In John 14 Jesus tells the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them. Isn't it that heaven was already founded from creation? So, what place was he referring to? Was this just a figure of speech?
Technically, I don't know of any place in the Bible that says that the saved go to Heaven when they die. It says they go to "paradise", that they go to be "with Jesus", etc, but I don't know any verse that says this is Heaven. Exactly what the place where the saved go is called is not entirely clear.
Perhaps the place that Jesus went to prepare is the New Jerusalem of Revelation.
Or if it is the same Heaven mentioned throughout the Bible, this would not really cause a problem with this verse. To "prepare" a place does not necessarily mean that you are creating it from nothing. He might have meant that he was preparing Heaven to receive the saved. Like someone might say, "Oh, I have to get home to prepare the house for the party tonight." They don't mean that they're building a new house, but that they are going to decorate their existing house, arrange furniture, put out clean towels, etc.
Jay's answer has got the general idea right, but the meaning of what Jesus said is much deeper and much more significant. I first heard about this in a sermon earlier this year, but you can find corroboration of this online (like here).
In Biblical times, the Jewish custom of marriage was such that even after the bride and bridegroom were married (after the bride accepted the cup), the bride didn't go and live with her "husband" nor did they build a new house and move there. Rather, the man went back to his father's house and built a room that added on to his father's house. When the room was finished, the husband could go back and get his wife. However, it was the man's father who decided when the room was done, when it was satisfactory. Once the father finally said that the man's room was done, then the man could go and get his bride with much fanfare, bring her back to his house, and they would have a feast - the wedding feast.
I love this stuff!
Sound familiar? It should! Jesus offering the Cup of the Covenant is His proposal! However, His bride couldn't go and be with Him just yet; He had to prepare a place for us first.
2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you.
When His Father finally tells Him that everything is ready, then He'll come back and get us.
John 14:3 (NLT)
3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
When the rooms are completed, Jesus will be released to come and get His Bride - the Church!
The exact identity of this place (God's mansion) isn't explicitly given in the Bible, but it's most likely the New Jerusalem (where 20 billion inhabitants could each have a room that was a cube half a mile long, wide, and high). Heaven may have been one of the first things God created, but by no means does that mean Jesus can't continue creating, either in Heaven or on Earth. If anything, God consistently and frequently shows that He likes to be intimately involved with His creation, fiddling with the little details and enjoying watching things unfold.
So, to directly answer your questions, Jesus was talking about Heaven, and He wasn't using a figure of speech at all. He meant it literally.
Jesus went to prepare a place for us. In the Temple of God. The Body of Christ. He prepared it by sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We each are living stones, fitted together. This doesn't preclude an afterlife in "Heaven". But it emphasizes our responsibilities in the present.
My conclusions are that Jesus referred to a new spiritual function within the souls of the apostles,and eventually within all those souls who live a holy life, from Pentecost onwards,and their soul was and is, the new place Jesus prepared and took to himself, and in the same time the apostles,and all those who live a holy life,were,and would also be with Jesus,AS ONE!
THis is even emphatically more clear further down in
John 14:18:I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.
14:23 Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word,
The above is a clear reference to Jesus' presence within humans as "THE WORD" to all those who live a holy life.
and my Father will love him, and we will come to him,
The above is a reference to the presence of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit within a human soul when a person lives a holy life continually.
and will make our abode with him.
The above is a reference to Jesus Christ our Lord God, in the glory of the Father, within the human soul, once a person has achieved union with God WHILE ON EARTH!
Jesus made sure that he would be understood, in John17:20 when while praying he asserted this and said:
20 And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;
21That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us;
that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
AS CLEAR AS CRYSTAL:
ALL THE ABOVE COULD AND WOULD BE ACHEIVED ON EARTH BY HUMANS ONCE THEY LIVE A HOLY LIFE IN THE TRUTH! and those who experience this would be aware that
JESUS WAS SENT BY THE FATHER
I hope I am clear enough!