Jesus is the true and only way of access to the Father, the Greater Bethel, and the house of God – John 1:47-50.
John presents Jesus as the True House of God and the open way of access to the presence of Yahweh. He is the Greater and True Bethel, the “house of God,” and from now on, heaven is open to all men, and angels are “ascending and descending” on the “Son of Man.” What Jacob saw in an ancient long has become a concrete reality in Jesus of Nazareth.
One day, Philip told Nathanael that “we have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets.” He did not call Jesus the “messiah”, but he did describe him as the one attested by the “Law and the Prophets,” a key theme in John’s gospel – Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient promises of God.
- (John 1:47-50) – “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and says concerning him — See! Truly, an Israelite in whom is no guile. Nathanael says to him: From where do you know me? Jesus answered and said, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Nathanael answered, Rabbi! You are the Son of God: You are King of Israel. Jesus answered: Because I said, I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? A greater thing than these will you see!”
Jesus gave more than a brief on Nathanael’s character (“An Israelite in whom is no deceit”). His words anticipated the interpretation and application of an event from the life of Jacob to the “Son of Man.” Upon hearing Jesus linked to Nazareth, Nathanael declared, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, he went to see what this man was all about – (Genesis 28:10-19).
In the popular etymology at the time, ‘Jacob’ meant one who “supplants” or “deceives.” The Greek noun for “deceit” found in John 1:47, dolos, is the same term found in the Greek Septuagint version in the Genesis account (“Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing” – Genesis 27:35).
“Deceiver” was an apt description of Jacob’s character; that is until it was transformed by his encounter with an angelic figure. That event resulted in his name being changed from ‘Jacob” to ‘Israel,’ as well as his vision of the “ladder to heaven.” During his journey to Haran, Jacob slept using stones for a pillow. There, he dreamed of angels ascending and descending on the “ladder” between the earth and the heavens.
Then, Yahweh promised to give the land on which Jacob slept to his descendants. On that spot, he constructed an altar out of the same stones he had used for his pillow, poured out an offering, then called the place ‘Bethel’ or “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 according to Jesus, he would see even 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 Christ was prefaced with the formula, “Amen, amen,” a transliteration of the Hebrew word for affirming what is true. This is the first of twenty-five times this formula occurs on the lips of Christ in John’s gospel.
Jesus made no mention of a “ladder”; instead, from that time forward angels would ascend and descend “upon” him, the “Son of Man.”
According to Jewish tradition, the original ‘Bethel’ was located on the site where the Temple was built. In contrast, ever since his death and resurrection, Jesus has been the true mediator between “heaven” and earth. Calvary opened the way for all men 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“).
Thus, 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. And that is why he could also claim, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
The presence of Yahweh is accessible wherever Jesus is, and men and women no longer must journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to find His presence. The way is open to all, and on the same basis, the “Son of Man.”
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