Ministry Resources

In God’s Presence

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

Some of us feel that we have to earn our way into God’s presence when we pray—that somehow if we pray a certain way or for a particular length of time, God will start hearing us.

Some even think that we lack access to God’s presence until Jesus’s return. When Jesus sent his disciples to the world, however, he equipped them with his Spirit (John 20:21-23). This is the same Spirit he had explained to them earlier, who would continue Jesus’ presence among them (John 14:2-23) and in the world (John 16:7-11).

My Father’s House

Jesus begins hinting at this even before he becomes fully explicit. We typically quote John 14:2-3 as if it referred only to Jesus’ future coming: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places … I will come again and take you to myself.” But as wonderful as our future hope is, Jesus intended something more than this here. The Father’s house is the place in his presence, and we do not belong to it only in the future. The only “coming” Jesus explicitly refers to in this context is his return to them after the resurrection to give them his Spirit (John 14:16-19, 23), a promise fulfilled in John 20:19-23. The Greek term for “dwelling places” in John 14:2 occurs in only one other text in the Bible—later in this very conversation (John 14:23), where Jesus and the Father will make their “dwelling place” within the believer.

If such an understanding seems difficult to us, we should remember that it was no less difficult for the first disciples. Jesus promised to prepare them a place in the Father’s presence, where he was going (John 14:2-4), but they protested that they knew neither where he was going nor how to get there (John 14:5). Jesus replied that where he was going was to the Father, and they would get there by coming through him (John 14:6). Today we understand that we do not have to wait for Jesus’ future return to come to the Father through Jesus; we come to him by faith when we accept him as our Lord and Savior.

In His Presence

In other words, we enter the Father’s presence at the moment of our conversion. Whether or not one recognizes that John 14:2-3 speak of present experience, certainly John 14:17 and John 14:23 do: the Father, Son and Spirit come to make their dwelling place in believers. This means that, if you have surrendered your life to Jesus, you are in his presence this very moment. The same Jesus who taught and healed in Galilee, who washed his disciples’ feet, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, is with you right now as you are reading this article. He is with you every moment of every day, living inside you and eager to teach you his ways.

But the Spirit not only mediates Jesus’ presence to us; the Spirit also mediates Jesus’ presence to the world. Just as Jesus convicted the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment during his earthly ministry, the Spirit will continue to do so by presenting Jesus to the world (John 16:8-11). But the text also suggests that the Spirit will work especially through Jesus’ followers even to mediate Jesus’ presence to the world (John 15:26-27). Jesus promised to send the Spirit not to the world, but to believers (John 16:7); through our testimony of Jesus the Spirit would convict the world by confronting them with the presence of Jesus himself (John 16:8-11). Because Jesus lives inside us, we can be confident that when we live his ways and share his message, God himself will touch the hearts of the people we share with.

This is adapted from an article Craig wrote in 2004; Craig is author of The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Baker Academic).

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