Recently I was reading through John’s Gospel. When I got to 1:51, I decided to dig a bit deeper–what did Jesus mean?
I noticed the link with Genesis 28:10-22, verse 12 in particular: “And [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” (ESV, emphasis added).
Next, in Jacob’s dream, the ladder resting on the earth, “with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it” represents God’s covenant faithfulness and commitment to his promise to bless all peoples on earth through Jacob and his offspring (v. 14), a promise which was first made with Abraham and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate (Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8; Rom. 9:3-5).
Essentially what Jesus was saying to Nathanael and the other disciples is that the Jacob’s ladder, a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness to save humanity through the offspring of Abraham, was being ultimately fulfilled in his person and work.
After Jacob awoke from his sleep and realized the gravity of his dream, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place” (v. 16). Then Jacob would convert his pillow, a stone he had slept on, to a pillar and poured oil on it (v. 18). He was truly overwhelmed by this dream. But he didn’t stop there. He renamed the place Bethel, meaning “House of God,” and the very stone-turned-anointed pillar became a symbol of Bethel, God’s house (v.22). Next, he pledged to God, “All that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
But more than visiting Jacob in a dream, God the Son became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And according to the Apostle Paul, when with unveiled faces, through the Holy Spirit, we behold the Lord’s glory, we are being transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
Yes, this is what Jesus had in mind when he said to disciples, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”