Sometimes when we read Scripture, we do not even notice the difficult questions it raises. We may be so accustomed to a certain passage that we simply take it for granted, so when we come across it in our personal reading or in the liturgy, we do not think twice about what it is really saying. That can happen with a lot of texts, and in this article, I want to look at one of them. More specifically, I want to look at something puzzling Jesus says in the Gospel of John. I am sure most of us are familiar with these words, but we often do not even realize just how odd they really are. Here is the passage:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
On the surface, this text seems simple enough. Jesus’ death is coming soon, so “my Father’s house” is clearly heaven. He is saying that when He dies, He is going to go to heaven, and he is going to prepare a place there for his disciples. Then, when they die, He will bring them to the spot in paradise that was prepared just for them. Simple enough, right?
When Jesus Comes Again
Not quite. If we look at Jesus’ words here carefully, that is not actually what He says. He doesn’t say that He will bring His followers to heaven when they die. Rather, He says that He will bring them to the Father’s house after He comes again, so to really understand this saying, we have to figure out when exactly He is going to “come again.”
And we have a few options to choose from. When we talk about Jesus coming again, that naturally brings to mind His second coming, so at first, this might seem like the most obvious answer. However, there is a problem with it. Remember, Jesus is talking about leaving his disciples at His death, and as we know, Jesus already returned to His disciples just a few days after that when He rose from the dead.
So despite what the language of coming again usually means, this odd saying has to be referring to the resurrection, not the second coming. But how could that be? The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tell us that Jesus ascended into heaven fairly soon after rising from the dead, and he obviously left his disciples on earth. So how could the resurrection really fit his words here in John 14?
The Meaning of Mone
The key to answering that question, I would suggest, lies in the Greek word Jesus uses for “rooms.” It is mone, and it is only used one other time in the entire New Testament:
“If a man 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” (John 14:23).
The word translated here as “home” is actually mone, and since it comes so soon after Jesus’ mysterious words about the multiple monai (the plural of mone) in the Father’s house, there has to be a connection here. He is explaining just what He was talking about at the beginning of the chapter, and it is not heaven. Rather, He is talking about the indwelling of God in Christians.
Mone and Meno
Admittedly, that might seem a bit far-fetched at first, but a further look at the context of these two passages fleshes the idea out a bit more and helps us to understand how this all works. See, throughout chapters 14 and 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus also uses the word meno, the verb form of mone, multiple times, and most of them have to do with this same theme (I’ve italicized the words that translate meno):
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10).
“And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 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” (John 14:16-17).
“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. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:4-7).
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).
God in Us, and Us in God
As you can see, all of these passages have to do with the indwelling of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one another as well as the incorporation of Christians into that mutual indwelling. And that, I would suggest, is what Jesus means when He says that his Father’s house has many “rooms” (or, as I would prefer to translate it, “dwellings”). He is not talking about physical rooms in a physical place. He is not even using the word metaphorically to refer to heaven.
No, He is talking about the mutual indwellings of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and Christians. The three persons of the Trinity all dwell in one another, and now, through the grace Jesus won for us on the cross, we Christians can participate in that communion of love as well.
And once we understand that, we can also see why Jesus says that He’ll bring his followers there after He comes back. When He died, He left this earth and “went back” to the full communion He shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit before His Incarnation (I put it in quotes because, as God, He never truly left), and when He returned to His disciples after rising from the dead, He incorporated them into that communion as well. As a result, all of His followers throughout the rest of history can now dwell in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit too, just as they now dwell in us.
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