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Genesis 28:12-13, 16-17 + John 1:49

Genesis 28:12-13, 16-17 + John 1:49
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Genesis 28:12-13, 16-17, “And he 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! And behold, YHWH stood above it (or “beside him” or “on it”)….

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

I stop here this morning because of Jesus’ words in John 1:51, likening Himself to the ladder in Jacob’s vision:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Before digging into what Jesus might mean, I want to consider the passage in Genesis a bit more closely.

First, we see a ladder that has been “caused to be set up” on earth reaching to heaven and functioning as an avenue of communication between the two (this is what I think the ascending and descending angels implies. The angels are never mentioned again and seem to be present simply as a way to show that the way is open between heaven and earth and that “communication” between the two is possible across this ladder).

Next we have some interesting wording. When YHWH is said to stand “above” the ladder, the word for stand is the same as the word for “set up” used of the ladder itself. Though the form is different, this—coupled with Jesus’ words in John 1:51—may be an invitation to see a close connection between YHWH and the ladder…..though by itself it is not enough to say anything significant. The ESV text says that YHWH stood “above” the ladder, however, the word could also mean “on” the ladder or “beside him” (that is, Jacob). If we take it to mean “beside him,” then the connection between the ladder and YHWH—in light of John 1:51—is made even stronger.

The Lord then places the mantle of covenant blessing on Jacob’s shoulders, and—upon awakening—Jacob makes three observations about the place he is in:

1) YHWH is there

2) it is the house of God

3) it is the gate of heaven.

It would seem that the vision has strongly impressed Jacob with the unique presence of YHWH in this specific place and that the ladder has implied to him that this place is the way into the heavenlies, into the presence of YHWH.

Now…..with all that in mind, what does Jesus mean by telling the disciples that they will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending on Him, the Son of Man? A few thoughts…..

Jesus makes Himself the avenue of communication between heaven and earth. It is significant that, in the vision, YHWH declares the Abrahamic promises over Jacob from/by this ladder. Similarly, Christ Himself will ultimately be the “ladder” by whom the promise of Abraham comes to those sovereignly chosen as heirs. He also is the place of meeting with YHWH (Gen.28:16 / John 1:14, 18; 14:9), He is the true house of God (Gen 28.17 / John 2:19), and He is the true gateway of heaven (Gen 28:17 / John 10:9; 14:6).

Now, another point to see is that Jesus connects the disciples seeing heaven opened and Himself made the ladder between earth and heaven—Jesus connects the disciples sight of this with their belief in Him (John 1:50). The implication is that Jesus’ words to Nathanael (John 1:47) were not the ultimate witness to His identity, but rather this “Jacob’s Ladder” moment will be the ultimate witness. Jesus seems to be saying that whatever belief-worthy aspect of his character was revealed to them in His words to Nathanael, the chief revelation of that character/identity/glory will come when they see Christ “set up” on the earth reaching to the heavens as the avenue of communication and divine blessing between the two.

And when will that moment be? When will Jesus most definitively reveal Himself to be the Son sent from the Father, the Messiah and King of Israel, the One in whom we must believe? When will His divine identity be most completely and perfectly manifest so that the world might believe in Him and so know the Father and so have eternal life? When will the Son of man be set up between heaven and earth so that the covenant blessings of YHWH might cascade over Him to those whom the Father has foreknown? When will He show Himself to be YHWH-with us, the true temple of God and only gateway to heaven? I contend that this climactic moment of revelation and blessing will come when Christ is “set up” between heaven on earth on the cross.

On the cross Jesus climactically becomes all of these things…..on the cross He fulfills the vision of Jacob and declares definitively to His disciples that He IS the “Son of God…the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Jacob’s response to his vision at Bethel ought to be ours at the foot of the cross…

“Surely YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it….How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Hallowed be His Name!