2. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.
4. And you know the way where I am going.
St. Augustine interpreted these words regarding the rooms up in heaven most ingeniously. He said that everyone has a room expressly prepared for him and assigned to him.14 And he also skillfully explains Christ’s statement that He will go to heaven and prepare these rooms as having no other meaning than that we are being prepared to dwell there. This is, to be sure, a fine and masterly interpretation and a good catachresis.15 But we will refrain from explaining the text as boldly as he did. We will interpret the words simply, as they themselves state. Here Christ consoles His dear disciples and Christians in a threefold manner.
First of all, they should know of the many abodes for them with the Father. These He contrasts with other houses or dwellings as if He were saying: “Here on earth you will not have many houses or a definite dwelling; for here the devil rules, here he resides, here he is lord, here he is at home. And since you contend against him and his realm, he will not permit you to dwell and lodge here very long. For in accord with the title given to him everywhere in Scripture, he is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). It is also apparent in the world that his reign embraces only these two activities: he misleads people with false doctrines and ideas, thereby defrauding them of their souls; and he fills everything with murder, war, and all sorts of misfortune and grief, as though he had nothing else to do than to kill men both physically and spiritually. This is his nature and office, and this and nothing else we must expect of him as long as we dwell here on his property. But be undaunted; nothing will harm you. If you cannot have house and home here, if the devil and his tyrants chase you out of the world, you shall nevertheless have ample room for your residence. If they will not put up with you as citizens and neighbors, or even as guests, if they alone keep the world, let them have it. Rest assured that you will still have room and plenty of it.”
This is the meaning here. It is expressed in the simplest possible manner and is altogether in accord with another statement made by Christ (Matt. 19:29):16 “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel’s, will receive a hundredfold in this age and inherit eternal life in the world to come.” This is also what these words mean: “If they evict you from one house, you will be compensated with many other dwellings. If they rob you of one thing, you will be abundantly reimbursed. No matter how wickedly they act and how much they take from you, you shall have it all a hundred times as good, and even much better. If you lack anything here, you will surely get it abundantly there. For God still has such a great store that He can give every one of you a hundred dwellings for one. Therefore retain your courage, and do not hesitate to surrender what the world can take away from you. The rooms of life are far more spacious than the abodes of death. Even if they throw you into a dungeon or prison here, or drive you away, do not let it bother you. These are houses that belong to the world; but you look forward to another home, a home which you are to receive and possess there.”
This text is recorded to comfort Christians, lest they let themselves be led astray when the world inflicts every plague on them and robs them not only of their earthly home but also of all that they have here, their goods, their honor, and their life, and brings misery, poverty, nakedness, disgrace, shame, and death upon them. They should compare this slight loss with all that they gain in its place. Now they may lose one home; there they will get many better ones instead, in the place which Christ calls “My Father’s house. Wherever He lives and dwells, there I and you will also abide.” Christ says later: “You will not occupy earthly or human habitations and houses, but heavenly and divine ones; that is, in place of a filthy, perishable, insecure, and unstable residence, which you and all the world must soon leave anyway, you shall have only beautiful, splendid, spacious, eternal, safe, and permanent homes, which cannot be taken from you and which you will keep in peace against one and all. When all is said and done, what have they accomplished even if they rob you of everything now and cast you away from them altogether? All that they do is to promote you from this misery and wretchedness to those happy, eternal homes where you will no longer live in the devil’s realm or be separated from Me but will remain eternally with the Father and with Me, in a place of which they will never get a whiff or a taste. On the contrary, because of the persecution with which they afflict you now, because of their present firm and undisputed occupancy of the world, because of their present life of pleasure and opulence, they will then find no abode or room either here or there. In all eternity they will be so beset by fear and flight that they will not find even a nook in which they may remain at rest for one moment. This they bring upon themselves by persecuting you and by contemplating your harm. Therefore let them scrape, scratch, and accumulate things for themselves here as though they wanted to remain here forever and occupy this world alone. Let them terrorize and menace you as they can. It can avail them nothing, nor will it harm you.”17 Truly, these must be the thoughts and actions of those who want to be Christians, particularly, however, of those who want to preach Christ. There will be a very different reckoning up there: he who gathers much here will discover how little he has then. On the other hand, he who has suffered much here for the sake of Christ will be richly compensated there.
The second consolation is contained in Christ’s words: “If it were not so, I still tell you that I go to prepare a place for you.” That is to say: “Even if the dwellings were not yet established, I have the power, if you believe, to make and prepare enough of them. And this is just why I leave you, to put them in order and to make them ready, although they are already there, just so that you will not fret and worry where you shall stay. In brief, you will surely have homes aplenty. Even if the supply were not yet ample, I will create a sufficient number. And if it is not enough that you get a hundred homes for one, I will fashion a hundred thousand or more for you, so that there will be no lack or dearth of all types of dwellings to satisfy your heart’s desire.”
Thus Christ speaks with the disciples in the simplest possible manner and almost naively. He adapts His speech to their own thoughts, as one must encourage and invite the simple. He wants to lift up their thoughts and inspire them with courage and comfort, and with a heart that says: “What does it matter if now they dispossess me of house and home, of this perishable abode, or if they thrust me into some dark dungeon? Christ my Lord promises me many more and far more beautiful, more splendid, more spacious, and more secure houses and fortresses than my enemies and all the world now have. He has already ascended into heaven to prepare these for me, and I will find them ready for me at any time.”
To be able to believe this would be a real art. For it is surely true that every Christian who wants to confess the Word, either by preaching it or else at court, fares very badly on earth. Hourly he is encompassed by insecurity and is in danger of being chased from his property, from wife and child, while others live in affluence, merrily and comfortably. But when we consider what is held in store for us and what prospects we face, then we should be joyous and rather pity the poor, wretched world. For what if the world now treads us underfoot and most grievously torments and plagues us? We cannot lose. Whatever we lose is merely the sack that hangs around our neck.18 It is losing no more than empty husks. Meanwhile we still keep the treasure for we shall regain richly whatever We leave here, and we shall receive many more eternal and divine goods besides. They, on the other hand, now have the shells and the hulls; but they have already forfeited the kernel and the real treasure. Furthermore, they will also have to leave the hulls behind. They will be stripped of everything and be left utterly miserable. Then the order will be reversed. Now they have everything in abundance, but then they will have nothing at all. Now we endure a little wretchedness, poverty, and distress; but they must suffer eternal misery, fear, and sorrow. It would be impossible for me to avenge myself on the world more terribly or to wish it a more horrible fate than it already has, plagued as it is with blindness, contempt for and persecution of the Gospel. Nor could I pronounce a more gruesome and dreadful curse on it. No, I would much rather intercede for the world if that could rescue it from this misery.
In the third place, Christ says: “Though I am now departing from you to prepare a place for you, you must not worry or mourn because you no longer have Me with you. The thought that I will not abandon you, but will return to you and take you with Me should comfort you. My going and My departure are not to harm you. You must realize that they will redound to your good; for I will prepare the dwelling places with the Father and then return and Myself take you back with Me to occupy these rooms. Then you will remain with Me where I am. Thus you are assured both of the homes in heaven and of My eternal company.”
These must be our three comforts19 against the devil, the world, and every evil that may confront us. We have a Lord and faithful Savior, who ascended on high and is now preparing our home for us, and who at the same time will be and remain with us. But this is still hidden from sight and far from apparent; for we see and perceive that the world and the tyrants are constantly venting their spite and their outrages on the Gospel and the Christians. But for this reason Christ bids us believe in Him. He says, as it were: “If only you could be patient for a little while and cling to My Word! They will not carry the day, even though they were all far more evil than they are. For it is already ordained; the verdict has been spoken too emphatically. For them the hour will come in which they will be so terrified that they will not know which way to turn. But it is essential that you open your eyes properly and look not at what happens to them but at what I say and tell you, namely, that I will not forsake you or remain away from you but will come to you and take you to Myself. Then you will remain with Me.” St. Paul interpreted this to mean that when we have been baptized, we already have Christ dwelling in and with us, and have already been transferred out of the wretched dominion of darkness into the spiritual, heavenly existence, where we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This we find in Col. 1:13 and Eph. 2:19.20
In the fourth place, this is Christ’s will: “It is not enough for you to know that I am going to prepare a place for you and will return and remain with you, that you may be where I am. No, over and above this it is your privilege to know now where I am going and also to know the way. Is this not comfort and gain enough? What more do you wish for and desire? Do you not have all you need, a hundredfold and in superfluity? And even if you did not have this, you would still have the Master who provides it for you. What is more, you have Him with you forever. In addition, you know where I am going and the way I am taking. Consequently, nothing at all is concealed from you.”
The “way” is the way of His holy suffering, about which Christ had already spoken to them often and at length, especially on this last evening. To be sure, they still could not comprehend this. His words were still obscure to them, and they questioned Him about them a bit later. This is what His words meant: “Why should I enlarge on this subject? I will not let you guess and speculate in your imagination. As a matter of fact, you already see and know it all. For if you have Me, you have God and everything; and when you see Me go, you already see the way. I will not show you any other way or suggest that you pursue another. Everything is here. But I want your heart to be content and unafraid when the world tries to frighten and distress you. I want you to find joy and peace in Me.”
This is indeed a powerful and strong consolation which the Man Christ wants to give to those whom He leaves behind, who do not see what becomes of Him, and who are exposed to the devil with his malice and his guile, his lying and murdering. It demands, however, that we close our eyes to what we perceive and feel, and cling to the Word of Christ with our heart. Then no matter how fate lowers, no matter how malicious the world and its wrathful tyrants, factions, and devils act, we can always say: “All that we feel and perceive is still physical. Let things come as they will; I am unperturbed. Here is another Man. He promises to restore a hundredfold all that I can lose here. Furthermore, I know that one day matters will be reversed. Those who now give free play to their wickedness and live in affluence will find their lot changed. Where they now enjoy one gulden in peace and quiet, they will later suffer eternal torment instead. If they have plagued one Christian here, they will be repaid with incessant torture by a hundred thousand devils. Why, then, should you fear? Why be dejected? Let them do their worst, and see what they will gain thereby! it is an advantage to know that their time is limited. Those who are evil now, who blaspheme, rage, and murder, will not do this more than twenty, thirty, or forty years. Why, then, fret over it or give way to fear? Their life is no more than dust or a water bubble which is blown away and vanishes in the twinkling of an eye. We, on the other hand, have a glorious and comforting promise, not of temporal but of eternal goods, which are assured for us if only we believe the promise.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 24: Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (24:25). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.