There is a passage that is almost always used at funerals. It’s the one about Jesus preparing many rooms for his followers in his Father’s house (John 14). It’s an appropriate use of the passage. It brings us comfort. It encourages us to see those we love in God’s presence. But when this is the only occasion the passage is used it sets any application purely as a future event.
A few years ago I had a stop-over in Thailand as I was travelling to Kenya. I got food poisoning from my final meal in Thailand and carried it on to Kenya. It made for an unpleasant trip and was even worse once I landed. My experience in Kenya was shaped by my experience in Thailand. In other words, my future (Kenya) was shaped by the journey (Thailand).
The same thing is true for the passage in John. How do I know that, you ask? Well it comes down to how the disciples understood what Jesus was saying.
Jesus told them he was going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them. We interpret his comment to be talking about heaven, but we view it in light of the cross. But for the disciples, God’s house is the Temple. This is the place where they understand God to be dwelling. If Jesus said he was going to his Father’s house, they would have understood it to be the Temple.
For Jesus to say he was preparing a place for the disciples was revolutionary. For them it meant that Jesus was creating a space inside the Temple where they could be experience the daily unimpeded presence of God. Jesus was giving a vibrant relationship with God in which his followers dwelt in God’s presence. No one except Jesus had this kind of relationship. Not even the priests.
For the disciples Jesus’ promise of God’s presence was a here and now. It had a future element because Jesus was going to prepare the place, but it was still something they were expecting during their lifetime. Contrast this to the way we place the passage in the future.
We interpret Jesus’ words being way off in the future. For us it seems like dwelling in God’s presence is something reserved for after death. When we do this we miss out on God’s glorious present. He is with us right now.
I understand why we do this. We fail to notice Jesus’ use of Temple language. We interpret the passage in light of the big narrative of the Bible. We don’t place ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and so, we only grasp half the message.
The point is this, Jesus prepares a way for his followers to experience the presence of God. We will see this in the fullest sense after he comes again. But our lives aren’t simply about waiting for this promise to occur. He has created the opportunity to experience God’s indwelling presence now. His death and resurrection has invited us to take up residence with God now.
The sad thing is, I often find myself visiting the place God has made to share life with me rather than making it my home. What a difference it would make if I made Living with God’s presence my home.