weekly, and I try to give earnest, honest thought and consideration to what you have to say as you present your thinking to us. At age 80, I am still preaching each Lord's Day, driving from Tennessee to Alabama (326 miles round-trip) to be with one of the finest small country churches to be found anywhere (45-50 brethren who are God-fearing, truth-loving, righteous-living, kind, loving and generous people). It is refreshing to teach them regarding the life of Jesus Christ each week, to preach two sermons, and to conduct an "open forum" each Sunday afternoon where we have questions and answers and discussions of the Scriptures in brotherly kindness and respect for each other. I leave on Friday afternoons and return to our home on Mondays about noon. Al, you are very helpful to me with your Reflections, and I appreciate your willingness to teach and help me, and to cause me to think and to consider the matters you discuss. I pray God our Father through Jesus our Savior will care for you and yours, blessing you in every righteous work and way!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Al, I want you to know that I appreciate all that you have done and are doing in trying to bring the brotherhood closer together! I wish you the best in all that you do. You are a good Christian!

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: