The Gate of Heaven
by Pastor Gene
They are among the most fascinating and enigmatic of the Bible’s prophecies: A ladder reaching to Heaven and touching the earth with a multitude of ascending and descending angels; Heaven opened so that God might come down to us and that sinners might arise to Him; One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of Heaven to stand before the Ancient of Days to receive a Kingdom that will never pass away; An Anointed King who is also a Son worthy of uninhibited worship is installed by divine decree. Four prophecies. Seemingly unconnected, yet all intricately connected and all converging upon the person of Christ in a single encounter with a single potential disciple.
Prophecy #1: Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob has a dream that changes his life. 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! … Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:12, 16-17).
Notice the emphatic repeated words, “this place”. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in THIS PLACE, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is THIS PLACE! This is none other than the house of God [the ‘Beth-El’], and this is the gate of heaven.”
Prophecy #2: The Reception Ceremony in Heaven
It may be the most fascinating prophecy in a book of fascinating prophecies! Daniel writes …
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a Son of Man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve Him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and His kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed”
It’s a picture of Jesus having accomplished the work of salvation and appearing before the Father to receive an unshakable and eternal Kingdom.
Prophecy #3: The Installation of the Son/King
It’s predicting the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One. He will be a King, but He will be more than a king. He will be a King who is also a Son, God’s own Son, and therefore worthy of worship.
“As for me [God says], I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him
Prophecy #4: The Opened Heaven
Seven hundred and fifty years before Jesus appeared, the Prophet Isaiah cried out for the Lord to tear open the heavens and come down again as He had done in the Bush that burned but was not consumed (cf. Exodus 3).
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence”
Tom Constable writes: “The prophet called on God to make another appearance among His people … The Israelites’ condition was so desperate that another special visitation from God was what they needed. The next time God did this was at the Incarnation” (Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, on Isaiah 64:1).
‘Tear open the Heavens as though they were a curtain and come down,’ the Prophet cries!
Jesus’ Revelation to Nathanael
Got all that? Now let’s look at Jesus’ encounter with Phillip’s brother Nathanael, who is commonly thought to be the apostle Bartholomew.
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 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” (John 1:43-51).
Jesus’ statement to Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit,” took him aback. Jesus, as He always does, saw right through Nathanael. He peered directly into his soul. He knew in an instant all there was to know about him. ‘Nathanael, you are as genuine as they come, the real thing.’
“And how would you know that?” Nathanael asks. I think this is an honest question, not a sarcastic one. Why do I say that? Because Jesus had just declared him to be “an Israelite … in whom there is no deceit!”
And what was Jesus’ answer to Nathanael’s question? “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” There is mystery here! What did Jesus see Nathanael doing under the fig tree before He even met him? Had he made some secret vow to God that only He and God could have known about? Had He asked God for a sign of some kind? Had he imagined some secret sin that no one else could have known but he and God? Whatever it was, it was a clear indication to Nathanael that he was in the presence of the omniscient, all-knowing Messiah and the Son of God!
The Prophecies Converge
Nathanael cries out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” He now sees that the God who sees all was standing right before Him. Nathanael knows the Scriptures! He identifies Jesus as the King who is also the Son.
In this brief encounter with Jesus, Nathanael has become convinced that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Psalm 2 prophecy! He is the Messiah; He is the King of Israel; He is the Son of God!
Jesus’ response to Nathanael is essentially, ‘Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet!’ Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
OK, so what are these “greater things” Jesus is promising? First, He says, “You will see Heaven opened.” When I hear this, my mind immediately goes to the Isaiah 64:1 prophecy mentioned above. I don’t know about you, but if someone asked me, ‘What happened when Jesus came?’ I could think of no greater answer than, ‘Heaven opened.’ Jesus made no secret of this either! “I have come down from heaven,” He said, “not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
Heaven opened with Jesus and it has never closed! (The word “opened” in John 1:51 is the perfect passive participle of ἀνοίγω. “Heaven” has received the action of being opened with the result that it will never be closed again!)
Had Jesus never come, Heaven would remain shut to this very day! ‘Oh Nathanael, are you amazed that I saw you under the tree before I ever met you? Just wait until you see Heaven opened!’
And those of us who have put faith in Jesus can be as sure of a home in Heaven as we are that we’re breathing at this very moment! “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). Of all the astonishing things that Jesus has done, this is the greatest: He has opened Heaven to sinners like us!
But Jesus is not done with Nathanael. There are still more “greater things”! Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you [plural = all disciples] will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
Notice the shift from the singular to the plural! The opening of Heaven and seeing “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” is not just for Nathaniel; it is for ALL disciples!
Notice also that while Nathanael calls Jesus the “Son of God” (1:49), Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man” (1:51) – and there’s an important reason for that. It connects Him with Daniel’s prophecy of the One “like a son of man” who appears before the Ancient of days to receive a Kingdom that will never end (Daniel 7:13-14). He is that Son of Man!
And finally, Jesus connects Himself with Jacob’s ladder: “[You will all see] the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
What is Jesus saying? Warning: It’s astonishing!
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). Where he was the place where heaven and earth touched. Jesus is saying, ‘I am that place! I am the place where Heaven and earth touch!’
“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17).
Nathanael and all of Jesus’ disciples to this very day would come to realize that self-same thing: Where Jesus is, God is! Whenever and wherever believers gather together they can honestly say, “Surely the Lord is in THIS PLACE!” And, “How awesome is THIS PLACE! This is none other than the house of God [the ‘Beth-El’], and this is the gate of heaven!”
Jesus is saying that HE is “THIS PLACE”!
HE is the PLACE where Heaven and earth meet.
He is the very Beth-El, the ‘House of God’ into which sinners flee for refuge!
He is the One upon whom angels descend and ascend, even as He interacts with ordinary men like Nathanael.
He is the place where visible horizontal realities intersect with invisible vertical realities.
HE alone is the gateway to Heaven. “I am the Way,” He will say in John 14:6. “I am the door of the sheep,” He will say in John 10:7.
“[All of you disciples] will see Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” Jesus promised – and we have!
We’ve come to see that Jesus is the VERY PLACE where Heaven and earth touch!
- In what way did Heaven and earth touch with the coming of Jesus?
- As we consider these things, ask yourself: ‘Is my vision of Jesus too small? Too pedestrian? Too earthy? How might I change that?’
- Do you forget in the course of the mundane the supernatural realities that surround you as a believer? How might you be more aware of how God is working in your day-to-day routine?
- How long has it been since you’ve laid hold of the eternal life that is yours as a consequence of the new birth (1 Timothy 6:12)?
- Heaven is now opened to sinners because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. But are you sure you have a home waiting for you there? Have you put your faith in the only name given under Heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)?
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