Posted by: mattcolvin | December 20, 2011

Going to Live in the Cupboard?


Wednesday of the fourth week in Advent:

1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions;[a] if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.[b] 3 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. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

N. T. Wright has raised the stakes concerning what happens to us after death: he insists that the ultimate end is that we will be raised from the dead and given renewed bodies so that we can dwell on the renewed earth with God. The goal is not, he insists, “to go to heaven when you die.” Most memorably, he says that when God tells us that our salvation waits for us in heaven, that is like telling a child that his birthday present is in the cupboard: the child is not supposed to expect that when his birthday comes, he will go to live in the cupboard, but rather that the present will be taken out and unwrapped and enjoyed in the living room.

But this passage of John makes us wonder. On its face, it appears to be telling us that Jesus is going “away” to prepare a place for us so that we may be “where He is.” And that sounds very much like the usual “go to heaven” scenario.


Responses

  1. But I thought this was simply a marriage metaphor in the Old Testament tradition? “Mansions” are really better translated “rooms” and Jesus is likening himself to the bridegroom who prepares a “room” attached to his father’s house for his bride, as all first century Jewish bridegrooms hoped to do. Is it necessary to take the analogy so completely?

    • Yes, I agree. And don’t take any of what I’m saying here as disagreement with Wright’s larger point. But Jesus does say, “Where I am going you cannot come” and “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward.” His response to Peter’s question in 13:37 indicates that “where He is going” is beyond death. Then 14:3 speaks of Him “coming again and receiving you to Himself” so that “Where I am, there you may be also.” This certainly looks like it means going away (to the Father = heaven?) and then bringing us to where He has gone.

  2. I may be entering a longer discussion that’s already covered the point long ago, and if so, I’m sorry, but I thought that the place He’s preparing is a temporary one, a place to stay beyond death, with Him, till the resurrection. Have I misunderstood?

    • Sounds good to me. I will have to think about it some more. To be clear: I agree with you (and N.T. Wright) about the interim state “with the Lord” for souls awaiting resurrection. My only question is whether it’s what Jesus is talking about in this “many mansions” pericope.

      I would love to remind myself what Wright says about the passage in RSG, but someone has copy.

  3. Heh… I’ll bring it next time.


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