In Jesus' encounter with Nathanael, Jesus concludes the conversation by indicating that Nathanael, as well as others, would see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

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

So, in what manner did Nathanael "see the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of Man?"

  • Is it possible that Nathaniel while under the fig tree was brought to meditate on this very passage about Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:10-22 and himself asking the question about why the angels were ascending and descending on the ladder? Jesus knew all this because he is not just fully a man, but fully God as well. – Andrew Shanks May 7 at 9:58

According to someone in this question (moved from christianity to hermeneutics):

First, the phrase "the angels of God ascending and descending" links Jesus' statement back to Jacob's dream in Genesis 28. In that story Jacob himself glimpses a new reality. He says, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." In connecting himself to this, Jesus is perhaps indicating that what Jacob saw, Nathanael will soon see in the Son of Man: namely, the presence of the I AM, the "house of God" and the "gate of heaven" (cf. John 8:58, John 2:19-22, John 10:1-9).

Also according to bible.cc:

Heaven open - This is a figurative expression, denoting "the conferring of favors." Psalm 78:23-24; "he opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna." It also denotes that God was about to work a miracle in attestation of a particular thing. See Matthew 3:16. In the language, here, there is an evident allusion to the ladder that Jacob saw in a dream, and to the angels ascending and descending on it, Genesis 28:12. It is not probable that Jesus referred to any particular instance in which Nathanael should literally see the heavens opened. The baptism of Jesus had taken place, and no other instance occurred in his life in which it is said that the "heavens were" opened.

As both quotations seem to say that it has something to do with Jacobs Ladder I think that it is safe to say the same. Also it is interesting to note that Nathanael was a descendant of Jacob. This link here also talks a little about this topic, saying:

this passage shows Nathanael to be a thoughtful and reflective sort of person. The statements of Jesus Christ about being an Israelite relate to his descent from Jacob, who was certainly a man full of guile and deceit during his early life. That said, it would appear as if Nathanael was under the fig tree (a common representation of a philosophical sort of person) thinking about the dream of Jacob where angels went up and down the stairway to heaven, showing the relationship between heaven and earth and the possibility of communication between the two realms. This musing on deep and spiritual matters allows Jesus Christ to call him as a member of the twelve without hesitation or complaint.

I don't know if people dislike so many quotations, but I found that they all relate quite well to the subject. I don't know. Think what you will from the quotations and links. What i get from it is that it was more of one of Jesus' encrypted sayings, not really meaning exactly what he says.

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    Great answer. Nice work. Language works by reference, and it's no different in Scripture. Jesus was using familiar language to refer to a familiar OT event that pointed forward typologically to Christ. This is common in the NT. – Jas 3.1 Jan 30 '13 at 19:27

I think Nathanael and the other apostles did see angels ascending and descending on Jesus during Jesus's earthly ministry because in the Gospel of John it says that Jesus did so many things that the world could not contain the number of books if everything was written that he did (John 21 v. 25). So there must have been so many amazing things that weren't even written down.

After Jacob saw that ladder in his dream with the angels ascending and descending on it, Jacob was just walking along one day on his way back to his home with his two wives and two concubines and all their kids when he was met by the angels of God (Genesis 32 v.1). And if Jacob could have angels meeting up with him I'm sure Jesus would have had angels visiting him all the time because he was so much greater than Jacob and Nathanael, being one of Jesus disciples, would have been hanging around and would've seen it.


The son of man is a royal reference. "Son of" is a hybrid real/metaphorical reference that can indicate blood relation, relation in terms of function, likeness or classification. There is a messianic reference to a son of David that could be by blood, but more likely is by class as David was a remarkable king set apart in terms of leadership style and dynamic understanding of the kingdom. However after the fall of Jerusalem David is still admired for his liturgical process but condemned and the search for a king who would follow the Torah to the letter pressed on - this would usher in the era of God's kingdom on earth.

However, the people of the time were well aware of generational degradation and as in prior years they felt that humanity had gone too far. The desert did what it could to purge the nation of prior ills, but the return to the land and the second temple provided yet another generation of hypocritical reformers and eyes turned back to the collection of genesis and the period of time when humanity was entrenched in liturgical duties of love and stewardship to creation under direct guidance and support from God. David developed an impeccable formula for this to some degree, but the people recognized that Adam was the primordial royal person - one who was a son of the earth by flesh and a direct heir of God by breath. The seeking of the son of man is a reflection of the hope of the people that God would raise a perfect specimen and roll back the odometer on humanity's decay.

Christ speaks to this by relating to the people that angels will descend and ascend upon the son of man - the liturgical cycle of yielding needs and delivering the fulfillment of providence to the people will be engaged by a person who fits the criteria of being as a person who was as Adam was to God before the fall - a son of man. Later theologians would postulate that God created the world to respond loyally and positively to Adam's divine image, but in order to accomplish this God had to beget Christ as a person, and then created the universe to suit and serve that person, and then form man in the image of God and give it His spirit. Thus Christ is referred to as the Second Adam or New Adam because His incarnation is the completion of a story arc that begins in the mind of the father before the world was even created.

So the reference to the angels and the son of man is a royal reference that Christ uses to indicate he is fulfilling this desired model in the near future - it is akin to his transfiguration as a sign of His fulfillment of the law and the prophets, but it speaks to a newer developing theology that was messianic but outside the status quo.

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