When I think of the
patriarch Jacob, I think of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Jacob was a deceiver. His
many-sided personality was filled with guile,
meanness, craftiness and deceit. He's probably not
the person you would like to have as your best
friend or son-in-law.
In fact, when we meet up
with him he is fleeing because he and his mother
have deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him a
spiritual blessing that had been destined to his
older brother Esau. His own wrongdoing had driven
him out of the home. When his father sent him away
to Paddan-arm to seek a wife, he met his match in
uncle Laban. They served deceit and guile up to one
another for fourteen years.
It is on this long
journey that Jacob, weary from the travel, spends
the night in the open. He found a stone to ''put
under his head, and lay down in that place" (Genesis
28:11). It isn't strange to lay the head on a pillow
of rock, or a board, or a book, or a straw mat, etc.
I've done it many times in my travels as a
missionary. Hard heads and hard rocks probably fit
Here is a man who is
alone with God.
Weary and exhausted from
the hard day of walking Jacob went into a deep sleep
and began to dream. His dream was profound. "He had
a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth
with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the
angels of God were ascending and descending on it"
"And behold, the Lord
stood above it and said, 'I am the Lord, the God of
your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land
on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your
descendants'" (v. 13).
The LORD God (Yahweh) got
Jacob's attention at Bethel. He demonstrated that He
cared about Jacob and his miserable condition.
God repeated the promise
given to Abraham and Isaac
In that dream God
rehearsed to Jacob the great promises He had given
to his grandfather, Abraham and his father Isaac. It
is obvious he will find his mate because his
"descendants shall also be like the dust of the
earth" (v. 14). Moreover, "in you and in your
descendants shall all the families of the earth be
blessed." Yes, you read it correctly. God will bless
and use a descendent of this deceiver for His
eternal purpose. Remember, Yahweh is the God of
grace. He will continue to pursue Jacob and work in
him until He has Jacob to the place where he can
bring glory to the His name alone.
The Presence of God
The LORD makes another
promise to Jacob. "Behold, I am with you and will
keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to
this land; for I will not leave you until I have
done what I have promised you" (v. 15).
"Then Jacob awoke from
his sleep and said, 'Surely the Lord is in this
place, and I did not know it.' He was afraid and
said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other
than the house of God, and this is the gate of
heaven'" (vv. 16-17). He got up poured oil on the
stone and named the place Bethel, "the house of
In a later event (Genesis
32:22ff) Jacob wrestled with the angel of the LORD
and prevailed against him. Jacob clung to him and
said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me"
(v. 26). God changed his name from Jacob to "Israel,
for you have striven with God and with men and have
prevailed." Israel means "He who strives with God"
or "God strives." Much to his surprise, Jacob
realized with whom he had wrestled and declared, "I
have seen God face to face, yet my life has been
preserved" (v. 30). He went away limping for the
rest of his life.
When God changes the name
of a person in the Old Testament it often indicates
a new relationship with that person. Jacob's life
would never the same after this encounter with God.
Jacob learned that when
you are walking with the Lord any place becomes your
resting place. Wherever you are Yahweh is there.
Jacob just happened to be at Luz. Before He ascended
into heaven Jesus told His followers, "Lo, I am with
you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew
28:20). We have His abiding presence regardless of
where we are. We are always with Him because He is
the ladder into the presence of God. There is no
place in this universe where our Lord is not with
us. He is our dwelling place.
Moreover, there isn't
anything that can separate us from our Lord. "For I
am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other created thing, will be able to
separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ
Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus and Nathanael
This event in Jacob's
life takes on special importance because Jesus
appropriated it for Himself while talking to
How do men get to heaven?
Jesus used this vision of Jacob in His conversation
with a Jewish man named Nathanael. Jesus had never
met this man before. He saw Nathanael coming to Him,
and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in
whom there is no guile!" (John 1:47). The word Jesus
used for "guile" means to "catch with bait, beguile,
deceit." He is not going to be like Jacob and make
use of double dealings of deceit.
Jesus declared Nathanael
to be a true son of Abraham, a Jew inwardly in
This took Nathanael
completely by surprise. Nathanael said to Him, "How
do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him,
"Before Philip called you, when you were under the
fig tree, I saw you."
What was he doing under
the fig tree? Wouldn't we love to know? He was under
the cover of the fig tree. No one knew he was there.
No one saw him but God! Whatever it was Jesus saw
him, and Nathanael was now conscious of His
supernatural knowledge of that fact. This is a
specific instance of Jesus' ability to know all
It can be inferred from
verses 48, 51 that Nathanael was meditating on
Jacob's life, particularly the incident recorded in
Genesis 28:12. Jesus is the divine communication
from heaven to earth. The Son of Man, replacing the
ladder, is God's link with the earth (Dan. 7:13;
Matt. 26:64). Jesus is the new "Bethel." He is God's
dwelling place (Gen. 28:17; John 1:14). Jesus said,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one
comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). He
is the only door of entrance into the presence of
God (John 10:1, 7).
Perhaps this is the
passage of Scripture Nathanael was reading while
sitting under the fig tree at home. There is also
good reason to think he was praying, seeking God's
forgiveness, and deliverance from his own deceit.
Perhaps he was confessing his sins, and when he met
Jesus there rang out in his ears the same response
he had received in private with God! No one could
have known that he had been alone seeking God's
presence under that fig tree. But it was known to
Jesus! This is God speaking. He alone knows what is
happening in a person's heart. He is the only one
who can lead us to heaven. He is the doorkeeper. He
is the ladder to heaven.
Perhaps as he sat under
the fig-tree he prayed for the day when God's Chosen
One, the Messiah, would come. No doubt he had been
meditating on the promises of God and now he felt
that Jesus had seen into the very depths of his
sinful heart. Holy penetrating presence of Jesus
searches the depths of our being. He is the one
person who understands our aspirations, hopes,
ambitions, visions, etc. He knows the intents of our
hearts, our secret longings, and the depths of our
responds, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are
the King of Israel" (John 1:49).
Nathanael represents the
Israelite whose heart was cleansed of pride and
prejudice and saw in Jesus the one who satisfied the
longing of his waiting, seeking heart. The Savior,
Redeemer, Messiah had come! Jesus Christ is the Son
of God and the King of Israel (John 20:31). If we
are true Israelites indeed, our hearts will crown
Him as the "King of Israel." It should be noted that
"King of Israel," "Son of Man, "and "Son of God" are
definitely Messianic titles (2 Samuel 7:14; Ps. 2:7;
"Because I said to you
that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?
You will see greater things than these." And He said
to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see
the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending
and descending on the Son of Man" (vv. 50-51). Jesus
can do more than read the heart. He opens the door
to heaven. Jesus was in unending and unbroken
communion with the Father. Nathanael and the other
disciples saw the glory of God come down to man
(John 1:14, 18). God and man met in Jesus Christ.
Verse 51 is an allusion
or quotation of Genesis 28:12, and Jacob's ladder is
replaced in the verse by "the Son of Man." The title
"Son of Man" in John's Gospel has the basic
understanding of His origin in heaven (6:27, 33),
that He will return again to His place of glory
(6:62) by way of the cross (3:14; 8:28; 12:23, 34;
13:31). The divine origin and authority of Jesus is
suggested by the title "Son of Man." It was the
Messianic title that Jesus chose for Himself.
A. T. Robertson says,
''that was a dream to Jacob, but Christ is Himself
the bond of fellowship between heaven and earth,
between God and man, for Jesus is both 'the Son of
God' as Nathanael said and 'the Son of Man' as Jesus
here calls Himself. God and man met in Christ. He is
the true Jacob's ladder. 'I am the Way,' Jesus will
The Incarnation made it
an abiding reality. B. F. Westcott says, "That
representative of Israel was a fact for the Son of
Man. Thus the reference is to the continuing
presence of Christ (Matt. 28:20), in whom believers
realize the established fellowship of the seen and
unseen, and not the special acts of angelic
ministration to Christ alone during His earthly
The Door to Heaven
The words "heavens
opened" is the idea of remaining open or "standing
open." Something has occurred in the past and it
continues into the future. Heaven stands wide open
and now the grace of God is available for every
person who believes in the Son of Man. You can come
into God's presence. He has forgiven you. The one
standing there talking to Nathanael is the "door."
He has bridged the gap between heaven and earth. He
provides a means for us to enter into God's
presence. Sin shut the door. However, Christ has
removed the sin bearer that separates us through His
death and resurrection. He is the only entrance into
heaven because He is ''the lamb slain from the
before the foundation of the world" (Revelation
13:8; cf. Rev. 4:1; 19:11).
Jesus Christ is the
mediator between God and man. He is the only means
whereby sinful man can have a right relationship
with God. It is accomplished only by His
crucifixion. Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son
of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do
nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these
things as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28). God
opened heaven wide open by means of the cross of
Jesus. That is why the apostle Peter could declare,
"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is
no other name under heaven that has been given among
men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
In both of these passages
the main thought is divine communication between
heaven and earth. In Jesus Christ we have the
continuing presence of God and He says to you and
me, "I will never leave you, and I will never
There is no ladder as
Jesus uses the story because He is the ladder. The
angels in their movement show the divine activity
and identify Jesus with the ladder. Jesus is the
link between heaven and earth. Jesus told Nicodemus,
"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who
descended from heaven: the Son of Man" (John 3:13).
Jesus communicates the realities of heaven to men on
this earth. If you want communion with heaven here
is the only person who can do it for you. He is the
only mediator between God and sinful man (1 Tim.
Some scholars see the
interpretation of the ladder reaching from heaven to
earth in verse 51 as figurative, and some literal.
Some see it fulfilled when our Lord was upon the
earth in that Nathanael would see a fuller
revelation of Christ. Others see it literally
fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of
Christ. J. C. Ryle writes, "Our Lord spoke of His
second coming and kingdom. When He comes the second
time to take His great power and reign, the words of
this text shall be literally fulfilled. His
believing people shall see heaven open, and a
constant communication kept up between heaven and
earth,--the tabernacle of God with men, and the
angels visibly ministering to the King of Israel,
and King of all the earth."
Jesus told Caiaphas that
he will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand
of power and coming with clouds of heaven (Mk.
Nathanael saw the great
reality of something modern men need to see, too.
Yes, Jesus is Israel's true Messiah. He is Israel's
long expected King after the heart of David. Jesus
will one day come and reign over Israel from
Jerusalem just like the Hebrew prophets foretold
(Isa. 24:23; Zech. 14:9, 16).
Moreover, there is also
the picture of judgment upon the Gentiles. The
future judgment of Christ as the "Son of man" will
come on the self-righteous (Daniel 7:13-14; Matt.
13:41-43; 16:27; 24:27, 30; 25:31-46; 26:64). Jesus
will return to judge the living and the dead. Those
who have rejected Him will meet Him as their judge.
It is my prayer as I write these words that you know
Him as the Lamb of God who has taken away all your
sins (John 1:29; 1 John 1:6). Jesus Christ is
Messiah, King, Son of God, and Son of Man, and He is
coming again. Are you ready? (Rev. 19:11-16)
It is interesting to
observe that there was tremendous angelic activity
when Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Matthew 28:5;
Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12; Acts 1:11).
Jacob's ladder pointed to Jesus Christ who said, "I
am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one
comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).
Only Jesus Christ can make that statement because He
is the Son of God.
28:10-22 Jacob's Ladder
Christ in the Old Testament