Christianity 201

January 31, 2020

Where are our ‘mansions;’ where is He taking us?

Like many of you, I’ve been greatly persuaded by the “New Earth” teaching of people like Randy Alcorn in the book Heaven. This idea somewhat refutes the idea of our next life being “up there, somewhere” but instead the idea of God establishing a new earth right here. Someone has tried to summarize it by saying, “God has too much invested in this piece of real estate to simply walk away from it.”

I’m not sure that argument is valid in and of itself, but Alcorn makes a strong case that God’s desire is to establish here the earth he always wanted us to have; the paradise he designed with the Garden of Eden, until our propensity to go our own way necessitated certain consequences, but also a masterful plan of redemption.

Again, for many, this means un-learning what we were taught in Sunday School about heaven being “up there.”

Yesterday I started digging into a passage which I feel is an exception that points more toward a distant heaven than a present new earth, John 14: 2-3.

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. (NKJV)

It seemed to make the most sense to, instead of selecting some random commentaries online, see what Alcorn himself had to say about these verses. In his 1999 book, Perspectives on Heaven [excerpted here] he wrote something that made me wonder if his interpretation was less developed then before he published Heaven in 2004:

When we arrive there, Heaven will immediately feel like home because we’ll instinctively connect it to all we longed for and occasionally caught magical glimpses of while on earth. But in Heaven we won’t just look back; we’ll look forward to and anticipate all that’s ahead of us there. The longer we’re in Heaven, the more memories we’ll make and the more our home will be…home. It won’t lose its homeyness—it will always gain more. [Page 8]

He also wrote,

Apparently it’s within the vast and beautiful New Jerusalem we’ll find the personal dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2; Luke 16:9; Revelation 21:2). Like the current earthly Jerusalem, the city will be a melting pot of ethnic diversity, with those of “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9; see 5:9). But unlike today’s Jerusalem, all these people will be united by their common worship of King Jesus. [Page 30]

Our home is being built for us by the Carpenter from Nazareth. Building is his trade. A good carpenter envisions what he wants to build. He plans and designs. Then he does his work carefully and skillfully fashioning it to exact specifications. He takes pride in the work he’s done and delights to show it to others. And when it’s his own children or his bride he’s made it for he takes special delight.

Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “I’ve already prepared a place for you in Heaven,” but, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” This means Heaven has undergone some remodeling between the time he spoke and the time we join him there. [Page 36]

In a 2018 blog post, he appears to use the terms Heaven and New Earth somewhat interchangeably:

Perhaps you’re familiar with Christ’s promise in John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (v. 2, KJV). The Vulgate, the Latin Bible, used the word mansiones in that verse, and the King James Version followed by using mansions. Unfortunately, that rendering is misleading if it makes us envision having massive lodgings on separate estates. The intended meaning seems to be that we’ll have separate dwelling places on a single estate or even separate rooms within the same house.

New Testament scholar D. A. Carson says, “Since heaven is here pictured as the Father’s house, it is more natural to think of ‘dwelling-places’ within a house as rooms or suites. . . . The simplest explanation is best: my Father’s house refers to heaven, and in heaven are many rooms, many dwelling-places. The point is not the lavishness of each apartment, but the fact that such ample provision has been made that there is more than enough space for every one of Jesus’ disciples to join him in his Father’s home.” [1]

The New International Version rendering of John 14:2 is this: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Place is singular, but rooms is plural. This suggests Jesus has in mind for each of us an individual dwelling that’s a smaller part of the larger place. This place will be home to us in the most unique sense.

The term room is cozy and intimate. The terms house or estate suggest spaciousness. That’s Heaven: a place both spacious and intimate. Some of us enjoy coziness, being in a private space. Others enjoy a large, wide-open space. Most of us enjoy both—and the New Earth will offer both.

But in this 2010 post he’s more clear:

The Bible teaches that our eternal home will be a place we’ve already been—earth. It will be a New Earth, a transformed earth. But just as I will be able to remember my friend Steve, who will be a resurrected Steve, so I will be able to remember my home world earth, which will be a resurrected earth. So, as Steve will be a person I already know, earth will be a place I already know. Then—and only then—does it make sense to think of Heaven as my true home, realizing that Heaven will ultimately be on the New Earth.

Human beings were made from earth, have always lived on earth, are geared to find pleasure in the things of earth. If we think of Heaven only as the realm where angels live, there’s a real problem. We were not made from the angelic realm, nor for it. We haven’t lived in that realm. It’s unfamiliar and undesirable to us. It doesn’t resonate as “home.” There’s one place that qualifies as the only home we’ve ever known—earth. It’s the home God made for us.

Do you picture yourself inviting friends to your heavenly home the way you entertain people in your earthly one? Alcorn sees it as a possibility in this 2019 blog post:

When we are in Heaven, we will welcome others into our dwelling places. Jesus speaks of the shrewd servant’s desire to use earthly resources so that “people will welcome me into their houses.” Then Jesus tells his followers to use “worldly wealth” (earthly resources) to “gain friends” (by making a difference in their lives on earth), “so that when it is gone [when life on earth is over] you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Our “friends” in heaven appear to be those who we’ve touched in a significant way on earth. They will apparently have their own “eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9 suggests these eternal dwelling places of friends could be places to fellowship and stay in as we move about the heavenly kingdom.

…What matters most

In Perspectives on Heaven he wrote,

What’s the most important fact about our future home? This is it: Heaven is the place God lives (Deuteronomy 26:15; Matthew 6:9). [Page 39]

In a 2004 blog post he wrote that heaven satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart:

“God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

People are made for the eternal and therefore cannot be ultimately satisfied by the temporal. We long for a future world of justice, purity and joy—and a King who will bring all of those. We therefore cannot be happy with the present world of injustice, impurity and suffering. True joy comes in anticipating, and living now in light of, the world yet to come and that world’s King, who made us for Himself. He who made us for another world is making that other world for us.

For more from Alcorn in much greater detail, consider this 2010 blog post.

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