John 14:2 – What Happened to the Mansions?

John 14:2 is a well-known and loved line attributed to Jesus: “In my father’s house there are many mansions” (KJV). There are many pastoral illustrations using the idea of a “mansion in glory. Usually someone turns up in heaven and finds that they have a small starter home instead of a glorious mansion and the Lord tells him “you didn’t send ahead any good building material.” The idea of a heavenly mansion turns up in hymns, including the classic Victory in Jesus: “I heard about a mansion He has built for me in glory…”

But very few (if any) modern translation uses the word “mansion.” For example, the ESV and new NIV both have“in my father’s house are many rooms.” That is quite a difference – from a mansion to a “room”? What happened to the mansions?

The Greek word used here (μονή) simply means a place to live, either a stopping place on a journey or a home. It is used for an apartment in a larger building. The translation “mansion” is based on the Latin Vulgate, the Latin word mansiones means more or less the same thing, but the English cognate usually means a grand home, a palace-like structure of some kind. Since the idea of God living in a mansion resonates with most people, “many mansions” has stuck in the imagination.

But what would “in my father’s house are many mansions” mean? That God has a vast Mansion, and the disciples will have mini-mansions within it? That Heaven is alike a big place, like Versailles? This is likely not the point.

Hearing this metaphor in the world of the first-century, especially within the world of a Galilean Jew, will help understand it better. Most families were patrilocal, meaning they would live with their father’s family as mich as possible. When a son got married, he would build a house on his father’s property, creating a common courtyard. It is possible that he would begin my adding a room on to his father’s house. Within the world of the metaphor, then, Jesus is going to return to the father’s house and expand the father’s house so that there is room for the new residents who will soon join him.

It is likely that this is a marriage metaphor, since the most obvious reason that a man would expand his father’s house would be to bring his bride home to live there. The point is that Jesus is going to prepare a place in the presence of God for his disciples.

Since he has gone to prepare a place, the disciples can be assured that Jesus will return for them (v. 3b-4). If this is a marriage metaphor, then it is obvious to the original audience that the departure of Jesus (the bridegroom) will result in his return to collect his bride (the disciples). That is the way these things work, a separation of the engaged couple is normal, the husband to be goes off to prepare a place for his bride to live after they are married.

This use of a marriage metaphor is not a surprise, since Jesus’ first sign is at a wedding banquet. Israel often thought of itself as the wife of the Lord, and that the marriage went very badly. She was unfaithful and was sent away into the wilderness of the Exile. But rather than divorce his wife, the Lord will restore her at the beginning of the new age. Hosea and Jeremiah 2-4 expect the restoration of Israel and Judah at some time in the future, when God will recall his wife from her exile and restore the marriage “as it once was.”

Jesus very clearly tells his disciples that his departure (the death, resurrection and ascension) is not the end of the story, he will return to “bring them home.”

13 thoughts on “John 14:2 – What Happened to the Mansions?

  1. Someone mentioned to me that this reference in John is refering to the New Jerusalem in Revelation.

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    • I suppose that is possible Jeff. I cut off a paragraph since the post was getting too long, Craig Blomberg suggested that “God’s House” would have naturally been understood as the Temple, so Jesus going away to “God’s House” would imply the heavenly temple. I suppose one might go from that observation to the New Jerusalem.

      The New Jerusalem is another set of problems, with respect to the relationship of the NJ with Heaven (pearly gates!), the NJ with the Kingdom, or whether the NJ should even be understood as a literal cube descending from heaven.

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  2. There is an old song called my Fathers house and it talks about how it is a big house, with lots of room with a big table with lots of food and it has a big yard where they can play football. This song was written to reflect on this passage in John about Jesus having prepared a place for us in heaven. Some translations bring about this idea of a mansion, which this is possible in my mind because everything in Heaven will be beautiful and extravagant and is the most beautiful place I will have ever seen. In the past, some societies, when a son got married, they would still live with their parents. As Kostenberger puts it, “in Jesus’ day many of these dwelling units were combined to form a mansion,” (Kostenberger, 141). They would just add onto it to make this big mansion. I do not think that they add on a mansion for each person, but rather as a whole we create a mansion in God’s house together because we are all a part of the body of Christ and will live in and with him forever. The Bible puts it as, “now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV). So I think, because we are a part of the body, we each create a piece of the mansion that is waiting for us in Heaven.

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  3. The idea that Christ, since He has ascended, is preparing an illustrious place for us is, of course, quite appealing to the modern reader–since our interpretation of the term “mansion” is very positive. I think the danger of this way of thinking, however, lies in the fact that most of the world is rather materialistic, and rather than being excited to be united to Christ for eternity, they will be looking forward to merely possessing a big house. I do want to clarify that God is certainly not opposed to wealth, and in fact, God often uses material things to bless His children. This is perfectly healthy. But it is important to realize that in this passage Christ was not referring to a material wealth; rather, He was referring to the wealth His disciples would one day have “in Him”. As stated in the article and in Kostenberger, during the ministry of Jesus, the culture would have understood His reference differently. They would not have thought of an independent house; rather, the metaphor Jesus used would have evoked the idea of expansion. This is a very significant distinction–because having an independent house does not imply intimacy. What Jesus meant in that context, given that His disciples were very distraught that He was going to leave them shortly, is that He would come back to them! After His departure, He would not forget about them. He would actually be preparing a place for them in heaven–a place that is attached to the kingdom of God, not a separate entity altogether.

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  4. I guess that I had always thought that mansions were something that was just an metaphor of where we would be living. I never had this picture in my head that the streets would be lined with mansions due to the fact that the idea of having a mansion is something that is an earthly standard of riches. I never thought much about the places that we would be living because it will far exceed anything that can imagine in splendor and glory. Looking closer at the text, it does seem to be a strange sentence to say that within God’s house that are many mansions; rooms does seem to be the word that would make more sense in the context of the sentence. I like the imagery that we get when we compare a Jewish family adding on to their house as their family grows. We are all God’s children, and He is still telling us that there will be a place prepared for us when we join Him. Fully understanding what this place looks like is probably not the point of this passage. A Jewish family would add on to the house when their son gets married so that they could start their own family in their own place while still being close to the rest of the family. In this the bridegroom goes out and gets hi bride and brings her home. This is more likely the point that Jesus is trying to make here. He is telling His disciples that He is going to go away for a while, but it is for preparation, so that when He comes back for those who follow Him there will be a place for them to live. This is meant to give us hope for His return, not necessarily to give us a picture of what heaven is going to look like.

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  5. I don’t often imagine what heaven will be like, to be totally honest. I often just fall back on trusting that no matter what God has in store for me, I will not be even CLOSE to disappointed. I had heard the Scripture of there being mansions in heaven, but, the more accurate interpretation with the analogy of marriage and family togetherness not only makes more sense to me in light of God’s character but also, that second interpretation brings me much more peace and comfort. I guess I always picture mansions as giant, cold, and almost lonely. I much prefer the image of a tent or hut that encourages community and belonging (whether or not this will actually be the case, I can’t say).

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  6. This topic about the mansion and what it will be like in heaven can be a tricky thing to think about. Only because we live here on an imperfect and sinful world, we cannot even think about such a perfect place that fulfills all our needs we need and could ever want. So, thinking about what our mansion that we will be living in is hard to think about. But I always thought that heaven and our mansion will be something like what it is here only perfect. But as we think about that I could be very wrong too. As the old Jewish ways add onto their home as their families grow the same way that God could be doing that for us when we get to heaven. We are a big family in God as God is our father that we will cling and look up to. We are a part of God’s family so does that mean we will live in his house? I don’t know and nobody ever will know until we get there.

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  7. I prefer the translation of “rooms” rather than “mansion”. The idea of building onto the house of the father is way more appealing than having a separate mansion. When we get to heaven, the reason we are there is that we love God and desire to worship him. The idea of the rooms then is more of a connection. We are connected to God and have access to him because we would then live with him. The mansion seems to have a feel of distance and more focused on the luxury that heaven has to offer rather than just being with God. Linking this farther than with the possibility of this being a marriage metaphor, it makes the closeness that we have to God even more special. “If it is a marriage metaphor, then it is obvious to the original audience that the departure of Jesus (the bridegroom) will result in his return to collect his bride (the disciples) (Long, 122). The preparation of a place in the terms of rooms is exciting then because if it is truly the idea that a son builds on to his father’s home, then promise of Jesus’s return it solidified within the metaphor as he has said that the is preparing a place for his disciples.

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  8. When I think about a mansion in heaven, honestly it makes my brain stop working. To think of something so beautiful, our earthly eyes cant handle it, is something that makes it hard for our brain to think about. To think that God is going to restore the marriage between himself and his bride is something that really strikes me as fascinating as well. God, once separated from his most loved creation, will once restore the connection between them. To think that God is also preparing a place for us, while we live out the remainder of our lives here on earth really blows my mind as well. Our brains have a hard time thinking about any of this, because they are too perfect for us, in our earthly state to even comprehend. Seeing these mansions, will have to be something we simply see first hand.

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  9. I find this topic very challenging and yet deep. As a kid, I always thought of heaven like a huge house like houses that I have only seen in magazines and on the internet. I imagined a swimming pool and a huge yard. I was focused on the material side of John’s passage of Jesus preparing a house for us. I now realize that yes Jesus is preparing a place for me but that the place he is preparing is not based on the materials or riches of this world. Who knows if we even need a house in heaven the important thing is that we are with the one we love the most and that person is Jesus. Whether Jesus is giving us each mansion physically or not we can rest in the fact that God is all we need and that he has a place for those who serve him and love him wholeheartedly. I think that we focus too much on the small details of what heaven will be like who will be there and what we will be doing when we should really just be focusing on finishing the race that God has put before us. Make no mistake Jesus does have a place for us and he will return we just have to trust him.

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