Now Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have discovered the man whom Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the Prophets wrote too. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph and comes from Nazareth.”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” retorted Nathanael. “You come and see,” replied Philip.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and remarked, “Now here is a true man of Israel; there is no deceit in him!”
“How can you know me?” returned Nathanael.
“When you were underneath that fig-tree,” replied Jesus, “before Philip called you, I saw you.”
At which Nathanael exclaimed, “Master, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel!”
“Do you believe in me,” replied Jesus, “because I said I had seen you underneath that fig-tree? You are going to see something greater than that! Believe me,” he added, “I tell you all that you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man!” (John 1:45-51)
Years ago, I was in a seminar given by the wonderful Dale Bruner, and he was teaching through this particular chapter. And I’ll never forget his conclusion here. He asked – and I ask you – when you hear the phrase “Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending,” does that ring any scriptural bell for you? Does any certain passage from the Old Testament come to mind?
From Genesis 28 – “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
What a scene! And Jacob’s immediate reaction is one of fitting awe: “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
Thus, by conjuring this moment in Nathanael’s memory of the Torah, Jesus not only associates Himself with that passage, but also with the place in that passage – Beth’el, "the house of God." And did you notice how He transposed Himself for the place: “you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man”?
So now reconsider Jacob’s reaction when in the frame-of-reference of Jesus: “‘Surely the Lord is in this Jesus, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this Jesus! This Jesus is none other than the house of God, and this Jesus is the gate of Heaven.”
How good is that!
Today, if you would consider yourself to be a Nathanael, an "enlightened Christian skeptic," (Ha!) I challenge you to bring your every doubt to Jesus Himself. For not only will He answer your doubts, He’ll so raise the stakes that your highest questioning considerations don’t stand a chance; His personal presence undoes unbelief.