This post is part of my personal blog. It is not intended to be representative of any church or other organization I am associated with.
I like the song “Mansion Over the Hilltop”. I think it’s fun to sing. I think the underlying sentiment of the song, to encourage and keep Christians focused on eternity, is good. I like the way the harmonies are written for congregational singing, especially as it transitions from the verses to the chorus.
I also think it’s pretty silly and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
It’s based on a poorly translated word in John 14:2. In the KJV, Jesus says, “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.” The word translated “mansion” isn’t intended to mean an unnecessarily huge and impressive house, which is what I think of. It’s just a residence. A mansion CAN be where you reside I guess, but from what I can tell (and it seems most modern Bible translators agree) there is really no reason not to just more accurately translate this as something like “dwelling places” (NASB) or “rooms” (ESV).
The word is used only one other time in the Bible just a few verses later in John 14:23 where in the KJV, Jesus says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” I don’t know why the translators, especially of many of the older English translations, chose to translate this word differently in these two closely connected verses. I did find that the Darby Bible from 1890 uses the word “abode” both times, which makes the most sense to me.
It’s based on a misunderstanding of eternity. I wrote earlier this year about the conclusions I’ve arrived at from my study of the Bible regarding the resurrection, the eternal fate of the saved and lost, and the redemption of creation which you can read here. The Bible never says we will “go to heaven”, but the second verse of this song says, “I’m heaven bound”. John 14:2 is often brought up as a refutation to the conclusions I’ve drawn about eternity because Jesus says he will “go to prepare a place”. But later in that same conversation when he uses the word “abode” the second time, Jesus says he and the Father will “come unto him [who loves me], and make our abode with him”.
It’s also worth considering that Jesus says this to comfort his followers the very night he is arrested before being put to death. Perhaps it could be that he’s talking about completing his mission on earth by going to his death, not necessarily referencing his ascension from the earth, in which we still await his return. He died on the cross to prepare a place in his eternal kingdom for us that we might abide with him forever there. I highly recommend listening to this podcast episode from The Bible Project for a deeper analysis of what is said here in John 14. In the episode they also discuss what Jesus means by “my Father’s house”, which I found very interesting. I still sing this line about being bound for heaven, but I think about it as being in the heavenly presence of God eternally in the new creation.
It includes a home renovation request to Jesus. Even before I questioned whether or not John 14 literally referenced Jesus getting mansions ready for us, this part of the song always felt weird to sing. In the first verse, we say, hey, I’m okay with my home on earth for now, but in heaven I want a mansion that is MADE OUT OF GOLD, AND WITH SILVER TRIM! Umm… what? That’s the culminating thought of the first verse?
I suspect this idea of gold and silver construction materials comes from the image of the golden city brought down in Revelation, where the streets are said to be made out of pure gold, clear as crystal. When I sing this song I grant A LOT of poetic license to it. I try to think of that Revelation image, which I believe is at least in part a reference to the glory of what is to come for us without intending to be a literal description of it. It still feels really silly, even a little inappropriate, to declare such a specific design preference for my supposed “mansion” by shouting, “I want a gold one that’s silver lined!”
It misses the point of the source text. This is the most important part. In John 14, God isn’t promising anybody a lavish eternity of gold and unimaginable wealth contrasted against their modest life today. He’s trying to reassure his closest friends and followers who are about to see him brutally murdered that he’s not leaving them as orphans [John 14:18]. He’s going to abide with them forever in an eternal home. There’s just something he has to take care of first.
I think of this song like I do “This Little Light of Mine” – a cute song for kids where we pretend our index fingers are candles. We can use it with children as an introduction to Jesus’ words about living a spiritual life in a godless world. “Mansion Over the Hilltop” is a poetic picture of eternal hope that can be fun and encouraging to sing, even if it is a little silly.