May 2022

'You shall see greater things ... you shall see heaven opened' John 1. 50-51 (RSV)

See also:  Matthew 3.16   Acts 7.56   Acts 10.11   Revelation 4.1


My guess is that Nathaniel, sitting in the shade under his fig tree, had been reading and meditating on the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. That would clearly explain why Jesus spoke about the angels ascending and descending. This spiritual communication between heaven and earth is what the Bible is all about, and it comes to a climax in the New Testament with the Christ event. “You shall see greater things” is the promise of a new visionary insight given to the followers of Jesus.*


In the New Testament we are given a new perspective on life on earth by being invited to recognise the close proximity of the heavenly dimension. As it says in the Te Deum, Christ “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” As human beings, we are destined to live in this physical world in which mega-calamities can and do happen, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by tragedy. I have an acquaintance whose favourite comment when we meet seems to be “Isn’t it awful . . .”!


Our Saying from John 1.50-51 stands in glorious contrast to this attitude. It opens for us a door in heaven to give us a wider perspective on the universe by asserting the spiritual reality of God’s eternal love.  Consequently, it doesn’t really matter what the world throws at us. Whatever calamities may occur, our true home is in the spiritual dimension. Christ and his many followers from the first century onwards who have “seen the heavens opened” have been able to demonstrate that victims can become victors as they share in the triumph of God’s love.


The spiritual insight given by this Saying is actually on offer to every human being whether they know it or not. So the words become immediately relevant in intercession, in particular for those who are in positions of power and responsibility, for victims of stress or misfortune of any kind, and for those whose faith is weak or apparently non-existent.


* The poem “In no strange land” by Francis Thomson seems to indicate that the poet had experienced something like this spiritual experience. It contains a moving picture of Jacob’s ladder “pitched betwixt heaven and Charing Cross.” and of “Christ, walking on the water, not of Gennesaret, but Thames!”