"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 1.51
"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!" - Genesis 28.12(In other news, after finishing reading through the bible cover to cover last year with my friend Joanna, this year I decided to try out a thematic reading plan where the creator of the plan tried to arrange passages together where they often deal with the same themes. Tonight's reading was Psalm 91, Genesis 28, and John 1. Some might say coincidence. The biblical among us (read: reformed) would say providence.)
In Jacob's dream, you are led to believe that the location where he had his dream is holy ground. This is suggested by the fact that it is in the midst of the land promised to Abraham, and further by the fact that Jacob builds an altar to the Lord.
"Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.'” - Genesis 28.20-22There are three things in this vow that I want to bring up.
"If God will...give me bread". Here is Jesus in John 1 starting his ministry by gathering disciples to himself. In a few chapters he will be pushing would-be disciples away by claiming to be the bread of life, particularly the bread that fed Israel in the wilderness (John 6.48-58). If you do not eat of Christ's flesh, you will have no part of him.
"If God will...give me...clothing to wear". In both his letters to the Romans (Romans 13.14) and the Galatians (Galatians 3.27), Paul makes explicit reference to putting on Christ. This is understood metaphorically as if we were to put on clothes. If you are not clothed in Christ you have no part of him.
"If God will be with me...then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house". The tabernacle-temple was the house of God among his people in the Old Testament, the place where God would dwell among his people. Jesus claims to be the temple (John 2.19-21), and further Jesus is the chief cornerstone that lays the foundation for the church to become the temple (Ephesians 2.19-22). We are united to Christ and become the body of Christ. What Christ is we are. As in marriage, the two become one.
What Jesus is telling Nathanael in John 1 is that he is the greater things that would be seen. While Jacob saw a dream of angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven on a ladder, Jesus Christ is claiming to be that ladder. While Jacob associated the place where he slept with holy ground, the place where God would bring heaven down to earth and earth up to heaven, Jesus is telling Nathanael that he is the place, or more precisely the person, where God would bring heaven down to earth and earth up to heaven.
Nathanael has perceived that Jesus was the king in Psalm 2. Jesus is telling him that he is the God-man, the one in whom heaven and earth, divine and mortal, God and man, were going to be joined together. Jacob built and altar to God and asked for bread and clothing; Jesus is that altar, that bread, and that clothing. Jesus is Jacob's ladder. In Christ, the divine descend to us, and we ascend to the divine.