In John 1:51, Jesus prophecies that Nathanael will see “…heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” which is similar to Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22) where the narrator describes “the top of the ladder reaching to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” The clear parallel with ‘the ladder’ and ‘the Son of Man’ directly correlates with the fulfilment of Jesus as our Divine mediator.
The ladder signifies a mediating connection between heaven and earth; God and man, symbolising the rise to sanctity and eternal perfection with God, our Holy Creator. Due to man’s fall from innocence, there is a barrier between God and man that is prevalent throughout the Old Testament. The Jewish Priests and people would offer the blood of animals as sacrifices and burnt offerings to atone for their sins, attempting to reduce the void of infidelity with God and close the gap caused by sin. However, it is clear that nothing could atone for the sins of the people except Jesus, the true sacrificial lamb.
At a point where Jacob feels the loneliness of life, God shows him a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven and speaks words of comfort and revelations. This ladder is a tool that fills the gap caused by sin and removes the barrier between God and man, joining the earthly land to the heavenly, unseen holy place where God resides. It acts as a mediator on which the angels of God ascend and descend to aid the giving of spiritual gifts and God’s promises.
Awaking from his sleep, Jacob realises that “Surely the Lord is in this place…” (Genesis 28:16), acknowledging the Divine presence indicated by the elements in the dream. Jacob further proclaims that the place of Bethel is “the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). With the dream, God promises prosperity and salvation to Jacob from all his abandonment and fear, and the Promised Land to him and his descendants. Therefore, Jacob’s vision is a sheer representation of something eternal and a prophecy of the true link or ‘Way’ to the Father, that is Jesus Christ. The ladder is a metaphor of the mediator between heaven and earth and the sacrifice offered once and for all through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:14-16) teaches that Jesus is the High Priest and perfect sacrifice that closes the gap between God and man and the blameless lamb slaughtered to take away our sins. Furthermore, it explains that we should “then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), reiterating the reason for Jesus entering into this world to amend our relationship with Father God.
John 1:43-51 parallels Jacob’s dream at Bethel where Jesus prophecies that Nathanael will see “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Therefore, the Old Testament uses the symbol of a ladder to represent the eternal sacrifice of Jesus, the “Son of Man” (John 1:51). Furthermore, only through Jesus can we receive the spiritual blessings and fulfilment of God’s promises. God promises that if we believe in the Lord Jesus we will be saved (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9). As Jacob heard the promises of God in his vision of the ladder and believed, in the same way, Nathanael believed the promise of the Messiah and salvation through Him. God guarantees that Jacob and his descendants will dwell in prosperity in the Promised Land. Similarly, Jesus promises that if we believe in Him we will receive graces for earthly trials, eternal salvation in heaven which is our Promised Land. Jesus promises, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Likewise, Isaiah prophecies that when the redeemed return to Zion, “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people” (Isaiah 35:8). In this “Holy Way”, the people of God shall walk, nothing and no one else, for this road will lead to Zion, known as the mountain of God, which is where God dwells. Therefore, Jesus is the ladder we must climb to reach the Father; we must follow the ‘Way’ and believe as Nathanael did in the Son of God, and salvific power of Jesus that is paramount to us reaching heaven. Conclusively, Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth and the only means through which humanity is saved and receives the promise of salvation and eternal bliss.
Nathanael professes that Jesus is the Christ and “the King of Israel” (John 1:49) making known the fulfilment of scripture and the redemption promised by God. Jesus proclaims that Nathanael is “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit (John 1:47). Interestingly, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel and His people are called Israel. As we know, Jacob stole Esau’s inheritance and when God blessed him, changed his name to Israel. On encountering Nathanael, Jesus calls him a true Israelite highlighting the parallelism between Jacob and Nathanael. But here in this passage, Nathanael is the perfect representation of an Israelite: honest and a model of God’s chosen people. Jesus does not call Nathanael by his name but rather by what he is: God’s own. In the same way, Jesus calls us all to God and knows the deepest secrets of our hearts (Romans 8:27-38). Jacob is distressed and unsure of his future, when God reveals His plans for Jacob. It is unclear what Nathanael would have been pondering just before Philip called him, but it can be said that like Jacob, he too was thinking of God’s promises of the Messiah. At the point when we need Him the most, Jesus always comes to us revealing His goodness and faithfulness to His chosen people. As shown in this passage, Jesus speaks to Nathanael’s heart as he singles him out and opens a meeting with him. I believe that Jesus does the same with each person, singles you out as precious to Him, and looking at what jewels you have, he asks to meet you and converse with you. Just as Nathanael recognised the Messiah, I pray that we become aware of Jesus in our lives and His presence in our trials as God appeared to Jacob in his time of need. I pray that we believe in the mighty and awesome promises and blessings awaiting us and eternal salvation. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our mediator, may we receive heavenly consolations, peace, blessings and the Promised Land that is eternal salvation in heaven with God.
Marcia Antoinette Samson
23rd Feb, 2019