Craig Keener on John 14:1-6

So I was browsing through Keener’s work Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today(Baker Academic, 2001) and came across an interesting section in his chapter ‘Recognizing the Spirit’s Voice.’  I want to know what you all think.  Here is the section quoted in full:

Many Dwellings

Jesus promises his disciples his continuing presence after his departure.  After Jesus uses his coming death for us as the new standard of love that believers should follow (John 13:31-38), he addresses the next inevitable issue: He must go away.  But he assures his anxious disciples that though he is going away to the Father, he will return to them again (14:3, 18, 23).

We often read the first few lines of John 14 as a promise of Jesus’ second coming, but although Jesus promises the second coming in other passages in John, that is probably not what the promise of John 14:2-3 means.  In this passage, Jesus assures his disciples that he is going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for them among the many dwellings there (14:2; KJV’s “mansions” mistranslations, based on Latin Vulgate).  He promises that he will return to them and that they will be with him forever in his Father’s house.  It is not surprising if we are unsure what Jesus was talking about, for even Jesus’ original disciples were confused (14:5)!  The context, however, goes on to clarify Jesus’ point.

First, Jesus explains what he means by his coming again.  In this context, he means he will come to his disciples after the resurrection (14:16-20; 16:16; 20-22).  At that time he will give them his Spirit, through whom they will experience his presence and resurrection life (14:16-17, 19; 20:22).  Second, Jesus explains what he means by the “dwellings” in the Father’s house: our current dwelling in God’s presence.  The noun I translate here as “dwellings” appears only one other time in the entire New Testament – later in this [same] passage, where Jesus expands on the information he has already given his disciples about dwellings. Through the Spirit, Jesus and the Father will come and make their dwelling within each disciple (14:23), thus making them temples of the Lord (the Father’s house).  The term dwell, or abide, which is the verb form of dwelling, appears several times in John 15, where Jesus talks about dwelling with us and we with him (15:4-7, 9-10).

Further, Jesus’ disciples did not understand what he said, so his explanation to them instructs us well.  When Jesus noted that they already knew where he was going and how he would get there, on confused disciple protested, “Lord, we do not even know where you are going; how can we know the way to get there?” Jesus replied that he was going where the Father was, and Jesus was the way the disciples would get there (14:6; see also 16:28).  But when do the disciples get to the Father through Jesus?

John 14:6 is talking about salvation; we come to the Father through Jesus when we become believers in Jesus.  This being the case, Jesus’ earlier words in 14:2-3 must also speak of a relationship beginning at conversion.  When we come to the Father through Jesus, we become his dwelling by the Spirit he has given us.  If John 14:6 refers to salvation (and it does), then the question it answers (how do we get where you are going?) cannot merely refer to the second coming of Jesus that we look for in the future.

So, I guess “I go to prepare a place for you so that you may be where I am” in John 14 doesn’t just mean Jesus will come back to Earth to take us back to heaven to be with him there forever.  Instead, because the Temple of God is not a building but now the People of God, WE are God’s dwelling places and so with him in our hearts we are with him forever!  How does this sit with you all?  Tell me what you think about what Keener is saying.

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5 responses to “Craig Keener on John 14:1-6

  1. Thanks, Brian. I agree with this understanding of John 14:2-3. Here and in 16:7,16 Jesus is talking about his death and resurrection, not his ascension and second coming. I made this point in one of my recent posts about the ascension.

  2. I guess I am still thinking about it Peter, the phrase Jesus says “and take you to be me that you also may be where I am” throws me off and I still have to work on what this means – where does he take us? that sort of thing. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Here is a comment by one of my professors:

    I have taught on several occasions regarding the term in question (μοναὶ) and that it occurs only twice–both times in this chapter. The second occurrence refers to us being the μοναὶ for Jesus and the Father–clearly the meaning you are pointing to here.

    But in Jesus opening remarks I think his language is clearly eschatological. ” I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” is simply too linked to future, unrealized hope (for all of Dodd’s “realized eschatology” work on John) to make it all soteriological/pneumatological “here and now” (i.e., post-Pentecost/church age).

    I think a both/and approach is best: The soteriology of the Spirit is fundamentally eschatological in nature–indeed, the church is the eschatological community, THE great sign of the eschaton. As Paul says, the Spirit is the downpayment of things to comes, a constant breath of heaven within us. In other words, second coming and the abiding of the Spirit within us are inseparable, and not only shouldn’t we have to “choose” here, we cannot do so.

  4. I think “that where I am, there ye may be also” is explained by Jesus’ words right before he ascends in Matt. 28:20 “and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”, which indicates that the Godhead dwelling in us as the temple of God is Jesus being with us always, that is never forsaking us cf. Acts 1:6-9. Christ’s spirit dwelling in us is the same as always being where God is.
    Many of the things prophesied of are fulfilled shortly thereafter within the next fifty days. Peter’s denial (John 18:17, 25, 27); Jesus’ repeated prayer concerning believers being in God and Christ, and vice versa; and for all believers to be one is fullfilled at the Day of Pentacost (17:11, 21, 22, 23, 24).;
    “I have kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition;” (John 17:12; 18:9). Peter’s death is further revealed during Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry 13:36; John 21:18-19, of which when Peter speaks of later he calls his death as putting of this my tabernacle (II Peter 1:14); Of course Jesus’ death; and the disciples seeing him in his resurrection body.
    Besides the only other time in John Jesus refers to the Father’s house he is speaking of his body as the temple of God (John 2:16-19), which is further explained here in John 14 and is at least a partial fulfillment of Zechariah 6:13-14, the complete fulfillment being when Christ has his temple built during his reign on this earth.
    There also seems to be a connection to the establishment of the kingdom after Israel’s exodus (Exodus 23:20; 25:8). Perhaps, this passage further builds on what was said to Peter about the building of the church on his as a prototype of who would be the living stones of this building. In other words, what Ephesians 2:20-22 teaches. Peter was told the church would be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is to say believers of the church age would gain entrance into the kingdom of Christ to be established on this earth at the end of the time of the Gentiles. Perhaps, Christ is the angel who goes before us to prepare the way to Zion, the way to the kingdom by guiding us and defending us against our enemies, including the Devil cf. Hebrews 2:9-3:6.
    Those who insist upon John 14:2-3 refers to the second coming of Christ, most likely are those who believe in the rapture of the church prior to the tribulation.
    I know my God is able to preserve those he has sealed unto redemption as he preserved and protected Israel from the judgment upon Egypt (Exodus 7-14; II Peter 2:9; 4:30). So there is no reason I must assume all who live during the tribulation suffer the wrath of God (cf. Rev. 18:4; 16:2; 14:10; 12:5-6; 9:4; also see the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on the Greek word tranlsated forehead in Rev. 7:2).

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