29 September 2011

"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)


The main point of this passage is in verse 51. We know this because it is introduced with a formula of great solemnity, which is addressed to disciples everywhere (not just Nathanael). This formula, "Very truly, I tell you", is like an underlining; it is used 25 times in John's Gospel.

To understand the final verse we need to glance at the preceding verses, especially verses 49 and 50. And we need to have at the back of our minds the Old Testament stories about Jacob (who at one point was named Israel).

Nathanael was a true representative of Israel - God's people as God intended them to be. Unlike Jacob, who with cunning and deception robbed his brother Esau of his birthright (Genesis 27), Nathanael was without deceit (verse 47). He was a person of transparent integrity living faithfully within the Jewish tradition of faith.

Nathanael confesses Jesus as the Messiah (verse 49), who had been long awaited by some groups of Jews. He was expected to deliver Israel from her enemies and establish freedom, peace and justice in the Holy Land.

Jesus receives this step of faith and radically develops it into something much greater (verse 50).

And so to verse 51. Recall the ancient story about Jacob's dream (Genesis 28:10-17). A ladder was extended from earth to heaven (God's abode). God's angels went up and down the ladder (ie God enabled messages to be transmitted in both directions). God promised a rich and secure future for Jacob and his descendants.

But now Jesus, being the Son of Man, represents the whole of humanity (not just the Jewish people). Jesus replaces the ladder of Jacob's dream: Jesus is the communication link between God and the human family. The stress is on an open heaven. Through Jesus, God gladly hears our prayers. Through Jesus, God lavishly pours out blessing on all human beings, in every time and place. Jesus is God's way of saving the world.

To Ponder

Taking steps towards an ever larger and deeper faith is the way Christians grow. When you reflect on your own pilgrimage, how has your faith developed? And with whose help?

In your experience, what have been startling instances of God's transforming grace at work where most people never dreamed anything could change?

How does the Christian movement best help you to be a person of integrity and transparent goodness?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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