In Genesis 27, Jacob receives the blessing from his father Isaac. He tricked his father into giving him the word of promise that had first been given to his grandfather Abraham, the promise that he would be the father of a mighty nation, but even more so the father of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. But, of course, Jacob received that blessing by deception. He tricked his father into it and stole that word of promise from his brother Esau, which is why Jacob flees his homeland to escape the murderous wrath of Esau. So in that moment, Jacob is alone and frightened, and I imagine he’s wondering whether what he’s done is legitimate. Did he actually get the blessing of God. Is it actually his possession? Or will God look at his deception and cast him out, leave him alone, or even worse, surrender him to the strangling hands of Esau?
Jacob gets his answer in Genesis 28, where God speaks to him in a dream. He gives Jacob a vision, showing him a great ladder with angels ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing above it. Heaven come down to earth, earth gone up to heaven, with the voice of God declaring that this is Jacob’s land, and through his offspring in this land, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Despite his sin, despite his fear, God will honor His word.
And we see the fulfillment of that word in our reading from John today. When Philip tells him that they have found the long-promised Messiah, the son of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David, Nathaniel initially mocks the idea. “Can anything good come from that hick town of Nazareth?” Nathaniel doubts and scoffs at God’s promise. Like his father Jacob, Nathaniel is a sinner unworthy of the promise of God he’s just been given.
And like his father Jacob, despite his unworthiness, he is blessed to see Jacob’s ladder. “Follow me,” Jesus tells him, “and you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In Christ, Nathaniel is going to see God in the flesh descending to earth and man being given the right to ascend to God. In Christ’s death and resurrection, Nathaniel is going to see all nations of the earth blessed by the one who will destroy our sins at Calvary and conquer death in the empty tomb.
Jacob was a liar. Nathaniel was a scoffer. Neither man deserved the promises of God, but because of God’s profound love for sinners, the only begotten Son still took on their flesh, destroyed their sins, and placed them into the hands of God. And that’s exactly what He’s done for you as well.