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John 1:47–51

“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ ” (v. 51).

Nathanael found it difficult to believe that the Messiah could come from Nazareth, but he agreed to go with Philip to see for himself if what Philip had said was true (John 1:46). Today’s passage records Nathanael’s first encounter with Jesus, who opens their dialogue by addressing him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). In this statement, we see that Jesus saw no ulterior motives in Nathanael’s visitation. Nathanael was coming to figure out who Jesus was and whether Philip was right about Him, and he was not hiding that fact from others.

As we see in John 1:48, Nathanael was surprised that Jesus could see the truth of his intentions, for how could an ordinary man see into another’s heart? But Jesus then offered further proof that He was no ordinary man by telling Nathanael that he saw him under a fig tree before Philip came to him (v. 48). It is not exactly clear what Jesus meant by this statement. It could be that Jesus saw Nathanael sitting in the shade of a literal fig tree. It could also be that Jesus meant that he saw Nathanael sitting at his home, for ancient Jews sometimes used the term “fig tree” as a metaphor for a person’s house. Either way, Nathanael recognized that Jesus saw something about him that required supernatural knowledge because Jesus had never met him before. Thus, Nathanael recognized Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel, the One invested with divine authority to rule and reign as Messiah (v. 49).

As great a sign as supernatural insight was, Jesus’ response to Nathanael was that he would yet see something greater: “heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50–51). Here we find an allusion to Jacob’s dream of a ladder joining earth and heaven (Gen. 28:10–22). Essentially, Jesus was telling Nathanael that He is the link between earth and heaven, that if a person is to ascend to heaven—attain salvation—he must do it through Christ Jesus (John 14:6). To see Jesus display supernatural knowledge was incredible indeed. But a far better vision is to see that Jesus is the way to salvation, the means through which we find eternal life. Many people saw Jesus do supernatural things in the first century, but fewer saw and believed in Him as the way to salvation. Things are not so different today. Many people view Jesus as a great man. Even some who are not believers have affirmed that He did miracles. But only those in whom the Spirit works will receive Him as Savior.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments that “though the whole human race was banished from the kingdom of God, the gate of heaven is now opened to us” in Christ. On this side of heaven, the greatest thing we can see is Jesus as the way of salvation. Seeing and believing in Him is the only way to heaven. Are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation? Are you asking Him to open the eyes of your loved ones who do not believe?


For Further Study
  • 2 Chronicles 20:17
  • Psalm 28:1–3
  • Luke 2:22–38
  • John 20:24–28

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From the January 2018 Issue
Jan 2018 Issue