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03 March 2020

Jesus, the True House of God

Synopsis:  The Gospel of John presents Jesus as the true way of access to God and the Greater Bethel, the “House of God”.

Jacob's Ladder
In his gospel, John presents Jesus as the True and Greater House of God, the way of access to His presence. After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus met Nathanael and declared to him, “Behold, an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” He claimed to have seen Nathanael sitting under a fig tree before the two met. The latter responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are King of Israel!” (John 1:47-50).

Jesus next said, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? A greater thing than this will YOUS see! Truly, I declare to YOU; you will see heaven set open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Philip had said to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets.” Philip did not call Jesus “messiah” but described him as the one attested by the Law and the Prophets.  This is a key theme of John’s gospel: Jesus is the fulfillment of the earlier promises of God (e.g., John 5:39”).

Christ’s description of Nathanael was more than a description of the man’s character (“an Israelite in whom is no deceit”); it anticipated Christ’s application of an event from Jacob’s life to himself (Genesis 28:10-19).

Upon hearing Jesus associated with the town of Nazareth, Nathanael stated, rather sarcastically, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, he went to see what this man Jesus was all about.  In popular etymology, ‘Jacob’ meant one who “supplants” or “deceives.” The Greek noun for “deceit” in John 1:47 (dolos) is the same one used in the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 27:35 (“Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing”).

Prior to his vision, “deceiver” was an apt description of Jacob’s character before it was transformed by his encounter with an angelic figure.  The result was a name change from ‘Jacob” to ‘Israel,’ and a vision of a ladder to heaven. During his journey to Haran, Jacob slept one-night using stones for a pillow. In a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder from the earth to the heavens. 

Yahweh promised to give the land on which Jacob slept to his descendants and changed his name to ‘Israel.’  Jacob made an altar out of the same stones he used for his pillow, poured out an offering, and called the place ‘Bethel’ or “house of God.”

In contrast, Nathanael was a true Israelite without deceit.  He was so impressed with Jesus that he ascribed to him two messianic titles:  Son of God and King of Israel.  But 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 of Jesus was prefaced with the formula, “Amen, amen,” a transliteration of a Hebrew word that connotes the sense of “truly.” This is the first of twenty-five times this formula occurs on Christ’s lips in John’s gospel and, here, it emphasizes the importance of this declaration.
Jesus made no mention of a “ladder”; instead, angels will now ascend and descend “upon” the Son of Man HIMSELF. Christ is the true and only way of access to God’s presence. 

According to Jewish traditions, the original ‘Bethel’ was located on the same site where the Temple was built. But since his death and resurrection, Jesus has been the true mediator between God and the earth (John 8:28 - “when you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he").  Calvary threw open the way to Heaven for all to access by faith in Jesus.

Jesus claimed to be the way of access to God, not the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jacob’s altar (“Bethel”) was temporary, provisional, and pointed forward to the Greater “house of God” established in Jesus Christ. God’s presence is now accessible wherever Jesus is found; one no longer is required to journey to Jerusalem and its Temple to access the Divine presence. The way is open to all.

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