Christianity 201

June 25, 2013

Destination: Heaven Verses in Light of New Earth


As we’ve mentioned before here, in the book Heaven, author Randy Alcorn makes it very clear that we need to unlearn the idea of “going to heaven” in terms of a “place up there” kind of location or destination, and think more in terms of new earth.  So what do we do with the verses that seem to support the idea of a destination, like John 14: 1-6?

John 14:1-6 (NIV)

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jim McGuiggan has a website called Think Noble Things of God, wherein he deals with possible issues in interpretation of this passage at an article titled What of John 14: 2-3.  C201 readers are encouraged to read these articles at their original source and then look around the rest of the authors’ websites or blogs.

Does John 14:2-3 teach us all the saved are going to heaven when the present phase of human history closes with the return of Jesus?

That’s certainly the prevailing view and it has a long history but I’m not sure that that’s what the passage is meant to tell us.

I don’t doubt that those who die in the Lord “go to heaven”. I think that’s the clear implication of passages like Philippians 1.23 but that text isn’t talking about the post-resurrection experience—it’s speaking of “life after death” rather than “life after the resurrection”. In any case, it’s obvious that Phil 1 and John 14 may not be making the same point.

Here are a few observations that presently come to my mind when I reflect on John 14:2-3 and the entire section.

1. My Father’s “house”. I haven’t looked into this for so long that I’ve forgotten what conclusion I drew when I did. I can’t off-hand think of any text that speaks of the Father’s [or God’s] “house” as heaven though there may be one or two somewhere. Certainly the NT seems to speak of God’s “house” as the temple or the church. At this point I’m simply saying that this needs to be cleared up or at least seriously checked before we construe the phrase as “heaven”.

2. It is easily conceivable that “the place” he goes to prepare is a place in the kingdom. Daniel 7:13-14 speaks of the Son of Man as going to God on the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom which he receives as the representative of his people to whom the dominion is given [note 7:22, 27].

3. This would work well in a context of disappointment [14.1] if they construed his departure as failure of their hopes of the kingdom being restored to Israel in the Messiah [compare Acts 1:6 and Luke 1:32-33].

4. Wherever he’s going doesn’t seem to be a “location” so much as a “meeting” since he says of his going “and you know the way I’m going” [John 14.4-6]. Jesus himself is the essence of the “way” to “where” he is going. “Where” he is going is to his Father [14.28] and this doesn’t suggest to me a “location” so much as a relational type situation that carries out a purpose. When God brings Israel out of Egypt he brings them to himself [Exodus 19:4]. It is true that he brings them to a place [Sinai] but the issue is more a relational event than a location. I suspect this is the case in John 14. In going to the Father, Jesus is obviously not going to Rome but “to heaven” where his Father “is”. But if what I’m thinking is correct the “location” is not at all the issue [again, see 14.28].

5. Later in the section he mentions again his “going away” and his “coming” again but he isn’t talking about his final coming; he refers to his coming in and as the Holy Spirit which would be with them without a parting [John 14:16-29—this entire section needs to be read].

6. He speaks again of their being troubled at his going away but assures them that they should be rejoicing because he goes to the Father. Again, not to a “location” [though we can’t speak of his departure without using spatial and other terms]. Though they don’t fully understand it yet they do know that the Messiah’s dominion is to come from God and we know that Jesus was going to gain dominion.

7. Then in 14.29 he tells them that he has told them of his departure and coming before it would happen so that they will know this was no ad hoc arrangement, it was an integral part of the development of the divine drama and purpose. He tells them that when they see it happen they will know and believe. This suggests to me something they would experience. I think that putting this together with his return in/as the Holy Spirit [mentioned earlier] and their experience of Acts 2:1-36 offers a more coherent understanding of John 14.

In summary I think Jesus has in mind his going to the Father to receive the Messianic dominion and that he [in and as the Holy Spirit] returns to give them their place in God’s kingdom and to dwell in and with them without a parting [do note John 16.7 and that entire section in view of what I’ve suggested here].

Jesus speaks the content of chapters 14—16 in a time of great sorrow [16:4-6] for them, a time of shaking faith and a time of confusion but he is calling them to trust and assures them that their pain will end in joy [16:16, 20-22].