I was with a friend a day or two ago, and in the conversation he related how he recently had a memory ‘flash back’ while driving; and a number of old Sunday School choruses were running through his mind; complete with lyrics and music.
One of the things he mentioned was how un-scriptural many of those choruses were. “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all a-glow.” was one; complete with actions!
That conversation set a train of thought in motion. Another chorus we used to sing was: “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop…” Just what was our Saviour telling His apostles when He said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions…”? What images come to mind when we read those verses in John’s Gospel?
The Greek word rendered ‘mansion’ in a number of our English versions simply means a dwelling place. It is actually only used twice in the New Testament. The other instance is in the same chapter 14 and in verse 23 where it is rendered ‘home’.
Perhaps we can see a clue in 2 Corinthians 5 where Paul is relating for the Corinthian believers his contentment with a prospect of death. We know, of course, that Paul tells us that “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” In 2 Corinthians 5 he uses some figures of speech that we undoubtedly are familiar with. In fact, I have recently heard various ones referring to their “tent” very clearly as a figure of their physical body.
I remember quite well the process of striking tent in preparation for the remainder of the journey. First you loosen the pegs in the ground, slacken the ropes, and step by step the tent is collapsed, folded, and stored. In my youth we often had to wait for the sun to dry the dew on the canvas to prevent the moisture from mildewing the canvas; but there was a routine involved. Paul uses this imagery to point to the temporary nature of our earthly bodies. I recently read a catchy little line: “I thought getting old would take longer.” Those of us who have had multiple birthdays know the feeling. Little by little we see the process in our body that reminds us that we will soon “strike tent”.
But Paul does not leave the subject at that point. He tells us 2 more very important aspects of this process. First, he tells us that it is not the putting off, but the putting on that we look forward to. In other words, we don’t look forward with longing to our physical death; but to what follows. That is a major thought in this chapter: that we look forward to a new body, prepared for us in heaven. From the late verses in chapter 4 through the early verses in chapter 5 Paul presents us with a number of contrasts. I’m going to try to put these in a way that will emphasize the contrasts:
outward man is perishing : inward man is being renewed
light affliction : exceeding … weight of glory
affliction, which is but for a moment : eternal weight of glory
things which are seen : things which are not seen
temporary : eternal
earthly house : a building from God
at home in the body : absent from the Lord
we walk by faith : not by sight
absent from the body : present with the Lord
How, then, does this relate to John 14? I’m inclined to think that our Saviour was not telling His apostles that what was being prepared for us in the Father’s house were a whole bunch of little mansions, complete with moat, drawbridge, portcullis, parapets, etc. but a new, heavenly body; as Paul describes for us in 2 Corinthians 5.
Gael and I have often discussed how this all fits together. How does the Rapture fit in? What about the Millennial Reign? What about the Resurrection at the end? And so on. I’m not confident enough in my own thinking to plot out a time line with different colours showing the various stages of the changes we will face. But I do know that what the Father has prepared for us will be beyond our imagination. May the Day Star arise in our hearts!