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Today is Ascension Sunday, the time when we remember the ascension of the Lord Jesus into the heavenly realms, where He was ushered on the clouds of heaven into the presence of the Ancient of Days, where He was given universal power, authority, and dominion. From that place, He rules on earth, but also in that place, He is doing something else.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 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. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (John 14:1–7).
Summary of the Text
The immediate preceding context for this passage is Peter’s claim that he would lay down his life for Christ. Jesus responds by saying that Peter will deny Him three times before the cock crows. His statement right after that, no doubt because of the consternation among the disciples, was “let not your heart be troubled” (v. 1). He summons them to believe in Him the same way they believed in God (v. 1). His Father’s house contains many mansions—Jesus would have told them if it were otherwise (v. 2). He is going away to prepare a place for them there. If He goes to prepare a place, then that means He will come back to take them there (v. 3). He tells the disciples they know where He is going, and they know the way (v. 4). Thomas responds that they don’t know either of those things (v. 5). Jesus says in effect that they knew without knowing. He said that Heis the way, the truth, and the life. He is the way to the Father (v. 6). If they know Him, which they did, then they know where He is going (to the Father), and they know the way to the Father (Jesus). To know Jesus is to know the Father (v. 7). To attempt to know God apart from Jesus is to try to be a philosopher, instead of a Christian. A Christian knows God through Jesus.
We sometimes like to patronize the apostles, as though we would have done any better than they did. Peter once walked on water five yards farther than any of us could have done, and yet we goho, ho, ho at him because he looked at the waves and sank. Thomas is called Doubting Thomas because he refused to believe the resurrection unless he saw and touched Christ’s wounds for himself. But here he is the member of the class who refuses to pretend that he understands when he doesn’t. This is a disciple who will not blow smoke. He is the one saying what we all ought to be saying here— what do you mean?
A Promise for All
Jesus here is talking to the Twelve, and yet Christians naturally and easily (and rightly) apply these words to every saint in the history of the world. “My Father’s house” is obviously Heaven. The word rendered as mansions here is μονή (monay), and simply means dwelling places within a larger house. The English word mansion is only misleading to those who don’t know the history of the English word—it can refer to a spacious apartment in a much larger house, as in a king’s palace. “My Father’s house” is the palace, and Jesus was preparing the rooms for His disciples. The spiritual logic of understanding the afterlife requires us to apply this to ourselves. We are all given the words of the Bible for a reason. We are not supposed to think that while the apostles get the spacious apartments, we will get the bunkhouses on the back 40.
Faith in the Midst of Trouble
First, consider the Lord’s faith. He knew what was about to happen to Him, within hours, and yet He commands the disciples to believe in Him. He says that He is the way, when He will be nailed to a cross within hours. He says that He is the truth, when He will apparently be outmaneuvered by all the lies the world ever told. He says that He is the life, when His body will soon be a lifeless corpse. But Jesus saw through and past all that. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12:2).
Then think about what Jesus was telling the disciples to do. The disciples were about to go through a maelstrom of trouble. Jesus was going to be arrested, betrayed by one of them, they were going to be scattered, one of them would deny Him, and just one of them—John—would stay with Him. In that context, Jesus commands them to believe in Him.
He tells them that they will be in trouble, but should not let the trouble be in them. Let not your hearts be troubled. They had left all behind them for Jesus. They had burned the bridges behind them to go with Jesus. And now He announces that He was going to leave them. Not only that, but He would depart from them in what appeared to be a spectacularly disastrous way.
Many Mansions, Many Rooms
There is therefore a two-fold meaning to the Ascension. From the right hand of God the Father, the Lord Jesus is ruling all the nations of men (Dan. 7:13-14), preparing the earth for His return. But this passage means that He is also preparing Heaven for the “arrival” of earth. When the rooms are ready, He will come to get us, and take us there.
Bring this down to the individual level. While Jesus is fitting Heaven out for us, His governance of all the circumstances of our lives (including the afflictions and big troubles in it) is an essential part of the process of preparing us for the rooms we will dwell in. He is working both ends toward the middle. Our longing and our prayer should be for that glorious meeting in the middle.