Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jesus: Stairway to Heaven; House of God

Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1:51 build on the temple theme introduced in John 1:14 (see “The Significance of the Incarnate Logos Dwelling among Us in John 1:14” and “Beholding the Glory of the Son in John 1:14”). In John 1:51, Jesus is recorded as saying to Nathanael, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Read in the light of Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1:50, the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man is one of the “greater things” that Jesus’ disciples would see.

Although Jesus’ comment in John 1:51 is recorded by the narrator as being directed to Nathaniel, the pronoun you is in the plural. This comment of Jesus, therefore, also applied to the other disciples of Jesus.

The idea of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man interacts with the description of the content of Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:12. In his dream, Jacob saw a stairway joining earth and heaven; “and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it.” The language used by Jesus in John 1:51 in speaking of the angels ascending and descending follows the wording of the LXX very closely with the exception of syntactical changes made out of grammatical necessity. The LXX reads καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ ἀνέβαινον καὶ κατέβαινον ἐπ᾽ αὐτῆς and the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it, whereas Jesus mentions τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

The strong similarity of language at this point parallels it, i.e., the stairway, with the Son of Man. The implication of this parallelism is that Jesus is the climax (κλίμαξ stairway, ladder). Jesus is the one who links earth to heaven. Jesus has opened up the way into heaven, enabling human beings to come into the presence of God.

From a Hebrew perspective, the term the Son of Man emphasizes Jesus’ humanity; but at the same time, given the biblical use of the the term, it also speaks of Jesus’ importance. This is due to the fact that the term the Son of Man, as used by Jesus, was derived from the prophecy of Dan 7:13–14, where “one like a son of man [comes] to the Ancient of Days” to receive “dominion” over an everlasting kingdom. Jesus viewed himself as being the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the exalted son of man of Dan 7. Putting the concepts of stairway and Son of Man together, the suggestion is that Jesus, who would later ascend into heaven to become the God-appointed King of the world, is the person who links earth to heaven.

A further detail from Gen 28 relevant to understanding the teaching of John 1:51 is Jacob’s naming of the place where he had been sleeping Bethel. The word Bethel means the house of God. Therefore, by identifying himself as the one upon whom the angels ascended and descended, Jesus was linking the name Bethel to himself. Jesus was effectively presenting himself as being the ultimate Bethel. This is consistent with the idea of the Logos tabernacling among us in John 1:14.

Therefore, according to John, Jesus is both the stairway to heaven and the house of God. Jesus is the true eschatological temple, the one through whom God and humanity are reconciled and have fellowship together.


Larry said...

Sure, but what is it that the disciples see subsequently, that is the fulfillment of the promise that they will see this?

One thing we can't help but notice is that it is angels (accusative, object of their seeing) that they will see going both directions.

Certainly the activity of angels points to the doing of God's bidding, and having completed it, returning to heaven with it dpne.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Larry, for your comment. Yes, it is interesting to consider how John 1:51 was fulfilled for the disciples. Some female disciples saw angels at Jesus’ tomb (e.g., Mark 16:1–7; John 20:11–13), and there were also angels present at Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:10). This all fits in with the idea that Jesus is the true stairway and temple, who has opened up the way to God for the rest of humanity particularly through his resurrection and ascension.