Have you ever considered the power of a ladder? That simple tool which allows us to change our elevation. To enable us to go and do what we couldn’t do on our own. Staircases do much the same work, but ladders are portable. Need to change that out of reach lightbulb? Use the ladder. Need to clean out the rain gutters of your house? Grab a ladder to reach them. Our next “day” in John’s Gospel is like a ladder.
John records an early incident concerning Phillip and Nathaniel. “The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:43–51, NASB95)
The first ladder we see is Nathaniel’s rise from doubt to a full-throated revelation of Jesus. Nathaniel is actually a bit of a mystery, appearing only here and in John 20:21. Phillip goes on to become one of the named twelve disciples, but Nathaniel seems to disappear. What we do know about Nathaniel is his immediate reaction to Phillip’s proclamation. Basically, he doubted. Now his doubts were based on scripture and knowledge of the Messianic prophecies. His doubt about the Messiah, the Christ, coming from Nazareth or the region of Galilee, is echoed, for instance, in John 7:41. And yet he goes with Phillip to meet Jesus.
Jesus offers Nathaniel two prophetic insights, which totally changes his perspective. Jesus declares Nathaniel as a straight shooter, someone without deceit or guile. And Jesus said he saw Nathaniel even before Phillip came to find him. These seem like small things, like rungs on a ladder and yet they elevated Nathaniel to declare the Jesus is the Son of God.
Another ladder in this passage is Jesus’ title. Phillip declares Jesus to be the “son of Joseph.” A human being. After his brief encounter with Jesus, Nathaniel declares Him to be the “Son of God.” Divine in nature. Lastly, Jesus presents himself as the “Son of Man.” This “Son of Man” title will appear twelve times in John’s Gospel and we’ll explore that later. The thing for today is to note the ladder-like ascending and descending which brings us to our final ladder.
Jesus says, “And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:51, NASB95) This is a reference to Jacob’s dream at Bethel in Genesis 28:10-22. Specifically, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:12, NASB95) Jesus himself is the ladder, the connection between God’s kingdom and earth. In Jesus, heaven touches our hearts and lives. Through Jesus, we enter God’s kingdom. And lastly, like Phillip, descend (in a way) again to invite others to encounter Christ and climb the ladder themselves. But the center of all this activity is Jesus. Later in John’s Gospel Jesus succinctly declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6, NASB95)