43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 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.”
It seems that John very early into his gospel is showing how so many people were experiencing the revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Whether it be Jesus finding people or people telling their friends and family they have been found or have indeed found the Messiah, it is clear there is a momentum of witnessing taking place.
More than that the extraordinary is already taking place. Whatever Nathanael was doing underneath the fig tree Jesus saw and pointed it out and this led to Nathanael choosing to believe and declare so early on in John’s gospel that Jesus is the Son of God.
But there is more.
Mission and making disciples is central and our main focus. It needs to happen and must continue. But there is a greater thing.
Throughout this gospel John clearly connects Jesus as the fulfilment of the Temple on earth. From the commencement, Jesus is the Word become flesh and making his dwelling amongst us to this moment when Jesus uses a phrase which doesn’t mean much to us at first glance but to John’s first readers. To those standing there with Jesus he says, “you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
The image of the angels ascending and descending is the referral to Jacob’s dream. The connection of saying Nathanael is a man with no deceit is also Jacob. The story of Jacob is about a man who knew how to lie. He deceived Esau, his twin brother, out of his birth-right and father’s blessing and has to flee for his life. With absolutely nothing left, a broken man, failed in every way, he goes to sleep one night and has a dream of exactly what Jesus mentions and he names that place Bethel because it means House of God.
The Jews and the Samaritans (who John is trying to reach) all believed that Bethel was one of the main worship centres and where in this House of God activity passed to and from heaven and earth.
Jesus is saying to these early disciples that they would see heaven open over Jesus and the activity of a divine exchange will take place. He was about to take them on an incredible adventure. John is writing his gospel to communicate that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Temple. He still is. Jesus is the presence of God and the centre for all activity under heaven and on earth.
May our lives and our churches be places of Bethel.
Worship centres known as the House of God where divine exchanges take place.
Let our lives be Bethel and here is the Bethel blessing:
I am the Lord God
I will give you
You will spread out
You will be a blessing
I am with you
I will watch over you
I will bring you back
I will not leave you
I will do what I have promised you.