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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Transformed Thinking re. the Lord's Going and Coming Again in John 14

At a conference convened on the Easter weekend of 1989 by Gospel Hall Assemblies in Toronto, I attended a Bible reading on John chapter 14. Seven different preachers from Canada, the United States and the UK participated. But, of that hour-long Bible reading, one sentence spoken by one brother is all that I specifically remember! I did remember that most of the men in that Bible reading believed that when the Lord Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you…” , He was referring to His ascension to heaven. And concerning the Lord’s next statement, “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also,” they believed that the Lord Jesus was speaking of His return from heaven to receive believers at the rapture to be with him in heaven.

So in the midst of a discussion where 6 men believed that the Lord Jesus’ “going away” was by way of His ascension, the statement that stuck so clearly in my mind years later, was this,
He was going to go away by dying for us.” I think this idea lodged itself indelibly in my memory simply because it was so radically different to every thought I’d had about John 14 before!

It is only recently that I’ve been able to contact the brother who for years has recorded the messages at the Toronto Conferences. He kindly agreed to search his archives of conference messages, record that Bible reading on a CD and mail it to me. So I want to express my deep appreciation to Jeff Macko of Toronto. Through his diligence I have been able to identify the man who planted a very important “seed thought” into my mind back in April of ’89!

That man was Albert McShane, an older brother from Northern Ireland. In the August 2002 issue of the magazine, “Truth and Tidings” I discovered that Mr. McShane was promoted to glory on May 20th, 2002, 13 years after I heard him in Toronto.

Albert McShane

It was not until the late 1990’s that I began a personal study of John 14. It was only then that the thought, planted by Mr. Mc Shane, came back to mind. So I began to investigate to see whether there was any merit to his suggestion. If one understood that the Lord Jesus’ “going away” was actually His going into death on the cross, consistency with that idea would demand that His “coming again” would be his coming out of death in his resurrection! If that was the case, another question also had to be answered…namely, “Where was He (as He spoke these words to His disciples)?” and thus, “Where would we be when received unto Himself?” As I searched the text for clues in the Lord Jesus’ own words, I found two facts that amazed me because they were so simple and yet I had never noticed them before!

The first clue was the Lord Jesus’ statement in John 14:11 where He told his disciples where He was (present tense) as He was talking with them. He said, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me:” I then realized that I had always misunderstood what He had said in Verse 3! Although the verse says, “I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also,”…..I had always thought it meant, “I will come again from heaven (an idea which is utterly foreign to the context!) and receive you unto myself; that where I am going, (i.e. to heaven) there ye may be also”!!!

The second clue came when I read verse 6 and realized that I had understood that it meant something very different from what it actually said! This is what I’d always understood from verse 6…”Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man goes to heaven but by me.” But for the first time in my life, I realized that the Lord Jesus meant exactly what He had said, i.e. “…No man cometh unto the Father but by me”!!

It was only then that I began to realize the extent of the false ideas I’d unwittingly adopted from totally false assumptions about this chapter!

I’d been taught all my life that the Lord was talking here about “going to heaven” and “coming back from heaven” so that we might be where He was “in heaven”! But now I realized that not only was “heaven” never mentioned in John 14, it was not even a major theme in the entire Gospel of John! (It is mentioned twice in ch.1, 3 times in ch.3, 9 times in ch.6, once in ch.12 and once in ch.17.) But in contrast, “the Father” is mentioned 119 times in John’s Gospel and 21 times in ch.14 alone!

I began to wonder, how could so many people have been so wrong about the understanding of this favourite passage of scripture??? How did we assume the Lord Jesus was talking about being in heaven when in actual fact he was talking about being in the Father???

Before I could think of teaching such a radically “new” idea, I had lots more questions that had to be answered from the very words of the text. (I’m sorry, but those will have to wait for my next post!)

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