On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus encouraged His followers by informing them that there are many dwelling places in His Father’s house (John 14:2). It is important to note that Jesus was specifically addressing His disciples, while at the Last Supper. He was not speaking to a general audience. To His disciples, Jesus explained that He was going to prepare a place for His followers (John 14:2). In fact, Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be” (John 14:3). God’s house is a special place and refuge for God’s family.
On another occasion, Jesus described His family as being those who do the will of His Father. Pointing to His disciples, Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Additionally, the writer of Hebrews made a very important distinction. He wrote that we are a part of God’s “house” only “if we hold firmly to our confidence and the boast of our hope” (Heb. 3:6). The writer of Hebrews warned that there are those who will “drift away” (Heb. 2:1). He further wrote, “Take care, brothers and sisters, that there will not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). David wrote, “I hate the work of those who fall away” (Ps. 101:3). The Father’s house is comprised of Jesus’s faithful followers.
God’s house was a prominent theme in the Old Testament writings. It was a place of worship, refuge, privilege, fellowship, and holiness (Ps. 5; 42:4). The idea of the “house” included the household, family, servants, belongings, and the physical structure. Speaking on behalf of the Lord, the Prophet David wrote that “the [o]ne who practices deceit shall not dwell in [M]y house” (Ps. 101:7). To dwell in the house of the Lord was to live in constant fellowship with God (Ps. 23:6; 27:4). The Psalmist wrote, “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree[;] he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courtyards of our God” (Ps. 92:12-13). David also wrote, “Blessed is the one You choose and allow to approach You. He will dwell in Your courtyards. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple” (Ps. 65:4). The sons of Korah wrote, “How lovely are Your dwelling places” (Ps. 84:1), and “blessed are those who dwell in Your house!” (Ps. 84:4). The house of the Lord is a place of praise, prayer, and worship of God (Ps. 135; Isa. 56:7).
Additionally, there were several other powerful Biblical images that were often associated with the house of God, to include: (1) the mountain of God (Isa. 2:2-3; 56:7; Ezek. 20:40; Micah 4:1-2); (2) Zion (Isa. 2:2-3; Micah 4:2), and (3) Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3; Micah 4:2). Isaiah anticipated a day when the house of God would be established as the chief of the mountains (Isa. 2:2-3), wherefrom people would be taught about the ways of God (Isa. 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2). Further, God’s law would be promulgated from Zion, and the Word of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2). At Psalm 2:6, we read, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My Holy Mountain.” There was a particularly strong connection and association between the holy mountain Jerusalem and the house of the Lord (Isa. 66:20). Zechariah wrote:
The Lord says this: “I will return to Zion and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord of the armies will be called the Holy Mountain.”
Garden imagery is also strongly associated with the future Zion. Isaiah wrote that the Lord will comfort Zion, and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord (Isa. 51:3). “Joy and gladness will be found in her, [t]hanksgiving and the sound of melody” (Isa. 51:3). Jeremiah wrote that on the height of Zion “their life will be like a watered garden and they will never languish again” (Jer. 31:12).
All of these Biblical images merge together in the Bible’s description of the New Jerusalem, which is mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21). The New Jerusalem is presented as a high mountain, holy city, and tabernacle of God coming down out of Heaven from God (Rev. 21:2-3, 10). Also, the New Jerusalem is depicted as a garden city, full of water and fruitfulness (Rev. 22:1-3). God’s throne is located in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:5; 22:3). In the New Jerusalem, God resides with His servants (Rev. 22:3). Only those whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be allowed access to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27). Exclusivity is a major theme. The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars will not be allowed to live in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). Only “overcomer” believers will inherit the New Jerusalem. In fact, we read, “The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son” (Rev. 21:7). The Lord God and His servants will reign from and in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:5). The nations will walk by the light of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24; 22:5).
I believe that the New Jerusalem is both a present spiritual reality and a future political reality that will one day be recognized and acknowledged by all. However, I am inclined to believe that the New Jerusalem as depicted in the Book of Revelation is actually a spiritual and symbolic description of God’s House, not the actual physical dimensions and description of God’s House. The New Jerusalem as described in the Book of Revelation is like Ezekiel’s Temple, which never existed and will never exist as an actual temple (Ezek. 40-48). It is a symbolic and spiritual ideal. Nevertheless, I strongly assert that God’s place of abode is a physical reality because Jesus is a physical realty. We must not forget that Jesus made a point of demonstrating to His followers that His resurrection body was a physical reality. Jesus, like us, will always occupy a physical space, and Jesus will sit on a physical throne in His Father’s House, an actual physical place.
In my opinion, the Bible is describing a far different future reality than what many have imagined. It will be both more inclusive and more exclusive. It will be more inclusive because “every knee will bow” (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10; Isa. 66:23), and it will be more exclusive because obedience to God matters greatly. There will be great consequences for our rebelliousness and hardness of heart (Isa. 66: 24; Dan. 12:2). Many will be excluded from inheriting the fantastic blessings associated with residing in the New Jerusalem, which is both a spiritual and physical reality (although, most likely, not appearing exactly like the New Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation).