A Ladder to Heaven
Introduction: There is a pattern in the characters we’ve seen since Abraham. He was introduced and his life was one of authority, decision, and action. He was like the picture we have of Jesus as our great and conquering King.
Then came Isaac. His life was one of submission and compliance. Instead of going to get a wife, his father sent a servant while he remained in the promised land. He was non-confrontational and played a quieter role. This is a picture of God the Son – the One who lives to do His Father’s will.
Jacob now takes the center stage as Isaac retires out of the Bible’s focus. Jacob’s life is filled with trials and struggles. He suffers loss and heartache, but he is always looking to the future glory. He is not unlike Jesus, our suffering Servant in many ways. Jesus, the One who came to redeem fallen man by his own shed blood.
Text Verse: “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. John 1:40-42
If you’ve been to more than just one or two of our Genesis sermons, you know that God has put many hints of the coming Christ, our Lord Jesus, in this foundational book. Everything in history is looking forward to Him or back on what He did and then in anticipation of more great things to come.
It is all about Jesus and once again we’ll see this today. There are beautiful pictures hidden in this ancient story, waiting to be unpacked and presented to our eager hearts and minds and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Christ Our Mediator
10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
Jacob now departs on his journey to find a bride. He leaves Beersheba, the Well of the Oath, or the Well of the Seven, and heads towards Haran which is in Padan Aram. This is a picture of Jesus. Coming to earth to redeem His people.
This theme will continue throughout the life of Jacob. Beersheba, as I explained many sermons ago is a picture of the dwelling of the Lord. Beersheba, the Well of the Seven speaks of the seven spirits of the Lord which are mentioned in both Isaiah and Revelation.
Haran means “mountainous” and Padan Aram means “elevated ransom.” There is a high cost to redeem fallen man and this verse shows it to us. Jesus left the dwelling of the Lord to come to earth and pay a high price to redeem fallen man.
But this is also a picture of the nation of Israel. Jacob is in a type of exile from the Promised Land resulting from his wrong actions in deceiving Isaac, but he is the one who holds the birthright, the blessing, and the promises of restoration. This picture is seen in Israel as they have twice been sent out of the land for evil-doing.
As a reminder, I mentioned last week that most commentators say that Jacob left alone on his journey to find a wife, but there is no doubt that Deborah, Rebekah’s wet nurse, went with him.
Others could have also, but we can’t be sure. However, the story of his return to, and his travels in, Canaan indicates that at least she went along with him. As she pictures the word of God, we can see how the story here pictures Jesus, never separated from the word because He is the Word.
A wet nurse brings forth and tends to the children in a family, and the Word of God brings forth and tends to God’s children as well. The significance of what this pictures is not to be underestimated because Jacob is going on his travels with her.
11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.
We’ll see in a few verses that this place is Bethel which is about 48 miles north of Beersheba. At Jacob’s time it is known as Luz. This is where he stops for his first night, but it’s not in the city. The reason isn’t given, but it says that the sun had set.
It could be that the city had already closed its gates, which was common for them to do as soon as the sun set. It could also be that he didn’t want to go there because the people were pagans. I would favor this second option because of its name at that time, which I’ll explain later. The city’s name is Luz.
Whatever the reason, he stayed out in the open at a place he arbitrarily chose. This reminds us of Jesus’ words in Luke 9 –
“Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
11 (con’t) And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
With no place to stay and no suitable place to lay his head, Jacob arbitrarily grabs a stone and places it where he can use it as a pillow – the significance of this act is of immense importance as we’ll see in the verses ahead.
However, what the stone pictures is as beautiful as all of the other hidden treasures God has concealed. The location, the stone, the person Jacob, the acts which follow – all point to Jesus and His work. Jesus is present with Jacob though he doesn’t yet know it.
Matthew Henry wisely says here, “God’s time to visit his people with his comforts, is, when they are most destitute of other comforts, and other comforters.” This is proven true in verse 12…
12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Jacob is lying with a stone for a pillow and the heavens above for his blanket when he has a spiritual vision of the physical reality he is experiencing. Like Esau he is a fallen man, but he has already been a picture of the Messiah as we’ve seen several times.
Now he sees his own picture of this mystery – a ladder which is set up on earth, meaning where it was placed, and yet its top reaches to the heavens. This ladder is explicitly explained by Jesus as a picture of Himself. Like the ladder, His feet stand on the earth and yet He wears the heavenly crown.
He is an earthly Man in His humiliation, but He is the divine God in His exultation. And He is the ladder between two. There is the infinite God who fills the highest heavens and there is fallen man who can never attain to come into His high station, but in His rich goodness to us, He gave us the Mediator between the two – Jesus.
He is the access point for all of heaven’s riches and He is the one and only path to reconciliation with God. All communication with God since the fall of man has come through Him and there is no other way for it to occur apart from Him. It is by Him alone that the two meet.
In John 1:47-51 we read this account –
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafteryou shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
If you noticed, Jesus is speaking to Nathanael calling him an “Israelite indeed.” What he is saying is that the vision given to Jacob, who would later be named Israel, is fulfilled in Him. This Israelite, Nathanael, means “Given of God.”
He who was given of God, Jesus, is the ladder of restoration for all people. And as I said, there is only one ladder in the vision. Jesus confirms this in John 14. Listen carefully to this account –
“Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Did you catch it? Who was it that spoke to Jesus? It was Thomas, the Twin. The twins are Jacob and Esau and they look backward to Adam and forward to Jesus. Thomas the Twin asks the question and Jesus answers… “It’s me. I’m the ladder. I’m the way. You can meet with the Father through me, my twin.”
What Jacob, the twin, is seeing in his vision is explicitly realized in Jesus who is answering the Thomas, the Twin. How can we not see God’s hand at work in what is being revealed to us?
This ladder is a way of describing the union of God and Man in the person of Jesus Christ – two hyposies, or states, in one Person; what we would call the hypostatic union.
“Jesus Christ is fully God (deity) united with full humanity without intermingling or separation of these qualities. In Him there is no change or division of any kind – completely and forever. He is the finite united with the infinite; the point where God fellowships with man.”
Oooh, God’s word is far more complex than we can imagine. Let’s not close our eyes to what God is saying in this important lesson. The very angels of heaven who minister to God’s people do so on this bridge between the infinite realm of heaven’s eternity and the finite realm of earth’s temporal reality.
You’ve probably heard Philippians 4:6, 7 a many times, but maybe now it will make true sense to you –
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
The Geneva Bible states this about the ladder – “Christ is the ladder by which God and man are joined together, and by whom the angels minister to us: all graces are given to us by him, and we ascend to heaven by him.”
13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac;
Jesus is the Son of Man, Christ is the ladder, and the Lord Jehovah is the divine Ruler of Heaven. And from heaven He stands as the Sovereign ruler. His voice now speaks through His mediatory role as the Ladder. He first identifies Himself as the Lord God of Abraham your father.
Abraham is actually his grandfather, but he is the covenant father. As the Lord of Abraham and the God of Isaac, he now renews the promise made to and through both of them.
13 (con’t) the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.
The land on which you lie doesn’t mean just the spot where he’s sleeping, but rather the Land of Canaan, the Promised land. This promise is a land promise. It is given to him and his descendants as a grant of ownership. However, we will see it is conditionally granted to them for use based on obedience.
When they are obedient, the land is theirs and they may use it. When they disobey, the land is theirs and they may not use it. Others may dwell in the land, but the land is God’s and He has granted it to Jacob and his descendants.
It’s important to understand that the church did not replace Israel. The promises of being a descendant of Abraham by faith are never stated in the same way for us as being Jacob’s descendants. Paul clearly contrasts Israel from everyone else.
Anyone from within or without Israel is considered a true descendant of Abraham by faith, but the same is not true with Jacob. Crossing these lines confuses what God is doing in the world. Here is what you need to remember –
1) Anyone who is a faithful believer is a spiritual descendant of Abraham.
2) Israel comprises those faithful Jews who are obedient sons of Abraham. It is a people physically descended from Jacob.
3) The church is anyone who has called on Jesus, whether from within Israel or from outside of Israel.
4) The church did not replace Israel, although we are grafted into their spiritual heritage.
14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth;
This is a repeat of what the Lord said to Abraham in Genesis 13:16 – “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth;…”
Though Abraham has been in his grave for 61 years and this was spoken to him about 100 years before that, to the Lord, who is outside of time, the words are as fast and unchanging as He is. What was spoken to Abraham is confirmed in Jacob and is realized in the Abraham’s descendants today.
14 (con’t) you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south;
Once again, this looks back to Genesis 13 where the Lord said to Abram – “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.”
Abraham was told that he would be given the land, Jacob is told they would fill the land. What these men see in the distant future, God sees as immediate and accomplished. When His word goes out to us, it is already accomplished in His mind.
This follows the biblical theme of our salvation. God says in his word in Romans that believers in Jesus are already glorified, and in Ephesians that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places. And yet we are still in our fallen bodies and we are still standing on fallen earth.
The Bible, in both testaments, shows God’s transcendence over time and confirms the doctrine of eternal salvation for all who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb.
14 (con’t) and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
This portion of the blessing is realized in Jesus. All the families of the earth are given the choice as to calling on him or not. The blessing of the Messiah promised through Abraham and Isaac is now confirmed in Jacob.
To Jacob it is spoken and it will occur; to us it is spoken and it has come about. The surety of God’s word is the surety of Jesus.
15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
Jacob is setting out on what will be a long and often frustrating journey which will see him grow into a very large family and an entire congregation of people and livestock. Despite the trials and troubles, the Lord is there with him.
When He says, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” it is an assurance that He will never leave him. The words the Lord has spoken are still being confirmed in us today and so Jacob understood that the Lord would always and forever remain with him. What Jacob is told here is repeated to us in the New Testament –
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13
This great God has promised each of us that He is with us. The Bible never says we won’t suffer or that we won’t have hardships or trials. That’s a myth of bad theology.
What it does promise is that, just like Jacob with his many years of trials ahead, the Lord was with him and He is with us too. Jacob was cheated, he suffered a great deal of loss including loved ones, but through it all he kept his eyes on the prize and we are asked to do the same. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
Before we go to the next verse, I want to read the promises given to Abraham and Jacob again, side by side so that you can see the similarities and differences –
And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. 16 And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. 17 Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
Both are spoken to in the same area, Bethel. Both received the promises after separating from someone. Abraham from Lot and Jacob from his family. To Abraham he indicates the directions of the earth, then he promises to him and his descendants the land, and then that they will be as the dust of the earth.
To Jacob he first promises the land to him and his descendants, then that they will be as the dust of the earth, and then he indicates the directions of the earth. The order is changed. When he gives the directions to Abraham it is after he returned to the land from Egypt and the directions are named north, south, east, and west.
But to Jacob it is before he leaves the land and the directions are west, east, north, and south. The orders are changed, but both form a cross as He speaks. After speaking to Abraham, he moved south. After speaking to Jacob, he moved north.
To both of them the Lord closed his words with a promise concerning the land. The land of Israel is the center of the nations and it is extremely important to the Lord. We trifle with His land and His people at our own expense.
I bring this up because as the Lord doesn’t change, neither do His intentions for His people and His land. What we are doing to, and forcing on, the people of Israel today can only meet with unhappy consequences.
II. Christ Our Gate
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
In Joshua 5, Joshua meets a man with a drawn sword and not knowing who he was, he questioned him. It turned out to be the Commander of the Army of the Lord – Jesus.
In 1 Samuel 3 when Samuel was young the Lord called to him in the night and he didn’t know it was the Lord.
In Luke 24, two disciples walked about seven miles with the risen Lord and didn’t know it was Him until they sat down for a meal.
In John 20 Mary didn’t realize she was in the presence of the risen Lord until He spoke directly to her by name.
In Acts 9, a Pharisee named Saul was confronted with the glory of Christ who spoke to him, and yet he didn’t know who He was.
In these and many other times, people were unaware of the presence of the Lord in their midst. This verse then is not saying that Jacob didn’t already understand that the Lord is omnipresent. Instead it is saying that the Lord was present in a significant way – a tangible manifestation of the presence of God.
God is everywhere at all times, but His presence can be, and is, more expressed in some places than in others. He dwelt between the cherubim above the ark and His glory was seen by many prophets, both in the land of Israel and elsewhere.
Even today, the glory of the Lord is manifest more greatly in some places than others. Every believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit. The believer has all of the Spirit that he will ever receive at that moment. However, the Spirit can obtain more of the believer.
His presence fills the obedient soul in a passive way which is displayed in an active presentation of His revealed glory. Like Jacob, awaking from his sleep, the people around us should look at each of us and say, “Surely the Lord is in this place.”
It’s sad that when many see us, like Jacob, they don’t know that He is even present. Let’s determine to make a change in that.
17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!
Jacob’s fear isn’t the fear of a person who is surrounded by enemies and is about to die. His fear is on a completely different level. It is something experienced by many people in both testaments. In Isaiah 6 we read these words –
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
In Mark 4, we read this –
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
The fear of Jacob, the fear of Isaiah, and the fear of the disciples can all be understood in the context of fallen man in the presence of absolute holiness. People who treat Jesus flippantly, as if He were some type of cosmic candy man or ATM machine have never understood the splendor of His majesty or the enormity of their sin.
17 (con’t) This is none other than the house of God,
This again is a picture and a confirmation of who Jesus is. Jacob exclaims that where he was is the house of God – Bethel. Beit means house and El means God. Wherever the Lord manifests Himself, the house of God is seen. We know that it isn’t a single location on earth, but wherever the Lord is revealed.
17 (con’t) and this is the gate of heaven!”
John was on the island of Patmos when he had a vision. In Revelation 4, he sees what Jacob saw – “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.”
The word used for door in this verse in Revelation is the Greek word thyra. The NIV translates this same word “gate” in John 10:9 – “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”
The gate of heaven which Jacob saw is the ladder, it is the path, it is the entrance and means of access into heaven. It is the Lord above the ladder. Everything we are seeing cries out – “It is Jesus.” When we understand who He is and what He means for each of us, we too can – like Jacob – exclaim “This is the gate of heaven.”
There is a narrow gate at the end of a narrow path which opens to the wide expanses of heaven’s glory. And there is a wide path, with a broad gate, which leads to the narrow confines of hell’s prison. The choice is ours whom we will follow. Me… I follow Jesus.
18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar,
As soon as he got up, he took his stone pillow and stood it up as a makeshift altar and then poured oil on it as an act of consecration. It doesn’t appear that he has any idea that this was the same spot where many years earlier Abraham had also built an altar.
There is nothing pagan in what he is doing here. Monuments and altars are noted throughout the early books of the Bible. His anointing this stone is a demonstration of his faith in the vision he had seen and the promises it held.
But the stone he erects and what he is doing to it here… Yes, it all points to Jesus. The ladder had a beginning in heaven with the Lord. The ladder is the Lord. And the ladder has a set point on earth where it rests – on a stone.
The stone is Jesus. And no, I’m not stretching this at all. The words for “the stone that he had put at his head” are ha’eben asher sam merashotav. The same words for “stone” and “head” are found in the 118th Psalm and are speaking of Jesus, eben ma’asu habownim ha’yetah le’rosh pinnah
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
The stone in the field was never used in the construction of the city – it was rejected. And yet it became the chief cornerstone of Bethel, the House of God.
18 (con’t) and poured oil on top of it.
The oil is poured on the stone to consecrate it as the entry point to the House of God. The High Priest of Israel, the prophets, and the King of Israel were anointed with oil on their heads. The king is the ruler, the prophet is the one who speaks the word, and the High Priest is the mediator.
Like them, Jesus is the Ruler at the top of the ladder and Jesus is the Ladder, the Mediator. But Jesus was also the One who came to earth to suffer for us as well. When He did, He was anointed before He was crucified. He has become our access point into the House of God, our Mediator, and our Lord. Hebrews 1 show us this –
But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
And to confirm all of this, we come to the next verse…
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.
The place is called Bethel – the House of God, a picture of heaven where God resides. But, the former name of the city is given as well – Luz. Most concordances translate Luz as “almond” getting this through a back door translation of Genesis 30:37.
But the word comes from a verb which means “to turn aside” in a negative way – such as turning away from wisdom or being a twisted person.
Abrarim gives us the correct meaning of Luz when they say that it was named after a “crooked and perverse generation” that lived there. This is the reason Jacob didn’t enter the city – because of the twisted and crooked nature which the name Luz implies.
And this is exactly a picture of Jesus – 6 times – in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Peter He is called the Stone the builders rejected. Then in Acts chapter 2, Peter says to the people of Israel, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (ESV). The symbolism given here is so exact it’s amazing.
This Stone was rejected by the crooked city and yet it becomes the cornerstone of Bethel, the House of God, picturing heaven. Instead of entering Luz Jacob slept in the field and he had a vision of the glory of the Lord who would come to the twisted and crooked earth, leaving the glory of the House of God, to redeem his people.
Remember this is symbolized in Jacob’s trip from Beersheba to Paddan Aram – the redemption of man. A 19th century Rabbi named Joseph Rozen explains the mystery of Luz which is also a fruit similar to the almond but which matures differently –
“Luz starts off sweet and becomes bitter, in contrast to almond which starts bitter and becomes sweet.”
Man corrupted the sweet earth created by God and it became bitter – Luz. The Lord has come to restore what was made bitter by restoring to us access to the House of God – Bethel.
I hope you’ll give me just two more minutes to explain to you how He does this and how you too can enter into the House of God when your days expire.
Next Week: Genesis 28:20-22 (Our Christian Offering)
Closing Verse: Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. 11 Truth shall spring out of the earth, And righteousness shall look down from heaven. Psalm 85:10, 11
Jesus – Our Ladder to Heaven
Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran
So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night
Because the sun had set and he just couldn’t go on
And he took one of the stones of the place that felt just right
And put it as his head using it as a pillow
And he lay down in that place to sleep
Then he dreamed, and behold… saw this fellow
A ladder was set up on the earth and to heaven it did sweep
And there the angels of God were ascending
And there the angels of God were descending
And behold the Lord stood above it and said
“I am the Lord God of Abraham your father
And the God of Isaac, whom you misled
And yet he blessed you, you and not another
The land on which you lie I will give to you
And after you your descendants are granted it too
Also your descendants shall be
As the dust of the earth is the promise from my mouth
You shall spread abroad to the four corners, you see
To the west and the east, to the north and the south
And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed
Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go
And I will bring you back to this land, be not depressed
For I will not leave you until I have done this, it is so
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said
“Surely the Lord is in this place
And yet I did not know it but instead
Now I have the assurance of His great grace
And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place
This is none other than the house of God
It is the gate of heaven where it and earth interlace
It is the place where angels do trod
Then Jacob rose in the morning, early
And took the stone that he had put at his head
He set it up as a pillar, where the gates are pearly
And poured oil on top of it, as its name he said
And he called the name of that place Bethel
But the name of that city was Luz previously
And the names in themselves have a story to tell
Because we have in them a picture, you see
These things are given to show us God’s story
Which is revealed in our beautiful Lord Jesus
Heaven, the ladder, the stone – all tell of His glory
And the mission on which He came to redeem us
Let us cherish these precious stories
And in them search out Jesus’ glories
And as we ponder them in our heart
May we remember to give God our praise
And commit our lives to make a fresh start
Determined to walk with the Lord all of our days
Hallelujah and Amen…