The Ladder Days

John 1:43-51

The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ 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 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 that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.‘”

Did Nathanael literally see the heavens open and angels ascending and descending on Jesus? What about Jesus seeing him under the fig tree, was the fig tree representative of Israel? Wasn’t Peter the first to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God and not Nathanael? Wasn’t Thomas the doubter of the group? Wasn’t Peter from Capernaum and not Bethsaida? Or are we entirely too dogmatic in dealing with Scripture?

We have to consider all of Scripture before we develop dogmas, which is daunting. The most glaring example of this is the dubious dogma of far-future fulfillment of most of the prophecy found in the Bible. Because prophecy pundits perceive that Paul writes about a rapture before the “man of lawlessness ” is revealed, they are forced to change the simple, literal wording of Matthew 24, changing “this generation” to “that generation.” Or worse yet, they change the definition of the word for “generation” into “race.” Letting their dubious dogma steer the ship, rather than the genre, prophecy pundits are portrayed in their true colors. The Greek word for generation is, “γενεὰ (genea)” while the word translated as race is, “γένος (genos).”

Therefore, if one translates “genea” as “race” in Matthew 24, they should also translate “genea,” as “race,” in Matthew 12:39, which would then read as follows: “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous race craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” And they have dubbed us as partial preterists the antisemitic ones.

The point is that if one has to manipulate plain meanings in the Bible to explain their presuppositions, perhaps it’s time to reconsider one’s presuppositions and consider the context, aspirations of author, genre, examples and then divide rightly the word of truth. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Unless we are learning for ourselves we only know what we have been taught. We have to let Scripture interpret Scripture and study it for ourselves. You can do it–the CAGED method can assist you.

We have to have some presuppositions because the Bible is not actually exhaustive. For example; the Bible doesn’t tell us that the abortion is wrong, specifically, but taking the Bible as a whole, keeping it in context, we clearly see that abortion is above abhorrent. It is not something we impose on Scripture but expose by examining examples.

Nevertheless we have presuppositions of which are not Scriptural. The Scripture cannot contradict itself. Therefore if our dubious dogma contradicts, it is a presupposition to purge. Let the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics help you read the Scripture and to change your mind if need be. After all, Scripture was recorded for us to change our minds. But more importantly and on the same proverbial token, the Scripture is all about Jesus–the great mind-changer.

Yes, Peter lived in Capernaum for a time. Nevertheless his hometown was Bethsaida, according to John. Certainly seen also is that Peter was married and moved to Capernaum, most likely into the house of his wife’s family. We see hints of this in Luke 5 and Matthew 8. Yet we also see another apparent contradiction.

We believe that Jesus said, “follow me,” once and only once, to his disciples and from that point on, they all were attached to his hip for the rest of his three -and-a-half year ministry. Nevertheless the possibility exists that Peter got married sometime after he met Jesus. We don’t know because we’re not told but we are told that Peter was from Bethsaida and also that he lived with his mother-in-law in capernaum, therefore Peter was married. Paul confirms this; “Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”

Again, in order to find out who Cephas is, we have to explore examples, or simply remember what we have read. For time’s sake we won’t because it’s a practical presupposition that Peter is Cephas based upon the context and languages of Aramaic and Greek.

All of this is to demonstrate that the first Pope had a wife. Sliding away from the sarcasm, where the dubious dogmas of the Roman Catholic church are clearly seen, search the Scripture and your own mind for clouds of doubtful disconnect. Do our beliefs match what the Scripture says? Are our taught traditions merely that, traditions taught without warrant, basing beliefs on verses, which were added later for ease of reference, out of context? Is the Bible really about land, cities, religious rites or is it about our sin and the wonderful Savior?

When I first taught young teens and tweens, my mission was to get them off the vegetables of Veggie Tales and Sunday school answers onto more solid food from actual Scripture. Unfortunately I failed. But before we examine my failure let’s look at the victory of the American Marxists, who are way better at adhering to Christian principles than are the “conservative Christians.”

First of all, they make disciples, really well. They are also tireless and put their time in. From cradle to the grave, they persistently push their beliefs in every corner and on every street. They have occupied every position for the purpose of pushing their political agenda, from kindergarten teachers to college professors, nurses to foster-mothers, prosecutors to supreme court justices. Day in and day out they have worked hard to make disciples of their doubly dubious dogma. They are actual activist, not avoiding apprehension, acting and advancing their philosophical beliefs while I was told that I said too much and spent too much time trying to teach teenagers. However, it is the meek not the militant who will inherit the earth. Nevertheless there is much more to christianity than being meek.

“You can’t say that, ” was the most common phrase I heard during my time as a teacher to teenagers. But this was only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg of the discontent with my discipleship. However I won’t get into all of the accusations hurled at me because it’s counter productive and wastes precious time. Nevertheless I want the reader to understand that my hands were fairly well-tied but Facebook and Snapchat were installed on most of the teenager’s phones. I was given over an hour a week to teach but questioned on my methods at every turn while Facebook and the ‘Gram were given all but free reign.

Stop and think about this for a moment. I had Pastors in place over me and other leaders surrounding me, so that I was held accountable. On the contrary, their cellphones went completely unchecked. Called to make disciples–reduduced to a simmering stump of scheduled Scripture reading, within reason.

Facebook makes millions while I spent my own money to minister to teenagers. Nevertheless I was told repeatedly, “you can’t say that!” To which, as many of you know, I would reply, “I didn’t say it, I read it.” Ironically enough, the Bible is full of words of which Christians don’t want to hear. Such is the case with today’s text and the entire gospel of John, in its context. It simply doesn’t fit into our narrative, which is a narrative of which, we can’t uphold anyway. That is, we love John 3:16 but ignore verse 17. We believe that the disciples gave up every aspect of their lives in an instant and did nothing else but follow Jesus. A standard that should then be applied to us but we also think we spend too much time “doing church” and spend much more than double the amount of time on our smartphones and tablets. We have given our children over to the world as we await a rapture rescue that is not coming. Because the only part of the Bible that is about us is the sin; the rest is about the Savior.

Jesus found Philip, and according to the context, Philip left Jesus to find Nathanael. When he did he said, “‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.'”

A big shout out to my former pastor, who has made me add this short paragraph, as I listened to his sermon on the Sermon on the Mount today, as I drove many a mile. I realized I left something out. In the sermon on the Sermon on the Mount, the pastor said, “the Law and Prophets were shorthand for the Old Testament.” He is exactly right. Truthfully, we probably shouldn’t call the New Testament the New Testament because there really is nothing new about it, other than the fact that it was written after the Old Testament. In his sermon on the Sermon on the Mount, my former pastor mentioned correctly, that all of the Law and prophets point to the Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets. And that he did. I digress a bit, but it is incredibly important to understand that the Bible is the book about Jesus. Israel points to Jesus. Land points to Jesus. The red heifer points to Jesus, as do the utensils, altar, lamb, tabernacle etc..

By design, I am not only being vague, obscure and obtuse, but also, allusive and elusive. While I have foreshadowed where I am going, it’s ostensibly opaque in our minds eye because of our presuppositions. Let’s clear the proverbial air by asking the important questions. Firstly, what was John’s aspiration to his audience by including the hometown of Andrew, Peter and Philip and the story of Philip finding Nathanael?

To those returning–a reminder–and to the one here for the first time– we have made a presupposition based on the context. And that presuppositions is as follows: John made a presupposition, presuming that his readers had, at minimum, a cursory knowledge about Jesus and his disciples. That is, John gives his readers different information and different themes and motifs than Matthew, Mark and Luke, yet in harmony.

We have to put aside taught traditions and presuppositions, such as Peter was the first to call Jesus the Son of God. We don’t know who said it first, it’s not in the narrative. Rather we want to understand the narrative of John. As Matthew’s gospel account builds on Jesus as the true Israel and Messiah, John’s narrative begins with the God of glory condescending to his creation–“in the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Yet we see that the Word was also the sacrificial lamb of God through the preaching of John the Baptist. Matthew and John don’t contradiction each other but zoom in on different attributes and aspects, which are utterly inexhaustible, of Jesus.

Also notice the literary language of Jesus when speaking sarcastically to Nathanael. Notice that Jesus is not a robot but God made flesh and blood. He comes with all the Law and prophets at his coattails. He speaks to Nathanael like he spoke to Moses, Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi. By speaking of angels descending, he’s using literary language to say, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The proof that Jesus is using literary and not literal language is that we never read about Nathanael literally seeing angels in John’s gospel account. The hermeneutic held by the prophecy pundits would argue that this prophecy of Jesus has yet to be fulfilled. They hold to wooden, literal extremes in their understanding of Scripture. But do the dogmatic dispensationalists argue that Nathanael never saw angels descending and ascending on Jesus or do they understand the figurative language? Because angels definitely did descend to Jesus but were they visible to Nathanael? We aren’t told. And since we are not specifically told, the lost people would argue that Jesus made a promise which wasn’t fulfilled. It is the same with the prophecy pundit’s hermeneutics as well.

John had different aspirations to his audience than Matthew and Mark. John shows us a different side of Jesus. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers don’t discuss this. They are too apologetic in their approach to the gospel of John, struggling with syncopation to the synoptics rather than let the harmony ring out. John sings different notes than Matthew, Mark and Luke but his harmony forms a masterpiece, if his literary language is understood.

From the beginning John uses literary yet highly symbolic language. “In the beginning was the Word…” Is Jesus the literal word? Or is it symbolic of Jesus being the mouthpiece for the father? Is John indicating that the Bible is all about Jesus? Is John pointing to Jesus giving the Law? Is John pointing to the prophets who were given their words by Jesus? Of course he is, why then do we misconstrue John’s other words concerning Christ? We try to sync the synoptics with John’s gospel but John does this himself. We simply have to consider the context, aspirations, genre, examples and then divide rightly the word of truth. We can utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics.

Much of this is foreshadowing as, Lord willing, we continue through John’s gospel account, which as exhaustively stated, differs, yet is in harmony with, the other gospel accounts.

Not to be egocentric (I simply know myself and my story) but one could write a bland and boring book about my life. One writer could comment, “While at school in El Paso, Texas, Russell P developed a strong sense of racial diversity” Another could write, “While at school in Virginia, Russell P became concerned about racial diversity in the church.” Another may state, “Russell P was a small business owner,” and still another, “Russell P was a rather worthless writer from New England, where at a young age, he was told that ‘someday, you will write the great American novel.'”

All true but ripped out of context, it looks like they can’t possibly be true, unless I had gone to school in at least 3 different States–which I obviously did. But what if literary language was included?

“A raindrop in a vast desert was Russell P as he saw the cornucopia of color in his formative years. Seemingly out of place yet as a drop of rain doesn’t change the desert, the desert decimated this drop off rain.”

The Bible is literature and is made up of multiple genres and we need to let these genres steer the ship, while understanding the author’s aspirations to his audience by considering the context. And when Jesus speaks, we certainly must explore Old Testament examples of how Jesus spoke. We can’t be dogmatic about verses ripped out of context. We can’t take literary language to literal extremes. As Jesus is the Word, he is not literally a word, as I am not a literal drop of rain in the desert. Jesus is not only described as the Word, but a door, light, a sheep and even a shepherd. What could be more contradictory than Jesus being a lamb but also a shepherd? This is clearly understood by most Christians–that these seemingly contradictory terms are harmonious in their presentations of different attributes of Jesus. This is how John, from the beginning, paints the picture with literary language of Jesus as God and that of the suffering servant, promised by the prophets. Apocalyptically we will see angels descending on Jesus as Nathanael did. But as we see the promise made to Nathanael in an abbreviated apocalyptic address, we understand what Jesus was implying to him. Nathanael believed Jesus to be the Son of God promised by the Old Testament (the Scripture available to him). Nathanael was looking for Jesus but did not know exactly what Jesus would look like and certainly didn’t think that he would come from Nazareth. Nathanael not only knew that Nazareth was a rough place but that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, when Nathanael heard the words of Jesus, he saw Jesus for whom he was and let go of his previously held presuppositions. Jesus answered Nathanael’s question, “can any good thing come from Nazareth?”

Metaphorically speaking, we are slapped in the face by John’s gospel account. John covers and records things of which the other gospels don’t. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and even fled to Egypt but Nazareth was his hometown. Simple yet sublime, because we understand this. Why then don’t we understand the apocalyptic address? Like Nathanael, the prophecy pundits should put away their presuppositions and preconceived notions and consider the context. Jesus promised Nathanael that he would see greater things than Jesus seeing him under the fig tree. Jesus said to the previous doubter, with a presupposition, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

What was the aspiration of Jesus saying this to Nathanael and what was John’s aspiration by recording it when all of the other gospel writers didn’t? In fact, none of the other gospel writers called Nathanael, “Nathanael.” Let’s look at the exchange again.

“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.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ 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 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 that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'”

Nathanael is one of the “lucky” ones–if one considers being delivered to tribulation, and killed and hated by all nations on account of Jesus’ name lucky. Nevertheless Nathanael was chosen to see the glory of God in Jesus Christ as Moses and the prophets promised, according to Philip, John and Jesus.

Isaiah wrote, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” And that is exactly what Jesus did. But a baby boy in a manger doesn’t fit the wording used in Isaiah–to most people. But what did it look like to the Father? The perfect sacrifice from heaven invaded the earth to save the earth. God opened heaven and sent Jesus to the earth and a lucky few saw this glory; progressively. Which brings us to a Greek/American-Southern-English lesson. Jesus said, Amen, Amen, Y’all will see the heavens remain open.

Jesus was not only talking to Nathanael but to anyone in earshot because the Greek is in the second person, plural (hence, y’all). Also, the heavens being opened is in the accusative case, meaning that the heavens remained opened–wide open–because God had come down. Nathanael and the people present were going to see the glory of God and everything he promised in the Old Testament. John has already told us that they beheld his glory. But beyond that, they received grace upon grace.

Exploring examples of the apocalyptic address, we see what Nathanael heard in the abbreviated apocalyptic address. Jesus saw Nathanael under a fig tree, which the dogmatic dispensationalists argue is always Israel. Jacob was the first Israel and Jacob had a dream. In the dream he saw the heavens opened up and angels descending on a ladder to earth. Perhaps where there is some smoke, there is some fire, metaphorically speaking. Could it be that Nathanael was reading Genesis under the fig tree? We don’t know but we do know that Jesus referenced Jacob’s dream in the apocalyptic address to Nathanael and the people present. Jesus is fulfilling Jacob’s ladder. Not only this but also all the other prophecies which point to him.

Application: as on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus preached himself throughout the Law and prophets, we should see the entire Old Testament and New Testament fulfilled in Christ and not in ourselves. We are not awaiting a rapture rescue but called to make disciples. I failed as the Marxists persevered. I went into a self imposed exile to search the Scripture and for relief and respite from my foes. It’s difficult for me to believe that my so-called faith family treated me worse than leftist-Marxist but it is true. Nevertheless it was my pride that truly got in the way. I couldn’t even let the church humble me, I had to humble myself.

There’s a reason that I remain somewhat inconspicuous on the internet–going only by Russell P. It’s a pride thing to remain relatively anonymous. My former pastor, who nailed his sermon today, told me to include details about my life and testimony on this blog. He suggested that people would want to know exactly who I am and where I come from. I understood his point but also understood the dangers of pride. I am a simple, stupid sinner, struggling with pride and therefore reduce myself, like John the Baptist, so that Christ Jesus would be front and center. It is what this blog desires to describe. Like Nathanael said, Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israe; both Testaments proclaim this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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