Jonathan Edwards: Many Mansions (Updated for Today’s Readers)—Part 1

At a mere 34 years of age, Edwards preached this message on Christmas Day 1737 in recognition and celebration of the newly constructed church house in Northampton (pictured above).

His congregation utilized a seating chart, which placed those occupying higher social positions in the better sanctuary seats. This practice, strange and totally out of place for churches in our day, was normal during that time. However, in this sermon Edwards maintains that those in the better seats are no better off than others. He speaks of God’s heavenly house (with its many mansions) as much greater and more significant than any earthly house of worship. People must diligently seek a place of dignity in the more important house.

Many Mansions also furnishes a rare glimpse into Edwards’ pastoral heart as he recounts the recent deaths of a father and son who had been parishioners in the congregation.

This version is updated for today’s readers.


 

Learning about God’s House

In My Father’s house are many mansions.
(John 14:2, NKJV)

 

Introduction

Look with me at this verse, and focus your attention on two observations: (1) What is being described and (2) The description itself.

1. What Is Being Described

The object Jesus described is his “Father’s house.” To understand the significance of this, we need to go back and remember the context of this verse.

In the prior chapter, Christ had been speaking to his disciples. Throughout the discussion, he had given them the strong impression that he would soon have to leave them. For example, he had said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (13:31). Afterwards, Jesus had instructed them to live in unity and love one another. His every word, and even his tone when he spoke, made it clear to the disciples that he was preparing to depart. This news saddened them. In fact, they hardly knew what to make of it.

In verse 36, Peter had asked, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus didn’t provide a direct answer at that time, but a little later (in John 14:12) he did tell them plainly, “I go to my Father.” That is, Jesus intended to return to his Father’s heavenly house.

So this glorious house is the object Jesus described in our text. And it is this house, which belongs to the Father of Christ, that will be the subject of our message today.

2. The Description Itself

Next, observe how the text describes the Father’s house as a place containing “many mansions.”

Why did Jesus describe the house this way? Because he longed to comfort and encourage his followers. Remember, sorrow had overwhelmed them because Jesus was leaving. He responded to their heartbreak with information about his Father’s house; namely, that it was a very spacious and roomy house.

His point was that a place had been reserved for each of them there. Certainly, there would be room for him, but he stressed that there would be plenty of room for them too. In the Father’s house there are enough mansions for everyone!

The grieved and confused disciples didn’t want him to leave. If he had to go, they very much wanted to go with him. Whether he stayed or whether he departed, they just wanted to be in his presence.

Peter in particular deeply desired to stay with Jesus no matter what. In John 13:37, he had asked, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?”

His disciples were troubled, confused, and hurting, so Jesus, knowing their sad state, sought to encourage and help them. He lifted their spirits by saying they would be with him soon enough! He was going home to his Father’s house, but they also would arrive there in due time. They would meet again soon, and when they did, a mansion would be provided for them all (Judas was not present at this point in the conversation).

He further encouraged them by informing them that all who would believe on him – even until the end of the world – would also receive mansions. He had to go first, but only to prepare a place for everyone who would follow.

Now, I will build the remainder of the sermon on the foundation of these two observations. The text is a plain sentence, so there’s no need to restate it in a doctrinal formulation. Thus, I will move right into elaborating on this verse with two propositions. First, heaven is God’s house, and second, in God’s house are many mansions. Think with me through the first of these.

Proposition 1:
Heaven Is God’s House

Consider for a moment this new house of worship where you now sit. This, and many others like it, is an earthly house of public worship. It is a place where God’s people periodically gather in order to practice the ordinances he has instituted. Because it has been set aside for this special purpose, we call it God’s house.

Next, recall the temple that Solomon built. God was pictured as dwelling there. His throne was located inside the Holy of Holies at the mercy seat, above the Ark of the Covenant and between the cherubim. That place was also called God’s house.

In addition to the temple and our earthly meeting houses, the Scripture also represents the whole universe as being the house of God. We are told it was built with multiple stories, one on top of another:

Amos 9:6 The Lord God of hosts. . . builds his upper chambers in the heavens.

Psalm 104:3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters.

Of all the layers of the heavens, Scripture pictures the highest level as being God’s house in a most special way. He appointed the other parts of creation for inferior uses, but this highest level is reserved as his holy abode. God gave the earth to mankind, but the heavens belong to him, as Scripture teaches. Of course, God is always present everywhere, but in both the Old and New Testaments, he dwells in heaven in a peculiar and unique way. For example, Revelation 15:5 states the heaven is God’s true temple.



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However, if heaven is God’s true temple, how should we understand Solomon’s temple? Put simply, it was only a foreshadowing of God’s heavenly house, or what is sometimes called a type. Paul explains this in his epistle to the Hebrews, where he occasionally refers to heaven as the Holy of Holies. Heaven is the antitype (or the full reality to which the type points) of Solomon’s temple as a whole, but specifically of the most holy place located within it. The Israelites considered that sacred room to be God’s residence, where his immediate presence could be experienced. So we read:

Hebrews 9:12; 24 [Christ] entered once for all into the holy places. . . For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself.

Like Solomon’s temple, our public meeting places (in some ways) picture God’s house above. They are a kind of reflection of it. When Christians meet to worship God in spirit and truth, their earthly meeting house becomes like an outpost of heaven, so to speak – church buildings functioning as the gates of heaven. This connection becomes clear when we remember that a glorious assembly of Christians, the Church, is continually gathered together to worship God in heaven. Thus, when we come together for worship here, we know they are together worshipping there:

Hebrews 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.

So in Scripture heaven is God’s ultimate house and dwelling place:

Psalm 113:5 Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high?

Psalm 123:1 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

Heaven is God’s palace, the home of the great King of the universe! It is the temple where his throne is located.

Psalm 11:4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven.

Heaven is also the place where God’s family lives with him. The Bible regularly pictures God as having a family, but some of his children are not yet home with him. These continue to reside on earth where they are traveling abroad, but in due time all will arrive home, safe in their Father’s house.

Ephesians 3:14-15 I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

God built heaven for himself and for his many children. Since heaven is for God’s children, the saints are said to belong to the household of God:

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Think of God, then, not only as the owner of his heavenly house, but also as the head of his family who resides with him there.

Naturally, he has a table there – a table where he and his family can sit and feast together. Yes, his throne of authority is located there, but so is his table of family fellowship. And because he is such a great King, his children feast in a royal manner!

Luke 22:30 That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.

Matthew 26:29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

Heaven is also the place where the King of kings keeps his court. The nobles of his court, his angels and archangels, serve him there.

Having established that heaven is God’s house, we move to consider the second proposition that flows from our text. Next, we will discuss what it means that mansions fill God’s heavenly house.

Part 2