John 14:1-3 Is Not about Where; It's about Who

Fred Craddock tells about playing hide-and-seek with his brothers and sister when he was a kid. He had the perfect hiding spot—under the steps of the porch. His sister searched everywhere—behind trees, in the barn, in the corncrib. She passed by him again and again.

Fred said he was confident she would never find him. Then it hit him—she would never find him. So he stuck out a toe, she saw it and cried, “I see you. You’re it, you’re it.” Fred crawled out muttering, “Phooey, you found me.”

What did Fred really want? To stay hidden? To be alone? He wanted what we all want—to be found. We all want to be in relationship. It’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s basic to our humanity. And when we are in touch with our deepest longing and need, we know that we long to be in relationship to God as the foundation for all other relationships.

John’s Gospel has a lot to say about this divine-human relationship utilizing very intimate mystical language.

In John 14:1-3 Jesus assures his disciples that the relationship he has with them is ongoing. It cannot be severed, even by death.

Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” This is not an admonition to not be sad, but rather, to not be frustrated and fearful. Jesus himself struggled with this according to John’s account. Three times John says Jesus was troubled: at the death of Lazarus, when he contemplated his own death, and when he realized that his own disciples would betray and desert him in his final hour.

Jesus issues a call to faith, which can be read as either a statement or a command. Either way, it is an invitation to trust and be faithful. Some translations read: “Trust in God, trust also in me.” It is a call to trust that the relationship we have with Jesus will not be broken by death.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Keep in mind that a dominant theme in John’s Gospel is the mutual indwelling of God and Jesus. Jesus’ followers are invited to share and participate in that relationship.

The language here is figurative. What Jesus is saying is that God is a welcoming, hospitable God who invites all who are willing into relationship. Jesus is not talking about heaven; Jesus is talking about being in relationship with God and with himself now and in the future. 

When the Authorized Version translated “dwelling places” as mansions in 1611, in that day and time mansion simply meant a dwelling or an abode. Of course, language evolves doesn’t it?

The point here is that there’s a place for everyone; there’s a place for you and me in God’s household and nothing can tear us apart from God and from the Christ— not even death.

The reference to Jesus’ coming again to take us to himself can be applied to Jesus’ resurrection, to the giving of the Spirit (the Paraclete), to the time of death, or to the end-time coming when the early believers expected Christ to fulfill the promises of a new creation.

The main point is that while Jesus is going to leave because the hour of his death, his departure, is at hand, his death will not end or destroy the relationship. The relationship will continue, though in a different form. No longer will the relationship be physical; it will now be spiritual.

John is expressing here what Paul expressed so beautifully in Romans 8 when he said that nothing, no power in heaven and earth can separate us from the love of God that has come to us in Christ.

John 14:1-3 is not about mansions in heaven, it’s about being in a relationship with God and with Christ that time cannot diminish nor death sever. 


  1. Did Jesus not know that people would interpret His words to mean actual literal dwelling places in a literal Heaven where the Father lives? He said "If it were not so, I would have told you." Jesus said three times in John 16 that he was going to the Father, and here in chapter 14 He says He will return and take His disciples back to His Father's house (oikia) which simply means "house". Where exactly was the Father's house if not in Heaven. "Our Father, who art in Heaven ..." Most people who read John 14 are automatically going to assume Jesus is talking about coming back down from Heaven after He dies and is resurrected and taking His people back to Heaven with Him. If that were not so, He would have told us so. If He knew we would naturally interpret His words incorrectly, He would have supplied the correct interpretation, not worded His statements so we were bound to misunderstand or get the wrong impression, and then fail to ever clearly correct that misunderstanding.
    Tom Ragsdale, Chino, CA

  2. Keep in mind that this is not the historical Jesus speaking, but the Johannine community. The Gospel of John is more about what the Johannine community believed and how they appropriated and practiced the way of Jesus. For John, at the heart of the spiritual life is this mystical abiding in God and in Christ. It's all about relationship and community and the love expressed in that context. So I think the interpretation above makes good sense.


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