True Christianity stands in stark contrast to every other religion ever known. It did not take even the casual listener long to realize that the teaching and conduct of Jesus were poles apart from that of the scribes and Pharisees. They argued complex matters of the law, split religious hairs, and attempted to instruct the people in theological dogma that enslaved them in legalistic observances. In contrast, Jesus spoke with an authority that left no room for debate, even while it set men free. Moreover, the freedom He offered to all men was not based upon their ability to achieve it under His inspiration, but upon who He claimed to be what He would personally do for them that they could not possibly do for themselves.
Startling promises about an unearthly dimension of existence fell continually from the lips of our Lord. In referring to heaven, Jesus used a term previously unknown: He called it "my Father's house." There He had dwelt in eternity past, there He would return, and there He promised to prepare a place of everlasting habitation for His followers.
In the entire history of Israel not even one of her greatest prophets or kings had ever called God his "Father." How dare this carpenter do so! In response to the rabbis' angry accusations and questions about His "Father," Jesus replied bluntly: "Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world" (John 8:23). Finally, but with great compassion, He solemnly warned those who rejected Him:
"I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come...for if ye believe not that I am he( Jehovah, the I AM of the burning bush, the Messiah, the Son of God), ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:21.24).
Here was a man who authoritatively, yet graciously and humbly, claimed to be different from everyone else- God's one and only Son, who had come from heaven to visit earth on a special mission. He offered to make all men children of God and citizens of heaven. They could be 'born-again' if they would only believe in Him as the Savior of the world who had come to earth to die for their sins.
Such unorthodox but convicting statements enraged the Jewish religious leaders. Recognizing that Jesus was claiming to be God, the rabbis unsuccessfully attempted several times to stone Him. Eventually, of course, they had Him crucified for this "blasphemy," unaware that they were thereby fulfilling the predictions of their own prophets that Israel would despise and put to death the Messiah the first time He came to His own people (Isaiah 53).
Instead of presenting a religious philosophy, Christ offered Himself. Nor did He offer to point out the way to heaven or guide men there. He claimed to be the one and only way to that place of bliss and joy that all men hoped somehow to reach when they died. And to that audacious claim He added yet another, even more astonishing and wonderful. It was a concept beyond the imagination-something that no religious leader had ever conceived of, much less dared to propose.
The heaven Jesus referred to as His "Father's house of many mansions" was no mere paradise where He would only welcome His followers' disembodied spirits after they died. On the contrary, He assured them that one day very soon He would take them there alive and bodily. And even if they died before His return, he would resurrect their bodies and completely transform them. As we have already noted, the Christian's heaven is not only a place but a higher state of being in glorified spiritual yet tangible bodies in the very presence of Christ for eternity.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)
What an incredible promise! It filled their hearts with joy and wonder, but it also raised so many new questions that they were afraid to ask. Where was His "Father's house." and how would He take them there? How long would their Lord need to "prepare" those mansions for them in heaven? Knowing His miraculous power the disciples could not have thought it would take much time.
There can be no doubt that the early church expected Christ to "come again" very soon to take them back to His heavenly home. This was the great hope that sustained them through the persecution and trials that came on the heels of His departure from this earth. And if they should be martyred first, which seemed more than likely in those days, they knew they would be instantly in His presence though their bodies would temporarily be left behind.
(Excerpt from Dave Hunt's book: "Whatever Happened to Heaven.")