Rooms, Apartments, Houses and Mansions
“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below A little silver and a little gold But in that city where the ransomed will shine I want a gold one that's silver lined I've got a mansion just over the hilltop In that bright land where we'll never grow old And some day yonder we will never more wander But walk on streets that are purest gold Don't think me poor or deserted or lonely I'm not discouraged I'm heaven bound I'm but a pilgrim in search of the city I want a mansion, a harp and a crown I've got a mansion just over the hilltop In that bright land where we'll never grow old And some day yonder we will never more wander But walk on streets that are purest gold”
Words and music by Ira Stamphill, sung famously by Elvis Presley
I have written before of how words have changed meaning over time and why we need to be careful in checking that the meaning of words translated faithfully from Greek have not morphed into something misleading in contemporary usage. The Elvis Presley ditty above might give us warm fuzzies, but I have to tell you it’s based on a misconception of two Greek words. Check out these two translations of the same passage where John’s Gospel records the words of Jesus to the disciples:
“In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 KJV
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2 NIV
I hope you don’t feel deflated that “mansions” has been downgraded to “rooms” because either way it will still be spectacular! It is true that in the seventeenth century, “mansion” applied to any permanent structure in which one lived. The luxury aspect was that you didn’t have to put up with having your livestock and two generations of family members in the same room with you! So the King James Translators did the best they could with the concepts available, obviously “castle” or “palace” would not be accurate translations, so they opted for “mansions”. They had no way of knowing the word would mean something quite different in twenty-first century English!
However, the more problematical word in both translations is “house”, which we think of as some kind of freestanding structure that people live in. That was true in Jesus’ time, but it also meant much more than that. You will remember from the Christmas story that Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem because they were of the “house” and lineage of David.
The family “house” was where the oldest living patriarch of the family lived (or had originally settled) and usually comprised of what we today might call a “compound”. Typically this compound enclosed a central communal area with a kitchen and washing facilities, an enclosure for livestock (which comprised the wealth of the family), and then an expandable number of rooms for family members to sleep, and have privacy, raise the children and make their “home”. To be in the “house” was an intimate and privileged experience. Moving into the family compound ensured a promise of defense from all evil and protection and welfare quite literally from the top down.
When Jesus spoke of “laying up treasure in Heaven”, (Matthew 6:20) He was saying that all our treasure would be safe and secure because it would be inside the walls of His Father’s compound, His “house”.
I hope you see that the size of the mansion, (apartment or room), is of little to no significance compared to the inestimable joy and security of being included in the household of God with access to Him and the rest of the family forever!
As I write this I am reminded of a chorus I learned in Sunday school in the nineteen-fifties which said:
“There’ll be no sorrow there, In my Father’s house, In my Father’s house, In my Father’s house; There’ll be no sorrow there, In my Father’s house, In my Father’s house on high!”
“For Jesus will be there, In my Father’s house, Etc…”
The chorus would last a long time as each repetition filled in the names of people we expected to be present in the Father’s house! For such a simple song it is firmly biblically based considering Jesus’ words that there was room for whosoever will in John 14:2 and Revelation 21:4 —
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” KJV
I’m sure many of you, like me, have fond memories of spending time in grandma’s house for holidays, birthdays, celebrations etc… I think that same warm, welcoming experience is part of what Jesus had in mind when he explained to his disciples (and us) that there assuredly was a place for each of them within the household of God the Father. As He explained there would have been no point in mentioning it if it weren’t so!
Regardless of our situation we can be assured, and reassured, that we have a place where God dwells. It won’t be a mansion just over the hilltop, it’ll be much more grand than that!
Please spread the word far and wide, but especially to friends and family so that all can be included!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black