Jesus said [John 14:2-3, NIV], “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
I’m sure the still prevailing view is that by the “Father’s house” Jesus means heaven.
I’m not sure what the prevailing view is on the words “there are many rooms” in it. We all [commentators included] have our opinions on it but there’s no consensus and there’s no compelling proof that I know of about any opinion expressed.
It is generally held, I would suppose, that Jesus meant he was going to prepare a place [a room] for them in heaven and when he finally returns [the “2nd” coming] he would take them back to heaven with him.
This might be the correct understanding of Jesus despite my inability right now to see it that way.
Let me make a number of observations, offer some possibilities and conclude my remarks on this matter.
1. We need to remember that Jesus was speaking to a group of men in the 1st century.
2. He's speaking to truly troubled men who heard him talk of his being killed. This would lead them to think that God's promises would fail or that Jesus was not the Messiah. It wasn't simply that they felt sad at the coming death of their friend. Momentous issues were at stake (note the Emmaus road incident in Luke 24).
3. He said he would come back and take them [NIV] somewhere.
4. If Jesus is speaking about coming to get them at his final [“2nd”] coming to take them to their eternal home in heaven should we not wonder where they are while they’re waiting?
5. He tells a truth about his Father’s house [it has many rooms] but he doesn’t say the Father’s house is heaven and he doesn’t say [despite the NIV] that he is going to his Father’s house. He does say he’s going to his Father [14:28] which is not at all the same things as saying he is going to the Father’s house or heaven.
6. Jesus says he is going to his Father and coming back [14:28-29] to receive them to himself so that wherever he is they would be [14:3]. Here’s what he says in 14:28-29:
You heard me say, I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
7. That appears to suggest the apostolic group would see the fulfillment of his return. I would suggest that that's what Acts 2 supplies—Jesus' return in and as the Holy Spirit. If the final coming of Jesus were in view the apostles would be with Jesus already for something like two thousand years so what sense could there be in 14:29 if it spoke of his final [“2nd”] coming? He tells them about his going and coming to them again, ahead of time, so that when it happens they will know he had spoken the truth [connect with 14:1 and note 13:19]. Since they would be coming with him when he finally returns [compare 1 Thessalonians 4:14—I purpose a little piece on that text later] it’s hard to make sense of 14:28-29 [which is a repeat of 14:2-3] if we’re equating it with the final coming of our Lord.
8. I feel sure that Jesus is speaking to assure deeply troubled disciples and he does it by telling them ahead of time of his parting from them and his return to them which would put an end to partings.
9. What then does he mean? See the earlier pieces. He is leaving them, they will feel orphaned, he will not leave them that way because he will come to them again [14:18-20] and he and his Father will make their home with them [14:23]. This he will accomplish in and through his Holy Spirit. See Acts 2:1-36 for a development of that promise.
10. I’m not sure what to make of “the Father’s house” nor do I quite know what to make of the “many rooms”. I know that Paul makes use of the figure of a wealthy man’s great house in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. There he speaks of numerous articles used for various jobs [gold, silver, clay and such] and then without warning he slides from the physical image to a moral/spiritual application. He likens the Master’s servants to cups and pots that are cleansed from impurities and are each useful in their own way for noble purposes. I’m wondering if Jesus is using his metaphors in a similar way. The apostles disputed about a place of service—the leading place. I'm wondering if Jesus is using the "Father's house" of the temple which had many rooms, each with its place in God's service. Each of these "rooms" would have in them what they need to promote God's honor.
11. I recognize the danger of grabbing texts from this context or that one and piecing them together but perhaps sometimes that’s justified. John 13 associates the Supper with service and true leadership while the Luke 22:14-30 gives us Jesus’ teaching against seeking prominent places but here his assurance is that he and the Father would honor them with places in the kingdom.
12. Here’s what I think has happened. The occasion is the sad night when Jesus knows his hour has come and speaks of the shedding of his blood. They’ve all gathered to eat the Passover, Jesus washes their feet and exhibits the spirit that is to permeate his followers and then hears them argue about their respective places in the kingdom. He rebukes this clamouring spirit but still acknowledges their loyalty [Luke 22:28] and tells them there’s plenty of room for them all and that they will indeed be honored [Luke 22:29-30 and John 14:2-3].
13. The picture in Luke 22:28-30 which is one of a great feast [presumably in a great house] celebrating the kingdom of God in which they have prominent and honored places of service and blessing. In John 14 the image is the Holy Father’s great house with many rooms to cater to many honored ones—no one will be left out, they need not scramble or squabble and what is more important, they need not worry that Jesus had brought them this far through tough years with many promises that wouldn’t be fulfilled [John 14:2—“I would have told you”].
14. In summary:
I don’t think Jesus is talking about his final [“2nd”] coming; I think he is talking about his coming to abide in them in and through the Holy Spirit.
I don’t think he is talking about taking them to heaven either at their death [which would be before the “2nd” coming and wouldn't work if we were to connect the text with his final coming] or about taking them to heaven after the resurrection [which on this view occurs at the “2nd” coming].
I think the Father’s “house” and “rooms” are meant to paint a picture of their dwelling with God as honored guests, friends and servants [14:23, see also 15:14-15 and 17:21]. The imagery is their being in God’s house, feasting [as in Luke 22:29-30] and the reality is their honored place of service in the kingdom indwelled by the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit.
The context of the statements has nothing to do with "a greater degree of intimacy" in their relationship with God or a coming temporary situation. The context has to do with:
1) a group of followers who vie for the position of greatest importance and need a heart change and a better view of kingdom life;
2) a group of followers who when they hear the Messiah speak of his betrayal and death would be shaken in faith thinking God had not fulfilled his covenant promise and/or that Jesus could not be believed on as the Messiah (the Messiah can't be killed);
3) assurance given that Jesus would prove faithful when they experienced his return and permanent residence with his people.