“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” (John 14:2, KJV).
The English word “mansion” is derived from a word in Old French (spoken in the northern half of France from the 8th century to the 14th century), which in turn is derived from the Latin word “mansio” which means “dwelling.” Mansions usually began their existence as fortified houses, and a manse, or mansion, meant both a dwelling and the land needed to support a single family. After the fall of the Roman Empire and into the Middle Ages, social conditions changed. Fortifications were reduced and mansions became more comfortable and beautiful. They transitioned into our modern American English definition of a large, impressive house. Interestingly, in British English a mansion refers to a block of flats or apartments designed for the appearance of grandeur. In many parts of Asia, mansion also refers to a block of apartments. In Japan, the word “manshon,” stemming from the English word “mansion,” refers to a multi-unit apartment complex or condominium.
In Strong’s Concordance, entry G 3438 is the feminine noun mon-ay'. It is used twice in the New Testament—John 14:2 and 23—and means a staying, i.e., residence (the act or the place). King James Version translates it as “mansions” and “abode.” Most modern Bible translations render John 14:2 as either “rooms” or “dwelling places.” One of the nuances of the Greek word mon- ay' is to “mark off” and reserve a space for some purpose; it conveys the imagery of a personal space where we can spread out and stay.
Later in the verse (John 14:2), a corresponding term is used: “topos,” meaning “place” (Strong’s G 5117). It is where we get our English word “topography.” So, while the translations “rooms” and “dwelling places” are not wrong, in context with Jesus’ full statement, they are a bit restrictive.
God’s preparation of a generous place for His children is a theme repeated in the Bible. Abraham was “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
The Old Testament also relates this same thought. In Psalm 18:19 David says, “He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” Psalm 30:8 says, “And Thou hast not given me over into the hand of the enemy; Thou has set my feet in a large place. Psalm 118:5 says, “From my distress I called upon the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a large place.” The Hebrew noun used in these verses is merhab' (Strong’s H 4800). It literally means an open space. It is an enlargement; a broad, roomy, extraordinarily spacious place. In simile, it is a pasture. Figuratively, it is a place of freedom from distress and anxiety.
The root verb from which merhab' is derived is raw-hab' (Strong’s H 7337). It means to broaden, to make wide, to enlarge. Psalm 4:1 says, “…Thou hast relieved me (literally, made room for me) in my distress: be gracious to me and hear my prayer.”
In John 14:1, the disciples were troubled and Jesus offered comfort and assurance; He was going to prepare, to mark off, and reserve a merhab' for them. Like the Shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus leads His sheep through the distresses and trials of the narrow “valley of the shadow of death” to the broad freedoms, pleasures, and securities of the “green pastures.”
Matthew 7:13–14 (KJV) says, “Enter ye in at the strait (narrow) gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” How ironic: those who choose the wide gate to eternity wind up in straits, tormented and punished, away from the presence of God; while those who choose the narrow gate arrive in a spacious dwelling with freedom, security, and comfort, in the presence of God. Both places are prepared by God.