John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 1:51, Jacob’s Ladder in the New Testament

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

//Remember the dream Jacob had, of a ladder resting on earth and reaching to heaven, with angels traipsing up and down the rungs?

Here in John’s Gospel, Jesus promises that one who sees “heaven open” will see the angels ascending and descending upon Jesus, rather than a ladder. Why the rewrite?

Let’s return to Genesis and the story of Jacob. While the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, written a century or two before Christ) portrays angels ascending and descending upon a ladder, the original Hebrew is not so clear. Some translators say the angels climbed the ladder, others say they walked up and down Jacob. John appears familiar with this latter interpretation, and compares Jesus to Jacob.

Why? My thought is this: Jacob (known also as Israel, the father of the Hebrew nation) is being supplanted. Christ has started a new nation. John sees “Israel” as no longer the Jewish nation but as a new people reborn in Christ. The first nation is forgotten; the new nation of Christians is now in the company of angels.


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