By Evan Pyle


Human nature struggles with the idea of a Savior and a Lord. People are accustomed to forging their own way, overcoming obstacles by their wits, talent and perseverance. Trusting in God’s plan and waiting patiently in faith for his will to come to pass is foreign to natural experience. But when a person trusts Jesus for salvation and learns to truly look to him for direction, a dramatic change takes place.

Though they were twin brothers, Jacob and Esau provide a striking contrast in personalities. Esau was an accomplished outdoorsman and hunter, while Jacob was a "plain man," preferring to stay in the tents (Gen. 25:27). Esau was impetuous, selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils (Gen. 25:29-34), and rebellious, grieving his parents by marrying Canaanite women (Gen. 26:34-35). Jacob was calculating, often scheming for his safety and advancement.

Before their birth, the brothers struggled within Rebekah’s womb. The word of the Lord came to her, telling her that two nations and two kinds of people were within her and that the elder would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23). It is apparent that the younger brother, Jacob, had knowledge of this prophecy. Rather than waiting on God to fulfill his word in his way, Jacob jumped on an opportune moment to persuade Esau to sell his birthright as eldest for a mere bowl of lentils. The Bible says, "Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Gen 25:34). Years later, when an aging Isaac prepared to bless his sons, Jacob and Rebekah conspired together to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing reserved for the firstborn son (Gen. 27). Despite this sin, Jacob received the God-ordained blessing foretold before his birth. However, his attempt to "help" God fulfill his promise so enraged Esau that Jacob had to flee for his life.

Jacob fled his home in Canaan and headed for the land of Haran to his uncle Laban. It was on this journey that Jacob had a life-changing encounter with the true God.

Genesis 28:11-15:
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

The meaning of this vision is unclear. The ladder, the angels ascending and descending, and the Lord God speaking from above the ladder are mysterious. What is clear is how different Jacob was after the dream. After the dream, Jacob faithfully waited on God through trying circumstances, trusting the Lord to do his blessed will. He worked for his uncle Laban for seven years for no more wage than Rachel’s hand in marriage. When Laban tricked Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel, Jacob accepted Leah and worked another seven years to gain Rachel. After this, Jacob worked many more years for his scheming, sharp-dealing, father-in-law before finally parting from him and returning to Canaan with his family.

Prior to the dream, Jacob used questionable means to "help" God fulfill his promises. After the dream, Jacob waited on God patiently, trusting him to bring it to pass. What happened in the dream of the ladder that so transformed Jacob?

Jesus made the meaning of Jacob’s ladder perfectly clear.

John 1:51:
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The ladder that Jacob saw, that was set up on the earth and reached all the way to heaven was JESUS. The angels of God he saw ascending and descending were doing so by way of the pre-incarnate Christ. Jacob’s ladder shows Jesus as the only way to heaven.

Jesus said "I am the way…no man cometh unto the Father but by me." There is no other means to reach heaven, and there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. HE is the door to the sheepfold and his true sheep enter into the safety of his fold by Christ and by Christ alone.

Notice that the ladder was "set up on the earth." To anchor the ladder to the earth, to make a way to heaven accessible to fallen man, Jesus was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. He took on himself the form of a servant and became obedient to the death of the cross. Jesus shed his blood so sinful man could be redeemed and made righteous. Jesus spanned the great gulf that separates sinful man from his creator. No man-made ladder could reach high enough or far enough. The men of Babel tried to build a structure to reach heaven. For the builders of Babel and all who try to enter the kingdom by their own works, Jesus does not join heaven and earth; he separates heaven and earth. Jesus is the firmament spoken of in Genesis 1, the expanse between earth and heaven. All who attempt to reach heaven by their own works find that Jacob’s ladder separates them by an impassable distance. It is an impossible hill to climb, an infinite distance to travel, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. For those who through faith receive him, he is The Way, but for those who reject Christ as Savior, he is a closed door (Matt. 7:23).

Jacob saw the angels of God "ascending and descending." The ladder is like a two-way bridge between earth and heaven. For example, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and when a believer in Christ is born again and receives the Holy Spirit; the ladder brings heaven to earth. Jesus our Ladder also brings earth to heaven. All who receive him by grace through faith, though still living in this fallen world, are bound for heaven.

As Jacob viewed this unique picture of Christ, the Lord God spoke to him from above the ladder, renewing the covenant he made with Abraham and with his father Isaac. The promise of the Messiah is implicit in the covenant, for "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." This promise reaches across the eons of time to bring us to saving faith in Christ, a truth that is as marvelous to Christians today as was the dream to Jacob.

Realizing the significance of his encounter, Jacob took steps to never forget what had happened that night.

Genesis 28:18-22:
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

Jacob set up these stones as a reminder, as a witness of what had transpired and of what God had told him there. Interestingly, Christians are called "living stones," built together into the church of God (I Pet. 2:5). Christians serve as living reminders of the sacrifice Christ made for us on Calvary. They are a living testimony of the new life in Christ received by grace through faith.

As ones who have been forever changed by our encounter with the living God, let us be constant reminders of what has happened in our lives. When we live out the Gospel, we are like Jacob’s stones, demonstrating God’s faithfulness to his covenants and his grace to fallen man. When we share communion, we do it in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:24-25). When we have devotional time with prayer and Bible reading, we are remembering our Ladder to and from heaven, Jesus our savior. Let us daily look to the Ladder from heaven, our Lord Jesus, that we may faithfully wait on him, trusting that he will do his perfect will in our lives.

Hebrews 12:2:
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.


From the June 2011 issue of The Vine & Branches