43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 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 1:43-51 (ESV)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” So Jesus responds to Nathanael, probably an alternate name for the disciple the other gospels call Bartholomew, who has followed Phillip to see Jesus, to see for himself if this could be the Messiah. Straight away he is mystified that Jesus would know anything about him. Probably took his words to be the flattery of a charlatan. How do you know I have no guile, no deceit? But when Jesus says he saw him under the fig tree, where Nathanael knows no human eye had seen him, when he understands that Jesus has heard his prayer, under the fig tree being a euphemism for prayer, then Nathanael confesses Jesus to be the Son of God, the king of Israel. It is to this confession that Jesus responds about the heaven’s opening and angels descending and ascending upon the son of man.
It is an allusion to a dream Jacob had, not far from where they are, Bethel, the town Jacob named the house of God, because of the dream he had there. It was there that God had visited Jacob, where Jacob was promised the land that would come to be named after him when he would be renamed Israel. There God had come to him. There the gates of heaven opened for Jacob. It was something he would never forget. God promised to be his God. God promised to watch over him and bless him, Israel.
Now Nathanael has called Jesus the King of Israel, and Jesus will show him what that means. Israel’s king, Jacob’s king, he who ruled over his heart was God himself. He ruled over it because of the blessing that came upon him when the heaven’s opened. It prompted Jacob to dedicate a tenth of all he earned to God. It wasn’t coerced, it was a response of joy for the grace showered upon him. Now here Jesus promises the same thing will happen to Nathanael, to Philip, to Peter and Andrew. They will learn the true meaning of Israel, the name meaning to wrestle with God.
God rules over those who wrestle with him, struggle with him. Jesus is king of Israel. It is the nature of faith. To believe in God is to struggle with him, holding on to his promises to his word, when all around you it seems as if you are foolish to do so. Our sinful flesh pulls us in the direction of the world, of sin, lust, murder, envy, even despair. But God has blessed us in Bethel, his house. All that he promised to Jacob in the dream has become a reality. The heavens have opened, the angels ascend and descend upon the son of Man. Where he rules, there is blessing, forgiveness, salvation and holiness. There where this struggle occurs is Jesus himself making good on his promise wherever two or three are gathered in his name, coming to us through his word, bestowing upon us the Holy Spirit, opening wide the gates as he comes to us in bread and wine, offering us peace with God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace he brokered for you who struggle, with his own death on the cross. That though we wrestle, we might also find rest for our weary souls in him, the king of Israel, our king, who comes to us, who fights for us against the rulers of darkness, who died for our salvation, who lives for our justification, he of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets wrote, the messiah, our Lord.