I GO TO PREPARE WHAT PLACE?
T. PIERCE BROWN
The more I have read and meditated on Jesus’ statement in John 14:2-3, the more I am convinced it does not refer to heaven. Although this differs from the interpretation of the men I most respect in the brotherhood today, I write for the purpose of probing more deeply into Truth. I feel deeply Paul’s sentiment in Galatians 1:10. “Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be a servant of Christ.”
In order that you may follow my method of study and reasoning, I shall raise for you some of the questions I asked myself, and the answers to which I was forced by scripture and logic. I ask you to feel free to point out what you consider fallacies in logic, misuse of scripture, or possible erroneous conclusions to which this line of thinking may lead. Keep in mind one of the cardinal rules of interpretation of any passage of scripture is that one must understand it in the light of the context.
In that light we ask first, why were their hearts troubled? It was not for what might happen to them when they died, but what was to happen to them when he died. Jesus had told them that He was going away, and they could not follow Him then, but could follow afterwards (John13:36). Where was He going? The answer is found in verses 6,7,12 and 28. He was going to the Father. They were to follow afterwards. How and when? Jesus answered in verse 6, “I am the Way–no one cometh unto the Father but by me.” When were they, and when are we, to come to the Father by Christ? Are we to assume that they were to wait until the end of time, at the resurrection, when Jesus comes back to receive His own, or was Jesus talking about something even more pressing, pertinent and pointed? A careful reading of verses 20-23 will show that He was talking about something that was to happen in their lifetime. Can even a tyro in the scriptures doubt that we may have fellowship with the Father through Christ now? (Cf. Eph. 2:18) So the comforting thought He wanted to leave in their troubled hearts was that although He was leaving them in one form, He would be with them in another–not just in “a mansion over the hilltop,” but in their lives on earth during the tribulations and difficulties they would face. As we sometimes say it, “He would be with them in spirit” (Matthew 28:20).
What is meant by the term “mansions?” Contrary to popular concepts, it is not some huge architectural structure of grandeur and beauty–even with a golden street and gates of pearl–but simply means, “abiding places.” It is translated from the Greek word, “monai” and is used in verse 23 when Jesus said, “We will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” It is not necessary to dwell on that, for any serious student of the Bible can verify it at once. One might do well, however, to ask, “When was Christ and God to come and make their abode with disciples? Was it while here on earth, or only in heaven at what we commonly call the second coming?”
Another question which needs more serious consideration than a blind acceptance of a beautiful traditional viewpoint is: What did Jesus do when He went to “prepare a place” for them? The Bible also gives an answer to that. He sent the Comforter (John 16:7, Acts 2). He appeared before God for us, with His blood offered for the remission of our sins (Hebrews9:23-26). He opened for us a new and Living Way by which we may come to God, and became a High Priest over the House of God (Hebrews10:19-21, Cf. Jn. 14:2-6). This “coming to God” is not confined to coming to Him after the judgment day, which surely needs no proof. He had said, “I will build my church” (Matthew16:18). He had not built it when He died. It was built by the time the events recorded in Acts 2:47 took place. He went to heaven during that time. However, He did not go to prepare the eternal kingdom (Matthew 25:34). It had been prepared from the foundation of the world! Instead of going to prepare an eternal resting place for the Saints, He went to prepare a present working place for them here! If you really think, as we have heard many preachers say, “He is up there now preparing a place for us,” you should at least be able to suggest what you think He is doing. Is he repairing the hinges on the pearly gates, or repaving the golden street or exactly what? How long do you think it would take for One who could speak the world into existence with a word to prepare a “mansion in heaven” for us? Keep in mind that the term “place” (Greek-topos) does not necessarily refer to a geographic location, but may refer to a position or relationship. We use the word in that way in many contexts. “He should stay in his place,” or “I put him in his place,” or “The place where a person is saved or at peace with God is the church.” Since we know that the church is not a “place” in the sense of a locality, we realize it means what the song means when we sing, “I’ve found a hiding place.” So the assumption that He went some “place” to prepare that “place” (locality) for us is merely an unwarranted assumption.
One may at this point raise a question about Hebrews 9:11-28 and what, if anything, it has to do with His “preparing a place” for us. Did not Christ enter into the holy place, as a Great High Priest, in order to prepare for us to enter into that place? Without question, He did. Everything He did in establishing the church, dying for us, offering His blood (Hebrews9:12) was to obtain eternal redemption for us. That there is to be “a salvation reserved in heaven for us, who are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5) is without question. The question is, “Were the disciples, in John 14, troubled about their going to heaven, or were they troubled about the fact that Christ was going away and they could not see how He could go away and still come “again” and be with them.
The next question to be raised is: When was He to come again and receive them unto himself, that where He was they would be? With the thoughts in mind we have already suggested, read the passage again until you come to verse 18 in which He says, “I will not leave you desolate (orphans): I come to you.” Can any thoughtful Bible student assume that He means the coming at the end of time? Remember that they were grieved and troubled that He is going away, but He comforts them with the thought that although He is going away, they will not be left desolate without Him. As He lived, they would live with Him, and with the Father (v. 19). Then He says in verse 20, “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father and ye in me and I in you.” Most certainly “that day” with the knowledge that they were in Him would not be delayed until “the second coming” at the end of time!
In verse 21 when He says, “I will manifest myself to him,” surely no one can conclude that He means that He will only manifest himself to us at His “second coming.” His manifestation (emphanizo) would be to those who kept His commandments (v. 21). Thayer says (p. 209) that this speaks of “Christ giving evidence by the action of the Holy Spirit on the souls of the disciples that He is alive in heaven.” He certainly did not intend to wait until the end of time to do that! He specifically points out that those who keep the word of God will have abiding companionship of Christ and God (v. 23). Remember that the word “abode” here is the same word as the word “mansion” in verse 2. Either He has changed His subject three times, or He is still talking about the same thing He begins in verse 2.
He tells them in verse 29 that they would believe it when it came to pass. Is anyone bold enough to suggest or affirm that they were to wait until they went to heaven, or at the end of time, to believe? Or is it not plain that He is saying, “I am coming back to be with you, and we will have fellowship one with another while you live on this earth?” He is talking about the same thing in chapter 16:19-26 as he mentions that in a little while they would see Him again and their sorrow is to be turned to joy, and they are to pray the Father in His name. Surely no one can seriously assume that such was to wait until the judgment day! It was in this dispensation that He was to receive them unto himself and be with them, not simply a promise that after their deaths and an unknown period He would resurrect them and be with them “in the sweet by and by.” This in no sense denies the existence of heaven, the promise of the second coming and resurrection, or that we have an inheritance reserved (1 Peter 1:4). It does suggest that Jesus is not talking about those things in these passages. The eternal kingdom in heaven is a prepared “place” for a prepared people, but there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that Jesus was preparing it when He went to the father, for Matthew 25:34 says it was prepared from the foundation of the world. If you think He went to heaven to prepare it for us, what do you think He was doing to improve it or make it a fit dwelling place for us? As we have already suggested, the only thing you could possibly logically assume by reading the Bible is what is suggested in Hebrews 9, where you would assume that his blood not only prepared the way for us to enter heaven, but somehow sanctified heaven itself, or prepared it for us. Do we need to wait until judgment day to enter into the holy and have fellowship with the Father, or may we have fellowship with the Father in the holy place now as a result of what Jesus prepared for us? Surely no one who understands the nature of the church and Bible teaching can fail to see that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are said to make their abode (mone-John 14:23) with us now.
Having raised and shown the Bible answer to a number of questions, let us conclude by paraphrasing and summarizing what we believe Jesus to be teaching in this and related passages.
“I am going away from you, physically, but that should not trouble you. Under my Fathers direction and in His presence we may abide in many different places. My Father and I will not be confined to any one locality, as I am now physically. I am going to prepare a place for you in which we may have constant fellowship one with another, no matter where you are, or in what condition of life. I am now going to the Father to finish that preparation. (One of my Apostles will later express it as `purchasing the church with my blood’). You will come to the Father by me, and as long as you keep my commandments, we will all three be together–one–in that place I am to prepare (Cf. John 17:23), for you are the “called out ones.” The world can not see me, but you will see me (Cf. 2 Cor.4:18). You do not understand that now, but you should believe it and find comfort. You will understand it when the Spirit comes and my Father and I abide with you. You will come to the Father through me (Cf. Eph.2:13,16,18). Therefore your heart should not be troubled by the fact that I will be absent from you physically through death, for it is only this way that the Comforter will come and you can come to the Father through me. In just a little while you will see me no more, but in just another little while you will see me far more clearly in a spiritual sense than you have seen me physically. Then you will rejoice, for then neither life nor death can take you from me, and you can ask the Father anything which I authorize and He will give it to you.”
These verses, then, are not a promise of “a mansion in heaven just waiting for you at the end of life’s troublesome way,” but of a mansion (mone–abiding place) in this life–a joyous fellowship with Christ, where we walk in the light as He is in the light, having constant fellowship and cleansing from all sin, with a peace that passes understanding because it is no longer we who live, but Christ living in us.
Which do you think would have been more comforting to the sorrowing Apostles just then, to be told that “some sweet day when life is o’er, we shall meet again,” or that during the dangerous and troublesome days ahead they would have strength, fellowship, joy, peace, comfort and power through HIS presence as they lived and worked in one of the “abiding places” in the Father’s house? Thank God we do not have to give up one for the other! But the question is, “About which was He here speaking?” Does Christ want His disciples to rejoice only in the hope of eternity, but also in the fact that “the Lord is at hand,” a “very present help in time of trouble?”
For those who find fault with my exegesis because it would necessitate more than one coming, may I ask, Do you find more than one kind of “coming” taught in the Bible? Even in that chapter, in verse 23 when Jesus says, “We will come unto him,” is that the coming at the end of the age? If not, then we have more than one kind of coming. This has nothing to do with the strange and false idea that AD 70 was “the second coming” or the end of the world that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. Surely anyone who believes the statement of Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always” must understand that He has to come in some sense to be with us, since He went away.