John 1:51 MEANING

John 1:51
(51) Verily, verily.--This is the first use of this formula of doubled words, which is not found in the New Testament outside St. John's Gospel. They are always spoken by our Lord, and connected with some deeper truth, to which they direct attention. They represent, in a reduplicated form, the Hebrew "Amen," which is common in the Old Testament as an adverb, and twice occurs doubled (Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 8:6). In the Hebraic style of the Apocalypse the word is a proper name of "the faithful and true witness" (Revelation 3:14).,

I say unto you . . . ye shall see.--The earlier words have been addressed to Nathanael. The truth expressed in these holds for all disciples, and is spoken to all who were then present--to Andrew and John and Peter and James (John 1:41) and Philip, as well as to Nathanael.

Hereafter is omitted by several ancient authorities, including the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., but there is early evidence for the insertion, and as the omission removes a difficulty in the interpretation, it is probably to be traced to this source. If retained, the better rendering is, henceforth, from this time onwards.

Heaven opened.--More exactly, the heaven opened, made and continuing open. The thought was familiar, for Psalmist and Prophet had uttered it to God in the prayers, "Bow Thy heavens, O Lord, and come down" (Psalm 144:5); "O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down" (Isaiah 64:1). The Presence then before Nathanael was the answer to these longings of the soul.

The angels of God ascending and descending.--Referring again to the history of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-13).

The Son of man.--This is probably the first time that this phrase, which became the ordinary title used by our Lord of Himself, fell from His lips; but it meets us more than seventy times in the earlier Gospels, and has been explained in the Note on Matthew 8:20. It will be enough to observe here that it is suggested by, and is in part opposed to and in part the complement of, the titles used by Nathanael. He could clothe the Messianic idea only in Jewish titles, "Son of God," "King of Israel." The true expression of the idea was not Hebrew, but human, "the Son of Man," "the Word made flesh;" the Son, the true representative of the race, the Second Adam, in whom all are made alive; the Son of Man. The word is ????????, not ????; homo, not vir. It is man as man; not Jew as holier than Greek; not free-man as nobler than bond-man; not man as distinct from woman: but humanity in all space and time and circumstance; in its weakness as in its strength; in its sorrows as in its joys; in its death as in its life. And here lies the explanation of the whole verse. The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth "The Word was made flesh." In that great truth heaven was, and has remained, opened. From that time onwards messengers were ever going backward and forward between humanity and its God. The cry of every erring and helpless child to its Father for guidance and strength; the silent appeal of the wronged and down-trodden to the All-Just Avenger; the fears and hopes of the soul burdened by the unbearable weight of sin, and casting itself on the mercy of the Eternal Love--all these are borne by messengers who always behold the face of God (Matthew 18:10). And every light that falls upon the path, and strength that nerves the moral frame; every comfort to the heart smarting beneath its wrong; every sense of forgiveness, atonement, peace--all these like angels descend that ladder coming from heaven to earth. Ascending precedes descending, as in the vision of old, Heaven's messengers are ever ready to descend when earth's will bid them come. The revelation of the fullest truth of God is never wanting to the heart that is open to receive it. The ladder is set up upon the earth, but it reaches to heaven, and the Lord stands above it. It goes down to the very depths of man's weakness, wretchedness, and sin; and he may lay hold of it, and step by step ascend it. In the Incarnation, Divinity took human form on earth; in the Ascension, Humanity was raised to heaven.

Verse 51. - And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The reduplicated Ἀμὴν occurs twenty-five times in John's Gospel, and is in this form peculiar to the Gospel, although in its single form it occurs fifty times in the three synoptists. The word is, strictly speaking, an adjective, meaning "firm," "trustworthy," corresponding with the substantive אמֶן, truth, and אָמְנָה and אֲמָנָה, confidence, the covenant (Nehemiah 10:1). The repetition of the word in an adverbial sense is found in Numbers 5:22 and Nehemiah 8:6. In Revelation 3:14 "Amen" is the name given to the Faithful Witness. The repetition of the word involves a powerful asseveration, made to overcome a rising doubt and meet a possible objection. The "I say unto you" takes, on the lips of Jesus, the place which "Thus saith the Lord" occupied on those of the ancient prophets. He speaks in the fulness of conscious authority, with the certain knowledge that he is therein making Divine revelation. He knows that he saith true; his word is truth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, [From henceforth] ye shall see the heaven that has been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Notwithstanding the formidable superficial difficulty in the common reading, which declares that from the moment when the Lord spake, Nathanael should see what there is no other record that he ever literally saw; yet a deeper pondering of the passage shows the sublime spiritual sense in which those disciples who fully realized that they had been brought into blessed relationship with the "Son of man," saw also - that heaven, the abode of blessedness and righteousness, the throne of God, had been opened behind him and around him. The dream of Jacob is manifestly referred to - the union between heaven and earth, between God and man, which dawned like a vision of a better time upon the old patriarchal life. That which was the dream of a troubled night may now be the constant experience of the disciples of the Lord. The ascension of the angelic ministers is here said to precede their descent. This is due to the original form of the dream of Jacob, but must be supplemented by the Lord's own statement (John 3:13), "No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven." The free access to the heart of the Father, and to the centre of all authority in heaven and earth, is due only to those who have come already thence, who belong to him, "who go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning." They ascend with the desires of the Son of man; they descend with all the faculty needed for the fulfilment of those desires. He, "the Son of man," is now on earth to commence his ministry of reconciliation, and is thus now equipped with all the powers needed for its realization. The same truth is taught by our Lord, when he said (cf. notes on John 3:13) that "the Son of man is in heaven," even when he walked the earth. The angelic ministry attendant upon our Lord is so inconspicuous that it does not fulfil the notable description of this verse, nor fill out its suggestions. The miraculous energies, the Divine revelations, the consummate heavenliness of his life, the power which his personality supplied to see and believe in heaven - in heaven opened, heaven near, heaven accessible, heaven propitious, heaven lavish of love - answers to the meaning of the mighty words. Thoma ('Die Genesis des Johannes-Evan.') sees the Johannine interpretation of the angels who ministered to Jesus after the conclusion of his temptation. But why does he call himself "the Son of man," in sharp response to, or in comment, on, the ascription by John the Baptist and Nathanael of the greater title "Son of God" (see Matthew 8:20; Mark 2:28)?

(1) The phrase is one that our Lord currently used for himself, as especially descriptive of his position. It has been said that its origin must be looked for in the prophecies of Daniel (Daniel 7:13), where angelic powers are seen in loving lowly attendance on "one like to the Son of man," one whose human-hearted force contrasts with the "beast forces," the uncouth, sphynx-like blending of animal faculties which characterizes all the kingdoms and dynasties which the empire of the one like the Son of man would supersede. The term, "Son of man," is used repeatedly by Ezekiel for humanity set over against the Divine voice and power. There it corresponds with the Aramaic "Bar-Enosh," Son of man - a simple paraphrasis for "man" in his weakness, and often in his depression and sin. The 'Book of Henoch,' in numerous places, identifies "Son of man" with the Messiah (ch. 46. and 48.), but it cannot be clearly proved that the term was popularly current for the Messiah. Christ seems, in one place, to discriminate the two terms in popular expectation (Matthew 16:13, 16); and in Matthew 8:20 he discriminates his earthly ministry as that of Son of man, from the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, though the dispensation of his human life, and of his eternal Spirit, constitute that of the one Christ.

(2) Another very remarkable fact is that, though Jesus calls himself "the Son of man" no fewer than seventy times, the apostles never attribute the favourite expression to him. The only instances of its use by other than the Lord himself, is by the dying Stephen, who thus describes his power and exalted majesty (Acts 7:56), and John in the Apocalypse, who says the vision of the Lord was of one like unto the Son of man - a phrase clearly built upon the passage in Daniel 7.

(3) The Saviour did not throughout the Gospel of John proclaim himself openly to the people as the Christ, avoiding a term which was so miserably degraded from his own conception of it; but he used a multitude of expressions to denote the spiritual force and significance of the Messianic dignity. Thus he described himself" as he that came down from heaven;" as the "Bread of heaven;" as the "Light of the world;" as "the good Shepherd; .... I am he;" "that which I said from the beginning," etc.; and therefore, when he adopted the phrase, "the Son of man," he attributed to it very special powers and dignities. The word seems to involve the Man, the perfect Man, the ideal Man, the second Adam, the supreme Flower engrafted on the barren stock of humanity, the Representative of the whole of humankind. Chronologically, this must have been the primary revelation. Through humanity that was archetypal and perfect, answering God's idea of man, the thought of the race has risen to a conception of Divine sonship. But metaphysically, logically, he could only fulfil the functions of Son of man, of the Man, because he was essentially the Son of God.

(4) The dominant thought of the term has fluctuated between that which connotes his earthly ministry and humiliation, and lays stress on the privations and sufferings of the Son of man, and that which recites his highest claim to reverence and homage. Seeing that he claims to be the link between heaven and earth, Judge of quick and dead, the Head of the kingdom of God, who will come in his glory, with his holy angels, to divide sheep from goats, etc., as Son of man; and seeing that, as Son of man, he gave himself for a ransom, and was as one that serveth, and presented his flesh and blood as the spiritual food of all that live; - the synthetic thought that issues from the twofold survey is that his highest glory is based upon his entire and utter sympathy with man. His humanity is that which gives him all his hold upon our heart; his sacrifice is his title to universal sovereignty. "He humbled himself to the death of the cross, wherefore God also has highly exalted him, giving even to him [humanity included] THE NAME that is above every name." Archdeacon Watkins, in loco, has called attention to the fact that it is not ἀνήρ, but ἄνθρωπος, "man as man, not Jew as holier than Greek, not freeman as nobler than bondman, not man as distinct from woman, but humanity.... The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth, 'The Word was made flesh.' In that great truth heaven was and has remained open." The cries of earth, the answers of heaven, are like angels evermore ascending and descending on the Word-made-flesh. It is perfectly true, though in a different sense than that which Thorns adopts it, that this prehistory (vorgeschichte) is the vorgeschichte of Christendom, as of each soul becoming Christian, the different eventualities which lead from one revelation to another betoken the several stations on the blessed pilgrimage (heilsweg). (Cf. Introduction; the excursuses of Godet; Westcott on 'The Son of Man;' Orme's dissertation on 'Sin against the Holy Ghost;' Schaff's note to Lange, on John, in loco; Schmidt, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,' pp. 107, etc.; Weiss, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,' § 144; Liddon, 'Divinity of Our Lord,' lect. 1; Pearson on the Creed, Oxford edit., p. 122; Andrew Jukes, 'The New Man,' lect. 2: "The Openings of Heaven in the Experience of Christ and of Christians.")

1:43-51 See the nature of true Christianity, it is following Jesus; devoting ourselves to him, and treading in his steps. Observe the objection Nathanael made. All who desire to profit by the word of God, must beware of prejudices against places, or denominations of men. They should examine for themselves, and they will sometimes find good where they looked for none. Many people are kept from the ways of religion by the unreasonable prejudices they conceive. The best way to remove false notions of religion, is to make trial of it. In Nathanael there was no guile. His profession was not hypocritical. He was not a dissembler, nor dishonest; he was a sound character, a really upright, godly man. Christ knows what men are indeed. Does He know us? Let us desire to know him. Let us seek and pray to be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile; truly Christians, approved of Christ himself. Some things weak, imperfect, and sinful, are found in all, but hypocrisy belongs not to a believer's character. Jesus witnessed what passed when Nathanael was under the fig-tree. Probably he was then in fervent prayer, seeking direction as to the Hope and Consolation of Israel, where no human eye observed him. This showed him that our Lord knew the secrets of his heart. Through Christ we commune with, and benefit by the holy angels; and things in heaven and things on earth are reconciled and united together.And he saith unto him, verily, verily, I say unto you,.... Not only to Nathanael, but to the rest of the disciples that were then with him; and to show himself to be the "Amen", and faithful witness, as well as more strongly to asseverate what he was about to say, he doubles the expression:

hereafter you shall see heaven open; either in a literal sense, as it had been at his baptism; or, in a mystical sense, that there should be a clearer manifestation of heavenly truths made by his ministry; and that the way into the holiest of all should be made more manifest; and a more familiar intercourse he opened between God and his people; and also between angels and saints:

and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man; or to the son of man, as the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions render it; meaning himself in human nature; the second Adam, and seed of the woman; and is expressive both of the truth, and infirmity of that nature. Reference may here be had to the ladder Jacob dreamed of, in Genesis 28:12, which was a representation of Christ, in his person, as God-man; who, as God, was in heaven, whilst he, as man, was on earth; and in his office, as Mediator between God and man, making peace between them both; and in the ministration of angels to him in person, and to his body the church. And it is observable, that some of the Jewish writers (y) understand the ascent, and descent of the angels, in Genesis 28:12, to be, not upon the ladder, but upon Jacob; which makes the phrase there still more agreeable to this; and so they render in Genesis 28:13, not "above it", but "above him". Or the, sense is, that there would be immediately made such clearer discoveries of his person, and grace by his ministry, and such miracles would be wrought by him in confirmation of it, that it would look as if heaven was open, and the angels of God were continually going to and fro, and bringing fresh messages, and performing miraculous operations; as if the whole host of them were constantly employed in such services: and this the rather seems to be the sense, since the next account we have, is, of the beginning of Christ's miracles to manifest forth his glory in Cana of Galilee, where Nathanael lived; and since the word, rendered "hereafter", signifies, "from henceforward"; or, as the Persic version renders it, "from this hour"; though the word is left out in the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions,

(y) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 68. fol. 61. 2. & sect. 69. fol. 61. 3, 4.

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