29 September 2010

John 1:47-51

"And he said to him, 'Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.'" (v.51)


Things happen quickly at the beginning of John's Gospel. After the dramatic prologue (verses 1-14) we are fastforwarded into the story of John the Baptist (verses 19-28) and John's baptism of Jesus (verses 29-36). Jesus calls Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him (verses 37-42) and the next day Jesus tells Philip to follow him too (verse 43). Philip goes to his friend Nathanael to tell him that he has found the Messiah - Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael thinks it unlikely that anything good could come from Nazareth, but Philip tells him to come and see (verses 45-46).

And this is where the passage for today begins.

Jesus seems to have a miraculous knowledge of Nathanael, announcing before they have even met that he is a true and honest Israelite. Nathanael is puzzled by this and asks how Jesus knows him. Jesus tells him that he saw him under the fig tree with Philip. This doesn't seem quite to answer the question, but it is enough for Nathanael. He seems to have gained a miraculous knowledge of his own and proclaims Jesus the son of God and king of Israel. Jesus jokes with him that if he thinks that just because Jesus saw him under a tree, he will see better things than that. In particular, Jesus promises him a vision of heaven opened with angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

Any Jewish reader of this story would think immediately of the Old Testament story of Jacob and his dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:10-15), with angels coming up and down it. In the dream God promises Jacob that he will make a great nation of him and will look after him wherever he goes.

With Nathanael's grand statement of who Jesus is, and then the reference to the vision of angels, the Gospel writer John seems to want to leave us in no doubt of the importance of this man Jesus.

To Ponder

Have you come across examples of Jesus joking before? To what extent does this fit with your picture of him?

Verse 49 gives us Nathanael's verdict on Jesus. What's yours?

Verse 47 tells us what Jesus said about Nathanael. What would Jesus say about you?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.