Bethel, House of God
The Gospel of John presents Jesus as the True House of God and the open way of access to the presence of God. He is the Greater and True Bethel, the “House of God.” From now on, Heaven is open to all men, and angels are seen “ascending and descending” on the “Son of Man.” What Jacob saw in a vision long ago has become a concrete reality in Jesus of Nazareth, the permanent place and means of worshipping the Father.
One day, Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets.” He did not call Jesus the “Messiah”, but he did describe him as the one attested by the Hebrew Scriptures. This is a key theme in John’s Gospel - Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
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- (John 1:47-50) – “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and said concerning him — See! Truly, an Israelite in whom is no guile. Nathanael says to him: From where do you know me? Jesus answered and said, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Nathanael answered, Rabbi! You are the Son of God: You are King of Israel. Jesus answered: Because I said, I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? A greater thing than these will you see!”
Jesus gave more than a brief on Nathanael’s character (“An Israelite in whom is no deceit”). His words anticipated the interpretation and application of an event from the life of Jacob to the “Son of Man.”
Upon hearing Jesus linked to the insignificant village of Nazareth, Nathanael declared, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, he went to see what this man was all about - (Genesis 28:10-19).
In the popular etymology at the time, ‘Jacob’ meant one who “supplants” or “deceives.” The Greek noun for “deceit” found in John 1:47, or dolos, is the same term used in the Greek Septuagint version in the Genesis account (“Your brother came with DECEIT and has taken away your blessing” - Genesis 27:35).
The term “deceiver” was an apt description of Jacob’s character; that is until it was transformed by his encounter with an angelic figure. That event resulted in his name being changed from ‘Jacob” to ‘Israel,’ as well as his vision of the “ladder to heaven.” During his journey to Haran, Jacob slept using stones for a pillow, and he dreamed of angels ascending and descending on this “ladder” between the Earth and the Heavens.
Then, Yahweh promised to give Jacob the land on which he slept to his descendants. On that spot, he constructed an altar out of the same stones he had used for his pillow, poured out an offering on it, and then called the place ‘Bethel’ or “House of God.”
HEAVEN SET OPEN
In contrast to Jacob, Nathanael was a true Israelite without deceit. He was so impressed with Jesus that he ascribed two messianic titles to him: Son of God and King of Israel. However, according to Jesus, Nathanael would see far greater things (“You will see heaven set open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”).
The declaration by Christ was prefaced with the formula, “Amen, amen,” a transliteration of the Hebrew word used for affirming that something is true. This is the first of twenty-five times this formula occurs on the lips of Jesus in John’s Gospel.
In this passage, Jesus makes no mention of any “ladder.” Instead, he declared that from that time forward angels would ascend and descend “upon” him, namely, the “Son of Man.”
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According to Jewish tradition, the original ‘Bethel’ was located on the site where the Temple was built. In contrast, ever since his death and resurrection, Jesus has been the true mediator between “Heaven” and Earth. His death on Calvary opened the way for all men to access God by faith (John 8:28 - “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he").
Hence, Jesus claimed to be the true and final means of approaching God, in contrast to the Temple in Jerusalem and its rituals. Jacob’s ‘Bethel’ was temporary and foreshadowed the Greater “House of God” that would be established in and by the Messiah. This is why Jesus would also claim, “I am THE WAY, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The presence of God is accessible wherever Jesus is, and no longer must men and women journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to find His presence. The way is open to all and on the same basis for everyone - The “Son of Man.”