14:1-3 "Do not let your heart be distressed. Believe in God and believe in me. There are many abiding-places in my Father's house. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And, if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and I will welcome you to myself, that where I am, there you too may be."
In a very short time life for the disciples was going to fall in. Their world was going to collapse in chaos around them. At such a time there was only one thing to do--stubbornly to hold on to trust in God. As the Psalmist had had it: "I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" ( Psalms 27:13 ). "But my eyes are toward thee, O Lord God; in thee I seek refuge" ( Psalms 141:8 ). There comes a time when we have to believe where we cannot prove and to accept where we cannot understand. If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that that purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.
Jesus adds something to that. He says not only: "Believe in God." He says also: "Believe in me." If the Psalmist could believe in the ultimate goodness of God, how much can we. For Jesus is the proof that God is willing to give us everything he has to give. As Paul put it: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?" ( Romans 8:32 ). If we believe that in Jesus we see the picture of God, then, in face of that amazing love, it becomes, not easy, but at least possible, to accept even what we cannot understand, and in the storms of life to retain a faith that is serene.
Jesus went on to say: "There are many abiding places in my Father's house." By his Father's house he meant heaven. But what did he mean when he said there were many abiding places in heaven? The word used for abiding places is the word monai ( Greek #3438 ) and there are three suggestions.
(i) The Jews held that in heaven there were different grades of blessedness which would be given to men according to their goodness and their fidelity on earth. In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch it is said: "In the world to come there are many mansions prepared for men; good for good; evil for evil." That picture likens heaven to a vast palace in which there are many rooms, with each assigned a room such as his life has merited.
(ii) In the Greek writer Pausanias the word monai ( Greek #3438 ) means stages upon the way. If that is how to take it here, it means that there are many stages on the way to heaven and even in heaven there is progress and development and advance. At least some of the great early Christian thinkers had that belief. Origen was one. He said that when a man died, his soul went to some place called Paradise, which is still upon earth. There he received teaching and training and, when he was worthy and fit, his soul ascended into the air. It then passed through various monai ( Greek #3438 ), stages, which the Greeks called spheres and which the Christians called heavens, until finally it reached the heavenly kingdom. In so doing the soul followed Jesus who, as the writer to the Hebrews said, "passed through the heavens" ( Hebrews 4:14 ). Irenaeus speaks of a certain interpretation of the sentence which tells how the seed that is sown produces sometimes a hundredfold., sometimes sixtyfold and sometimes thirtyfold ( Matthew 13:8 ). There was a different yield and therefore a different reward. Some men will be counted worthy to pass all their eternity in the very presence of God; others will rise to Paradise; and others will become citizens of "the city." Clement of Alexandria believed that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man's achievement in holiness in this life.
There is something very attractive here. There is a sense in which the soul shrinks from what we might call a static heaven. There is something attractive in the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places. Speaking in purely human and inadequate terms, we sometimes feel that we would bedazzled with too much splendour, if we were immediately ushered into the very presence of God. We feel that even in heaven we would need to be purified and helped until we could face the greater glory.
(iii) But it may well be that the meaning is very simple and very lovely. "There are many abiding-places in my Father's house" may simply mean that in heaven there is room for all. An earthly house becomes overcrowded; an earthly inn must sometimes turn away the weary traveller because its accommodation is exhausted. It is not so with our Father's house, for heaven is as wide as the heart of God and there is room for all. Jesus is saying to his friends: "Don't be afraid. Men may shut their doors upon you. But in heaven you will never be shut out."
There are certain other great truths within this passage.
(i) It tells us of the honesty of Jesus. "If it were not so," asked Jesus, "would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?" No one could ever claim that he had been inveigled into Christianity by specious promises or under false pretenses. Jesus told men bluntly that the Christian must bid farewell to comfort ( Luke 9:57-58 ). He told them of the persecution, the hatred, the penalties they would have to bear ( Matthew 10:16-22 ). He told them of the cross which they must carry ( Matthew 16:24 ), even although he told them also of the glory of the ending of the Christian way. He frankly and honestly told men what they might expect both of glory and of pain if they followed him. He was not a leader who tried to bribe men with promises of an easy way; he tried to challenge them into greatness.
(ii) It tells us of the function of Jesus. He said, "I am going to prepare a place for you." One of the great thoughts of the New Testament is that Jesus goes on in front for us to follow. He opens up a way so that we may follow in his steps. One of the great words which is used to describe Jesus is the word prodromos ( Greek #4274 ) ( Hebrews 6:20 ). The King James Version and the Revised Standard translate it forerunner. There are two uses of this word which light up the picture within it. In the Roman army the prodromoi ( Greek #4274 ) were the reconnaissance troops. They went ahead of the main body of the army to blaze the trail and to ensure that it was safe for the rest of the troops to follow. The harbour of Alexandria was very difficult to approach. When the great corn ships came into it a little pilot boat was sent out to guide them along the channel into safe waters. That pilot boat was called the prodromos ( Greek #4274 ). It went first to make it safe for others to follow. That is what Jesus did. He blazed the way to heaven and to God that we might follow in his steps.
(iii) It tells us of the ultimate triumph of Jesus. He said: "I am coming again." The Second Coming of Jesus is a doctrine which has to a large extent dropped out of Christian thinking and preaching. The curious thing about it is that Christians seem either entirely to disregard it or to think of nothing else. It is true that we cannot tell when it will happen or what will happen, but one thing is certain--history is going somewhere. Without a climax it would be necessarily incomplete. History must have a consummation, and that consummation will be the triumph of Jesus Christ; and he promises that in the day of his triumph he will welcome his friends.
(iv) Jesus said: "Where I am, there you will also be." Here is a great truth put in the simplest way; for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is. We do not need to speculate on what heaven will be like. It is enough to know that we will be for ever with him. When we love someone with our whole heart, we are really alive only when we are with that person. It is so with Christ. In this world our contact with him is shadowy, for we can see only through a glass darkly, and spasmodic, for we are poor creatures and cannot live always on the heights. But the best definition is to say that heaven is that state where we will always be with Jesus.