“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that 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 the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'” (John 1:50-51)
Jesus certainly did not underpromise! When Nathaniel came to Him, He set a lofty vision before him: “You will see greater things than these!” Specifically He added in :51 “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Not only is this an amazing picture, but there is also a very specific reference to it in scripture which helps us understand just what Jesus was referring to:
In Genesis 28:12 the Bible says of the patriarch Jacob: “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” This wording “the angels of God were ascending and descending” is EXACTLY the same as Jesus uses here in John 1. This is no coincidence. Jesus MUST be referring in John 1:51 to the incident of Jacob’s ladder. The question is why?
In the Genesis story, the dream of the ladder with the angels ascending & descending was life-changing for Jacob. Later he says that he encountered God there. Poignantly, Jesus says in John 1 that the angels will ascend and descend NOT on a “ladder”, as in Jacob’s dream, but instead “on the Son of Man.” Jesus HIMSELF takes the place of the ladder in His description to Nathaniel in John 1.
What Jesus is saying, in very picturesque language, is this: His disciples will encounter God in a life-changing way, through HIM. Jesus Himself is the key to a life-changing experience with God. As He said later in John 14:6, “I am the way ….” — the “ladder” to heaven and fellowship with God. The story of Jacob’s ladder is indeed amazing — but something greater than a ladder is available to us: fellowship with God Himself through “The Son of Man” — Jesus Christ. HE is the “ladder” to heaven!