SYNOPSIS – The gospel of John presents Jesus as the true way of access to God and the Greater Bethel – The “House of God” – John 1:47-50.
In his gospel, John presents Jesus as the True and Greater House of God, the final and open means of access to the presence of Yahweh. After his baptism, he declared to Nathanael – “Behold, an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” – And claimed to have seen this disciple sitting under a fig tree before the two ever met. Nathanael responded – “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are King of Israel!”:
(John 1:47-50) – “Jesus saw Nathanael coming unto him and saith concerning him — See! Truly, an Israelite in whom is no guile. Nathanael saith unto him— Whence dost thou know me? Jesus answered and said unto him— Before Philip called thee— when thou wast under the fig-tree I saw thee. Nathanael answered him— Rabbi! thou art the Son of God: Thou art King of Israel. Jesus answered, and said unto him— Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree believest thou? A greater thing than these shalt thou see!” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Previously, Philip told Nathanael – “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets.” He did not call Jesus the “messiah”, instead, he described him as the one attested by the “Law and the Prophets,” A key theme in John’s gospel – Jesus is the fulfillment of the earlier promises of God – (e.g., John 5:39-40).
The description of Nathanael by Jesus was more than a brief on his character – (“An Israelite in whom is no deceit”). It anticipated the application of an event from the life of Jacob to Jesus Christ – (Genesis 28:10-19).
Upon hearing Jesus linked to the town of Nazareth, Nathanael declared – and rather sarcastically – “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, he did go to see what this man was all about.
In the popular etymology of the time, ‘Jacob’ meant one who “supplants” or “deceives.” The Greek noun for “deceit” used in John 1:47, or dolos (Strong’s – #G1388), is the same term used in the Greek Septuagint version in Genesis 27:35 – (“Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing”).
Prior to his vision, “deceiver” was an apt label for the character of Jacob; that is to say, until it was transformed by his encounter with an angelic figure. One result was a name change from ‘Jacob” to ‘Israel,’ as well as a vision of a ladder to heaven. During his journey to Haran, Jacob slept using stones for a pillow. In a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder between the earth and the heavens.
Yahweh promised to give the land on which Jacob slept to his descendants and changed his name to ‘Israel.’ He constructed an altar out of the same stones he used for his pillow, poured out an offering, and called the place ‘Bethel’, or the “house of God.”
In contrast to Jacob, Nathanael was a true Israelite without deceit. He was so impressed with Jesus that he ascribed two messianic titles to him – Son of God and King of Israel. But Nathanael would see far greater things – (“You will see heaven set open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”).
The declaration by Jesus was prefaced with the formula – “Amen, amen” – A transliteration of a Hebrew word to affirm what is true. This is the first of twenty-five times this formula occurs on the lips of Christ in the gospel of John.
Jesus made no mention of a “ladder”; instead, from this time forward, angels would ascend and descend “upon” the Son of Man HIMSELF.
According to Jewish tradition, the original ‘Bethel’ was located on the same site where the Temple was built. In contrast, ever since his Death and Resurrection, Jesus became the true mediator between God and the earth. Calvary threw open the way to Heaven for all to access God by faith in Jesus – (John 8:28 – “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he“).
Jesus claimed to be the true and final means of access to God, in contrast to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jacob’s ‘Bethel’ was temporary and foreshadowed the Greater “House of God” that would be established in the Messiah.
From now on, the presence of Yahweh is accessible wherever Jesus is – Men and women must no longer journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to find His presence. The way is open to all.