Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you… I will come back and take you to be with me.” ( John 14:1-3)
This is a wonderful promise! As Christ-followers we don’t need to despair over death; we can grieve with hope (1 Thess. 4:13).
Our Lord’s analogy of going away to prepare a new home for his loved ones was very familiar to his audience. In that day a man would build a house out of stone, or if he was poor he’d make a tent or find a cave, and he’d get all of the rooms ready. Then he’d bring everyone to his home and there’d be a celebration with feasting and rejoicing!
Thomas knew about this and he surely longed for a sense of home. With the other disciples he’d been following Jesus in a nomadic life of traveling from one village to the next, sleeping in the house of whoever would receive them or perhaps in tents or on the ground under the stars.
A Spiritual Home
But Thomas didn’t understand the spiritual reality that Jesus was talking about. He didn’t understand the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Father’s unseen world. So he said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going?” (vs. 5)
Based on how John 14 is typically understood, we’d expect Jesus to answer Thomas, “I’m going to die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and then go to heaven to prepare your home so that when you die you can live there with me.”
Jesus doesn’t say this. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (v. 6) He’s not talking about going far away to heaven so that when we die we can go there — he’s talking about us learning to live in him and his Father in the heavens now! and when this bodily life ends. (The word for heaven in the Bible is usually plural: “the heavens.”)
The house that Jesus prepared for us is a glorious life with him in the Spirit — now and in new resurrection bodies for eternity. That’s Good News!
A Different Gospel
The availability of new life with Christ in the heavens starting now is a different Gospel than the disciples understood at that point — and it’s different than what most Christians understand today.
Philip is just as confused as Thomas and so he says, “Show us the Father!”
But Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me.” To know Jesus is to know the Father — as long as our knowledge of Jesus isn’t just of his physical life, but also his spiritual life as the cosmic Christ (vv. 8-9).
Jesus explains his life in the Spirit, “I am in the Father, and… the Father is in me… The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (v. 10)
The heavenly home that Jesus went to prepare for us is the same Spirit home that he lived in with the Father while on earth. He says that he and his Father want to come to us and make their home with us today (v. 23).
How to Live in the Heavens Today
To experience this Trinitarian hospitality we need to understand that eternal living in the heavens is Jesus’ gospel. He went to the cross and died for our sins to open the way for us to live in the Kingdom of God, with him under the Father’s loving rule as we do whatever we’re doing. This is what it means to live in the forgiveness of sins, reconciled to God.
We think of seeing Christ when we die and that’s a glorious hope, but in John 14 Jesus is first of all talking about us seeing him in this earthly life when he dies (v. 19). (Read John 14 carefully and you’ll see that he is talking about your life before you die.)
Christ is risen from the dead and he appeared to his disciples physically and spiritually. For forty days he weaned them off of depending upon his bodily presence in their lives and taught them to see and hear him in Spirit (Acts 1:3).
To live in the heavens of the Father’s eternal home we need to love the Spirit of Christ. This is not primarily a doctrinal test — it’s a test of daily living. Each day your life can be a Jesus School in which you’re learning from him how to obey his teachings and befriend the Holy Spirit as your Paraclete or Strengthener (vv. 16, 26).