John 1:51
And he said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.
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(51) Verily, verily.—This is the first use of this formula of doubled words, which is not found in the New Testament outside St. John’s Gospel. They are always spoken by our Lord, and connected with some deeper truth, to which they direct attention. They represent, in a reduplicated form, the Hebrew “Amen,” which is common in the Old Testament as an adverb, and twice occurs doubled (Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 8:6). In the Hebraic style of the Apocalypse the word is a proper name of “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14).,

I say unto you . . . ye shall see.—The earlier words have been addressed to Nathanael. The truth expressed in these holds for all disciples, and is spoken to all who were then present—to Andrew and John and Peter and James (John 1:41) and Philip, as well as to Nathanael.

Hereafter is omitted by several ancient authorities, including the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., but there is early evidence for the insertion, and as the omission removes a difficulty in the interpretation, it is probably to be traced to this source. If retained, the better rendering is, henceforth, from this time onwards.

Heaven opened.—More exactly, the heaven opened, made and continuing open. The thought was familiar, for Psalmist and Prophet had uttered it to God in the prayers, “Bow Thy heavens, O Lord, and come down” (Psalm 144:5); “O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down” (Isaiah 64:1). The Presence then before Nathanael was the answer to these longings of the soul.

The angels of God ascending and descending.—Referring again to the history of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-13).

The Son of man.—This is probably the first time that this phrase, which became the ordinary title used by our Lord of Himself, fell from His lips; but it meets us more than seventy times in the earlier Gospels, and has been explained in the Note on Matthew 8:20. It will be enough to observe here that it is suggested by, and is in part opposed to and in part the complement of, the titles used by Nathanael. He could clothe the Messianic idea only in Jewish titles, “Son of God,” “King of Israel.” The true expression of the idea was not Hebrew, but human, “the Son of Man,” “the Word made flesh;” the Son, the true representative of the race, the Second Adam, in whom all are made alive; the Son of Man. The word is ἄνθρωπος, not ἀνήρ; homo, not vir. It is man as man; not Jew as holier than Greek; not free-man as nobler than bond-man; not man as distinct from woman: but humanity in all space and time and circumstance; in its weakness as in its strength; in its sorrows as in its joys; in its death as in its life. And here lies the explanation of the whole verse. The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth “The Word was made flesh.” In that great truth heaven was, and has remained, opened. From that time onwards messengers were ever going backward and forward between humanity and its God. The cry of every erring and helpless child to its Father for guidance and strength; the silent appeal of the wronged and down-trodden to the All-Just Avenger; the fears and hopes of the soul burdened by the unbearable weight of sin, and casting itself on the mercy of the Eternal Love—all these are borne by messengers who always behold the face of God (Matthew 18:10). And every light that falls upon the path, and strength that nerves the moral frame; every comfort to the heart smarting beneath its wrong; every sense of forgiveness, atonement, peace—all these like angels descend that ladder coming from heaven to earth. Ascending precedes descending, as in the vision of old, Heaven’s messengers are ever ready to descend when earth’s will bid them come. The revelation of the fullest truth of God is never wanting to the heart that is open to receive it. The ladder is set up upon the earth, but it reaches to heaven, and the Lord stands above it. It goes down to the very depths of man’s weakness, wretchedness, and sin; and he may lay hold of it, and step by step ascend it. In the Incarnation, Divinity took human form on earth; in the Ascension, Humanity was raised to heaven.

1:43-51 See the nature of true Christianity, it is following Jesus; devoting ourselves to him, and treading in his steps. Observe the objection Nathanael made. All who desire to profit by the word of God, must beware of prejudices against places, or denominations of men. They should examine for themselves, and they will sometimes find good where they looked for none. Many people are kept from the ways of religion by the unreasonable prejudices they conceive. The best way to remove false notions of religion, is to make trial of it. In Nathanael there was no guile. His profession was not hypocritical. He was not a dissembler, nor dishonest; he was a sound character, a really upright, godly man. Christ knows what men are indeed. Does He know us? Let us desire to know him. Let us seek and pray to be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile; truly Christians, approved of Christ himself. Some things weak, imperfect, and sinful, are found in all, but hypocrisy belongs not to a believer's character. Jesus witnessed what passed when Nathanael was under the fig-tree. Probably he was then in fervent prayer, seeking direction as to the Hope and Consolation of Israel, where no human eye observed him. This showed him that our Lord knew the secrets of his heart. Through Christ we commune with, and benefit by the holy angels; and things in heaven and things on earth are reconciled and united together.Verily, verily - In the Greek, "Amen, amen." The word "amen" means "truly, certainly, so be it" - from the Hebrew verb to confirm, to establish, to be true. It is often used in this gospel. When repeated it expresses the speaker's sense of the importance of what he is saying, and the "certainty" that it is as he affirms.

Ye shall see - Not, perhaps, with the bodily eyes, but you shall have "evidence" that it is so. The thing shall take place, and you shall be a witness of it.

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.

Angels of God - Those pure and holy beings that dwell in heaven, and that are employed as ministering spirits to our world, Hebrews 1:14. Good men are represented in the Scriptures as being under their protection, Psalm 91:11-12; Genesis 28:12. They are the agents by which God often expressed his will to men, Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19. They are represented as strengthening the Lord Jesus, and ministering unto him. Thus they aided him in the wilderness Mark 1:13, and in the garden Luke 22:43, and they were present when he rose from the dead, Matthew 28:2-4; John 20:12-13. By their ascending and descending upon him it is probable that he meant that Nathanael would have evidence that they came to his aid, and that he would have "the" kind of protection and assistance from God which would show "more fully that he was the Messiah." Thus his life, his many deliverances from dangers, his wisdom to confute his skilled and cunning adversaries, the scenes of his death, and the attendance of angels at his resurrection, may all be represented by the angels descending upon him, and all would show to Nathanael and the other disciples most clearly that he was the Son of God.

The Son of man - A term by which lie often describes himself. It shows his humility, his love for man, his willingness to be esteemed "as a man," Philippians 2:6-7.

From this interview with Nathanael we may learn:

1. that Jesus searches the heart.

2. that he was truly the Messiah.

3. that he was under the protection of God.

4. that if we have faith in Jesus, it will be continually strengthened the evidence will grow brighter and brighter.

5. that if we believe his word, we shall yet see full proof that his word is true.

6. Since Jesus was under the protection of God, so all his friends will be. God will defend and save us also if we put our trust in Him.

7. Jesus applied terms expressive of humility to himself. He was not solicitous even to be called by titles which he might claim.

So we should not be ambitious of titles and honors. Ministers of the gospel most resemble him when they seek for the fewest titles, and do not aim at distinctions from each other or their brethren. See the notes at Matthew 23:8.

51. Hereafter, &c.—The key to this great saying is Jacob's vision (Ge 28:12-22), to which the allusion plainly is. To show the patriarch that though alone and friendless on earth his interests were busying all heaven, he was made to see "heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon a" mystic "ladder reaching from heaven to earth." "By and by," says Jesus here, "ye shall see this communication between heaven and earth thrown wide open, and the Son of man the real Ladder of this intercourse." These things he ushers in with a Verily, verily, and declareth them spoken not to Nathanael alone, but unto you; viz. all you that are my disciples indeed, who are (like Nathanael) true Israelites, in whom there is no guile. For the terms, Amen, Amen, (by us translated, Verily, verily), some of the ancients accounted them an oath; but the most learned modern writers have seen no reason to agree with them. Surely (see a large discourse about these particles in our learned Fuller, his Miscellan. 1.1. cap. 2, to which nothing need be added) if Amen is never used in the Old Testament but as a term of prayer or wishing, in the New Testament it is used to assert or affirm a thing, or as a particle of wishing and prayer. The word in the Hebrew properly signifies, truth, Isaiah 65:16; whence Christ (the truth) is called the Amen, Revelation 3:14. As the prophets were wont to begin their discourses with The word of the Lord, and Thus saith the Lord, to assert the truth of what they were about to say; so Christ, to show that himself was God, and spake from himself, begins with Amen; and Amen, Amen, sometimes: it is observed that John constantly doubles the particle, and saith Amen, Amen, that is, Verily, verily; either (as interpreters say) for further confirmation of the thing, or to get the greater attention, or to assert as well the truth of the speaker as of the thing spoken. Now the thing spoken followeth as a thing promised, not to Nathanael only, but to all believers, that they should

see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Some think that hereby is meant the spiritual, metaphorical opening of heaven to believers by Christ. But it seems more properly to signify such an opening of the heavens as we read of, Matthew 3:16. Some understand it of the appearances of angels to Christ at his passion, and resurrection, and ascension; but it seems rather to refer to the day of judgment, when ten thousands of angels shall wait upon Christ, as the Judge of the quick and the dead, and minister unto him; which ministration, they say, is expressed by the terms of ascending and descending, with reference (doubtless) to Jacob’s vision, Genesis 28:12: Jacob saw it sleeping, Nathanael and other believers shall see it with open eyes. Others interpret it more generally, viz. You shall see as many miracles as if you saw the heavens opened, and the angels ascending and descending. Others think it refers to some further appearances of the angels to Christ in their ministration to him than the Scripture records. Christ doth not say, You shall see angels ascending and descending upon me, but upon the Son of man; by which our learned Lightfoot saith, he did not only declare himself to be truly man, but the Second Adam, in whom what was lost in the first was to be restored. It is observed, that only Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and Christ in the New Testament, are thus called; and that Christ was never thus called but by himself. Ezekiel was doubtless so called to distinguish him from those spiritual beings with which he often conversed: Christ, to distinguish his human nature from his Divine nature, both which (in him) made up one person. Christ’s calling himself so was but a further indication of his making himself of no reputation, while he was in the form of a servant. Others think, that the Son of man in the gospel, used by Christ, signifies no more than I, and me; (it being usual in the Hebrew dialect for persons to speak of themselves in the third person); so, upon the Son of man, is, upon me, who am truly man. Chemnitius thinks, that as the term Messiah (by which the people commonly called Christ) was taken out of Daniel; so this term, by Christ applied to the same person, is taken out thence too, Daniel 7:13, where it is said, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, & c.; and that Christ did ordinarily so call himself, to correspond with the prophecy of Daniel, to assert himself truly man, and to declare himself his Father’s servant, according to the prophecy, Isaiah 42:1. And he saith unto him, verily, verily, I say unto you,.... Not only to Nathanael, but to the rest of the disciples that were then with him; and to show himself to be the "Amen", and faithful witness, as well as more strongly to asseverate what he was about to say, he doubles the expression:

hereafter you shall see heaven open; either in a literal sense, as it had been at his baptism; or, in a mystical sense, that there should be a clearer manifestation of heavenly truths made by his ministry; and that the way into the holiest of all should be made more manifest; and a more familiar intercourse he opened between God and his people; and also between angels and saints:

and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man; or to the son of man, as the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions render it; meaning himself in human nature; the second Adam, and seed of the woman; and is expressive both of the truth, and infirmity of that nature. Reference may here be had to the ladder Jacob dreamed of, in Genesis 28:12, which was a representation of Christ, in his person, as God-man; who, as God, was in heaven, whilst he, as man, was on earth; and in his office, as Mediator between God and man, making peace between them both; and in the ministration of angels to him in person, and to his body the church. And it is observable, that some of the Jewish writers (y) understand the ascent, and descent of the angels, in Genesis 28:12, to be, not upon the ladder, but upon Jacob; which makes the phrase there still more agreeable to this; and so they render in Genesis 28:13, not "above it", but "above him". Or the, sense is, that there would be immediately made such clearer discoveries of his person, and grace by his ministry, and such miracles would be wrought by him in confirmation of it, that it would look as if heaven was open, and the angels of God were continually going to and fro, and bringing fresh messages, and performing miraculous operations; as if the whole host of them were constantly employed in such services: and this the rather seems to be the sense, since the next account we have, is, of the beginning of Christ's miracles to manifest forth his glory in Cana of Galilee, where Nathanael lived; and since the word, rendered "hereafter", signifies, "from henceforward"; or, as the Persic version renders it, "from this hour"; though the word is left out in the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions,

(y) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 68. fol. 61. 2. & sect. 69. fol. 61. 3, 4.

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

(x) These words signify the power of God which would appear in Christ's ministry by the angels serving him as the head of the Church.

John 1:51. Πιστεύεις is, with Chrysostom and most others (even Lachmann and Tischendorf, not Godet), to be taken interrogatively; see on John 20:29.[129] But the question is not uttered in a tone of censure, which would only destroy the fresh bloom of this first meeting (Theophylact: “he had not yet rightly believed in Christ’s Godhead”); nor is it even the expression of slight disapproval of a faith which was not yet based upon adequate grounds (De Wette, comp. Ewald); but, on the contrary, it is an expression of surprise, whereby Jesus joyfully recognises a faith in Nathanael which could hardly have been expected so soon. And to this faith, so surprisingly ready in its beginning, He promises something greater (ἐς ἐλπίδα φέρτερον ἕλκων, Nonnus) by way of further confirmation.

τούτων] Plural of the category: “than this which you now have met with, and which has become the ground of your faith.”

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ] specially introduces the further statement of the μείζω τούτων as a most significant word.

ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν] The double ἈΜῊΝ does not occur in other parts of the N. T., but we find it twenty-five times in John, and only in the mouth of Jesus,—therefore all the more certainly original.

ὙΜῖΝ] to thee and Andrew, John, Peter (James, see in John 1:42), and Philip.

ἈΠΆΡΤΙ] from now onwards, for Jesus was about to begin His Messianic work. See chap. 2. Thus, in this weighty word He furnishes His disciples with the key for the only correct understanding of that work.

ὄψεσθε, κ.τ.λ.] The “opened heaven” is not intended to be taken in its literal sense, as if it stood alone, but is part of the figurative moulding of the sentence in keeping with the following metaphor. Observe here the perfect participle: heaven stands open; comp. Acts 7:56. The ascending and descending angels are, according to Genesis 28:12, a symbolical representation of the uninterrupted and living intercourse subsisting between the Messiah and God,—an intercommunion which the disciples would clearly and vividly recognise, or, according to the symbolic form of the thought, would see as a matter of experience throughout the ministry of Jesus which was to follow.[130] The angels are not therefore to be regarded as personified divine powers (Olshausen, De Wette, and several), or as personal energies of God’s Spirit (Luthardt and Hofmann), but as always God’s messengers, who brought to the Messiah God’s commands, or executed them on Him (comp. Matthew 4:11; Matthew 26:53; Luke 22:43), and return to God again (ἀναβαίνοντας), while others with new commissions came down (ΚΑΤΑΒΑΊΝ.), and so on. We are not told whether, and if so, to what extent, Nathanael and his companions now already perceived the symbolic meaning of the declaration. It certainly is not to be understood as having reference to the actual appearances of angels in the course of the Gospel history (Chrysostom, Cyril., Euthymius Zigabenus, and most of the early expositors), against which ἀπάρτι is conclusive; nor merely to the working of miracles (Storr, Godet), which is in keeping neither with the expression itself, nor with the necessary reference to the Messiah’s ministry as a whole, which must be described by ἀπάρτι ὄψεσθε, etc.

ἈΝΑΒΑΊΝ.] is placed first, in remembrance of Genesis 28:12, without any special purpose, but not inappropriately, because when the ὄψεσθε takes place, the intercourse between heaven and earth does not then begin, but is already going on. We may supply ἈΠῸ ΤΟῦ ΥἹΟῦ ΤΟῦ ἈΝΘΡ. after ἈΝΑΒΑΊΝ. from the analogy of what follows. See Kühner, II. p. 603.

Concerning Ὁ ΥἹῸς ΤΟῦ ἈΝΘΡ., see on Matthew 8:20; Mark 2:8, note. In John likewise it is the standing Messianic designation of Jesus as used by Himself; here, where angelic powers are represented as waiting upon Him who bears the Messianic authority, it corresponds rather with the prophetic vision of the Son of man (Daniel 7:14), and forms the impressive conclusion of the whole section, confirming and ratifying the joyous faith and confession of the first disciples, as the first solemn self-avowal on the part of Jesus in their presence. It thus retained a deep and indelible hold upon the recollection of John, and therefore it stands as the utterance of the clear Messianic consciousness of Jesus unveiled before us at the outset of His work. It is exactly in John that the Messiahship of Jesus comes out with the greatest precision, not as the consequence and result, but as already, from the beginning onwards, the subject-matter of our Lord’s self-consciousness.[131]

[129] As to the paratactic protasis, which may be read interrogatively or not according to the character of the discourse, see C. F. Hermann, Progr. 1849, p. 18; Scheibe in Schneidew. Philolog. 1850, p. 362 ff. Comp. also Nägelsbach’s note on the Iliad, p. 350, ed. 3.

[130] This expression tells us nothing concerning the origin of Christ’s knowledge of God, which ver. 18 clearly declares, and which cannot therefore be attributed to a series of progressive revelations (Weizsäcker); the expression rather presupposes that origin. Comp. also Weiss, Lehrbegr. p. 286 ff.

[131] The historic accuracy of this relation, as testified by John, stands with the apostolic origin of the Gospel, against which even the objections of Holtzmann in his investigation, which are excellent in a historical point of view (Jahrb. f. D. Theol. 1867, p. 389), can have no effect.


The synoptical account of the call of the two pairs of brothers, Matthew 4:18 ff. and parallels, is utterly irreconcilable with that of John as to place, time, and circumstances; and the usual explanations resorted to—that what is here recorded was only a preliminary call,[132] or only a social union with Christ (Luther, Lücke, Ebrard, Tholuck; comp. also Ewald and Godet), or only the gathering together of the first believers (Luthardt), but not their call—fall to the ground at once when we see how the narrative proceeds; for according to it the μαθηταί, John 2:2, are with Jesus, and remain with Him. See on Matthew 4:19-20. The harmony of the two accounts consists in this simply, that the two pairs of brothers are the earliest apostles. To recognise in John’s account not an actual history, but a picture of the author’s own, drawn by himself for the sake of illustrating his idea (Baur, Hilgenfeld, Schenkel),—that, viz., the knowledge of the disciples and that of Jesus Himself as to His Messianic call might appear perfect from the outset,—is only one of the numerous self-deceptions in criticism which form the premisses of the unhistorical conclusion that the fourth Gospel is not the work of the apostle, but of some writer of much later date, who has moulded the history into the form of his own ideal. On the contrary, we must here specially observe that the author, if he wished to antedate the time and place of the call, certainly did not need, for the carrying out of his idea, to invent a totally different situation from that which was before his eyes in the Synoptics. Over and above this, the assumption that, by previously receiving John’s baptism, Jesus renounced any independent action (Schenkel), is pure imagination. Weizsäcker (p. 404) reduces John’s account to this: “The first acquaintance between Jesus and these followers of His was brought about by His meeting with the Baptist; and on that occasion, amid the excitement which the Baptist created, Messianic hopes, however transitory, were kindled in this circle of friends.” But this rests upon a treatment of the fourth Gospel, according to which it can no longer claim the authority of an independent witness; instead of this witness, we have merely the poet of a thoughtful Idyll. And when Keim (I. p. 553) finds here only the narration of an age that could no longer endure the humble and human beginnings of Jesus, but would transplant into the time of His first appearance that glory which, as a matter of history, first distinguished His departure and His exaltation, this is all the more daring a speculation, the more closely, according to Keim, the origin of the Gospel verges upon the lifetime of the apostle, and must therefore present the most vivid recollections of His disciples.

[132] So, most recently, Märcker, Uebereinstimm. der Evang. d. Matt. u. Joh., Meiningen 1868, p. 10 ff. The τὸν λεγόμενον Πέτρον, Matthew 4:18, furnishes no proof, as is plain from the parallel in Mark 1:16, which is the source of Matthew’s account, but as not those words. They are simply a personal notice added from the standing-point of the writer, as in Matthew 10:2.John 1:51. ἀπεκρίθηὄψῃ. In accordance with the habit of this evangelist, who calls attention to the moving cause of faith in this or that individual, the source of Nathanael’s faith is indicated with some surprise that it should have proved sufficient: and with the announcement that his nascent faith will find more to feed upon: μείζω τούτων ὄψῃ.

John 1:52. What these things are is described in the words ὄψεσθεἀνθρώπου, introduced by the emphatic ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, used in this double form twenty-five times in this Gospel (always single in Synop.) and well rendered “verily, verily”. Christ as the Faithful and True Witness is Himself called the Amen in Revelation 3:14. The words ἀπʼ ἄρτι are omitted by recent editors. The announcement describes the result of the incarnation of Christ as a bringing together of heaven and earth, a true mediation between God and man, an opening of what is most divine for the satisfaction of human need. It is made in terms of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10 ff.). In his dream Jacob saw a ladder fixed on earth with its top in heaven, οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ ἀνέβαινον καὶ κατέβαινον ἐπʼ αὐτῇ. What Jacob had dreamt was in Christ realised. The Son of Man, the Messiah or actual representative of God on earth, brings God to man and makes earth a Bethel, and the gate of heaven. What Nathanael under his fig tree had been longing for and unconsciously preparing, an open communication with heaven, a ladder reaching from the deepest abyss of an earth submerged in sin to the highest heaven of purity, Jesus tells him is actually accomplished in His person. “The Son of Man” is the designation by which Jesus commonly indicates that He is the Messiah, while at the same time He suggests that His kingdom is not founded by earthly power or force, but by what is especially human, sympathy, reason, self-sacrifice.51. Verily, verily] The double ‘verily’ occurs 25 times in this Gospel, and nowhere else, always in the mouth of Christ. It introduces a truth of special solemnity and importance. The single ‘verily’ occurs about 30 times in Matthew 14 in Mark , , 7 in Luke. The word represents the Hebrew ‘Amen,’ which in the LXX. never means ‘verily.’ In the Gospels it has no other meaning. The ‘Amen’ at the end of sentences (Matthew 6:13; Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:20; Luke 24:53; John 21:25) is in every case of doubtful authority.

unto you] Plural; all present are addressed, Andrew, John, Peter (James), and Philip, as well as Nathanael.

Hereafter] Better, from henceforth; from this point onwards Christ’s Messianic work of linking earth to heaven, and re-establishing free intercourse between man and God, goes on. But the word is wanting in the best MSS.

heaven open] Better, the heaven opened; made open and remaining so.

the angels of God] Like John 1:47, an apparent reference to the life of Jacob, perhaps suggested by the scene, which may have been near to Bethel. This does not refer to the angels which appeared after the Temptation, at the Agony, and at the Ascension: rather to the perpetual intercourse between God and the Messiah during His ministry.

the Son of man] This phrase in all four Gospels is invariably used by Christ Himself of Himself as the Messiah, upwards of 80 times in all. None of the Evangelists direct our attention to this strict limitation in the use of the expression: their agreement on this striking point is evidently undesigned, and therefore a strong mark of their veracity. See notes on Matthew 8:20; Mark 2:10. In O.T. the phrase ‘Son of Man’ has three distinct uses; (1) in the Psalms, for the ideal man; Psalm 8:4-8; Psalm 80:17; Psalm 144:3; Psalm 146:3 : (2) in Ezekiel, as the name by which the Prophet is addressed by God; Ezekiel 2:1; Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:1; Ezekiel 3:3-4, &c., &c., more than 80 times in all; probably to remind Ezekiel, that in spite of the favour shewn to him, and the wrath denounced against the children of Israel, he, no less than they, had a mortal’s frailty: (3) in the ‘night visions’ of Daniel 7:13-14, where ‘One like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days … and there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him, &c.’ That ‘Son of man henceforth became one of the titles of the looked-for Messiah’ may be doubted. Rather, the title was a new one assumed by Christ, and as yet only dimly understood (comp. Matthew 16:13).

This first chapter alone is enough to shew that the Gospel is the work of a Jew of Palestine, well acquainted with the Messianic hopes, and traditions, and phraseology current in Palestine at the time of Christ’s ministry, and able to give a lifelike picture of the Baptist and of Christ’s first disciples.John 1:51. Ἀμὴν, ἀμήν, verily, verily) Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the speeches of Jesus, are wont to set down ἀμήν once, John twice [repeating the word], upon which see Jac. Gaillius tr. de Filio hom. qu. 11, 12, p. 231–239. The others indeed do so too in those passages, which are not parallel; but yet even in parallels too, Matthew 26:21; Matthew 26:34 [ἀμήν, once]; John 13:21; John 13:38 [ἀμήν, twice]: whence it appears, that the Saviour either always used this prefatory affirmation, ἀμήν, once, or, as we rather think, always twice. At the time of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it was not yet the seasonable time to record it [the double ἀμήν]: when John wrote, it was seasonable. But why [is it repeated] twice? Jesus spake in the name of the Father and in His own: add the note on 2 Corinthians 1:20 [The promises of God—are in Him, Amen]: and His Word is Truth with the Speaker and with believers; 1 John 2:8 [A new commandment,—which thing is true in Him and in you]: [both] in substance and in words. Matthew 5:37 “Let your communication be yea, yea; nay nay:” They are λόγοι ἀληθινοὶ καὶ πιστοὶ [words], faithful and true: comp. Revelation 19:11 [He that sat upon the horse was called Faithful and True], This is a Hebrew epizeuxis, as Psalm 41:13; Psalm 89:52; Psalm 72:19 [Amen and Amen]: as מאד מאד, very, very.—ὑμῖν, you) [Plur.] To thee and the rest.—ὄψεσθε, ye shall see) Answering to ὄψει, thou shalt see) John 1:50. Great faith, and [a decided] profession on the part of one, obtains even for others greater gifts.—τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεῳγότα, heaven open) i.e. Ye shall see the greatest signs, which are to show, that heaven is open. The Lord has descended scended from heaven, and now stays on [“versatur in,” walks familiarly on] earth: and thence His heavenly messengers will have much to do; for they will have to attend on their Lord.—ἀνεῳγότα, opened) The præterite, properly, comp. Matthew 3:16, ἀνεῴχθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ οὐρανοί; and with [i.e. implying also] continuance to the time subsequent, John 3:13, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven;” Acts 7:56, [The dying Stephen] “I see the heavens opened;” Revelation 11:12, “A great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud.”—τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ Θεοῦ, the angels of God) The same beings, whom the Only-begotten Son of GOD has as His ministering servants.—ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας, ascending and descending) Ascending is put in the first place: therefore there will be a staving of angels on earth. Jacob saw some such vision, Genesis 28:12. How much more [shall] Israelites without guile under the New Testament [see it].—τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, the Son of man) See note on Matthew 16:13.Verse 51. - And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you. The reduplicated Ἀμὴν occurs twenty-five times in John's Gospel, and is in this form peculiar to the Gospel, although in its single form it occurs fifty times in the three synoptists. The word is, strictly speaking, an adjective, meaning "firm," "trustworthy," corresponding with the substantive אמֶן, truth, and אָמְנָה and אֲמָנָה, confidence, the covenant (Nehemiah 10:1). The repetition of the word in an adverbial sense is found in Numbers 5:22 and Nehemiah 8:6. In Revelation 3:14 "Amen" is the name given to the Faithful Witness. The repetition of the word involves a powerful asseveration, made to overcome a rising doubt and meet a possible objection. The "I say unto you" takes, on the lips of Jesus, the place which "Thus saith the Lord" occupied on those of the ancient prophets. He speaks in the fulness of conscious authority, with the certain knowledge that he is therein making Divine revelation. He knows that he saith true; his word is truth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, [From henceforth] ye shall see the heaven that has been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Notwithstanding the formidable superficial difficulty in the common reading, which declares that from the moment when the Lord spake, Nathanael should see what there is no other record that he ever literally saw; yet a deeper pondering of the passage shows the sublime spiritual sense in which those disciples who fully realized that they had been brought into blessed relationship with the "Son of man," saw also - that heaven, the abode of blessedness and righteousness, the throne of God, had been opened behind him and around him. The dream of Jacob is manifestly referred to - the union between heaven and earth, between God and man, which dawned like a vision of a better time upon the old patriarchal life. That which was the dream of a troubled night may now be the constant experience of the disciples of the Lord. The ascension of the angelic ministers is here said to precede their descent. This is due to the original form of the dream of Jacob, but must be supplemented by the Lord's own statement (John 3:13), "No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven." The free access to the heart of the Father, and to the centre of all authority in heaven and earth, is due only to those who have come already thence, who belong to him, "who go and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning." They ascend with the desires of the Son of man; they descend with all the faculty needed for the fulfilment of those desires. He, "the Son of man," is now on earth to commence his ministry of reconciliation, and is thus now equipped with all the powers needed for its realization. The same truth is taught by our Lord, when he said (cf. notes on John 3:13) that "the Son of man is in heaven," even when he walked the earth. The angelic ministry attendant upon our Lord is so inconspicuous that it does not fulfil the notable description of this verse, nor fill out its suggestions. The miraculous energies, the Divine revelations, the consummate heavenliness of his life, the power which his personality supplied to see and believe in heaven - in heaven opened, heaven near, heaven accessible, heaven propitious, heaven lavish of love - answers to the meaning of the mighty words. Thoma ('Die Genesis des Johannes-Evan.') sees the Johannine interpretation of the angels who ministered to Jesus after the conclusion of his temptation. But why does he call himself "the Son of man," in sharp response to, or in comment, on, the ascription by John the Baptist and Nathanael of the greater title "Son of God" (see Matthew 8:20; Mark 2:28)?

(1) The phrase is one that our Lord currently used for himself, as especially descriptive of his position. It has been said that its origin must be looked for in the prophecies of Daniel (Daniel 7:13), where angelic powers are seen in loving lowly attendance on "one like to the Son of man," one whose human-hearted force contrasts with the "beast forces," the uncouth, sphynx-like blending of animal faculties which characterizes all the kingdoms and dynasties which the empire of the one like the Son of man would supersede. The term, "Son of man," is used repeatedly by Ezekiel for humanity set over against the Divine voice and power. There it corresponds with the Aramaic "Bar-Enosh," Son of man - a simple paraphrasis for "man" in his weakness, and often in his depression and sin. The 'Book of Henoch,' in numerous places, identifies "Son of man" with the Messiah (ch. 46. and 48.), but it cannot be clearly proved that the term was popularly current for the Messiah. Christ seems, in one place, to discriminate the two terms in popular expectation (Matthew 16:13, 16); and in Matthew 8:20 he discriminates his earthly ministry as that of Son of man, from the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, though the dispensation of his human life, and of his eternal Spirit, constitute that of the one Christ.

(2) Another very remarkable fact is that, though Jesus calls himself "the Son of man" no fewer than seventy times, the apostles never attribute the favourite expression to him. The only instances of its use by other than the Lord himself, is by the dying Stephen, who thus describes his power and exalted majesty (Acts 7:56), and John in the Apocalypse, who says the vision of the Lord was of one like unto the Son of man - a phrase clearly built upon the passage in Daniel 7.

(3) The Saviour did not throughout the Gospel of John proclaim himself openly to the people as the Christ, avoiding a term which was so miserably degraded from his own conception of it; but he used a multitude of expressions to denote the spiritual force and significance of the Messianic dignity. Thus he described himself" as he that came down from heaven;" as the "Bread of heaven;" as the "Light of the world;" as "the good Shepherd; .... I am he;" "that which I said from the beginning," etc.; and therefore, when he adopted the phrase, "the Son of man," he attributed to it very special powers and dignities. The word seems to involve the Man, the perfect Man, the ideal Man, the second Adam, the supreme Flower engrafted on the barren stock of humanity, the Representative of the whole of humankind. Chronologically, this must have been the primary revelation. Through humanity that was archetypal and perfect, answering God's idea of man, the thought of the race has risen to a conception of Divine sonship. But metaphysically, logically, he could only fulfil the functions of Son of man, of the Man, because he was essentially the Son of God.

(4) The dominant thought of the term has fluctuated between that which connotes his earthly ministry and humiliation, and lays stress on the privations and sufferings of the Son of man, and that which recites his highest claim to reverence and homage. Seeing that he claims to be the link between heaven and earth, Judge of quick and dead, the Head of the kingdom of God, who will come in his glory, with his holy angels, to divide sheep from goats, etc., as Son of man; and seeing that, as Son of man, he gave himself for a ransom, and was as one that serveth, and presented his flesh and blood as the spiritual food of all that live; - the synthetic thought that issues from the twofold survey is that his highest glory is based upon his entire and utter sympathy with man. His humanity is that which gives him all his hold upon our heart; his sacrifice is his title to universal sovereignty. "He humbled himself to the death of the cross, wherefore God also has highly exalted him, giving even to him [humanity included] THE NAME that is above every name." Archdeacon Watkins, in loco, has called attention to the fact that it is not ἀνήρ, but ἄνθρωπος, "man as man, not Jew as holier than Greek, not freeman as nobler than bondman, not man as distinct from woman, but humanity.... The ladder from earth to heaven is in the truth, 'The Word was made flesh.' In that great truth heaven was and has remained open." The cries of earth, the answers of heaven, are like angels evermore ascending and descending on the Word-made-flesh. It is perfectly true, though in a different sense than that which Thorns adopts it, that this prehistory (vorgeschichte) is the vorgeschichte of Christendom, as of each soul becoming Christian, the different eventualities which lead from one revelation to another betoken the several stations on the blessed pilgrimage (heilsweg). (Cf. Introduction; the excursuses of Godet; Westcott on 'The Son of Man;' Orme's dissertation on 'Sin against the Holy Ghost;' Schaff's note to Lange, on John, in loco; Schmidt, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,' pp. 107, etc.; Weiss, 'Bibl. Theol. N.T.,' § 144; Liddon, 'Divinity of Our Lord,' lect. 1; Pearson on the Creed, Oxford edit., p. 122; Andrew Jukes, 'The New Man,' lect. 2: "The Openings of Heaven in the Experience of Christ and of Christians.")

Verily, verily (ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν)

The word is transcribed into our Amen. John never, like the other Evangelists, uses the single verily, and, like the single word in the Synoptists, it is used only by Christ.

Hereafter (ἀπ' ἄρτι)

The best texts omit. The words literally mean, from henceforth; and therefore, as Canon Westcott aptly remarks, "if genuine, would describe the communion between earth and heaven as established from the time when the Lord entered upon His public ministry."

Heaven (τὸν οὐρανὸν)

Rev., giving the article, the heaven.

Open (ἀνεῳγότα)

The perfect participle. Hence Rev., rightly, opened. The participle signifies standing open, and is used in the story of Stephen's martyrdom, Acts 7:56. Compare Isaiah 64:1. The image presented to the true Israelite is drawn from the history of his ancestor Jacob (Genesis 28:12).


With the exception of John 12:29 and John 20:12, John does not use the word "angel" elsewhere in the Gospel or in the Epistles, and does not refer to their being or ministry. Trench ("Studies in the Gospels") cites a beautiful passage of Plato as suggestive of our Lord's words. Plato is speaking of Love. "He is a great spirit, and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal. He interprets between gods and men, conveying to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and in him all is bound together, and through him the acts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation find their way. For God mingles not with man, but through Love all the intercourse and speech of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on" ("Symposium," 203).

Son of man

See on Luke 6:22. Notice the titles successively applied to our Lord in this chapter: the greater Successor of the Baptist, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel. These were all given by others. The title Son of man He applies to Himself.

In John's Gospel, as in the Synoptists, this phrase is used only by Christ in speaking of Himself; and elsewhere only in Acts 7:56, where the name is applied to Him by Stephen. It occurs less frequently in John than in the Synoptists, being found in Matthew thirty times, in Mark thirteen, and in John twelve.

Jesus' use of the term here is explained in two ways.


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