The Many Mansions of Heaven


 Lessons: Jn.13:36-14:12

"In My Father's house are many mansions. . . "


The Lord teaches us that there is life after death. It's a simple truth, isn't it? Think, though, of the tremendous power such a simple truth can have upon our lives. If a person doesn't believe that there is anything beyond the grave, then however learned he might be, however much he might know about life in the world, he has, in fact, missed the whole point. He sees everything from a false perspective.

Life here is a process -- that process by which we are prepared for life after death. Life in this world cannot be understood unless we realize that it is not an end in itself, but only the prelude to an eternal life in the world to come. Those who do not understand, or who refuse to believe, that life here is only a preparation, have a very confused outlook on life. They might indeed go about their lives here in a similar way to others, but they don't really see the point of it all. They see friends die, and cannot understand what seems to them to be the ultimate tragedy. They see pain and suffering, and cannot understand why such things are allowed to happen. They have no way of really comprehending the underlying purpose behind life.

This is why the Lord gave the Gospel -- the good news -- about eternal life. While He was in the world He clearly taught that there is no end to life. When this basic teaching was gradually twisted and misunderstood later on, He then came once again, revealing in the Writings of the New Church a multitude of new truths about the spiritual world.

It is vital that we learn and reflect upon these truths -- truths about the world to come -- and form from them an understanding and perspective which can guide us throughout life. In a world so often ruled by confused thought on such matters, it is our duty, and indeed privilege, to enter more and more into a true understanding of the nature of life after death.

The more we know about heaven, the more we are capable of understanding why life here is the way it is. Now it is true that some of the more abstract teachings regarding the spiritual world can be difficult to really grasp. There are, though, many teachings which are basically very simple indeed, but which, nevertheless, have tremendous power to help us understand more clearly the purpose of life.

This morning we would ask you to reflect upon one such simple teaching -- the teaching that in heaven there are very many people. When we go to heaven we will become a very small part of a huge number of people -- and a number that is forever growing.

If, in the back of our minds, there is some idea that we are, somehow, especially important, let us think again. If we are to become angels, then we must be prepared to enter a kingdom that is populated by more people than we could ever imagine. We will be only one small part, seemingly an almost insignificant part, of a huge number of angels. The importance of an individual angel is as nothing compared to the immensity of heaven itself.

In this world it often happens that we seek out our own place amongst a fairly small circle of friends. And, when we are part of a small group, it is easy to harbor the illusion that we are somehow especially significant, somehow especially important. Any such feeling of self-importance, though, which we might impute to ourselves in this world, will be rudely shattered when we cross the threshold between the two worlds. The Writings say that "when a man passes from the natural world into the spiritual, it is like going from a village into a great city" .

Heaven is huge. It cannot be otherwise. The Lord loves people. Everybody who, through life in this world, has been prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven, lives in that kingdom forever. All good people who have ever lived are there. Heaven is already populated with peoples from the past history of this earth. Even these many people from our earth, though, are but one small fraction of the whole.

There are people on many other planets besides our own in the universe. And good people from these planets also enter heaven after death. It has to be this way, for so great is the Lord's love that people from our earth alone would not be enough. As we read in the book entitled, Earths in the Universe: "What would the human race, and thence an angelic heaven, from one earth, be for the Infinite Creator, for Whom a thousand earths, nay, tens of thousands, would not be enough?"

Even with all the people already in heaven, all the people, not only from this earth since most ancient times, but also from countless other planets -- even this is almost as nothing compared to the immensity of the Lord's love! The fact is that, even now, heaven is relatively uninhabited. Once, when Swedenborg was being taken, in the spiritual world, to visit spirits who had come from a planet far beyond our solar system, he was given to see just how empty heaven still is. He traveled, it is said, for nearly twelve hours. In only two places, it is said, did he see any spirits. The rest was completely empty. In this vivid way it was demonstrated just how empty heaven still is, and how the Lord, from His infinite love, will continue to increase the number of angels to all eternity.

NOW, DURING THE EVENING preceding His arrest, the Lord was gathered in an upper room with only eleven men. Judas had already gone out into the night to do the work of betrayal. Then it was that the Lord told this small group of men: "in My Father's house are many mansions." The disciples could never have imagined just how great a number the Lord really meant by "many." In His Father's house were a multitude of mansions or dwelling places. The Lord's Father was the love within the Lord, and it is from this love that the Lord provides myriads upon myriads of dwelling places in His kingdom. The Lord has promised that all who allow themselves to be prepared will have a place in His heavenly kingdom.

Yet all too often we forget this. We act as if this world were all there were. We let the problems of this world get us down. We let worldly concerns, and worldly priorities, distract us from our main task -- which is to prepare for life in the Lord's heavenly kingdom. Preparation for heaven is, or should be, our primary purpose in life. We are worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus Christ, who lived in the Holy Land almost two thousand years ago, was none other than the God of the Universe. And we also know this: that before He returned to His dwelling place above the heavens, He told us not to be dismayed: "Let not your heart be troubled . . . I go to prepare a place for you."

This does not mean that the Lord merely returned back to heaven in order to get places ready for His followers. Rather, as we read in the Arcana, "to prepare heaven is to prepare those who are to be brought into heaven."

This, in a very real sense, is just what the Lord did by returning to heaven. By the very act of resurrection, rising from the tomb, and then by His ascension, rising back above the angelic heavens, He helped prepare us for our mansions, or dwelling places, in the heavens. When He rose from the sepulcher, when He ascended into heaven, He showed that He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God. And this knowledge, the knowledge that Jesus Christ is God, can, more than any other, help prepare us to receive the kingdom of the Lord within our hearts and minds. It can help prepare us to enter a kingdom populated by more people than we could ever imagine.

It does not take much reflection to realize that, if it were not for the most marvelous organization, the sheer size of the numbers in heaven would produce chaos and misery. Think of the way things work here on earth. The larger an organization gets, the greater the number of things that can go wrong.Large organizations tend, because of their very size, to have large problems. Indeed, it is only by careful planning, and careful management, that a large company, and, even more so, a large country, can function with any degree of success. Now it might seem far-fetched to compare heaven to a large company, or large country. This though, is what heaven is -- it is a huge kingdom constituted of large numbers of people. And these people -- these angels -- are not perfect. Angels may be much better than men here on earth -- but they are not perfect. This huge multitude of imperfect angels would result in chaos, the Writings say, if it were not most wonderfully organized. Add to this something else.

If heaven were merely a conglomeration of people, then everybody would feel lost. Nobody would have his or her place. Even if people wanted to work together, they would not know what each was supposed to do.

How is it, then, that the heavens do act together, act as a one, with each angel knowing his place, and doing his job, and contributing to the overall harmony? It is because heaven is ruled by the Lord. Heaven is called the Lord's kingdom for the simple reason that it is He who is the King, the Ruler, of heaven.

It is the Lord Himself who actively organizes the myriads of angelic uses. He does not send out decrees, as would be the case with a worldly king. Rather, He rules from within, dwelling in the hearts and minds of each and every one of the myriads of inhabitants. And each angel, in turn, humbles himself before the Lord with love, and with adoration. No angel seeks his own will -- for in a kingdom of this size, such behavior would spell instant confusion. Each individual seeks the Lord's will alone.

Because each angel receives the Lord's love and is governed by His wisdom, the whole of heaven is wondrously organized in the image of the Lord Himself -- in the human form. When you move your body, you think of it as one body, and this despite the fact that it is composed of millions upon millions of individual cells. Each cell, though, plays its part in the whole. Each has its own place, its own use, and so the body acts as a one.

Is it not obvious, then, that preparation for heaven in this world must involve learning to give up our own wills, giving up any false sense of self-importance? There can be no place in heaven for the man who cares only about his own purposes and who is captivated by the illusion that he is somehow more important than others. In heaven, people like this would prove a terrible disruption.

And so, whilst we are upon this earth, it is vital that we learn a very important lesson. It is a simple lesson, but it takes many years to learn it well. It is this: that because the Lord Jesus Christ is God, He is important, and we are not.

This lesson must be learn in many areas of life. To believe that the Lord is important and that we are relatively nothing, means obeying His commandments, and not acting according to our own inherited evil tendencies. It means placing our faith in His revelation, and seeking His will within its pages. It means subordinating our own, often very conceited, ideas, to His teachings. It means taking the time and having the humility to worship Him regularly and sincerely. It means talking to Him in prayer. And it means trusting that He is governing all things. We must submit our hearts, our minds, our lives, to the Lord's will, for it is the Lord, and the Lord alone, who can prepare us for heaven -- and prepare us for our own particular places in His heaven.

The Lord prepares each one of us for heaven in a different way. Even though the general path of regeneration is the same for all, still, each man is regenerated in a different way from every one else, for each of us is going to a different place in heaven.

This is why it is that to look at others, and to compare their lot in life to our own, is a meaningless exercise, for it is to deny the fundamental truth that each is being prepared for his own place in heaven in his own way. To make comparisons can so easily result not only in frustration, but in ill-will towards others, and in a distrust of the Lord Himself.

After all, what is it that we see when we look at those around us? We see an enormous variety of strengths and weaknesses. Some people are courageous and strong. Others are cautious and sensitive. If men are too eager to compare themselves with others, it is likely that those who are bold will regard the cautious as weaklings, and those who are cautious will regard the bold as foolhardy. The fact is, though, that one man's strength may be another man's weakness. We should not condemn those different from ourselves just because they are different. There is, and must be, variety. If each person learns to obey the Lord, then variety amongst human beings becomes a variety in the way in which they do what is good -- a variety which contributes to the overall harmony of heaven.

What about external circumstances? Some people are rich; others are poor. Some are healthy; others suffer from physical afflictions. For some life seems to go well; others know well the bitter taste of personal tragedy. Comparisons in such areas are dangerous indeed, for they can lead us to think that in some way the Lord is not fair, not just. Yet the variety of circumstances which exist amongst men is in fact a portrayal of justice itself. The Lord, from His love for mankind, and with supreme wisdom, has decreed that we spend the first brief span of our eternal lives in this world, that we might be prepared, each in a different way, to fill a particular need in the heaven of angels. This is why we each live in different circumstances, and face different challenges. Each one of us is being prepared in a unique way to enter his own mansion in the kingdom of the Lord.

For this we should be grateful. By ourselves, or in ourselves, we are not important. We are completely insignificant when compared to the enormous numbers of people who constitute heaven. But to the Lord we are important, for He loves us. He loves us, and He calls each one of us to serve in his own distinctive way, a use which will benefit heaven as a whole. We have been invited by the Lord to prepare for a life of service in His kingdom: a kingdom which is forever growing -- a kingdom of ever-increasing love and happiness and use.

Amen .

 A Sermon by Rev. Patrick A. Rose