A fig tree, a ladder and the birth of a nation

John 1.43-51

“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 1.51

Jacob had cheated his elder brother, Esau, out of Isaac his father’s blessing and inheritance. Isaac was now concerned that Jacob should not marry a Hittite and so he sent him to his wife’s brother to marry one of his daughters. This was to be fair, mainly due to his wife Rebecca complaining about how much she hated Hittite women. But that was a ruse in itself as Rebecca had heard that Esau was planning to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died in revenge for Jacob’s deceit and she wanted Jacob out of the way. It is incredible how despite all the deviousness of mankind God works out his purposes. Jacob did what he was told and set out for Harran where his Uncle Laban lived. It was a long journey so he slept in the open with a stone for a pillow. That night he dreamt of a ladder or stairway resting on earth and reaching to heaven, Genesis 28.12 going up and down the ladder were angels. At the top of the ladder the Lord stood and promised Jacob that his descendants would be numerous and occupy the land he was sleeping on. In effect he would be the father of a new nation. God additionally promised that, ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.’ Gen 28.14 Even from the very beginning God’s people were intended to be people of mission or blessing to the world. On a second personal encounter with God, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man throughout the night and refuses to let him go until he is blessed. At that point the man renames Jacob, Israel, from which his descendants took their national name. This is the turning point in Jacob’s life he now has a new relationship with God following a great personal struggle.

It was this account that Jesus was referring to when he said to Nathanael, a man very conscious of his biblical heritage as a man of Israel, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ John1.51 As a line of communication was opened for Jacob and his descendants, Jesus was indicating that he, Jesus, would open a new two way connection between humankind and God, pointing forward to his death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus was going to found a new people of God, starting at that point with just five men, Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael leading on eventually to the universal church.

Jesus had been able to detect in Nathanael a depth of character and someone conscious of Israel’s unique place in God’s plans. When they met for the first time Jesus’ words about him were, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ v47 Cautious, even skeptical, Nathanael had previously questioned Philip as to whether anything good could come out of Nazareth in response to Philip’s urging to meet Jesus, as he is the one prophesied about in the scriptures. Nathanael was probably well aware that the ‘anointed one’ was meant to come from Bethlehem and did not know Jesus’ early life story. Jesus met him with symbolism laden with significance to an Israelite. Jesus stunned Nathanael by having previously discerned him under a fig tree. To Nathanael’s question, how did Jesus know of him, ‘Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were under the fig tree before Philip called you”.’ v48The fig tree and in particular enjoying life under the fig tree is a repeated image of Israel living under God’s blessing. It was part of God’s blessing in Deuteronomy 8.8 as the people entered the promised land if they were obedient to his commands. A sign of God’s discipline of his people in Jeremiah 8.13 is the destruction of their fig trees. The possibly most importantly sign of life under the fig tree is as the servant who will remove his people’s sins pointing once again to the cross of Jesus Christ. ‘“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! (The High Priest) There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,” declares the Lord Almighty.’ Zechariah 3.8-10

Nathanael immediately recognized the implications of Jesus’ words demonstrating a heart already prepared by the Spirit to believe and follow Jesus. Jesus connected with Nathanael in the way that was meaningful to him and trusted him with profound truths. Nathanael’s reactions contrast sharply with the religious leaders and teachers of the law later in the gospel when the signs John records were far more obvious and accompanied by clear teaching.

Pray for people to come to Jesus with open and Spirit prepared hearts and minds.

Pray that like Philip, Christians will keep inviting people to find out more about Jesus.

Thank God that he has made a worldwide spiritual nation so that they are a blessing to all people.

Bri (Briana Babineaux) – Jacob’s Song

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