A Cabin In The Corner Of Glory?

Many hymns and southern gospel songs speak of a heavenly mansion, or a humble cabin in the corner of glory where the saved will live forever with the angels and with Jesus. The imagery this evokes can be comforting, but it is not especially faithful to scripture.

N.T. Wright (1) and Richard Middleton (2) have reminded us that the “blessed hope” of the Christian faith is not a disembodied, ethereal existence in heaven, but a bodily participation in a new heaven and new earth. So, how did we get to the place where we treasure the idea of living forever in heaven?  I think much of it comes from a particular interpretation of Jesus’ words in John 14 where he says,

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  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. John 14:2-3 NKJV

Several assumptions underlie thinking that this passage is about heaven, and the life of believers after death:

1. That “My Father’s House” means heaven

2. That the “place” Jesus is going to prepare is some kind of heavenly dwelling

3. That the “coming again” mentioned here is either the rapture or the second coming of Jesus

4. That being where Jesus is means being with him in heaven

But, are these assumptions reasonable? Would the disciples to whom Jesus was saying these things have held these same assumptions? And if not, how else might we understand these words?

First, I confess with the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. I’m just proposing that in this passage, Jesus may not be talking about heaven and his second coming, but something much more “here and now”.

Let’s examine these four assumptions that underlie thinking this passage is about heaven and the afterlife.

First Assumption: Is “My Father’s House” referring to heaven?

Jesus uses the phrase, “my Father’s house” four times in the New Testament: 

1. In Luke 16:27 Jesus uses the phrase in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, referring to the house of the rich man’s father – clearly not a reference to heaven.

2. In Luke 2:49 a young Jesus in the temple says, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

3. In John 2:16, during the incident where Jesus turned over the tables and drove the moneychangers out of the temple Jesus says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

4. And in the text we’re considering where Jesus says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions” John 14:2

The Luke 16 usage of my father’s house is not relevant to this discussion, and the Luke 2 and John 2 passages clearly identify my Father’s house as the temple.

So, is Jesus, in John 14 continuing to use my Father’s house in reference to the temple? Yes, but with a twist. After Jesus had turned over the tables and drove out the sacrificial animals from the temple, Jesus said, 

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he was speaking of the temple of his body. John 2:19-21

The physical temple was where the Jews believed the presence of God dwelt. But the physical temple was soon to be destroyed.  Jesus was saying, “don’t look for the presence of God to dwell in a physical building”. Rather, my Father’s house…the dwelling place of God is in me. Paul would later identify believers as members of Christ’s body; the church,(3) and those believers are the new temple of God.  

So, my Father’s house is not a reference to heaven, and it’s not a reference to the temple in Jerusalem. My Father’s house, the place where God dwells, is us, as members of Christ’s body. We are the many mansions, the cabins in the corner of glory, the dwelling places of God. We are the living stones(4) that make up the new temple of God – my Father’s house.

The Second Assumption: Is the place Jesus was going to prepare, a heavenly dwelling?

The Greek word that is translated here as place, is “topos” from which we get the word, topography. It can mean a physical location, but it also can be used metaphorically. For instance, it is common to say something like, “I have come to the place in my life where possessions don’t mean as much to me.”  When we say things like this, we’re not using the word, place to mean a physical location, but an understanding, a realization, or a change in priorities.

If we consider that Jesus might have been speaking metaphorically here of preparing a place of understanding, a place where his disciples could come to the realization of some things that had been unimaginable before, it opens up some fascinating possibilities.

For instance, where was it that Jesus was about to go to prepare this metaphoric place? Jesus is speaking here to his disciples on the night he was to be betrayed. He was about to go to his death on a Roman cross. The disciples believed that Jesus was their Messiah, the new King of Israel, so the first thing – the first place Jesus was about to go prepare for them was a realization that God’s Messiah would not be like King David, slaying the Roman Goliath with his slingshot. 

The first place Jesus went to prepare, which would have been a place of massive cognitive dissonance for his disciples, was the understanding that God’s Messiah came to die at the hands of his enemies, not to kill them. Of course this place – this understanding, would never have occurred to the disciples if Jesus had stayed in the grave.

It was Jesus’ resurrection that prepared a place for his disciples that no amount of teaching, and no number of miracles could have prepared them for. The place that Jesus prepared through his death and subsequent resurrection, was the opening up of the disciples imaginations that because death had been defeated, they could now live as Jesus lived - without fear of death – and without an orientation toward the idea that they would cease to be.

By going to his death, Jesus was preparing a place in his disciples to begin telling a new story about life!  This is a place that the disciples could not have come to apart from Jesus going to and through death.

Instead of going to heaven to prepare a little cabin in the corner of glory for the afterlife, Jesus went through death to prepare his disciples to live without fear of death which is nothing less than an entirely new way to be human. This place was entirely unimaginable before the resurrection.

The Third Assumption: That the “coming again” mentioned here is either the rapture or the second coming of Jesus.

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. John 14:3 NKJV

If going to the cross and being raised from the dead prepared a revolutionary new place of understanding in the disciples, we need not think that “coming again” here has to do with Jesus’ second coming. It simply can mean the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples – the very same disciples Jesus is here speaking to. This is the most obvious, contextual understanding of coming again.

The Fourth Assumption: That being where Jesus is means being with him in heaven.

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. John 14:3

In the same way that we can understand Jesus preparing a place metaphorically, we can also understand being where Jesus is metaphorically.  In fact, Jesus often used the word, where in this way. For instance, none of the following references use “where” in a literal way, but pedagogically, metaphorically or parabolically:

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

The baptism of John – where was it from? From heaven or from men? Matthew 21:25

Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; Mark 4:5

A popular motivational meme is, “I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.”  This is not speaking of being in a particular geographic location, but of being in a certain state of physical fitness, or of comprehending something new. When we are learning something new, and only partially understand it, we might say, “I’m not there yet”. But when we “get it”, we say, “I’m there now” or “I’m with you now.”

We can understand Jesus in this same way when he says, “I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

This is Jesus describing how that, after his death and resurrection as the forgiving victim of our violence, his disciples would be able to be taken to where Jesus was. 

“Taken to himself”, not physically, but spiritually and cognitively. The disciples would finally “get Jesus”.  They would at long last be “where Jesus was” all along.

So, was Jesus speaking about being some kind of super-general contractor in heaven, constructing dwelling places for believers to reside in after death? Maybe. The Bible doesn’t say much about the intermediate state – that time between physical death and the general resurrection, but we do know that ultimately, we’re not destined for life in a cabin in the corner of glory.  Our hope is as resurrected citizens of a new Kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth where all things have been restored.(5)

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus already prepared for us a place where we can be with him, where we finally get what Jesus is all about. Where death has no more power over us than it did over Jesus. And that’s a pretty cool place to be.  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  
Revelation 21:1-4

(1) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

(2) A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology by Richard Middleton

(3) 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 3:16

(4) 1 Peter 2:5

(5) Acts 3:21

Lazarus Is Rising

The fear of death causes people to do many things; some stock up on survival supplies, others stockpile weapons. Some accumulate things that make them feel alive like cars, boats, clothing or jewelry, or they might do things that give them a thrill like gambling, risk taking or adventure seeking. Substance abuse can keep people from thinking about death, and we can always find something to entertain us and keep us in denial about our eventual destination. Frequently, a significant portion of our disposable income is spent on activities that have at their root, the fear of death, but is this the way God intends for us to live?

Can we really call it abundant life if life consists of expending large amounts of money and effort trying to avoid death?

The author of Hebrews wrote that through death, Jesus would free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) 

This is one of the most significant things that following Jesus makes possible.

Jesus makes it possible to live without the fear of death.

Can we even imagine that? How different would our lives be if we had no fear of death? If we could reassign all the money and activities we do that are driven by the fear of death, what would we do? What would our lives look like? I dare say that we might not even recognize ourselves!

Our example in this, of course, is Jesus. He lived his life with no fear of death.

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  1 Peter 2:23

Jesus was able to live without fear of death because he knew the power of resurrection. The Gospel of John contains the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus often healed people before they died, but in this case he allowed Lazarus to die, and he waited until Lazarus had been dead four days before doing this miracle. Jesus didn’t keep Lazarus on life support for four days. He let him die.

But physical death is not the only kind of death that we can live in fear of. We can also live in fear of the death of things. We might fear the death of a career, or the death of an important relationship, or we may fear the loss of an important possession such as a home or business. When we fear the death or loss of things, we can become manipulative, greedy, and self-centered – all things that are very un-Christ like - all things that reveal a fear of the death of those things.

Just as Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, there are times when we should allow things to die in our lives. Sometimes we expend enormous amounts of effort to keep a career or a relationship alive and on life support when it would be better to let it die. We have to be discerning here. We shouldn’t go around burning bridges on purpose, but just as Jesus healed some and allowed others to die, we should not fear the death of a job or a relationship - because we believe in resurrection.

When Jesus died, from the perspective of his disciples, their relationship with Jesus died with him. As far as they could see, Jesus was dead and all their hopes and dreams that involved him died with him. Three days later though that all changed! The relationships that they thought were dead and gone were resurrected.

Have you ever noticed that when people that Jesus had been close to before he died encountered him after his resurrection, often they didn’t recognize him. The resurrected relationship looked different than before. We can expect something similar to happen when we stop living in slavery to the fear of death. Some things may die, but the power of resurrection does more than just bring things back to the way they were. It is transformative. Resurrection makes things better than before.

The disciples struggled to adapt to this new, resurrected relationship with Jesus. Some of them doubted, some of them ran away, but eventually they embraced their resurrected relationship with Jesus. We can expect the same dynamic to play out in our resurrected careers and relationships.

I’ve been through several career changes in my life and they all felt like a death when I was in the middle of them, but each time a resurrection followed. I’ve learned not to fear things like this, because Lazarus is rising.

I’ve lost some relationships that were dear to me. Some have been restored and are better than before, and I’ve made many new relationships, because Lazarus is rising.

How about you? Will you follow Jesus in this? Are you ready for Jesus to free you from the fear of death? Lazarus is rising.

Seeing The Transfiguration With Resurrection Eyes - Part 1 "A Transfiguration Awakening"

I believe the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most important, and yet most misunderstood passages in the New Testament.  (Matthew 17:1-13)

Growing up in Evangelical and Charismatic churches, the Transfiguration was something of a curiosity.  Jesus took Peter, James and John up to Mount Tabor.  He then was transfigured and was seen speaking with Moses and Elijah.  Peter offers to build three tabernacles; one for each of them. A voice from a cloud speaks; validating that Jesus is God’s beloved Son.  Moses and Elijah disappear into the mist and Jesus tells them not to tell anybody what they just experienced until after he is raised from the dead.  In my experience, I don’t remember any pastor offering much of an explanation, let alone an exegesis of this story beyond perhaps that it proved that Jesus was divine.

But there is a depth of revelation in this story!  This Orthodox Icon can help.

In the Icon, Moses and Elijah are seen standing on separate mountain peaks.  This is an indication that Moses and Elijah represent more than just themselves as individuals.  Moses indeed represents the Law (Torah), the pinnacle of Old Covenant justice.  Elijah is representative of the Old Covenant prophets.  Jesus now appears as a central figure between the law and the prophets.  

I can’t stress how important the law and the prophets were to first century Jews.  The law and the prophets were the authoritative sources of their religion.  But when Peter offered to build three tabernacles, in essence elevating Jesus to the level of the law and the prophets, God interrupts and says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” and the law and the prophets dissolve into the mist.

This is so unsettling that the disciples fall to the ground in fear, covering their eyes.  The implications are almost too much to bear.  They’re not yet willing to see what God is telling them. Peter was ready to give Jesus a place of equal standing with the law and the prophets, but God would not have it.  “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” In this vision, Moses and Elijah have disappeared.  This is where Peter, James and John have to let go of the law and the prophets. We need to let them go too.  The types and shadows of the law and the prophets lead us to Jesus, but they don’t accompany Jesus from here on.

When I suggest that we must give more weight to what Jesus says than we do other voices in the Bible, some people get all kinds of squirrelly and defensive. The most common response I hear is, “But we need the whole counsel of God!”  by which they mean, we must give equal weight to voices other than Jesus.  It seems to me that the Transfiguration defeats that argument once and for all.

If this leaves you a little shaken and disoriented, make note of what Jesus did next. 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 

If you’ve been taught to give all scriptural voices equal weight, it can be a fearful thing to let some of them go, but Jesus says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 

When I say we should “let other scriptural voices go”, I don’t mean that we should ignore them.  They all have something important to teach us, but the message of the Transfiguration is that Jesus is more authoritative than all others, meaning Jesus is the “Rosetta Stone” if you will.

We must take Jesus with us when reading the law and the prophets- interpreting the law and the prophets according to the teachings of Jesus.  If we don’t do this, we will be willingly reverting to a pre-Jesus way of understanding the Scriptures. 

This “pre-Jesus” way of understanding the Bible is rampant in the churches of America today.  I am encouraged, though that there are people around the world that are having a Transfiguration Awakening. I am excited and hopeful for where Jesus is leading us!

After comforting his terrified disciples Jesus then says a peculiar thing:

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9)

Peter, James and John had just been given an astounding revelation, but Jesus forbids them from telling anyone else about it until after he has been raised from the dead!  Why would Jesus do this?  That’s the topic of part two of this blog entitled, “The Earth, Wind and Fire of the Resurrection”.