47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” John 1:47-51
Imagine meeting Jesus and have him immediately complimenting you as a person who is transparent and honest. Then as you wonder in amazement how he even knows you, he tells you that he saw you when you were sitting under the fig tree. But you know that there is no way he could have seen you. You come to the realization that what you heard about Jesus being the Messiah must be true. He has a prophetic gift.
This is what happened to Nathaniel. But that is only the beginning of the story. Nathaniel goes from being amazed by Jesus to being somewhat embarrassed. He declares his faith in Jesus and in response Jesus lets him know that he has been impressed by very little. “You believe because I said I saw you under a fig tree you believe” Jesus says to him. But he then points out that Nathaniel hasn’t seen anything yet. Nathaniel is going to see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
It sounds strange to our 21st century ears but Nathaniel would have understood that Jesus was making reference to Jacobs Ladder when there was vision of a connection between Heaven and Earth. The angels ascending and descending showed the way to Heaven from Earth. Jesus us telling Nathaniel that he will be privileged to see that way to Heaven opened. By saying that they will does ascend and descend on the Son of Man, Jesus is in essence saying that he is that ladder, that connection between Heaven and Earth.
This had to be astonishing to Nathaniel. It was one thing to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, it is another all together to believe that Jesus will be the way to Heaven. This was not what was expected of the Messiah. His work was to make this world a better place. But Jesus is raising the bar and letting Nathaniel and us know that he is here to do something far more glorious than just make life better. Jesus came in order to open the way to heaven so that we could have access to the glorious wonder and majesty of God.
Let’s think for a moment about how the realization that Jesus is opening the way to heaven fits with the transparency of character found in Nathaniel. One of the most common qualities you find in the lives of church going people is hiding who they really are. Ever since Adam and Eve hid from God we have been hiding from God and one another out of shame over our sin. We live some level of deceit. By coming and giving his life for us and for our salvation Jesus made it possible for us to be honest about our sin and brokenness. He made it possible for us to experience the deep, deep love of God in spite of our sinfulness. You don’t need to pretend to be better than you are. You don’t need to live in shame because of your past or your present. You can come to Jesus in openness and transparency, without deceit, and find the same kind of welcome and embrace that he gave Nathaniel.