In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (Jesus – John 14.2-3)
“It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.” (Teresa of Avila)
A common interpretation of John 14.2-3 is God has a mansion in heaven. In this mansion there are many dwelling places or rooms. Jesus tells us he is going to prepare a place for us in heaven. He will then come back someday and take us to be where he is (heaven). This will most likely occur after we die (or sooner if he returns before we die).
Many find assurance from these Bible verses that they or their loved ones go to heaven when they die. While the “heaven” interpretation of John 14 may be comforting, I think it’s better to understand this passage as the activity of the Trinity and the “dwelling places” as our souls.
- “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”: The dwelling places are our souls.
- “And if I go and prepare a place for you”: Jesus preparing our souls to commune with him.
- “I will come again and will take you to myself”: Jesus drawing us into relationship with him through indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
- “So that where I am, there you may be also.”: Union with Christ or what Teresa called spiritual betrothal and marriage.
Below are a number of verses from the surrounding context of John 14.2-3 about the activity of the Trinity, God revealing himself, and the indwelling of our souls. I added bold type for emphasis.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14.16-17)
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14.20-21)
Jesus answered him, “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. (John 14.23)
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16.7)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16.13)
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17.3)
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17.20-24)
The Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila alludes to John 14.2-3 to support her metaphor of the Interior Castle. She says our soul is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms. At the center of the Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. We enter the Interior Castle (our souls) though prayer and meditation. Our destination is the center of the castle where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”. This is the interior journey. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.”
Teresa also says, “When our Lord is pleased to have pity on this soul that he has already taken spiritually as his betrothed . . . he brings it, before the spiritual marriage is consummated, into his dwelling place, which is this seventh. For just as in heaven, so in the soul His Majesty must have a room where he dwells alone. Let us call it another heaven.”
Jesus indwells us and prepares a place (our souls) for us to unite with him. As we make this interior journey he reveals himself to us and we deepen our relationship with Jesus. We then manifest this interior relationship outwardly though kingdom living.
(See comment section below for additional thoughts on heaven.)
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version. NRSV Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.