Our spiritual destination

The unbelief of the people caused Jesus to be deeply distressed the night before he was crucified. As he prepared his disciples and himself for his crucifixion, Jesus openly declared his mission to save the world. John 12:44-50 states:

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” (John 12:44-50, NLT)

In the upper room, after he had washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus talked about the transition that was going to take place and how he would be denied by Peter. Jesus said:

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:33-38)

Jesus’ twelve disciples had been in constant contact with him since they had been called to follow him, so the news that they were going to be physically separated from him was probably shocking to them. Peter in particular was struggling to comprehend why Jesus would distance himself from the men he had spent so much time with. Jesus made it clear that he was going to a place that his disciples did not have access to, but they would be able to join him again at some point in the future. Jesus told Peter, “You will follow afterward” (John 13:36).

The Greek phrase, “you cannot come” (John 13:33) has to do with ability and suggests that Jesus was talking about physical capability rather than spiritual capability when he told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now” (John 13:36). The Greek words dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) ouch (ookh), which are translated cannot, could also be translated as impossible in the sense of physical limitations preventing something from happening. “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410) and ouch is “the absolute negative” (G3756) Jesus used the words dunamai ouch when he told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus went on to explain why his disciples could not follow him at the present time. He said:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:1-7, NLT).

Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples. The Greek word that is translated place, topos (topˊ-os) “is used of a specific ‘region’ or ‘locality’…Topos is a place, indefinite; a portion of space viewed in reference to its occupancy, or as appropriated to itself” (G5117). Jesus indicated that the place he was going to needed to be prepared for his disciples, suggesting that heaven is currently a work in progress and that Jesus will not return to Earth until it is completed. It seems likely that Jesus’ preparation of heaven is linked to the continuation of his ministry here on earth. Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension, which appears in both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, includes a reference in the latter version to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Luke wrote, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11). Jesus told his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Greek word that is translated power, dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) is derived from the word dunamai and refers specifically to “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)” (G1411). Jesus’ sudden departure immediately after he told his disciples about the power of the Holy Spirit seems to suggest that our spiritual destination is being prepared for us based on our participation in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prior to Jesus’ ministry, no one expected to go to heaven when they died. The people of Israel thought that after the resurrection, they would spend eternity on Earth (John 11:24). God had said that he would give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession. It says in Genesis 13:14-15, “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.’” The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is similar to the Greek word that Jesus used when he talked about going to prepare a place for his disciples. Mᵉqomah is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (G6965). When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were instructed to divide up the land and to distribute it by lot (Numbers 33:54). The Hebrew word goral (go-ralˊ) “means ‘lot.’ Goral represents the ‘lot’ which was cast to discover the will of God in a given situation…In an extended use the word goral represents the idea ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’…Since God is viewed as controlling all things absolutely, the result of the casting of the ‘lot’ is divinely controlled…Thus, providence (divine control of history) is frequently figured as one’s ‘lot’” (H1486).

Rather than waiting until they crossed the Jordan River to receive their inheritance, the people of Reuben and Gad asked Moses to give them the land that had already been conquered on the east side of the river (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ response to their request is recorded in Numbers 32:6-15. It states:

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. And the Lord’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

The people of Reuben and Gad assured Moses that they intended to do their part to establish the nation of Israel. They said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance” (Numbers 32:16-18).

The thing that is clear from the situation with the people of Reuben and Gad was that all of the children of Israel were required to cross the Jordan River and to participate in the conquest of the land of Canaan. Everyone had to be brought to their place before the assignment of taking possession of the land was considered to be complete. In a similar way, Christians are expected to participate in spiritual activities during their lives on earth. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the ongoing spiritual conflict that is happening both in heaven and on earth. Paul encouraged them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul indicated that spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are fighting against believers in order to stop them from reaching their spiritual destination. The only way we can defeat the devil is by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, Thomas argued that they didn’t know where he was going, so how could they get there? Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6) and then, Jesus went on to tell Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10). The Greek word that is translated dwells, meno (menˊ-o) speaks “of place, i.e. of a person dwelling or lodging in a place, with the meaning of staying in one place” and “of relation in which one person or thing stands with another, chiefly in John’s writings; thus to remain in or with someone, i.e. to be and remain united with him, one with him in heart, mind, and will (John 6:56; 14:10; 15:4-7; 1 John 2:6; 3:24; 4:15, 16)” (G3306). Jesus’ reference to his Father dwelling in him was meant to convey a spiritual union that takes precedence over physical limitations.

Jesus continued his explanation of how we will reach our spiritual destination by talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Jesus said that the Helper would dwell with us forever and would be in us in the same way that his Father was in him. The Greek word parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) means “a comforter, bestowing spiritual aid and consolation, spoken of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875).

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a critical element of spiritual life and growth, but as the Helper, He also plays an important role in what is thought of as the journey that all Christians must make to reach the place that Jesus is preparing for them in heaven. The fact that the Holy Spirit dwells with us and is in us indicates that the traveling we must do is of an internal rather than an external nature. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Greek word that is translated home in this verse is the same word that is translated rooms in John 14:2 where it says “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” It could be that the preparation Jesus was talking about when he said, “I go to prepare a place for you” is not going on in heaven, but is going on inside us while we are living on earth. It is our physical separation from Christ that causes us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice inside us. If Jesus was physically with us, we would have no need to develop that skill. Jesus said that he and his Father would come to us and make their home with us (John 14:23), suggesting that the place Jesus is preparing for us is also of an internal rather than an external nature. Luke 17:20-21 states, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ”See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:25-27, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated present in John 14:25 is the same word that is translated dwells in John 14:10 and 14:17. Jesus likened the spiritual union he had with his Father and the spiritual union we have with the Holy Spirit to him being physically present with his disciples. In that sense, we’re never separated from Jesus because when we are born again, the Holy Spirit makes our hearts his permanent home (John 3:5-6; 14:16). John clarified in his first epistle that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not only the same as Jesus being physically being present with the believer, but also the same as us being with God in Heaven. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16).

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