Did Jesus Christ promise believers that upon their deaths, they would receive mansions in heaven?
Jesus told His disciples, “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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
Some claim that “My Father’s house” refers to heaven. That Jesus was going to prepare a place there for the disciples—and, by extension, for all believers. But by examining Christ’s words and their context, we will see that He meant something quite different!
The key to unlocking Jesus’ intent lies with His conclusion: “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Don’t be misled by the relatively recent doctrine of the rapture. The Bible does not teach that Jesus’ second coming is only a “grab and go” to snatch the saints off to heaven. Everything prophesied in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New Testament affirms that when He comes, He stays.
Read these unmistakable second-coming prophecies: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming. … And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. … Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You. … And the LORD shall be King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:1, 4, 5, 9, emphasis added throughout).
Angels echoed Zechariah’s words as the disciples watched the resurrected Christ rise in the sky. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The entire Bible is rich with assurances that Christ (the Messiah) will return to the earth to reign over the Kingdom of God. Read more of them in “Where Will Jesus Return?” Although widely embraced by much of today’s Christianity, the rapture wasn’t taught until the early 19th century. See “Did Jesus Teach the Rapture?” and “Left Behind: The Truth” to discover what the Bible says, and what it doesn’t say, about Jesus’ return.
Now let’s look at the meaning of “My Father’s house.”
My Father’s house
Bible commentaries disagree on the connotation, but the best commentary is the Bible itself. The central principle of Bible study is to allow Scripture to interpret itself.
First, notice that Jesus did not say “heaven.” Yet many assume that’s what He meant, based solely upon the assumption that heaven is the ultimate destination of the saints. To the contrary, Scripture consistently teaches that their destiny is to rule in the Kingdom of God with Christ on the earth.
(If this is new to you, perhaps you have not fully studied what the Bible says. “What Is Heaven?” brings together the relevant scriptures, so that you can prove what the Bible teaches.)
Consider Jesus’ method of teaching. He regularly drew upon items familiar to His audience to illustrate His message. This is true in John 14:2-3. The meaning of “My Father’s house” was evident to the disciples, and Jesus used it to help them grasp His promise.
When visiting the temple at the first Passover of His earthly ministry, Jesus shocked the merchants who were conducting business there. He drove out the animals being sold with the crack of a whip and “poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.” As He did this, He said, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:15-16).
No one could possibly misunderstand Christ’s meaning on this occasion! Clearly, “My Father’s house” was the temple. The disciples were as stunned as the merchants were by Jesus’ actions. It was an extraordinary and significant incident.
John wrote that the disciples were reminded of the messianic prophecy: “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up” (Psalm 69:9). At the time the Psalm was penned, “Your house” referred to the tabernacle, which was “the house of the LORD” before the temple was built.
So, Jesus earlier spoke these specific words—“My Father’s house”—in reference to the temple. And nowhere does the Bible use these words to mean heaven. Therefore, Scripture indicates that “My Father’s house” in John 14:2 meant the temple.
But were there “mansions” in the temple? Actually, there were!
Mansions in the temple?
Mansion in today’s English implies a magnificent home. However, its original meaning was much simpler: just a home, dwelling or an abode (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). Translators of the King James Version chose it because it closely reflected the meaning of the original Greek word in John 14:2. The New Revised Standard Version translates it as “dwelling places”; the New International Version and the English Standard Version, as “rooms.”
The same word is translated as “home” in John 14:23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
There were a number of apartments or living quarters built into the walls of Solomon’s temple. Priests and Levites lived in them; they also used them as offices and storage facilities. Here are some Old Testament references to them:
- 2 Kings 23:11 speaks of King Josiah removing idolatrous images that were “at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech, the officer who was in the court.”
- 1 Chronicles 9:33 tells of temple “singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers.”
- 1 Chronicles 9:26 tells of storage facilities: “For in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers; they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God.”
- 2 Chronicles 31:11-12 records that King “Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them.” These chambers were for storing “the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things.”
- Jeremiah 35:4: “I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door.”
- Jeremiah 36:10: “Then Baruch read from the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe.”
Jesus’ disciples would have been familiar with these living quarters (“mansions”) in the temple. As His custom was, Jesus used these familiar physical things to illustrate a spiritual truth.Herod’s temple also had such rooms: “The walls of the temple appear to have been 5 cubits thick, and against these, on the North, West, and South, were built, as in Solomon’s Temple, side-chambers in three stories, 60 cubits in height, and 10 cubits in width (the figures, however, are uncertain), which, with the outer walls, made the entire breadth of the house 60 or 70 cubits. Mid., iv.3, gives the number of the chambers as 38 in all” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The Temple of Herod”).
Jesus’ disciples would have been familiar with these living quarters (“mansions”) in the temple. As His custom was, Jesus used these familiar physical things to illustrate a spiritual truth.
A metaphor for security
That truth is further borne out in the implication within the Greek of a lasting stability, or staying in a home or residence. The Complete Word Study Bible compares it to a synonym that means “a place where one dwells permanently.” The context of John 14:2-3 proves that this was Jesus’ intent. The chapter begins, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Or, “Do not be worried and upset” (Good News Translation). Why might they have been anxious?
They were “completely bewildered and discouraged. Jesus had said He was going away (John 7:34; 8:21; 12:8, 35; 13:33), that He would die (12:32-33), that one of the Twelve was a traitor (13:21), that Peter would disown Him three times (13:38), that Satan was at work against all of them (Luke 22:31-32), and that all the disciples would fall away (Matt. 26:31). The cumulative weight of these revelations must have greatly depressed them” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, comments on John 14:1-14).
The promise, in fact, was a reassurance of previous promises Jesus had made to the disciples.
Not merely rooms, but thrones
He had spoken of this on several earlier occasions. On one instance, Peter, speaking on behalf of the 12 apostles, essentially asked Jesus, “What’s in it for us, after we’ve given up so much to be Your followers?” Jesus’ reply at that time:
“Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
This was too much to take in at that time. There would be a resurrection, a return to life after dying. That in itself was a marvelous concept! But more than that, the new life would be eternal—without end. They would be spirit, not physical beings. They would never again be subject to aging, injury, disease or death.
Every aspect of Jesus’ words defied imagination! It is no wonder that Christ needed to repeat the promise shortly before His death. Indeed, it would be years before the disciples grasped the full implication of them.
The disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ (the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew Messiah) and that, as such, He was the future “King of Israel” (John 1:49). But here He was promising them that they, too, would be kings with Him. This promise extends to all believers! See “Born to Be a King.”
Reassurance about their place in the Kingdom
So, in John 14:2-3, Jesus used the fact that priests had assigned rooms in the temple to remind the disciples that they would have places in the Kingdom He was preparing.
It was one more reassurance that He wasn’t abandoning them. Even though He was leaving, He would return to the earth where they would have permanent places with Him.
Study more about this wonderful coming Kingdom in our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.