Angels Ascending and Descending from Heaven to Earth in John 1:51 and in Jacob’s Dream (Genesis 28)

In John 1:51, Jesus says, “Amen, Amen, I say to you (plural), you (plural) will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus’ words here are somewhat mysterious. What exactly is he promising to his disciples? In order to understand the full significance of Jesus’ words, the reader needs to realize that he is making an allusion to the Old Testament. There is only one passage in which God’s angels are pictured as ascending and descending between heaven and earth. It is one that is familiar to many. On his journey to Laban’s house, Jacob spends the night at a certain place. He has a dream in which he sees angels who are ascending and descending on a ladder or staircase between earth and heaven. Then, in his dream, the Lord speaks to him and makes great promises to him. When Jacob awakes, he concludes that the Lord is in this place and he names the place Bethel, which means “house of God” (Gen 28:17, 19). Jacob is one of the patriarchs who shows up in the Gospel of John (John 4:5), along with Abraham. His name is later changed to Israel and he is the father of the twelve sons who will become the heads of the twelve tribes.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says that his disciples will see God’s angels ascending and descending upon him, the Son of Man? Like Jacob, his disciples are about to hear the Lord speak to them. Like Bethel (the “house of God”), Jesus is the place where God in heaven is speaking to people on earth, including the descendants of Jacob. Alternatively, he is the ladder or staircase that connects heaven and earth. Either way, Jesus’ words suggest that anyone who wants to hear revelation from God should come to where Jesus is. Elsewhere in John, we learn that Jesus is the one who speaks the words of God, his Father, and he is the Word of God (John 1:1-18; 3:34).