John 1:50b-51 – What’s in a Name?


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John 1:50–51 (ESV) — 50 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.” 51 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.”

1) ONE CHAPTER AND 10 NAMES

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, there are 10 names or descriptions for Jesus.

Here are nine of them:
The Word. Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word.”
God. Verse 1: “And the Word was God.”
Light. Verse 9: “The true light … was coming into the world.”
Jesus Christ. Verse 17: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Lamb of God. Verse 29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Rabbi. Verse 38: “And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), where are you staying?”
Messiah. Verse 41: “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).”
Son of God. Verse 49: “You are the Son of God!”
King of Israel. Verse 49: “You are the King of Israel!”

Some of these we have discussed at length – the Word; was God; the Light; and the Lamb of God.
• The rest we have discussed but only briefly.

However, it is the 10th name that we will discuss at length today.

2) JESUS REVEALS IN HIS OWN WORDS WHO HE HIS

In John’s Gospel thus far, John has described Jesus in his words and in the words of John the Baptist.
• But in the last verse of chapter 1, John lets Jesus tell us who He is.
• And given that Jesus is the main arc of the entire OT, it makes sense that Jesus refers back to the OT to find His preferred description.

Jesus uses Jacob’s Vision:
Genesis 28:12–19 (ESV) — 12 And he 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! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!” 18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Jesus and the Ladder:
Genesis 28:12 (ESV) — 12 And he 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 [D.A. Carson states the “more likely rendering is “on him”]!
John 1:51 (ESV) — 51 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.
• Clearly, Jesus is the “ladder” that definitively links the OT to the NT.
• And one can’t help but think that it also says something about Nathanael, Jacob and believers in general one day sharing in seeing the fulfillment of this vision.
• But most significantly, Jesus words reveal that He is in fact the ladder between Heaven and Earth.
• The significance of this is best captured by John Piper when he says, “Jesus is the decisive, final connection between heaven and earth…When we move heavenward, we move on the Son of Man. When God moves earthward, he moves on the Son of Man.


Jesus and Bethel:
Genesis 28:16-19 (ESV) — 16-19 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 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.” 18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Further Examples of significance of Bethel for God and Jacob:
• Genesis 31:13 (ESV) — 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’ ”
• Genesis 35:1 (ESV) — 1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
• Genesis 35:3 (ESV) — 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
• Genesis 35:7 (ESV) — 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.
• Genesis 35:15 (ESV) — 15 So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.

Jesus is Bethel.
• He is the “house of God”.
• He is the “altar”.
• He is the place where God has “revealed himself” to us.
• He is where God has “spoken” with us.
• Or to put it another way, Jesus “is the place where God is present. Heaven has opened, and Jesus has appeared. And from now on, Jesus will be the place where God appears most clearly among men, and where men find their way into fellowship with God. There are no holy geographic places any more designated by God as his meeting place with man. Jesus is that meeting place” – John Piper.
     o Cross reference John 2:19-22.

POI – The rest of the NT is in agreement with the truths discussed above:
• John 3:13 (ESV) — 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
• 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV) — 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
• Hebrews 8:6 (ESV) — 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

Jesus Uses Daniel’s Vision:
Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV) — 13 “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. 14 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.

Jesus and the Son of Man:
Daniel 7:13 (ESV) — 13 “…there came one like a son of man…”
John 1:51 (ESV) — 51 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.”
• Only Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man in the Gospels and He does so about 80 times.
• This description name used by Jesus is still not fully understood and realized.

Why is it significant and what is its meaning?
• D.A. Carson (and others) argue that its significance and meaning lie precisely in its ambiguity.
     o “Jesus could take it up and use it without fear of being misunderstood because of doubtful associations in his hearers’ minds. Titles like ‘the King of Israel’ and ‘the King of the Jews’, while appropriate at a certain level, were so loaded with political messianism that they could not be adopted without restraint and appropriate caveats. ‘Son of Man’, on the other hand, lay ready to hand as an expression that could be filled with precisely the right content…[and Jesus] himself shapes its content” – D.A. Carson.
• So the “you will see” in verse 51 is Jesus giving Nathanael and the rest of the disciples an invitation to see how Jesus will “fill out its content” and give it meaning through
     o “the entire gamut of the action of the Son of Man for the kingdom of God: from the heaven that became open at his baptism, the blessings of the saving sovereignty [that] will be poured out through him in the signs he performs, the revelation of his word, the life that he lives, the death and resurrection that he accomplishes…till the goal is attained when the Son of Man welcomes the redeemed to the Father’s house” – John Beasley-Murray.
• So “the full articulation of ‘the Son of Man’ demanded all of Jesus’ ministry, including his life, resurrection and exaltation. Precisely parallel to this development, it will take John the rest of his book to ‘unpack’ the significance of the title” – D.A. Carson.

Lesson for Us:
With respect to John 1:51, James Boice points out that any good explanation of Jesus’ words needs to address at least 4 things: (1) the reference to the future you shall see; (2) the fact that the heavens will open; (3) the reference to angels ascending and descending upon Jesus; and (4) the title given by Jesus to himself, ‘the Son of Man.’”
• Our lesson today has really only dealt with points (1), (3) and (4).
What explanation reconciles all (4) points together?
• According to Boice, only 1 thing can account for all (4) points together.
     o Jesus “was not talking about anything that took place during the lifetime of Nathanael. Nor was he talking about anything that took place either in the lifetime of Philip or Andrew or any of the other disciples or even of you and me. He was talking about something that is still future, that is still to come. In other words, although no one has seen the fulfillment of this verse yet, all will one day see it when Jesus Christ returns” – James Boice.
     o What a sight this will be!
     o Does this contradict D.A. Carson’s explanation?