After I recently completed a sermon series in John 14, it became clear that Jesus promised a return to his disciples in at least three senses:
(1) His return from heaven in the event of the Second Coming. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (14:3). Jesus will go to his Father (which occurred at his ascension) and then return to take the disciples with him. This event most likely refers to the Second Coming (see also 1 Thess 4:17).
(2) His return from the grave in the event of the resurrection. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (14:18-19). Jesus will return to his disciples after his resurrection, since his death involved a separation from them (see also John 16:20-22).
(3) His return to every disciple in spiritual union and indwelling. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23). Even though Jesus would be physically absent after his ascension, his disciples would still be connected to him by faith through a spiritual union (see also Matt 28:20; Col 1:27).
This brief overview reminds us that we must pay close attention to every phrase in a Scriptural passage. After all, in one chapter alone, Jesus speaks of “coming to his disciples” in three different ways.
Finally, Jesus’ promise to return from the grave (see #2) was fulfilled, Jesus’ promise to remain with his disciples spiritually (see #3) is true for every believer, and so we await the fulfillment of his glorious return (see #1). Come, Lord Jesus, come, so that your disciples may dwell with you forever.