John 1: 51 He 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.”
ESV - 51 And he 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.
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This verse refers back to Gen 28:12 when Jacob saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder. The ladder in John 1:51 is replaced by the Son of Man. Just as Jacob received supernatural, heaven-sent revelation, so too, would Nathaniel and the other disciples receive supernatural communication, confirming who Jesus was. Replacing the ladder with the Son of Man signifies that Jesus is now the access between man and God.
In my opinion seeing the angels first ascending then descending could be a refernce to prayers sent to heaven and then answered. Jesus is presented as the stairs between heaven and earth. This is also a reference to Gen.28:12 where Jacob saw angels ascending and descending.
Nathaniel is to see and understand the workings of the kingdom of God in which Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth. Earthly man can see this naturally until he believes in Jesus Christ. As long as a man believes in Christ, he will see and experience the heavenly.
Notes For Verse 50 a [Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou?]. Christ's statement of seeing him by the Spirit before He could see him with His eyes convinced Nathaniel of His Sonship. b [thou shalt see greater things than these] Nathaniel did see many greater works. He saw all the works of Christ for over three years. When Jn. 1:51 was to be fulfilled is not stated. It may be fulfilled in the eternal kingdom of Jesus on earth when angels will ascend and descend in a more literal way than now (Mt. 13:41-43; 24:31; 25:31; 2Th. 1:7; etc.). Notes For Verse 51 a [Verily, verily] Means Surely, surely or Amen, amen. Used doubly 25 times by John (Jn. 1:51; 3:3,5,11; 5:19,24,25; 6:26,32,47,53; 8:34,51,58; 10:1,7; 12:24; 13:16,20,21,38; 14:12; 16:20,23; 21:18). So used for emphasis, and only by Him who is the truth (Jn. 14:6). Always used singly elsewhere: in the Old Testament only 16 times; 30 times in Matthew; 15 times in Mark; and 8 times in Luke and only by Christ. Found only 21 Times in the New Testament outside the gospels. Altogether, used 103 times by Jesus and only 36 times by all others in 62 books. b [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] Used 88 times of Christ in the New Testament and once in Dan. 7:13. It always has the definite article when used of Christ, but not when used of ordinary men. He is God's Man to redeem man. He is God's answer to Satan to guarantee his defeat and restore man's original dominion.
This is in reference to Jacob's dream, in (Genesis 28:15) marking Jesus as God's elect one through whom redemption comes to the world. God assured Jacob that He would always be with him where ever he went. Jesus is the bridge that the Angels can ascend & descend between Heaven & Earth, this is what I believe. Also Jesus had to fulfill all the prophecies in the Old Testament, & this was one of the first prophecies.
It is also the initial physical entry for Nathaniel(read disciples) to see and therefore receive that Jesus has placed them and is confirming them as discipleships. It comes(seeing or standing in these columns of angels) as also an imparted authority of the Kingdom. Often times these angels may have messages, an impartation or even necessary elements for those disciples standing and seeing them or have territorial business to fulfill God's eternal plan.
When we read both the passages (Genesis 28:12 and John 1:51) we could understand that in pre-messianic age a ladder was necessary to connect the earth with heaven, whereas in the messianic age the Messiah himself became a media connecting heaven and earth. In Genesis it was a dream, but here in the new testament it was a real happening. That's why the gospel writers emphasise the incident of opening of heaven at the time of the baptism of Jesus. The same statement was repeated by Jesus in John 1:51 when he had conversation with Nathaniel: “Hereafter you will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on son of Man.” After the advent of the Messiah, heaven is open to mankind through him. Guarding angels are descending from above and caring angels are ascending up with petitions and supplications of God's people.
The original disciples and generally the people who Jesus attracted and ministered to were very practical and concrete people. Therefore, we may assume that Nathanael likely understood Jesus to be speaking of a phenomenon that he would literally witness, i.e. "heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (Jesus). In none of the four Gospels is there any validation that any of the disciples witnessed his baptism by John, and therefore none of them heard the voice from Heaven. None of the Gospels report any of the disciples witnessed the temptation of Jesus, nor the ministering to him by angels. Only Peter, James and John were reported as witnesses to the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-7 and parallel passages). Jesus gave these three explicit instructions, "not to tell anyone what they had seen..." So did Jesus engage in hyperbole here, or was he mistaken in what lay ahead for him and his disciples? I think we are left with two options. First, based primarily on the prediction of his death (Mark 9:1) which is fulfilled in Mark 9:2f and on what the disciples may have witnessed during Jesus' Gethsemane prayer (Mark 14:32f), I think it is fair to assume the disciples witnessed this such an event(s) but that they were not reported in the Gospels. Second, based on the witness of the Gospels that Jesus' knowledge of his future events seems to have unfolded as he went about his ministry rather than him having all knowledge upon being baptized, I think it is reasonable to assume he is engaging here in hyperbole. Jesus has yet to be tempted, threatened, and rejected in startling and very real ways that he may not have foreseen at the beginning of his ministry.
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