Monday, November 04, 2013

"I go to prepare a place for you": 'many mansions' on earth?

Barbara Rossig:
John 14:1- 2
"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"

Rapture proponents like to point to Jesus' farewell words in John 14:1 & 2 as the first teaching about Rapture in the Bible.  They argue that Jesus' statement that He is going away to "prepare a place for you" means that He is going away to heaven to get a place ready for those who will be raptured.  "In my Father's house are many dwelling places," Jesus says, using a Greek word that means "resting place" or "way station."  The Greek word is mone which comes from the verb meaning to "abide" or "remain."  But the problem is that Jesus does not specify where the Father's house is located.  Is it in heaven, as Rapture proponents argue?  Not necessarily, or at least not exclusively in the Gospel of John, because later in the same chapter Jesus says that He and the Father will come and make their "dwelling" in the believing person.  In John 14:23 Jesus says "We will come and make our dwelling (mone) with that one. He uses the same word. Here is image surely means God's mystical indwelling in the believer.  John's Gospel is the most mystical of all our gospels, and it is very hard to pin down locations or chronologies in this Gospel.
Robert Gundry, a conservative evangelical scholar, cautions against assuming that Jesus’ ‘many dwellings’ or ‘many mansions’ are rooms up in heaven. For Gundry, the crucial clue is that Jesus never promises that, upon His return, Jesus will take the disciples away to the ‘dwellings’ or ‘mansions’ in the Father’s house…Rather, what Jesus promised His disciples is that ‘Where I am, you will be also’’

I must caution against assuming that Jesus' "many dwellings" or "many mansions" are rooms up in heaven.  The crucial glue is that Jesus never promises that, upon His return, Jesus will take the disciples away to the "dwellings" or "mansions" in the Father's house, as one would expect in the Dispensationalist's literalist scenario.  Rather, what Jesus promised to the disciple is that "Where I am, you will be also."  The key to chapter 14 is the two parallel occurrences of the Greek word mone in verses 2 and 23.  These verses provide a reciprocal relationship as believers have abiding-places in Christ, so Jesus and the Father have an abiding-place in each believer.

Within the context of John 14, the term "Father's house" is not so much heaven as God's household or family on earth.  Indeed, the word "house" is probably better translated as "household" both here and in John 4:53 and 8:35.  In a strong sense John wanted to underscore that we are already in some sense living in the "dwelling places" in the Father's household that Jesus says He has prepared for us.  The passage is not about mansions in the sky, but spiritual positions in Christ.  To use the same phrases and image Jesus said in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches who "dwell" or "abide" in Him already.  It is not a matter of being taken away from planet earth, up to the Father's house in heaven.  The dwelling Jesus is preparing for us is something quite different.

In John's gospel, imagery of ascending and descending has a rich, double meaning that makes a strictly "heavenist" interpretation impossible.  Far more important than going up to heaven in John's gospel is the "in-ness" and "one-ness" Jesus wants us to experience already with God.  The gospel's focus is on the rich relationship of mutual indwelling and eternal life that is already ours.  To know God is to have eternal life - "this is eternal life," Jesus says in His great farewell prayer in John 17:3.

Never would John's gospel say that Jesus and God are now up in heaven, waiting until the end-times in order to come back to earth and take us away to heaven in the Rapture and then in the Glorious Appearing.  God dwells with us now, on earth, in our hearts.  He dwells in us through the Holy Spirit.  To impose the linear timeline of Rapture followed by tribulation and then an earthly return imports a chronology that is totally foreign to the Gospel of John.

Does the Bible contain a prophetic clothesline or a blessing?  The Bible is difficult to understand, and apocalyptic passage such as the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24 and 25 are some of the hardest.  The temptation is to make up a system to give answers - to create that so-called "prophetic clothesline" and then hang biblical passages on it.  But the Bible gives us neither a clothesline nor a timeline nor a system.  Instead, it give us a relationship with God!  To read the Bible's hardest passages is like wrestling with God, much like Jacob who wrestled through the night at the river Jabbok.  You grapple to make sense of the words, you hold on, you struggle for clarity, you seek to wrest answers for all your questions.  What God gives you instead of a system of answers is a blessing, a new name - a living relationship.  You are forever changed by the encounter.  You have seen the face of God.

There is no two-stage or three-stage return of Christ in the Bible, no escapist Rapture from earth for born-again Christians. Instead, Jesus will return - ONCE.  Until then, we are always with Jesus and He is with us - Emmanuel.  Our life is held in God's time.  And we are called to live in wakefulness, to pray as the final verses of Revelation do, "Amen, come Lord Jesus."  -link (strangely, gives no credit to the source: Rossig, The Rapture Exposed, p  184-186, it seems to give credit to  a Seventh Day Adventist writer Steve Wohlberg)

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