[Jesus] then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
Jesus was a master of saying the maximum amount possible in the fewest words. Here is a classic example. He is responding to his newest disciple's declaration of faith that Jesus was God's promised Messiah. In response, Jesus evokes one of the most memorable images in the Old Testament, Jacob's ladder or stairway to heaven. By doing so Jesus offers up a piercing insight into His Messianic role and identity.
In Genesis 28, Jacob was travelling to Harran to find a wife. When he stopped for the night, Jacob "had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it" (Genesis 28:12). For the purpose of understanding Jesus' statement, Jacob's interpretation of this ladder is key. When Jacob woke up "he was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven'" (Genesis 28:17). Having seen the ladder connecting heaven and earth in that place Jacob concludes two things: One, he has stumbled upon the entry point or gate of heaven; two, this place must be the house or temple of God on earth. To be in this place is to enter into the very presence of God.
I believe that Jesus is applying both of these conclusions to Himself and is revealing in stunning brevity what He will only later more fully explain. First, Jesus is claiming to be the gate or entry point to heaven. Consider these verses later in John's gospel in which Jesus builds on this point.
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.John 14:6
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (Said in the context of Jesus' famous sheep, shepherd, thief, gate analogy.)John 10:9
Second, Jesus is saying that He is the true house of God, that from the moment of His arrival on earth He became the point at which heaven and earth meet.* To be in His presence is to enter into the very presence of God. Consider these verses later in John's gospel in which Jesus builds on this point.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.John 2:19-21
I and the Father are one.John 10:30
So then, above all things, seek to know Jesus! He is God's clearest self-revelation. He is the only way to heaven. He is the true temple of God. It is only in Him and through Him that we enter into God's presence. "There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). So approach God today in the name of Jesus!
For further reading...
- Read the fuller context of any or all of the Scripture quotes above.
- Pick one or more of these powerful verses and memorize them.
* I believe the first time I was exposed to the idea of and the turn of phrase "the place where heaven and earth meet" was in a book written by N.T. Wright.