John 14:1-20, Our Abode in the Father’s House

[May 22, 2011] Today let us turn to Jesus’ speech to His disciples during the Last Supper. We’ll pick up after He washes His disciples’ feet and gives them the new commandment of love. This speech takes the place of the Last Supper meal, which, like baptism, is supposed and alluded to in the Gospel according to John but never explicitly mentioned. In fact, chapters 13-17 replace the Lord’s Supper with words that disclose its meaning.

The dominating image of chapter 14 is the Father’s House as the vine dominates in chapter 15 and the woman giving birth stands out in chapter 16. This not only comprises Jesus’ longest speech in the gospel, it interprets the entire section that begins with chapter 12 and ends with chapter 21, the upper vertical arm of the gospel’s cruciform, in which Jesus makes His life communicable by His death and resurrection.

In chapter 13 Jesus is gathered with His disciples in the upper room and “while supper was taking place” He washes His disciples feet. He then speaks of His betrayal, gives the morsel to Judas, and Judas leaves the gathering. After that, Jesus says, “Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him. If God has been glorified in Him, God will glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him immediately … I am still with you a little while; you will seek Me, and … where I am going, you cannot come.” He refers to His death and resurrection that is about to take place.

Peter asks Him, “Lord, where are you going?” Even though Jesus says to him, “Where I go you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow later,” this does not fully answer the question. It addresses the issue of Peter’s own death, and his present inadequacy. It makes it clear, however, that what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of “where” He is going is not heaven the way some people imagine but death, His death on the cross. By His death and resurrection He will be glorified and go to His Father (14:12, 28; 20:17). Jesus’ response to the question, “Where are you going?” is answered by the following chapters.

A Common Misunderstanding

This would not even be worth mentioning, since it has no basis in the text of John’s gospel, except for the fact that it is such a common interpretation of this chapter, being expressed quite frequently in funeral sermons and even funeral liturgies. Unfortunately, it is not only a childish and misleading interpretation, but it prevents us from seeing the richness of what Jesus is saying not only here but throughout the gospel.

The King James Bible reads, “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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (14:2-3).

This rather bad (and silly) interpretation has it that Jesus is going to heaven (the Father’s house)—after the ascension presumably—and there He is preparing for each of us a mansion. When He comes again in glory He will receive us—who have in the meantime died—so we can all go live in these mansions in heaven with Him.

The translation is unfortunate. The word for “mansion,” monē, is the same word in its noun form as “abide, dwell, remain,” menō, everywhere else. The word “abide” is a key word in this gospel and to lose sight of it here is to miss the point.

Also, Jesus is not speaking of the time forty days after His resurrection, when He ascends to heaven and leaves us by ourselves on earth. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus leaves the disciples when He dies. On the day of His resurrection (Easter Sunday) He ascends to heaven and returns by the time He manifests Himself to His disciples in the evening. This is His “coming again.” From then on, from the perspective of the Gospel according to John, He never leaves them again. He manifests Himself several more times to make it clear to them that He is still with them, but His presence with them is now permanent. His physical body has been divinized and is now wherever the Holy Spirit is. Instead of His location being restricted in space and time, He is now identical with the Holy Spirit who indwells the disciples, “so that where I am you also may be.”

This is where most interpretations get derailed. Jesus is not talking about a future coming but a coming that—for us—has already taken place, namely His coming as the Holy Spirit at His resurrection. After He rose from the dead, He breathed the Holy Spirit into His disciples. From then on all that He is and all that He has accomplished and obtained dwells in His believers, so that as He abides in them they may likewise abide in Him.

At this point, what is before our Savior’s eyes is not our death or His second coming but rather His glorification that is about to immediately take place as He is lifted up from the earth on the cross and enters into the realm of death to be “born anew” in resurrection. That is what He is looking at, that and the meaning of it all. In the Gospel according to John, His death is certainly atoning—He is the Lamb of God—but it is also the way that the eternal life that is within Him is released and multiplied in others (12:24).

The Father’s House (John 14:1-3)

The disciples are troubled by Jesus’ words that He is leaving them. Jesus reassures them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He is going away but He is coming back. His departure will accomplish something great for them.

His next words literally are, “Believe into God, believe also into Me.” In light of what follows, we need to take this preposition seriously. It speaks of movement into rather than a strong belief about something. The Father we are told is in the Son and the Son is in the Father (14:7-11). The words are an invitation to come and abide in this mutual indwelling of the Father and Son. Let us investigate this further.

“In My Father’s house are many abodes.” In the Gospel according to John “My Father’s house” is the body of our Lord Jesus. His Father’s house is the Temple in Jerusalem 2:16 and then Jesus went on to speak of His body: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19, 21). The body of the Lord Jesus speaks not only of His flesh and blood but of His entire human nature (though this is also hypostatically inseparable from His divine nature). Before His death and resurrection, His humanity was restricted in space and time (in this way He emptied Himself by “hiding” the properties of His divinity, Philippians 2:7). His “body” is thus the Temple of God, the Father’s house. In resurrection, however, His humanity will be divinized, sharing the properties of His divinity, no longer being restricted in space or time. His time, the time of His incarnation (from conception to death) becomes eternal—ever present, whether in the past or the future—and His special location becomes omnipresent.

The many abodes in the Father’s house is the transformation our Lord will undergo whereby He will abide in us and we will abide in Him. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We [the Father and the Son] will come to him and make an abode in him” (14:23). This word “abode” is the same as in verse 2. We who believe become the many abodes of the Father and the Son. We become these many abodes in the Father’s house, which is our Lord Jesus Himself, incarnate (in His human “flesh”).

This takes place in His resurrection, by His dispensing of the Holy Spirit into us. Thus when Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you” He is referring to His going to the cross. Thus when He says in verse 3 that “I am coming again and will receive you to Myself,” He is referring to the resurrection. When He rose on Easter, He told Mary of Magdala that He was going to “My Father and your Father, and My God and your God,” and that she was to go to “My brothers” and tell them this. As a result of His atoning death, those who believed into Him were now where He was (“that where I am you also may be”). After this ascension He appears to them and breathes into them the Holy Spirit. When He does this, He enters and now abides in them (14:18). “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (14:20).

The Way (14:4-11)

“Where I am going, you know the way” (14:4). Where was our Lord going when He was going to the cross? He was going to the Father (14:6, 12). But where was the Father? The Father is where Jesus is. “If you had known Me, you would have known the Father also; and henceforth you know Him and have seen Him” (14:7). “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9). “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? … Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (14:10, 11). They dwell in each other; this is the doctrine of coinherence. What is surprising here, however, that this is presented as the answer to the question of where Jesus is going.

What is the meaning of this? When asked where the Father is, our usual response would be to think of heaven. That is not what Jesus is saying, however. Where the Father is is in Him, as He is in the Father. Yet John says, “He had come forth from God and was going to God” (13:3). This is important to understand because it explains what Jesus means by “glorification.” As the Son, He possessed a glory which He had from and with the Father before the foundation of the world (17:24). When the Son “became flesh” (1:14), He laid this glory aside; though it was still His, it was hidden by His humanity: He had come forth from God. Now in resurrection, He was going to God, to the Father. He had never left the Father except in terms of His glory. What this means is that He was taking His humanity to the Father so that His humanity can share in the glory of His divine nature, the glory that He had from and with the Father.

To say He was going to the Father, He means that by means of His death and resurrection His human nature was going to be divinized with the divine glory. His glory was no longer going to be hidden by His humanity but His humanity was going to share it. There was going to be a full “intercommunication of properties.”

So, He was going to the Father (who abides in Him as He abides in the Father). The “way” for Jesus is by means of death and resurrection. What Jesus is speaking about in verse 4 (“You know the way”) is not the way for Him but the way for us. “I go to prepare a place for you … so that where I am you also may be.” “I am coming again and will receive you to Myself” (14:3). How can we abide in the place that He is preparing for us—the place in the Father’s house, the mutual dwelling place of the Father and the Son? (To put it in Pauline terms, how can we become “in Christ”” How can be become members of the Body of Christ?)

If Jesus’ going to the Father is the divinization of His humanity in resurrection by means of His death, how can we participate in this divinization? After the resurrection, our relationship to the Father becomes just what His relationship to the Father is. We become His brothers and His Father and God becomes ours (“that where I am you also may be,” for “I desire that they also may be with Me where I am,” 14:3; 17:24). What is the “way,” for us?

Jesus said, “I am the way and the reality and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” He is the way. He is the way because He is the reality, and He is the reality because He is the life, the divine life.

It is only by believing into Him that we can believe into God (14:1; 1 John 5:10-12). Believing into Him is the way. If we love Him, we will keep His word (14:15, 23), and His word, in the Gospel according to John, has continually been that we should believe into Him. If we believe into Him, now that He has passed through death and resurrection, both the Father and the Son make an abode in us. By entering into Christ, the Triune God enters into us and we enter into the fellowship of Their mutual indwelling.  

The Greater Works (14:11-14)

When the Son dwells in us, we shall do greater works than He did before His crucifixion, for His life will multiply in others through us. More than miracles, which are limited phenomena, Jesus is probably speaking of the power of the Gospel to bring about regeneration (the new birth) in others.

“Whatever you ask in My name”: to ask in His name is to be in His name when we ask. What this means is to be one with Him, for Him to be abiding in us and for us to be abiding in Him, for us to be living in Him and for Him to be living in us. This is what it meant for the Lord to do things in the Father’s name (5:43; 10:25). He was one with the Father (10:30) and lived because of the Father (6:57), so He could say that “the Father who abides in Me does His works” (14:10). In the same way ought we to do things in the name of Christ. It has nothing to do with using a formula.

The Holy Spirit (14:15-20)

Jesus tells us to believe into Him. To believe is to not only put our trust in Him but commit to the Lord and give Him our fidelity. To believe into Him implies attaching ourselves to Him. But to believe into Him suggests even more. Somehow by believing into Him in all these ways, we actually enter Him. This takes place only by the act of God through the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Paul says, “Now He that establishes us with you into Christ, and has anointed us, is God, who also has sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

When Jesus asks for “another” Comforter (paraklētos), the first Comforter is Himself (1 John 2:1). The Comforter of whom He speaks now is the Holy Spirit. The word “comforter” means a patron, one who takes up our cause or our affairs alongside of us. The Son is our paraklētos in heaven while the Spirit is our paraklētos on earth. The Holy Spirit, referred to in 7:39, does not come until 20:22. (This is different than the power of the Spirit conferred on the Day of Pentecost in Luke’s writings.) This is the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2). Here Jesus calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of reality” for the Spirit comes to us as the reality of Christ (1 John 5:6, 20). He actualizes and substantiates Christ in us.

Jesus has not spoken of the sending of the Spirit before, yet He says to the disciples that they know Him, because He abides with them and shall be in them. We know how the Spirit will be in them, but how was the Spirit abiding with them? Verse 18 says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.” In other words, the Holy Spirit was abiding with them in Christ. In so far as He was abiding with them the Holy Spirit was abiding with them. When the Holy Spirit is sent and comes to be in them, it is the same as Christ Himself coming to them. “In that day you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you” (14:20). He will be in them when the Holy Spirit “shall be in you” (14:17). 1 Corinthians 15:45 says, “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” Christ became the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that Christ was no longer a distinct hypostasis (Person) from the Spirit, but as the Word became flesh without ceasing to be the Word, so Christ became the Spirit without ceasing to be Christ. The mutual indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit is so complete that it is possible to say that Christ became the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, Christ Himself dwells in us. This is in fact how the New Testament speaks (for example, Romans 8:9-10). They do not dwell in us as two separate entities, but the indwelling of One is the indwelling of the Other.

The Father and Son dwell in each other and dwell in us and we in them, but they do this through the sending of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

“Because I live, you also shall live” (14:19). “As the living Father has sent Me and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me” (6:57). The life with which we live is the eternal life of the Son, the life with which He rose from the dead and that was released by His death and given to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21), for “Christ [is] our life” (Colossians 3:4).

By believing into Christ, by “believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” we may have eternal life in His name (20:31). Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life … the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (6:63), and John applies this to the gospel itself (20:31). We today receive the Spirit by believing into Jesus Christ through the word of the Gospel, which testifies of Him (as all of the Scriptures do).

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