Jesus tells His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many ‘dwelling-places’” (14:2; “mansions” comes from the Latin translation–it is not in the original Greek text). Jesus promises that He is going to prepare a place for His disciples, but will return and take them to be with Him where He is (John 14:2-3). Usually readers today assume that Jesus here refers to his future coming to take us to heaven or the new earth. If we had these verses by themselves, that view would make as much sense as any other; after all, Jesus often spoke of His second coming, and we will be with him forever.
But the context indicates that Jesus is speaking of an earlier coming here: not just being with Jesus after he comes back in the future, but being with him in our daily lives in the present. How can this be?
Peter wants to follow Jesus wherever He goes, but Jesus tells him that if he wants to follow Jesus where He is going, he must follow Him to the death (John 13:31-38). Nevertheless, Peter and the other disciples should not be afraid; they should trust in Jesus the same way they trusted in the Father (14:1). He would prepare a dwelling-place for them in His Father’s house, and would come back afterwards to receive them to Himself (14:2-3). “You know where I’m going and how I will get there,” He told them (14:4). Perhaps like us, the disciples were confused, and Thomas spoke for all of them: “Lord, we don’t even know where You’re going; how can we know the way you’re getting there?” (14:5) So Jesus clarifies His point: Where He is going to the Father (14:6), and He is going there by dying on the Cross but would return afterward to give them the Spirit (14:18-19; 16:18-22). How would they get to the Father? By coming through Jesus, who is the way (14:6).
We often cite John 14:2-3 as a proof-text for Jesus’ future coming; conversely, we cite John 14:6 as a proof-text for salvation. But if we follow the flow of conversation, we have to be wrong about one of them. 14:2-3 declares that Jesus will bring them where He is going, but 14:6 tells us where He’s going and how we His followers will get there: He is going to the Father, and we come to the Father when we get saved through Jesus (14:6). Do we come to the Father through Jesus only when He returns in the future, or have we come to Him already through faith? The entire context makes this point clear. We enter the Father’s house when we become followers of Jesus Christ!
In the context of John’s entire Gospel, there is no reason to assume that the “Father’s house” refers to heaven, though it might be an allusion to the Temple (John 2:16) or to the Father’s household (John 8:35; and we are His new temple and His household). More helpfully, Jesus goes on to explain the “dwelling-places” (NIV: “rooms”) explicitly in the following context. The Greek word for “dwelling-place” used in 14:2 occurs in only one other verse in the New Testament—in this very context, in 14:23, part of Jesus’ continuing explanation of 14:2-4. “The one who loves Me will obey Me, and My Father will love that one and we will come make our ‘dwelling-place’ with that person” (14:23). The related verb appears throughout John 15:1-10: “Dwell [abide]” in Christ, and let Christ “dwell” in you. We all know that Jesus will return someday in the future, but if we read the rest of John we learn that Jesus also returned to them from the Father after His resurrection, when He gave the disciples the Spirit, peace and joy (20:19-23), just as He had promised (14:16-17, 26-27; 16:20-22). This is in fact the only coming the context addresses (14:18 in the context of 14:15-27; 16:12-24).
What is the real point of John 14:2-3? It is not that Jesus will return and we will be with Him someday—true as that teaching is from other texts. It is that Jesus returned after His resurrection so Christians could have life with Him (14:18-19), that He has already brought us into His presence and that we can experience the reality of His presence this very moment and at all times. This means that the same Jesus who washed his disciples feet in the preceding chapter, who taught and healed and suffered for us, is with us at this very moment. He invites us to trust His presence with us.