The word used in verse 2 that is often translated “mansions” actually means “dwelling places.” Here the American Standard Version, the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, and several others translated it “mansions.” The English Standard Version translates it “rooms.” The New American Standard Version seems to be the most accurate translation, “dwelling places.” A brief explanation of how our English copies ended up using the word “mansions” should be sought. In the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible used until the time of the Reformation) the word “mansiones” is found in verse 2. But this does not carry the same connotation as our modern understanding of “mansion.” The meaning of the Latin, “mansiones,” is “living-places.” The Greek word used in verse 2 is only used one other place in Scripture–in verse 23 of John 14. There Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My commandments, and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our “home” with him.” Here the idea is that the Father and the Son, in the Holy Spirit (see chapters 14-16), will come and dwell in the hearts of believers. So that we can understand verse 2 speaking about the day when we will dwell with the Godhead in eternity, but in verse 23 Jesus explains that even here and now all the members of the Godhead dwell with believers.
The second, and more often, frequently misunderstood part of John 14 is that dealing with Jesus’ saying “I go to prepare a place for you.” Since He has already mentioned the Father’s house it is important that we try to get the best interpretation of that phrase before we can look into how Jesus prepares a place for us there. Historically there have been several explanations for this terminology. Many interpreters have noted that this is perhaps Jesusâ€™ way of illustrating Heaven from the perspective of the Jewish culture. It was the custom of the Jews in Jesusâ€™ day in regard to the expansion of a family, that when it came time for a Jewish man to get married, instead of leaving his fatherâ€™s house, he would build an addition on the home so that the newlyweds would live with the father and yet still have their own place. The rationale behind this parallel is that Jesus is painted as the Bridegroom and His disciples are called His bride in the Gospel. In the context the Fatherâ€™s house is mentioned so that it is quite a natural explanation. But I think this still does not do justice to the context and the content of what is being said.
The Jews of Christâ€™s day would have understood the words â€œMy Fatherâ€™s Houseâ€ to be a reference to the Temple. This is more explainable in the context. God dwelt in the Temple and there were various rooms in the Temple for the Priests. We will revisit this idea when we come to speak of Christâ€™s preparing a place for His people. For now it will suffice to say that he Temple is, in Scripture (particularly in the book of Hebrews and Revelation) the place where God dwells with His people. Heaven is spoken of as being the true Temple. The earthly tabernacle and Temple were simply types of the Heavenly. So the Heavenly Temple is what is meant by the Fatherâ€™s house. In his commentary on John, A.W. Pink made the following observations:
The Father’s house is His dwelling place. It is noteworthy that the Lord Jesus is the only one who ever referred to the “Father’s house,” and He did so on three occasions. First, He had said of the temple in Jerusalem, “Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise” (John 2:16). Then He had mentioned it in connection with the prodigal son and his elder brother: “As he came and drew near to the house (i.e. the father’s) he heard music and dancing”; here it is presented as the place of joy and gladness. In John 14 Christ mentions it as the final abode of the saints.
Again he noted:
The Temple at Jerusalem had been called the Father’s “house” because it was there that the symbol of His presence abode, because it was there that His people communed with Him. But before the Lord Jesus closed His public ministry He disowned the Temple, saying, “Behold your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:38). Therefore does the Savior now transfer this term to the Father’s dwelling-place on High, where He will grant to His redeemed a more glorious revelation of Himself, and where they shall worship Him, uninterruptedly, in the beauty of holiness.
Later on Pink commented:
“In My Father’s House are many mansions.” The many rooms in the Temple prefigured these (see I Kings 6:5, 6; Jer. 35:1-4, etc.). The word “mansions” signifies “abiding places”–a most comforting term, assuring us of the permanency of our future home in contrast from the “tents” of our present pilgrimage.
This interpretation lays the groundwork for understanding what Jesus means when He says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” It is only as we read the words of John 14:1,2 in light of Hebrews 9-10 (which speak of the heavenly Temple being sanctified with the blood of Christ) that we come to understand that our Lord is speaking about going to the cross to prepare a place for His own. The section in which these verses are found opens with the words, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” And Jesus has already told the disciples that He is going away so that they are troubled in heart. This is precisely the reason for His words in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled neither let them be afraid.” Jesus Christ came into the world to “go” to the cross. He would return to the Father by means of His atoning death and resurrection. Pink drew these conclusions when he wrote:
He does not (at this time) explain how the place in the Father’s house should be prepared for them; nor were they yet, perhaps, able to understand. The Epistle to Hebrews will show us, if we turn to it, that the heavenly places had to be purified with the better sacrifices which He was to offer, in which all the sacrifices of the law would find their fulfillment. Ephesians speaks similarly of the ‘redemption of the purchased possession;’ and Colossians of the ‘reconciliation of things in heaven’ (Heb. 9:23; Eph. 1:14; Col. 1:20).
And finally he observed:
“I go to prepare a place for you.” We understand this to mean that the Lord Jesus has procured the right–by His death on the cross–for every believing sinner to enter heaven. He has prepared for us a place there by entering Heaven as our representative and taking possession of it on behalf of His people. He has prepared for us a place by entering the ‘holy of holies‘ on High as our great High Priest carrying our names in with Him. Christ would do all that was necessary to secure for His people a welcome and permanent place in Heaven.
So we see that it was by the blood that He shed on the cross that Jesus prepared a place for us in the Father’s house. We are made kings and priests to our God and are given a place to dwell with Him in the Heavenly Temple. It is now our reward to be with the One who secured this for us by His death and resurrection. This is why Jesus finally brings comfort to the disciples in John 14:3 by saying, “If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be also.” Come Lord Jesus, bring us to our eternal dwelling place.