“And he said to him, Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
Nathanael is promised the sight of an opened heaven. To see heaven opened is to see beyond the categories of human assessment. When we see heaven opened we see that everything is settled. From the foundation of the world, the one and only eternal reality issues forth. The Gospel is to bring us back to what is eternally ancient yet ever new. The Gospel is a story of redemption which originates in heaven and restores the connection of heaven and earth.
Nathanael would immediately recognise this picture of the angels ascending and descending. He would have known the story of Jacob’s dream in the Torah:
“And [Jacob] 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.” (Genesis 28:12)
The angels who ascend and descend convey the reality of the ongoing heaven-earth connection. When Jacob had this dream he was promised an inheritance on earth, an inheritance in the land. This promise has been misunderstood as being something political and national.
Rather, it is the promise that the earth itself is to be inhabited by those who originate in heaven.
Heaven’s purpose is to bless and redeem the groaning creation. Rather than gaining a political inheritance the sons and daughters of God are to be conduits of heaven’s activity.
Jesus, as Son of Man, is the pioneer and exemplar of the redeeming of creation. Redeemed humanity is to become the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend. Sonship in human form is the conduit of heavenly presence and action upon the earth.
As the Gospel of John unfolds before us we will see the connection between heaven and earth restored. We will become participators in the emergence of the ancient future. We will see revelation dawning upon the darkness and the green shoots of resurrection life spring up.
[…taken from revelatory commentary on John’s Gospel by Stephen Hill due to be published late 2016]