My Father's house: a reflection on John 14
Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19b)
In John 14, Jesus is preparing his followers for the harsh reality that in a short period of time, he will no longer be with them. Jesus is going to the Father, and in his place, he will leave with them the Holy Spirit. That is the chapter in a nutshell, which is replicated again in John 16. The disciples will be full of sorrow, yet the Spirit comes to comfort them and give them joy. Jesus assures them that he will not abandon them, but rather he has a mission to accomplish, a mission which he alone must carry out but which involves his followers in ways they cannot yet understand.
What is this mission of the Son? “I am going [to my Father’s house] to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). “No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v. 23). What then is the mission of the Son? The Son’s mission is to bring people to the Father, or rather to bring the Father and the world together. We might say that the Son’s mission is to reconcile the world with God. Of course, that is precisely what we find in Paul: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The metaphor of “my Father’s house” is thus not some description of heaven, but rather a way of speaking about the reconciliation between humanity and God. Why the image of a house? Because when we are reconciled to God and brought into communion with God, we become family. We are adopted as sons and daughters in the kingdom family (Eph. 1:5).
But how exactly does the home of the Father become our home? Do we have to help arrange the furniture in the rooms? Do we need to finish up some of the siding on the house? Is there some work that still needs to be done?
The answer to all these questions, according to Jesus, is no. The house is made ready for us without our help. And not only will Jesus prepare a place for us but he will later bring us home when everything is ready. In other words, reconciliation is completely a gift from God. As Jesus declares to us, “Because I live, you also will live.” We do not live because of anything in us, but because only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (v. 6). Jesus is life, and thus we receive life. Jesus died on the cross, and thus we died. Jesus was raised to new life, and thus we too have been given new life. Adoption is not something we can accomplish; we are merely the recipients of a new identity granted to us by God alone. (The same is true of human adoption; the adopted child is passive and not active in the adoption process.)
The point of all this is that reconciliation is entirely grace. We can do nothing but accept this wonderful new reality: reconciliation with God, freedom from sin, and freedom for new life in the home of the Father.