Jacob’s Ladder = Jesus Christ: Gospel of John Explains


John the Baptist, Jesus, and the First Disciples: John 1:19-51

Outline of This Presentation

I. Points of confusion concerning what the text is saying (Including Jacob’s Ladder)

II. Highlights of content

III. Personal applications


I. Points of confusion concerning what the text is saying:

I’ve read through John’s gospel many times over the course of my lengthy relationship with Christ. Below are a few questions I’ve asked as I’ve read this text.

A. John the Baptist–is he or isn’t he Elijah?

19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straighth the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


Verse 21: If John the Baptist is not Elijah (Malachi 4:4-6), as he states, then why does Jesus in Matthew 11:14 and Matthew 17:10-12 say that John is Elijah?

Possible Answer:

In the context of the then current expectations of the priests and Levites sent by the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, John replied to their question, “No,” he was not Elijah. He was not literally and physically Elijah resurrected.

Yet Jesus states unequivocally in the Matthew 11:14 that John is Elijah, if his listeners are willing to accept that, and in Matthew 17:10-12 Jesus states to his disciples that Elijah already came in John the Baptist.

The angel that spoke prophetically to John’s father Zechariah in Luke 1:17 said that his about-to-be-born son would go ahead of Messiah in the “spirit and power of Elijah.”

So, the answer would be no to a concrete, literal, physical Elijah, and yes to a symbolic, spiritual Elijah.

As to the charge of “spiritualizing” the Old Testament, yes, the Gospel records Jesus doing that abundantly.

B. How could John the Baptist say that he “did not know” Christ?

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”


How can John say in verses 31 and 33, “I myself did not know him,” when Jesus was his relative and he recognized Messiah as early as his mother’s womb? (Luke 1:36, 39-41)

Possible Answer:

The best answer I have found comes from William Hendriksen (Hendriksen, 99, 100), who states that John did not recognize Jesus in his “quality as Messiah,” according to either the mental process of intuition and reason or the physical process of observation and experience.

John knew that this person Jesus, who came to him physically in order to be baptized, was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and the Son of God only because the God who had commissioned him had told him that as he is baptizing, the one on whom the Spirit comes down and remains as a dove is the One.

So John received his knowledge by revelation from God.

C. Why did Nathanael respond so strongly? And what exactly is Jacob’s Ladder?

35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And 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.”


Why was Nathaniel’s response so “over the top?” How did Nathanael get such tremendous faith and spiritual insight from Jesus’ one statement, “I saw you under the fig tree.” What am I missing?

Possible Answer:

A. The Miracle Itself

1. Jesus saw Nathanael under a particular fig tree before Philip had found him.

2. This fig tree was not present at the Jordan River where Jesus had been (:43), since he had already left there and was on his way to Galilee the next day.

3. Therefore, Jesus had supernaturally seen Nathanael in another place and another time, and this is what Nathanael realized.

4. Not only had Jesus seen Nathanael’s outward form sitting under the fig tree, he had apparently been reading his thoughts long distance as he sat there meditating.

5. Philip had called Jesus the One the Scriptures had prophesied would come, and with that context prodding him, Nathanael knew that only the Son of God could know what he had been thinking when he was miles away both in distance and time.

B. Unravelling the Significance of Jesus’ Statement about an Israelite without Guile

1. Within the context of the entire passage, Jesus has been thinking of the patriarch Jacob, who tricked (used guile) his brother out of his blessing as firstborn son.

2. The use of trickery, deceit, or guile characterized both Jacob (Genesis 30:37-43) and his posterity (Genesis 34, whole chapter about Dinah and her brothers’ trickery to vindicate their honor).

3. Nathanael understands Jesus to be assessing his character as being without guile, and agreeing with this assessment, he asks, “How do you know me?”

Jacob’s Ladder Explained

4. After Jesus’ explanation of having supernaturally seen into Nathanael’s thoughts, and after Nathanael’s exclamation of astonished, profoundly convinced faith, Jesus continues with a prophecy concerning himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

5. This statement refers to Jacob’s vision while asleep of a ladder stretching from heaven to earth and angels moving up and down, back and forth, upon (ἐπ᾽ in Greek, abbreviated form of ἐπὶ) the ladder.  (Genesis 28:11-13)

6. Jesus connects this ladder with himself, saying in verse 51 that the angels would be moving up and down on (upon) (ἐπὶ in Greek) himself. He IS the ladder in Jacob’s dream.

7. Jesus is announcing that he is the connection between earth and heaven, between man and God. Jesus is the mediator, the go-between, the way, the access to God. He stands in relation not only to Israel as Israel’s king, but also in relation to humankind in its entirety, for he is the “Son of Man,” and as such, the Savior of all mankind.


 II. Highlights of John 1:19-51


Hayford, Jack W., exec. ed. John: Living Beyond the Ordinary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2009, 15-16.
Hayford, Jack W., exec. ed. John: Living Beyond the Ordinary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2009, 15-16.
Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John: Three Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1975, 73.
Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John: Three Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1975, 73.













What was the Difference between John’s and Jesus’ Baptisms?

John’s purpose was to manifest (show out, point out, make known) Christ to Israel. It was to prepare a people for him. John prepared this people by bringing them to see and acknowledge their sin before God in the symbolic act of water baptism. By being baptized by John, they acknowledged that death was their due. They were then prepared to receive Christ as Savior dying in their place as condemned sinners.

Christian baptism is different. A Christian believer does not confess that death is his due, but he demonstrates, again symbolically, that he has already died in Christ to sin. Christian baptism signifies the Christian’s having died with Christ. And, of course, the Christian’s coming up from the water signifies resurrection with Christ.

(Based upon Pink, 59-60)


John the Baptist’s Sevenfold Witness to Christ

Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John: Three Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1975, 61.
Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John: Three Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1975, 61.


Why does John 1:35-42 differ from Mark 1:16-20?

One simple answer given by Arthur Pink (Pink, 62-63) is that the account in John describes these disciples’ conversion, while the account in Mark describes their call to service.


“Behold the Lamb of God”

Behold, the Lamb of God
Original artwork by Christina Wilson


Arthur Pink teaches that if we’re going to see Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36), we must stop to “behold” him. We must quit striving in our own flesh; we must “come to the end of ourselves.” (Pink, 66)

ESV  Exodus 14:13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.

As Jesus said,  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

God calls to saving conversion in various ways

1. by testimony of preachers: John and Andrew (John 1:35-39)

2. by testimony of friends: Andrew got Peter (John 1:40-42); Philip got Nathanael (John 1:44-46)

3. without human vehicle–directly by God: Christ got Philip (John 1:43)


III. Personal Applications

Do I know Jesus personally? Or, do I rely mostly upon my church and my pastor(s)?

1. John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the disciples, and God himself chose not to use the vehicle of the then-current religious structure of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day.

2. John the Baptist taught in the wilderness, not in Jerusalem.

3. Neither John, nor Christ, nor the disciples had been educated by the Jewish leaders.

4. Why do you suppose God chose not to introduce Christ to the world through the vehicle of the Jewish religious institution of that day?

5. Have there ever been times in your life when you have had to leave the teachings of a church in order to follow Christ and his teachings?

Have I experienced the call of God upon my life? How does this affect me in specific situations I may face every day?

Jack Hayford (Hayford, 17, 20-21)points out the positive effects on one’s life of the sure knowledge of God’s calling:

1. Jesus knew his calling.

2. John the Baptist knew his calling.

3. Each of the disciples experienced their own specific call by God.

4. What about me?


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