“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” (John 14:2).
When reading or hearing these words, many immediately think of heaven as the place far above the earth, represented as a city with many dwellings, or as a house with many rooms. And so they think that when Christ spoke these words it must mean that He was telling His disciples that He was going away to prepare a place in heaven.
“I go to prepare a place for you” is then considered to be a work of Christ without our involvement and occurring far from the earth; a work of the Saviour for us, of which we shall later (at our death) receive the eternal benefits.
But this interpretation cannot be right. It would mean that Christ, from the time of His ascension and throughout the many centuries until He returns, would be busy preparing something for us in the already beautifully created heaven, a heaven He had created in a single moment.
Such an interpretation of the text would restrict too much the meaning of Christ’s work of preparing a place, and in the process the comfort for the present would be lost. After all, it would be little use to us in the ups and downs of this life if we only see Christ working in heaven for us and preparing heaven to receive us. It would be like a bridegroom in another country making everything ready for the reception of his bride, while she herself is caught in a storm on the way there and is in great danger and must struggle not to perish. Of what use to her is then a bridegroom who, far away, is industrious night and day to furnish the house, preparing a home for her and for her children?
And so the danger with this interpretation is that Christ will become for us a bridegroom far away from us.
But we must not only have a Christ who works for us up there, but who is also with us here, helping us in our daily struggles and lending us His power; Christ who helps us today and leads us tomorrow and who is with us every day anew.
There is also a second danger in this interpretation. If we see the eternal dwellings as being in heaven now, then everything is focused ‘on heaven’ and we no longer have a good word to say about earth. Although we still live here, we prefer to withdraw into ‘sweet heavenly longing’, longing for death so that we may be with our Lord in heaven. The road to the eternal dwelling then runs directly from the earth, from my house, from my deathbed, straight up without having anything further to do with the earth.
That leads to world escape and idleness and dreaming. We then become indifferent to the earth and our earthly calling!
It is a totally different story, however, when you connect these eternal dwellings of which Christ spoke with the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, which will descend from heaven at Christ’s return. We will then find the eternal dwellings on the new earth and in the new heaven. In other words, we can only reach those eternal dwellings through the last day.
But then Christ’s work of preparing the place also becomes so totally different. To prepare a place – that is not: to prepare for us a distant home, while all of us here have to struggle to travel that long road! Preparing a place now means that Christ, our Lord, leads all things from above, that He is active here in this world and in my life, working and struggling with me and pressing all things towards the last day, and through that day to the permanent dwellings for His people.
Then we see that Christ is not yet finished with that work on this day. Thousands must still be brought back from out of the world! And His congregation must find a way right through this turbulent world. Every day, Christ must pave the way for His church through the tumult of the nations.
And everything, everything must help to come to that end, the eternal dwellings. The unbridled hatred of the enemies; the furious activities of the devils; the upheavals in the turbulent world of today; all the grief and sorrow and distress; all persecution and oppression; all revolution and war; and all the coming power of the antichrist – all that turmoil and uproar and confusion is linked to that work of preparation. Christ presses everything towards the last day! For His people must go to the established dwelling! And to this end He uses the fascist and the communist, the dictator of East and West – all must all be directed towards that Father-home for God’s people.
And so we draw comfort from this text of Christ’s daily work of preparing a dwelling for us! Daily comfort!
For now we see Christ at work in the politics of these days and in the threatening wars; in the continual outbreaks of revolution and the foolish unbelief of the people. Now we see His hand in all the turbulence of the present world; in all the struggle of unrest and anxious feelings of gloom.
He uses it to come to His last day; that is, to the eternal dwellings of rest for you and me! Now we know the purpose of it all; the why, and where-to of this world and its strivings.
But now, too, rest settles upon our lives with its problems!
For Christ is also busy with us in His work of preparing a dwelling place.
Every day He is busy! His hand is active everywhere in our lives!
His hand in our daily work!
His hand in our sorrow, in our wounds!
His involvement in our lives with its worries and difficulties, with its laughter and its tears. It is Christ – everywhere – at every moment!
For He must prepare a place – right through the events of this world! It’s to prepare a place for us through the turmoil of this world!
In order to prepare our place – that is why Christ is busy with us every day!
And that is how the eternal dwellings are being prepared!
Nothing happens in the world—with its commotion and in our lives with its many trifles—that is not somehow related to the work of Christ preparing a place for God’s people, for God’s child, for you.
It’s in this way, through the rough seas and broad streams, that He paves a path for us, a path to the permanent dwelling of the Father’s house.
Source: Dr. M.B. van ‘t Veer (1904-1944), “De Toeberijding van de Vaste Wooning” in Het Rijke Woord (The Rich Word), Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, undated, pp. 103-105. Translation by J Numan.