In biblical times, it was common to arrange marriages. Two families would make a formal contract that would bind a man and woman together even before they were officially married. During this period of time, the couple was said to be betrothed, meaning pledged. It was similar to an “engagement” in our contemporary context, but involved far more legal obligations.
While betrothed, the woman would dedicate sufficient time to preparing for her life with her husband and his family. She would gather her personal belongings, adjust to new relationships, and become more acquainted with her husband. Likewise, the man would prepare by introducing her to his family and building their new home onto the father’s house. When the time came, the couple would enjoy their wedding celebration, move into the groom’s house, and consummate the marriage.
As early as John’s third chapter, we find Jesus described as the bridegroom, “the one who has the bride” (Jn. 3:29). Here, in the upper room, He alludes to this illustration again. He describes His departure from the disciples as a bridegroom who leaves to prepare a place for His bride. And, He will return to receive His bride through the wedding celebration and consummation.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.John 14:2–3
In these two verses, the Lord shows us how to draw comfort from trusting in Christ’s preparations. The phrase “prepare a place for you” appears twice in the passage with various allusions along with it, reminding us that we can be certain of our eternity during uncertain times.
“In my Father’s house”, the Lord says, “are many rooms” (Jn. 14:2). The future of those who belong to God can have certain hope in that they will soon dwell in the real presence of the Lord. There is room in the Father’s house.
Let’s continue to walk through this passage, synthesize its teachings, and see how we might draw some principles on attaining comfort through certainty of our eternity with God.
The Preparation of the Son
This scenario may sound familiar to you, particularly if you are a parent and part of your mind has been lost to old age. “I told you to clean your room,” I say to my daughter. “When did you say that?” Realizing I never told her to clean her room, I promptly vindicated myself. “I just did!” Playing the conversation back in my head later, I see that I made little sense.
In a similar way, the conversation between Jesus and His disciples makes little sense, at least at face value. The ESV translated it as a single question. “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn. 14:2). The truth is, Jesus never told them that He was going to prepare a place for them. He may have thought about telling them or implied it in previous dialogues as we read them in hindsight. Or maybe, the translators put the question mark in the wrong place.
The original Greek didn’t have punctuation marks. These were added at a later time. And, the Greek translations that I sourced use semicolons in these two verses, which you can observe in the more literal translations. So, it’s easy to punctuate these passages in different ways.
By moving the question mark back so that it appears after the first occurrence of the word “you,” the second half can be read as an assertion, which yields a more sensible meaning.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you? For I go to prepare a place for you.”John 14:2
This small change simplifies the reading of the text without doing any real harm to the meaning. In fact, it elucidates the passage helping us to see more clearly what the Lord is conveying.
The question, “Would I have told you?” refers to the preceding statement, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Thereby making its proceeding statement, “For I go to prepare a place for you,” a matter of clarity or explanation.
This is not a new insight, many translators saw it as well. Both the legacy and the New King James Versions translate the verse with this in mind. The New English Translation, the New Century Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible, published by the Southern Baptist Convention, do as well. It is a legitimate way to read and interpret the text.
With this in mind, let’s unpack it all to see how the Lord uses it to comfort us during uncertainty. For the first time, Jesus is giving His disciples a reason for His departure, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). He is affirming His trustworthiness and assuring His preparedness.
Affirming His Trustworthiness
Since we’ve divided the single question into two parts, let’s look at the first. It is a question, “If it were not so, would I have told you?” (Jn. 14:2). If this is indeed a question in the original manuscript, then the word “it” refers to what Christ said immediately before, “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (Jn. 14:2).
Essentially, He is asking, “Would I lie to you about that? If it were not true, do you think I would say that?” To put it in the form of a statement, which it might have been intended, it would read, “I haven’t lied to you about my Father’s house, it has many rooms.” In other words, He is reaffirming the truth about God’s dwelling place. You can be sure of it. You can be certain about what He says. You can, as they say, take it to the bank.
God’s attributes are numerous and infinite. We can learn about some of them in the Scriptures, because one of them in particular is clear—God’s truthfulness. Everything we know about God is told to us by His Word. Without His Word, we would know nothing of substantial importance about Him. Therefore, the truthfulness of God’s Word is critical.
For this reason, the Bible repeatedly tells us that God is trustworthy. You can trust what He says and what He does. We don’t have to go far to recognize it either. Jesus, in this same conversation, declares Himself to be “the truth” (Jn. 14:6). So, if God is true, then what He says is true. Hours after this conversation, Jesus prays to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane, saying, “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Truthfulness is a main ingredient of God’s nature, so it manifests itself in God’s actions.
To press this even further, the Bible tells us on multiple occasions that God is incapable of telling a lie (Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Therefore, “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5), and “the sum of your word is truth” (Ps. 119:160). From the smallest term to the biggest truth, God’s Word is true and trustworthy.
This is the premise behind what Jesus says. “If it were not so, would I have told you?” (Jn. 14:2). “Would I lie to you? Do you think I would pull your chain? If there were no room in the Father’s house, would I tell you there was?” Absolutely not. Jesus is God and God cannot lie. His nature is simply not cut out for it. He always tells the truth. Therefore, we can trust what He says to us.
Assuring His Preparations
Moving the question mark resolved an interpretation challenge, but it didn’t resolve some of the puzzling questions about His next message. He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). Naturally, this alludes to the betrothal period in the Jewish customs where the bridegroom departs to prepare a living space for his bride. However, what exactly does it mean?
We know that the “place” is the “Father’s house,” or God’s dwelling place, according to the text. Most understand this to refer to Heaven in its immediate context and to anywhere God dwells in its more technical sense (Ps. 73:25). This is further demonstrated in John 14:6 when Jesus says that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is departing from the disciples to go to the Father in heaven. So, the question is this: What in the Father’s house needs to be prepared?
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that the kingdom of God was “prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Paul says something similar. Christ blesses us “in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3-4). If the heavenly houses were established before the world was made, what preparations remain? What does Christ need to leave in order to prepare in the Father’s house for those whom He chose to include?
It’s unlikely that Christ was actually leaving this temporal world to make living spaces in eternity. Rather, the Bible teaches that He was leaving to prepare hearts. The betrothed husband grew up in the Father’s house. He was intimately familiar with the Father and personally accustomed to His ways, His thoughts, His likes and dislikes, His expectations, attitudes, and characteristics. The bride, on the other hand, did not. Christ was leaving to prepare hearts for heaven.
Let me explain.
The room for the bride was made before the foundations of the world. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” your’s included. They are built-out and debt-free, completely furnished and totally prepared. However, they are locked behind a door of holiness and the unclean heart cannot enter them. The sign on the door reads, “Sinners may not enter. Only the righteous are welcomed.”
In the Old Testament tabernacle or Father’s house was an inner room that was the holiest of places, called The Holy of Holies. Inside it, dwelled the very presence of God. A long curtain separated it from man. No one entered this sacred room except the High Priest, who fearfully and briefly entered only once a year for the atonement of sins (Ex. 30:10; Heb. 9:7).
When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man, this dividing curtain was torn in two making the entrance to the Holiest room available to all who come. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom,” symbolizing that the rip came from heaven (Matt. 27:51). The High Priest, according to Scripture, was merely a copy of Jesus, the true High Priest (Heb. 9:24). By entering the Holiest place as the atonement for sins, the heavenly rooms were unlocked. Man could now dwell in the presence of God.
By preparing a place for you, Jesus was unlocking the door and setting the welcome mat out that reads, “All who are made righteous in Christ are welcome.” The writer of Hebrews explains it this way:
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.”Hebrews 8:1–2
Jesus is the true High Priest who atoned for the sins of man and now dwells in the heavenly house of God. His work on the cross had both spiritual and eternal affects. Jesus says later this very night, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). He was leaving to prepare hearts for the heavenly home—preparing a place for you, and in you.
Before entering the tabernacle, the priest underwent various cleansing activities. Both their hearts and their bodies were to be purified. Moses caused Aaron and his sons, the first priests, to bathe for purification (Lev. 16:4; Ex. 30:19). They were instructed to “wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die” as a “statute forever,” a reality we symbolize in water baptism (Ex. 30:21).
Before arriving at the temple in Jerusalem, Jews would come from all parts of the world singing songs of ascent in order to prepare their hearts for worship. “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-6). Only those who have clean hearts may enter the heavenly house of God.
This might be the reason Jesus humbled Himself and washed the disciples feet before comforting them with His promises. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand,” said Christ, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn. 13:7-8). It was all pointing to the preparations He would soon undertake on the cross. He was leaving to prepare hearts as homes for the indwelling presence of God.
Jesus was preparing the way by becoming the way. His death for our life. In the Father’s house are many rooms, but they are locked shut to those who are spiritually unclean. Only those who are cleansed by Christ may enter.
In reality, it isn’t a curtain that separates us from God. It is a wide gulf caused by sin. God is holy, and man is not. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus says (Jn. 14:6). Trust Christ.
How does this comfort us today? We crave certainty, because it meets a vital need. In Christ, we can have certainty. By trusting Christ and centering all your hopes on him, you will have peace and experience lasting comfort.
The house of God is far off, unseen, and in another world. But, we can be comforted in this world by seeing it through the lens of the next. For the next world indwells today in the hearts of those who love God.