The ultimate homecoming
There's nothing quite like a homecoming!
There is the homecoming at the airport of a father coming back from a lengthy work assignment in another country. Picture the scene. After getting off the plane, the returning dad enters the terminal. His wife and two children are waiting expectantly for him, and their excitement knows no bounds. The two children break free from their mother's grip and launch themselves into their daddy's arms. Finally, it is her turn, and she embraces him as if she will never let go again.
There is the homecoming of a son or daughter returning from the university to enjoy some vacation days at home. Mom prepares a favorite recipe, and Father gets off work early. Everyone, including the family pet, is excited about welcoming the returning family member. Yes, there's nothing quite like a homecoming!
One reason we like homecomings so much is because of how they foreshadow another homecoming, the heavenly one, an event which might be called the Ultimate Homecoming. Actually, these earthly homecomings whet our taste and give us a greater longing for the ultimate homecoming, because, unlike it, they are not permanent. The joy that we take in them all too quickly comes to an end. The father must leave his family behind and return to another work assignment overseas, and the student's vacation time races by rapidly, and he or she must return to school.
Jesus speaks of this ultimate homecoming in John 14:1-3, a passage that is one of the crown jewels of all of Scripture. Several phrases in this passage deserve reflection.
To prepare a place
One phrase is Jesus' declaration at the end of John 14:2: “‘I am going there [to heaven] to prepare a place for you.'”* This announcement that our Lord and Savior has personally gone to get our very own place ready contains obvious significance, because it underscores His future plan for each of us. However, it makes it even more special when we remember what was Jesus'earthly occupation prior to His ministry. He was a carpenter, a builder. So the text tells us that the Carpenter of Nazareth is using His skills again, building a place for each of His children. He is personally invested in preparing for you and me, and this personal involvement bespeaks His love for and His interest in His children.
I will always remember how my wife set to work after learning that she was pregnant with our first child. Now for me as a man, the positive pregnancy test was a signal that we had about seven months before we needed to start getting ready for the arrival of our child, but for my wife, it was another story. Preparation needed to begin right away! A nursery had to be readied. A crib obtained and assembled. We needed a stroller, a car seat, etc., etc. All of this preparation reflected her excitement in bringing this child into our home and her great love for him. Forever after, we can always look at our son and say, “Before you entered the world, you were loved and cared for. Your mother–with a little help from your dad–prepared a place for you.”
Another phrase in the great homecoming passage of John 14:1-3 to consider is Jesus' assertion at the start of verse 2, “In my Father's house are many rooms.” What I want to focus on is the adjective “many.” It emphasizes that at the time of the ultimate homecoming, God's country will have unlimited capacity. There will never be a “No Vacancy” sign!
During my teenage years, my father and mother decided to take our family on a trip to Montreal, Canada. The ostensible reason was for my accountant father to attend a professional convention, but the real purpose was to give our family the opportunity to visit our northern neighbor and see a different part of the world. After a drive of many hours from our home in Atlanta, Georgia, we finally arrived in Montreal. We were excited to be in a new country, but our excitement evaporated when we arrived at the headquarters hotel for the convention, the elegant Hotel Bonaventure, and they had no record of the reservation form my father had sent in. Furthermore, the hotel was filled to capacity. There was no room for us! We finally found lodging at a shabby little hotel on the outskirts of town, but the lack of accommodations at the Bonaventure cast a shadow over our whole trip.
How glad I am that in God's kingdom we will not see any “No Vacancy” signs! In fact, God is persistently inviting each of us to permanently dwell in our own place in His better land. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!' And let him who hears say, ‘Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
I will come again
Yet another phrase in this treasured passage to reflect on is Jesus' simple promise in John 14:3, “‘I will come back.'” These four simple words have nourished and sustained believers down through the ages. As Stephen, James, Peter, and the other early Christian leaders gave their lives for the Lord they loved, these four words, “I will come back,” gave them courage. As Hus, Jerome, Ridley, Cranmer, Latimer, and others were burned at the stake, these same four words fostered hope. When Joseph Bates, James and Ellen White, and other Adventist pioneers were mocked and scorned for their faith in a soon-coming Savior, these four words kept a spring in their step. And these same four words, “I will come back,” are the last, best hope for the world today.
However, nearly 2,000 years have passed since Jesus first spoke these words. That's a long time! Someone might ask, How can we be sure He is still coming? You might think, My grandparents thought He was coming when they were young. They even debated whether to have children or not. My parents expected Him to return long before now. How can we still have faith He is going to come back?
The answer to this question is simple and straightforward: Because Jesus, the Son of God, said so. Because He promised He would. When my brother and I were boys, occasionally someone would give my father a couple of tickets to an Atlanta Falcons football game. My unselfish father, because he had two sons and only two tickets, would drive us to the stadium, let us out under the big Coca-Cola sign, and promise to return and meet us in the same spot once the game was over. Someone might wonder, Weren't you and your brother worried about your dad not returning and leaving you stranded in the big city? No, there was nothing to worry about. My father had promised he would come back for us, and he came. Even so, Christ has pledged He will return for His children, and He will come.
Togetherness at last
There is one last phrase in this ultimate homecoming passage that demands our attention. After promising to return, Jesus continues in John 14:3, I will “‘take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.'” In this phrase, we see the purpose of it all. We see Jesus' ultimate goal: Reunion. Togetherness. The focus in this text is not on the cosmic signs that precede it. Rather, the emphasis is on the Lord's intense desire for personal fellowship. Jesus has been separated from His children for too long, and He yearns to be with them again.
In Ty Gibson's marvelous book An Endless Falling in Love, he titles his chapter on the second coming, “Love Counts the Days.” The idea is this: When you are separated from someone you love, you eagerly await the time till you are together again. You count the days.
In 1993, I went with a Voice of Prophecy team from the United States to Brazil to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Voz da Profecia. During my nearly four-week trip, I had a marvelous time, sensed the Lord's blessing in my speaking appointments, and saw some wonderful scenery. However, if there was a downside to this trip, it was being away from my family for 25 days. This was a significant chunk of time to be gone, especially from my youngest son, Joshua, who was only about one year old at the time.
I will always remember what happened when I took him in my arms upon returning home. He looked to his mother to rescue him from this “stranger,” and the puzzled expression on his face inquired, “Who is this strange man holding me?” One thing was abundantly clear. I'd been away from this child whom I loved for too long! It was time for a reunion.
That is the way the Lord feels. He has been gone for too long. He yearns for the separation to end. He longs for a reunion. He has promised to return, to take His children to the ultimate homecoming, and as 1 Thessalonians 4:17 states, “So we will be with the Lord forever.” May our prayer be that of John the Revelator, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
*All Bible verses in this article are quoted from the New International Version unless otherwise indicated.
Greg A. King (Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary) is dean of the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University, in Collegedale, Tennessee, U.S.A. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.