The Ladder

The Jesus no-one thinks about.

John 1:51

And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus finishes up His conversation with Nathaniel with two major developments. First, He calls Himself, “the Son of Man.” Jesus never says, “Son of God” when referring to Himself; He says, “Son of Man.” The gospels record Him doing this 78 times. This label harkens back to a messianic line in Psalm 8.

What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
—  Psalm 8:4–5

Similarly, John doesn’t call himself “John” in his gospel; He calls himself, “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Throughout this gospel, “John” means John the Baptist. This third person way of speaking in the first person may seem strange to us, but it was common back then.

Second, the bit about the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man is deeply significant. What could that possibly mean?

It’s referring to Jacob’s vision of what is commonly known as “Jacob’s ladder.”

Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. — Genesis 28:12

We already saw a dove descend from Heaven and rest of Jesus. Now we read that He will be the conduit between the two realms. What this exactly means may be beyond human comprehension, but it’s surely significant.

There aren’t many other references to help puzzle through what this means. Here’s one:

(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) — Ephesians 4:9–10

Also, John the Baptist referring to Jesus as, “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit,” hints at Jesus connecting Heaven and Earth. Jesus fulfilled this by breathing the Holy Spirit on His disciples in John 20:22. Two other references provide more background. First, remember that the world was made through Him, not by Him (see John 1:3). Second, there’s the veil of the temple being torn top to bottom at His death (see Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45). This symbolically removes a barrier.

Jesus as a ladder connecting Heaven and creation is the most complex image of the Lord in all of scripture—and possibly the most profound one.

These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.